Friday, January 16, 2015

Evidence of great community...

So last weekend it was just my host and I so we decided to go and explore a park that is not too far away from where we live. This is a park with about a 2K trail for running, cross-country skiing and sledding on a few of the hills. But that is not why we came to the trail. This trail is known as Edvin's Path or Edvininpolu. Edvin Hevonkoski was a Finnish veteran would as a hobby after he stopped working made sculptures out of wood and then scrap metal. Eventually he started to install them at this park (without any official permission) and now it has become a major part of Vasa. Check out the pictures and the link below. The link will tell you a little bit more about his work and his connection to the veteran community and the Vasa community. His sculptures depict many things from past presidents to Finnish folk tales to military scenes and more. I hope you enjoy, we definitely did.



A Wood Fired Sauna (it was closed for Winter)

Below is the biggest hill I have been on in Finland so far. 

Above: The former president of Finland- Tarja Halonen 
Finland's first female president was president from 2000 to 2012 (very well liked by the people. Finland also had female prime ministers during her time. She is widely known for her interest in human rights issues including but not limited to problems of globalization, LGBT rights organizations, and woman's rights. She is a member of the Council of Woman World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers who mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action issues of critical importance to women and equitable development. In 2009, Forbes named her one among the 100 Most Powerful women in the world. 
Below: Tarja Halonen's husband, Pentti Ilkka Olavi Arajärvi. The likeness on his statue is quite impressive.

Inside this structure the bottom was made of slats of wood that creaked like no other when I walked on them. It was slightly disconcerting. 

What I loved most about this park was that it represents a great sense of community. A man shared his gift with others, the city agreed to let it be and maintain it, and people young and old can be found getting out and enjoying the good weather in many different ways. I hope wherever you are in the world you can also find evidence of great communities. 

Hej Hej.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Some Quick Impressions/Lessons

Hej Hej (Hi in Swedish),

Sorry it has been so long since my last post. I started teaching this week and that keeps you busy! I thought I would share with you some of my first impressions/lessons about school and life in Vasa.


  • Teachers and students in Vasa have a lot more freedom. Teachers have fewer classes that can be spread across the day with long (multiple hour) breaks in between. Students too! Students may also take only 1-3 classes at a time if they have other things to do and more classes later in the year. Classes meet 2 or 3 times a week. 
  • Language is fluid at school. The classes are taught in Swedish or English (or Finnish of course for the Finnish language courses) and the students/teachers easily move between all three and others often as well.
  • People trust more. Students hang their coats, hats, and scarves on racks around the school and trust that they will be there at the end of the day. And they are!
  • The teacher-student relationship is more relaxed and informal. All teachers go by their first name and students are very comfortable talking to their teachers and feel like they can trust them (as described to me by the students).
Life Lessons for visiting/living in Vasa:
  • Have a game plan when you enter a cafe or shop. When you want to go into a cafe make sure to find a table first, or at least take off your coat, hat, scarf, gloves, etc. before you go to the counter to buy/pick up food. Otherwise you will end up juggling your wallet, foreign coins, a hat, two gloves, and the scarf that just fell on the floor. 
  • Enjoy the daylight to its fullest. Because you are not going to get a lot. Yes, the days are getting longer but it will still be very very dark when you leave in the morning and either getting dark or already dark when you return home in the afternoon. We are just now at 5 hours of light a day including the partial daylight at the end and beginning. So, use your time don't just stay inside.
  • A good pair of warm boots will be your most important clothing item. The boots I brought are great and I have worn them every single day for most of the day. 
  • You will wear a lot of clothes/warm things. Just accept it and move on. No one wants to be cold especially when it is 5 F outside with windchill making it feel like 0 F and you need to walk to school.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Penguin Club among other things

So the moment you have all been waiting for... I bet you didn't think it would happen too soon right?

Penguin Club is a membership club with a site on a little island right in Vasa (about a 3 minute drive). Members come to the club get in their swim suits, go in the suana, and then go in the water (repeat as many times as desired). In The winter they break through the ice and keep one small area clear. You can walk (not jump) into 1 meter, 2 meters, or 3 meters deep water. The veterans will go in one staircase and then swim to the other staircase. Or you can just walk in and move around a bit and then come out. My host took me to the Penguin Club as her guest on Tuesday. The water was 32.9 degrees F and outside the water the temperature was 14 degrees F. We went to the suana, the water, the suana, and then the water. The first two videos are form my first trip into the water and the second is part of my second trip.

Enjoy some other pictures of my activites this week so far. Today was the first day in the classroom. I will have a blog post probably on Friday about my student teaching so stay tuned!

1. This is where we went in the water.

2. I pretty much laughed the entire time I was going in the water. It was so cold that I guess my body just didn't know how to react so I laughed. The other Finnish people there were really proud that I was doing this for the first time ever and excited for me.

3. Tuesday, Jan. 6 was a national holiday in Finland celebrating the 12th Day of Christmas. Since Finland has a national religion their government recognizes this as a holiday and everything is closed- stores, restaurants, all businesses and schools, etc. My host is Spanish and in Spain and other Latin American countries they also celebrate the 12th Day of Christmas but they call it the Wisemen's Day. In their tradition/Bible they believe that there were actually 4 wise men including one wise woman. However since the Catholic Church didn't want to recognize a woman as being a wise man they made her into a good witch or bruja character. On the 12th day of Christmas or Wisemen's Day she brings small gifts and candy to the children. Part of this tradition is to have a party with family and friends. At this party you eat a round sweet cake that is filled with cream. Hidden inside the cake is a small ceramic king figure and a bean. If you get the king you get to wear a crown and be the king or queen of the day. If you get the bean however you have pay the host for the cake. We had our own celebration with my host, her daughter, her daughter's father, and myself. My host's daughter got the king and got to be the queen and her father got the bean. We had a great dinner (Sister Sausage Soup- a traditional Finnish dish) and a great little party afterwards. Living with a Spanish-Swedish family has been great because I get to see a blending of two very different cultures. Happy Wisemen's Day!

