Do-overs/ Korjaaminen / Revisions
Five or six weeks before heading back to Louisiana the parkas are packed, the snows are melted and the Biblical scales have fallen. A few nights ago, I chuckled with my Fulbright Finland colleagues about how blinded our visions of this amazing opportunity had been before we arrived. This prompted me to revisit several tunnel-vision postings I shared with the world in my early “Anna + Finland 4ever” weeks.
“AnnasList” had a cutesy Craigslist peace sign featured image and gushed over a list of obnoxious things I was having trouble finding in my early Finland days. Dark roots, expensive textbooks, orchestrated professional development, an army of strategists and specialists and analysts, old-school classrooms and offices and lounges, cats, sleeping in class, ink, litter, locks, obesity, horns, bottled water, teen wage slaves, buses, assessments and parent calls, Coke. I had seen little or none of these in my first getting-to-know-Finland weeks, convincing me that I had found the perfect soul mate.
The beautiful strangeness of my first weeks in Finland had a disassociating quality- hundreds of small differences filled me with wonder. For starters- bundled people waited for the “Walk” sign to flash- even in empty streets. The library seemed to stay packed with readers. Lone children rode city buses in the dark. Clerks and service workers were impressively professional. Everyone was effortlessly multilingual. Cover this with billowy blankets of snow, glittering twigs and frozen lakes and rivers –Finland was a shining knight on a pedestal
With melting and months, the brilliant glitz of my early perceptions thawed. Cigarette butts sprouted on the sidewalks. Sans parkas and hoodies – ink appeared, and the Santa Monica beach bodies I imagined are probably still in Santa Monica. Parted hair uncovered roots – not necessarily dark ones- but lots of them. (Of course, this happens when the hair color is aquamarine, carrot, lavender, and fire-engine red. And I’m not commenting on only young fashionista scalps- some of those amethyst coifs spring from white roots.) Not every bike is unlocked and there are coat checks at some places. The gargantuan City Market almost triggered Walmart seizures. And while each textbook is a relatively inexpensive paperback, high school students must buy multiple books; the total cost required to finance the mandatory Finnish courses approaches the cost of a university anthology in the US.
Not all of my changed earlier perceptions tarnished Finland’s gleam. I really missed the mark the “Vihrea / Green” blog. This was posted while sitting in Louisiana- I think I was barefoot- sitting on my patio in November wearing a tank and drinking iced tea. I had moving jitters and worried that I was leaving my steamy, comfortable bayous for frigid earth and bare trees. I feared cold and knew that I would miss green. What a purple ponytailed septuagenarian and a bus stop resembling a giant ashtray did to my “AnnasList” dark roots and litter gushings, springtime in Finland did to my “Vihrea” worries.
Finland in May is vividly, impossibly, brilliantly green. Deep, rich, bursting green. So green you can smell it. It was unimaginable that the withered hay and stalks that had been buried in the snow for months could ever ressurect. But when the green exploded within a few weeks, I was shocked. Lots of emerald, but also shamrock, chartreuse, lime, hunter, forest, pine, olive, teal, jade… So amazingly alive. The tones change. The greens respond to different times of the day, the precipitation levels, the shade. The smells are wet and beautiful and spinach-y. Dogs are crazy about the grass- they roll and rub as much as a leash will allow. Finns appreciate this green bounty with an almost pagan joy and grassy riverbanks, fields, parks are filled with people worshipping the green and the light.
I am learning about another Finland in these warm, green times and I have become more acquainted with it during my own growth here. At first, from a distance- the foreign stranger looked impressive- and not just the hefty PISA scores in its’ wallet. It had that whole Nordic work/life balance thing going, a rep of equality that seemed legit, an edgy fashion and spare design sense as well as the sisu bit that translated into a “strong and silent” attractiveness. And frankly, that kind of package was a little scary- I wasn’t sure we would be good together. But I committed. And following were those first weeks writing (and blogging) Finland with a heart-dotted “i.” Everything Finland did seemed cool for a while- even when they didn’t want to give me a bank account or let me have a candle in my studio.
With time, perceptions and attitudes enlarge and grow, then change and mature. The same rule-following nature that rivets Finns to the sidewalk, waiting for the green “Walk” light on a vacant street also undergirds candle-shaming (I got caught) and delivering a lost iPhone to the police station. Finland and I have moved into a more mature relationship. Cigarette butts, fuchsia hair, a little doughiness, too-perfect dogs prompted a few scratch-outs of missing items on “AnnasList.”
A few revisions were scribbled in the margins as well. I’m just crazy about what happens with craft/vocational training. I love the openness and reversibility of learning paths. But while the Finnish culture and the educational system has truly impressive qualities, I’ve seen more charismatic, differentiated, student-centered, interactive and energetic teaching in stateside classrooms. And where higher-ed is concerned, I wonder if you get what you pay for.
Yes -some of the beautiful strangeness and early wonder has faded. But this has been replaced by a richer understanding and respectful appreciation of a culture that has overcome near-impossible obstacles, holds impressive strengths and is very different from our own. And while I’m glad I didn’t get the tattoo, I’ll probably still heart the “i.”
PS- And by the way- some of those early gushing sentiments and observations hold firm. Cats- really, where are they? (Lots of dogs on the other hand. Beautiful ones- pure-breds, show dogs. Almost all of them. I’m not sure how to interpret this…) Another early “missing” note that remains after all these months are rarely heard sounds – car horns and crying children. And I am still loving the low middle, admin layer in schools- tiny admin offices, no strategists or specialists- education continues this characteristic of the Finnish business model. Also on my early “missing” list was high school teacher classrooms. Still gloriously absent- with Google-ish lounges and offices instead. Not all first impressions are wrong.
PPs- I have company in the declarations-needing-revision crowd. These lukio (high school) students (except one) are studying for their course and matriculation and university exams. Yep-with notes, books, calculators, dictionaries, computers and markers. They have been at it for months. To get a spot in the library they queue up before it opens in the morning and rush to an open chair. I’ve competed with them for spots- they are fierce. They will sit in one place for hours and hours, silently studying, reading, highlighting, taking notes, writing, practicing problems. They bring water and yogurt and work through lunch. But… since they are not working at home, then it’s technically not homework. Right, Mike?
Anna Marquardt is in Finland researching educational practices. This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog and the views expressed are the author’s and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.