Leaving Finland

Lake Jyvasjarvi I have never lived anywhere for 5 months other than Jyvaskyla, Finland. As my Fulbright journey concludes, there is so much to still digest. It will take months, if not years, to truly assimilate all the learning. Before I left Southern California, I wrote about the what I would miss the most from home and what I  looked forward to experiencing in Finland. It is safe to say I met my goals. Top 7 Goals 1. Discussing Education Helsinki Workshop Through professional development programs, Fulbright Finland connected teachers with scholars and researchers, for the purpose of putting inquisitive minds together. The Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats seminar provided participants with fascinating research and presentations. 2. Nordic Model Bus station in Espoo What does an efficient and earnest country look like?  It looks like Finland. Yes, people pay higher taxes, but get so much in return. I for one appreciated the well-maintained ro

The People who Make Fulbright Happen

Jyvaskyla Fulbright Teachers (missing Kerry and Linda)

As I conclude my Fulbright project, it goes without saying that I could not have done this alone. The help I’ve received along the way has been heartwarming and supportive. I am so proud to have been able to represent teachers and my community in Finland.

Jose Govea

This unceasing advocate for teachers is my area union rep. When he heard I was awarded my Fulbright grant, he went into action to make sure I received some type of compensation from the hard to navigate district I work in. We realized the deadline had passed for the correct leave of absence to make this happen, but he said, “I’m willing to do battle for a Fulbrighter.” Thanks to Jose, I was able to receive financial support from my district while away on leave.


Angelica Serna

The International Institute for Education manages the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program which sent me to Finland. This first-class organization supported me each step of the way, from the orientation in August to departure in January. While in Finland, they fielded any and all questions and helped me feel comfortable while living in a foreign country. Thank you Angelica Serna for all of your assistance!

Fulbright Finland

Mirka introducing Finnish education experts at the orientation

IIE hands off the baton to Fulbright Finland in January and from the very first meeting, I knew I was dealing with deeply committed thinkers who embody everything the Fulbright program represents. From the visionary leadership of Terhi Molsa to the gentle and knowledgeable Mirka McIntyre who is the program director for the teachers, I received all of the guidance necessary to make my stay in Finland successful. The entire staff was a joy to get to know and work with.

Leasa Weimer

Leasa Weimer

To get acquainted with the local culture, we are assigned a Fulbright buddy, one that can take you grocery shopping or recommend a local workout place. Leasa hosted a group of teachers, students, and scholars our first month in Jyvaskyla and helped me get through the gloom and cold of January and February. Our get togethers helped me feel like I had connections and wasn’t doing this solo. Leasa inspired me to do the same for Fulbrighters in California, and I will be hosting incoming students in the fall!! I am so excited to pay it forward.

Anniina Tourunen and Tamas Szabo

Anniina Tourunen

Anniina was my Survival Finnish instructor at the University of Jyvaskyla. In the early months, when my calendar was not as filled with school visits, these language classes really helped me get acclimated to Finnish culture. It was so much fun to be surrounded by foreign exchange students from all over the world as we adjusted to life in Finland.
Tamas Szabo

Professor Szabo helped set the tone for my inquiry project with the Learning Environments class he taught at the University. His research background gave me an early understanding of trends in Finnish school construction and environments.

Hanna Poylio

The brilliant Hanna Poylio

Last, but certainly not least was the help I received from my faculty advisor Hanna. She is one of those special individuals who has the knack of navigating between cultures. How else has she been able to understand these frenetic Fulbright teachers who drop everything they have going in their lives to move halfway across the world? Hanna provided realistic expectations for the work I was trying to do, gave me multiple opportunities to attend social events (Antti Tuisku pop concert was unforgettable), and explained what I was seeing in Finnish schools.

I call Hanna a Finnish American because deep in her heart, she is one of us. Forthright, assertive, and opinionated. These are great qualities, but not all Finnish ones. But the beauty of that is that she helped me and many others get an inside view of a culture that can upon first glance seem hard to crack. Her husband Antti’s color commentary on all things Finnish was priceless as well. And who doesn’t need an adorable baby to warm their heart (Noaa).

There are countless others who helped along the way, from Juha-Matti the Executive Director of Niilo Maki Institute where I was based to Oli-Pekka from EduCluster, both who provided contacts and made us feel welcome in a new town. Professor Bob Foster at UCLA who so kindly met with me even before his trip to share his contacts with me in Finland.  The Fulbright teachers in Jyvaskyla who were my family away from home. The random Finns who dropped knowledge about their culture in saunas or bars. I could go on.

This teacher’s Fulbright did not happen alone, and I will forever be grateful to those who helped make it happen.


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