31 August 2012

1st in Education

My first week in the country that is ranked first in education is now over.

I couldn't believe my friend Meri when she said that we would be analyzing photos of cheeseburgers in the IB English 3 class on my first day of Finnish high school. Analyzing cheeseburgers? I thought to myself. Is this an American stereotype they're playing out or something? But no, they were truly analyzing these photos. And the week kept getting better and better.

I've finished my first week of Finnish high school. Someone once told me that the first weeks of your exchange year are the worst of all, but I don't believe them. That person must have been terribly pessimistic or horribly misguided; I've found this week to be one of the most exciting in my life. There's nothing wrong with living a little.

I started school on Monday at 9 am. My host mother, Liisa, drove me to school and kept reassuring me. I was... nervous for the start of school, but nervous in a way that I didn't think I'd be and nervous in a way that's hard to describe. It was a subtle kind of nervousness that crept across my body, lingering on the edges of my limbs and not showing itself prominently. It was a nervousness that didn't let itself take control. Or maybe I tried to not let it control me.

We parked a few blocks from the school and walked there. We went across the courtyard and it seemed pretty empty- the people who were at the school that early were in class. We went through the large doors of the entrance and walked up the stairs to my contact teacher's office (a Ms. Päivi Kiiski) and went inside. My host mom left me with Päivi where we then designed my schedule for this first jaakso (it's like a quarter in the school year, except they have 5 jaakso in total as opposed to 4 quarters).

This is my schedule for the first jaakso. I have IB English and math, French, art, and music. Fridays are the easiest days.

After setting up my schedule, Päivi gave me a little tour of Kuopion Lyseon Lukio. We walked all 3 floors of the building and she pointed out certain important classrooms and teachers.  When we came down to the floor that has her office on it, we ran into one of my contact students! Meri Korhonen. And after a quick introduction to her and her friend Aino, I left Päivi and went with Meri and Aino for a bit of shopping before classes started (my classes on Monday don't start until 11).

Shopping during school seems a bit odd, I know, but that's what they do here. Kuopion Lyseon Lukio is in downtown Kuopio, which means they've got access to all the shops you'd ever want to be in. There's an H&M, a small department store-like place that sells fancy clothes and perfumes, and a giant shopping mall called Minna all just down the block from my high school. Meri, Aino, and I walked to H&M first so Meri could buy a belt, and then we cut into the department store and Meri bought some perfume. I felt a bit like a bull in a china shop because I had my huge backpack and there were all these expensive things around me, but it was okay. When they were done shopping in those stores we bought some coffee from the Rosso/Hesburger coffee house and it was amazing! Finland is definitely the place to go for coffee. 

We had about an hour to kill so we walked back to the school and went into the school hang out called "The Cave". It's a room that's a bit underground, with sofas and chairs and tables and a kitchen area. The IB kids go down there when they need to study or sleep off a hangover. There was one girl in there, Maija, who was studying for a class and so I met her too. The four of us talked for about an hour on a variety of things I can't quite remember and then it was time to go to our first classes. My first one of all my Finnish existence was Math Studies 1 (the easiest math class in the IB curriculum, I might add), and Meri walked me there.

The peculiar thing, though, about having Math Studies 1 with the second years is that they have lunch right in the time when the class is starting. For the first 30 minutes or so of the class the students go down to the lunch room and eat, and then they have about an hour left for actual learning. Meri took me down to the lunch room and she introduced me to two kids who were in my math class and I ate with them. That first day of lunch was honestly a bit of a blur. But after lunch we went back to class and did the work. I came into the school year with a lesson on rates and how to calculate the proper stuff. I'm so relieved to admit that I know this already... Maybe I'll finally be good at a math class? I'm trying not to get my hopes up though.

IB English came after IB math, and I love love love this class. Yes, we analyzed photos of cheeseburgers. Yes, we listened to Waltzing Mathilda on YouTube. Yes, there was a debate on whether or not undocumented immigrants should be allowed to attend school in the United States, and yes, a girl said that students from foreign countries shouldn't be allowed to go into a country and take away the resources, and yes, that made people stare at me, but I loved all of it (a point of clarification: the girl who said that doesn't honestly believe it, she was merely arguing a side in a debate)! It really is a joy to be a member of the IB English 3 class. We do the most exciting things in there and on my first day I couldn't believe that the teacher had us go over what the colors meant in cheeseburgers. He also showed a photo of a baby in a french fry costume called "Baby McFry" and the whole class was disgusted but me. So it's very interesting to see the European vs American perspective on fast food...

I finished the day with my French class. I don't know necessarily how I feel about this class exactly because ... the teaching method is very different from what I'm used to and it's the craziest thing to go between Finnish, French, and English, but I get by with what happens. It's not a curse of a class or anything. On the first day of school we went over exercises pertaining to gerands and I smiled inwardly thinking that I already learned this (thank you mam)! At the end of the class period I asked the teacher if she thought I was in the proper level of instruction for French and she told me simply that she thought I had the best knowledge of the language out of all the kids in the class. Which isn't saying too much, because there are only 5 other kids, but it was a really nice remark and I loved it nonetheless. 

My Monday finishes at 3:50. In total that's about 4 hours and 50 minutes of classes and I honestly can't complain. The rest of the week is about that long (except for Friday, where I only have one class), except certain days start earlier and finish earlier than others. On the other days I also have art and music added in, which are exactly as they sound. In art we do art projects (and I am slowly getting less inept at it all) and in music we learn how to be rock stars (I can play a mean G chord now). 

I really like my school and I really like the people who are in my school. The stereotype of the Finnish people is that they are all quiet, shy, and introverted but if you make an effort yourself the friendship with them comes easily and they show themselves to be genuinely nice and happy people. I've gotten standing invitations for house visitations, hang out sessions, going to movies, &tc, and I couldn't be happier. 

Sometimes I stop and wonder how I got so lucky. How I got so lucky to have been picked by an amazing family, to have been put in an amazing town, to have met such amazing people. I really love what's going on here and I can't wait for the future. Things are good in Finland, and Finland is good.

This is the entrance to Kuopion Lyseon Lukio.


  1. Hi! I'm going to Italy with AFS this year and I just wanted to say I love your blog, I've read your last couple of posts and Finland sounds amazing! If I didn't get into Italy, I was also interested in Finland too! Hope you continue having a great time there! (:

    1. Thank you! Have a great time in Italy!

  2. What is the difference between Finnish and Alaskan teaching methods that you mention re the French class?

    (BTW, it's 'gerund', not 'gerand'.)

    1. I think... I think it is so hard to pinpoint what makes them obviously different, and what makes the Finnish system stand out more, but what I can notice in general is that there's a lot of hand on teaching done here and the teachers themselves are really involved and dedicated to their students. I'm not saying that's not how it's done in the US, because there are those very special teachers who help you so much, but here in Finland it feels like every teacher is that very special teacher that wants you to always succeed.

  3. How is education in the United States different from education in other countries? Which country's education system do you like best?

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