Finn up!

A gray day. The winds were disorienting- snow flew horizontally. Alas, even in one of the most magical places on earth, melancholy set in. Then somewhere after the third cup of coffee, I managed to Finn up and decided to become a part of the landscape.

cvr9780740768750_9780740768750_hrOne of my most reliable sources, the Urban Dictionary defines “man up” as “work[ing] through impediments and obstacles without whining” and “[to] take control of a situation, be strong, rise to the moment.” Disregard the gendered language and exchange the “man” for “Finn” and we have that uncomplaining Finnish self-reliance, sisu. Physical activity has always chased my blues away, so I Finned up and headed to the Impivaara Sports Complex.

Sports are important at the ‘Cro- three time SuperBowl champ Kevin Faulk is our football coach and we love our team. Although my Friday Night Lights students have difficulty imagining a legit high school without football or basketball, it is indeed true that Finnish high schools do not have competitive sports teams. Turku’s Kertulli Liceo is Finland’s second largest sports school. Students can complete the secondary education as they continue athletic training. But instead of high school sponsored teams that compete against each other, athletes work out, practice, an compete at sports centers around the city, joining leagues when they are interested in team sports such as hockey or soccer.

DSC08272Turku’s Impivaara Sports Complex is open to the public- and it’s as luxurious as any private club I’ve seen. The complex is colossal. It dwarfs the impressive Red’s of Lafayette and even the pricey Houstonian. One of the crystal clear indoor pools must have been double Olympic length, and alongside it another 50 meter pool. Then there were the diving pools and the pools with fountains and splash pools. I stepped outside and saw the snow dusted water slides and rides. Again, the sheer size of the dormant water park made those Wet n’ Wild / Splashtown $40.00-ticket parks look puny. Two other enormous buildings housed the indoor hockey rinks and soccer fields. Each of these held two full sized fields within; I peeked in on two hockey games and several soccer games. (Sorry soccer moms- it’s hard to tell how many games were going on. Lots of little ones in bright shirts running around. As far as I could see, there could have been anywhere from two to five or six games .) I did admire the way the hockey players took terrible hits and falls, then were up on their feet again in seconds. Surprisingly graceful. And those little ones kicking the soccer ball on the turf, laughing and having such fun- great energy.

Further out, I hit the ski trails. Impivaara has hills for sledding and maintains cross country skiing trails. For five euros, ski equipment can be rented for two hours. Since I arrived an hour before closing, the rental office asked me if I would mind paying 2 euros. (I’ve encountered this detached relationship with money several times. I just paid my January rent and have yet to be billed for my language course!) I clipped my rice-and-gravy body into impossibly skinny skis, gripped the poles for dear life and hit the beginner’s circuit. I fell twice and never took my eyes off my feet. An hour later, I was soaked- both from the icy snow and my own sweat. Although I do not have any pictures to share of my first time on skis, I know I was bustin’ some of these moves. I have a way to go before I can pass for a Finn out there.

I turned in my skis and poked around the mammoth complex while waiting for my bus. Again, my thoughts return to the Finnish use of space. Last week, I considered the ample space students are given on campus to relax, study, visit, nap, chat, etc. when not in class. Yet – to the amazement of my American students – there is no space for school based sports teams to train and play. Perhaps the leisure spaces in the Finnish liceos function as a substitute for the absence of sports teams. In my high school, sporting events are an important social glue. Relaxing and relationships and socializing are just as important to Finnish teens, but this may take place in a more natural way. I’m not sure. But I haven’t heard any Finns whining about not having sports teams at school. And if she/he does think about complaining, he’ll probably just Finn up and move on.


This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog and the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.

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