I was chosen to represent Finland as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher in the U.S. in the fall of 2017 – not just any year, but the Centennial of Finland! What an absolute honor! As a result, for the past three months, I have been busy doing school visits in Indiana and Massachusetts, attending conferences, auditing interesting courses at the Indiana University Bloomington, and writing my inquiry project on the inclusion of LGBTQ+ students in American schools. Professionally, it has been an extremely enriching and inspiring experience; one that has completely revolutionized my way of thinking and seeing the world.
The most amazing thing for me in the U.S. has been the level of inclusion of all kinds of people and cultures. There are National Heritage Months for African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans; my campus in Bloomington openly welcomes and embraces everyone with the heart-warming sentence “IU is home”; and diversity is celebrated rather than brushed aside.
In terms of my inquiry project, I have been surprised and even touched by the many resources that schools are equipped with for LGBTQ+ inclusion: there are clubs, teacher allies, safe space stickers, and extensive topic-related collections in the school libraries. This sends a message of acceptance and respect, as well as encourages everyone to thrive in who they are. I feel that it is my responsibility to bring this attitude back home to Finland with me!
In addition to being a professional experience, Fulbright is a cultural adventure. I am here with amazing teachers from Taiwan, New Zealand, Morocco, India, Singapore, Israel and Mexico, and have had the chance to experience each one of these cultures one way or another.
On the other hand, I have also learned about American traditions such as Homecoming, Prom and Halloween. I have experienced life in small-town America, had my first driving experience outside of Finland, and learned how important time management is in the U.S. I have lived next door to a groundhog and a cardinal – the state bird of Indiana. I have had the chance to explore Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, Boston and Chicago, and will still be going to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, Miami and New York.
Finally, not only have I learned more about other people and cultures, but I have also learned more about myself. I have caught myself missing Finnish nature, fresh air, and silence as a natural element of the Finnish culture. I have compulsive needs to go to the sauna, fantasize about rye bread with cheese and cucumber on top, and chuckle at the thought of the adorable oddities of the Finnish language (fireworks = ilotulitus = joy firing!). I have obviously also done my best to promote all things Finnish to whoever has been interested to listen.
Overall, the Fulbright experience has been a life-changing one for me. It has made me realize what direction I want my life and career to take, made me believe in myself, and given me the determination to make my dreams come true in the future. Words cannot express how grateful I am to the Fulbright Program for this incredible opportunity!
Follow my adventures on emilia-ontheroad.blogspot.com.
Text: Emilia Heimonen