I recently got back from the U.S. where I spent the fall term as a Fulbright Scholar-In-Residence at Daemen College in Buffalo, New York.
My goal was, on the one hand, to participate in planning an international student exchange program between the Daemen College and the University of Jyväskylä. On the other hand, my objective was to act as a liaison between various parties in Finland and the U.S. planning an innovative educational program in the state of New York.
I was deeply impressed by the level of planning that had gone into my visit. The Fulbright Center in Helsinki and the Council for International Exchange of Scholars helped me to understand the process and sort through the necessary paperwork. Every effort was made to make me feel comfortable and at home. Dr. Elizabeth Wright, Associate Dean for the Education Department was instrumental in planning and organizing my visit. Ann Robinson, Executive Director of Global Programs and Carol Renner made my life a lot easier as well, as well as both the faculty and staff at Thomas Reynolds Center for Special Education and After School Programs, where I had my office.
This was perhaps the best and greatest lesson I took away from my visit: you are not alone. There’s a whole network of people ready to help you out in almost every way they can, from opening up their homes and introducing you to local culture and practices to planning and organizing research and academic projects. During my time in Buffalo I was taken to see the Pats-Bills game, had Thanksgiving Dinner at Dr. Mary Fox’s place, visited the Niagara Falls with other Finns, went to see little Emma Robinson dance in Nutcracker and experienced the great winter storm of November 13-21!
Buffalo is known as a city of good neighbors. Its architecture and art are also very impressive. I fell in love with its sports - I became a huge Bills fan and went to see the Sabres (unfortunately lose).
But I was perhaps most impressed by the work done by various NGOs and other institutions that helped refugees to start their new lives in Buffalo. I was lucky to have an opportunity to visit one of the centers, the Jewish Family Services of Buffalo and Erie County. The social and ethical orientation of many of the programs was the second lesson I took away from my stay. For example Daemen College has an award-winning program called Academic Service Learning, a concept I was not familiar with, where students participate in activities that foster not only the development of their expertise but also serve the needs of the surrounding communities and / or institutions.
Above all, I feel that my stay helped me work towards my goals. The first exchange students from Daemen College and Niagara University are already here in Finland, taking courses at the Department of Teacher Education and International Master’s Programs in Education at the University of Jyväskylä. Meanwhile we are also following through with the research project we set up in the fall, as well as planning peer teaching and other academic joined activities between the various universities involved with the international teacher education project in the Buffalo area. I am grateful for all the people in Buffalo who made my stay there such a meaningful one.
Text: Riikka Alanen