This year the Fulbright Distinguished Awards for Teaching in Finland was awarded to the three of us: Maija Kallio, Inka Ritvanen and Mikko Rahikka.
The grant allows us to study at the University of Maryland in Baltimore during the fall semester. We will study at the College of Education with 12 other teachers from Singapore, India, Argentina and Morocco. We will visit schools, go to conferences and of course we will learn a lot about the Education System of the United States. We will also make an inquiry (a small research project) about a topic that we are interested in. I will study how the teachers and pupils use Information and Communication Technology (computers, tablets etc.) in teaching and learning mathematics and physics.
Our Fulbright Orientation started on August 13th in Washington D.C. The personnel of the Institute of International Education (ISS) had created an interesting program for the International Fulbright teachers and teachers from the USA who will travel abroad with their program. We learnt about cultural differences, the education system in the USA, No Child Left Behind -program and a lot about how to get accustomed to our new daily life. We met all five US teachers who will travel to Finland next year. They helped us to understand the States and I am sure that we will meet them again in Finland and help them to get accustomed to Finnish culture. During the orientation days I made many new friends since all of us work in schools and we can discuss all the similarities and differences between our schools. The Finnish school system interested everybody in our workshops and the good PISA scores are known around the world.
After the orientation we moved to College Park, Maryland. Maija and Inka came to the campus earlier with their families and got their own apartments. I came here alone, so I will live with William and Ivin from Singapore and Hassan from Morocco in a campus apartment. Learning our new bachelor life is very interesting and rewarding. First of all we had to buy stuff for our apartment: bed linen, utensils for kitchen as well as for rooms and bathrooms. In a couple of days the apartment started to feel like home. I have already baked makaroonilaatikko (Finnish macaroni casserole), and the guys liked it a lot. Of course I miss my home and my wife in Finland but this is my home now.
For me it has been a surprise how much paperwork has to be done for my new life. Numerous forms and signatures for the apartment, bank account, social security number, University Faculty/Staff Card and bicycle registration. The nice people from the College of Education Office of International Initiatives have helped us patiently. I love their positive and encouraging approach to solve problems. We have used most of our time during the first week to get all the paperwork ready, yet of course we have had some great lessons and discussions about education in the USA.
The school ideologies in Finland and the United States are so totally different that for me it is difficult to understand the educational system in the U.S. All the testing, comparing school scores and even comparing how one teacher’s students score in tests compared to another teacher’s students differs totally from our Finnish school system. Public charter schools in Washington D.C. will start testing children in kindergarten. Testing three to five year old children in math sounds funny to me. I hope that our politicians will be wise enough not to bring more testing into Finnish schools.
But there are also many things that I admire here at the College Park. There are for example many public sport areas and people play baseball, volleyball and soccer in the evenings. I don't see this kind of activity in Finland. The bicycle routes around College Park are beautiful and there are lots of people using the routes for walking, running and cycling. I am very happy to have a bike here - I have seen many beautiful places while cycling and the nature and animals amaze me. Even the trees seem to be bigger here than in Finland. And the sound of crickets in the evening is something that I don't hear in my own garden in Nurmijärvi.
I have had many great experiences during the first weeks of my stay: a 50 km bicycle ride to Leesburg, tour at the Capitol Hill and the Mall, visiting Martin Luther King Memorial during the 50th Anniversary of his famous speech, finding Lauri Törni's (Larry A. Thorne) name at Vietnam War Memorial as well as visiting Annapolis State House, Naval Academy and a Cruise on the Severn River.
I know that during my semester here I will meet many interesting people and experience many fascinating things. And I will learn - both about Finland and about the United States.
You can read more about our Fulbright experience from our blog: http://dfat13fi.wordpress.com/