4. After our "swim" my host took me on a tour of where we are living. It is sort of a mix between a townhouse and an apartment complex. Below the homes there is the parking garage, storage spaces for each tenant, the laundry room, a drying room (yup a whole room where you hang your clothes and then turn on a loud fan like machine and then shut the door and I guess your clothes will be dried?), a game room, and a fully equipped bunker. Yup, a bunker or bomb shelter sort of. As I learned in Finland pretty much all buildings have a fully equipped bunker. I haven't learned yet why exactly these spaces are still maintained but I image they are related to Finland's history as a part of Russia and the various World Wars in the 20th century. So suffice to say I am living in a space, prepared place. 

 5. This last set is just a couple pics of a class VW Bus I saw in the garage. As I learned from my host and her friends the Finnish people love classic cars especially American cars (yes I know VW is not an American company). In the summer when they have virtually 24 hours of daylight the Finns love to drive around in their classic cars, go to shows and parades. So here is a little bit of Finland for my dad and all the other classic cars fans. Sorry it was so dark. I forget to set my flash. Opps.

Thanks for enjoying my pictures, videos, and thoughts. I know this is a lot but I wanted to share these things with you. As I said I think I will have a student teaching experiences post on Friday and maybe one about food I have tried so far some time this weekend. 

God Kväll!
Good evening in Swedish

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

First Impressions

After one weekend in Vasa here are a few of my impressions/thoughts:
  • Washington is not cold. Vasa is cold. Yesterday (Monday) the high was 10 degrees F with the windchill making it feel like 1-5 degrees F depending on the time of day. 
  • While having the sun set by 3:15pm is strange and not my favorite part of Finland so far, the sunsets in Vasa are amazing. I am living about 200 meters away from the sea and the colors at sunset are spectacular. Pictures to come. 
  • I can handle the cold as long as I wear lots of layers. Who knew I would be excited to go exploring/out on a walk on my own when the weather is in single digits? 
  • Being multi-lingual is more the norm than the exception in Finland. Most people speak at least Finnish, Swedish, and English. I am constantly impressed by how easily people are able to switch between languages; especially the daughter of my host who is fluent in four languages and is not even a teenager herself yet. 
  • Young cats are hilarious especially my host cat, Oliver. He is only 5 months old and he loves playing with your feet, your computer cable!, your pants, any string, and trying to chew on your laptop. 

Today is a national holiday to honor the 12th Day of Christmas so everything is closed. I am going with my host family to take a sea bath at their club today. So, wish me luck and look for a video either today or tomorrow. 

Tomorrow, Wednesday, is my first day of student teaching in Vasa so things are about to get busy. 

Have a wonderful week and I will talk to you again soon. 

Vasa skyline near sunset (about 3:30pm) on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015. Note the frozen parts of the sea near the shoreline. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

One more sleep...

The bags are all packed. The tickets printed. My next adventure is about to start. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas full of love and family. Best wishes for the new year. I pray that you all get to have your own adventures in 2015. Next post from Finland! 
Good night!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

19 Days and Counting

It is hard to believe that a year ago I had just finished my first quarter in the masters program. I had my sites set on student teaching in St. Lucia in the Southern Caribbean and I was about to get into two and half weeks of full time work at the office during Winter Break. A year later and I am working one more week at my job here in Bellingham and getting ready for the adventure of a lifetime. I still have lots of little things to take care of- credit cards, figuring out what I am going to pack, printing too much paperwork, etc but that is not what I want to concentrate on. Yesterday my fellow children's ministry volunteers threw me a little going away party and one of my good friends asked me what I was most excited about and what I was most nervous or anxious about. It's those things- the experiences I am anticipating that I want to concentrate on now.

I am excited to meet people from different places. My host family is from Spain. My hosts for a couple days when I arrive are from Italy. The students/teachers will be mostly from Finland and the college students I will be working alongside as well are from all over Europe. I look forward to talking to them about educating and what they think is important and worthy of study. I am curious to to learn what they think of Americans and what I can learn from them. I also look forward to being able to share some of my knowledge with them.

I am excited to be a teacher with students and colleagues who support me.

I am excited to stay with a family who understands the blending and interactions between different cultures and to experience life with them.

I am excited to see a real winter even though it is going to be so cold!

I am excited to learn some Swedish and Finnish.

I am excited to try reindeer! It will happen!

I am also a little nervous. People, smart people, educated people, are going to put me in charge of a classroom. Ahh! Don't they know I am still learning myself? I know, it is time for me to put faith in my Lord and in all of the skills and knowledge I have acquired and have confidence. I promise to do my best.

I am nervous to be traveling so far away by myself but I am a little thrilled by the adventure of it all.

I am nervous about the language barrier but if my middle and high school ESL students can do this everyday so can I.

I am nervous about jumping into the ice-broken ocean every week with my host family (yeah this is something they do even when it is iced over!) but if they can do it.... yeah no great response here. I am just terrified of this one. But I will do it (this is for you roommates and Explorer's League volunteers)!

Most of all, I am excited to be opening up the next chapter in my life, the second to last chapter in my graduate career, and the first chapter in my life as a real teacher in charge of a real classroom.

Thank you for all of your support. If you would like to see me before I leave I will be in Bellingham until Dec. 20th and then in Kent from Dec. 21-Jan. 2.

Jutellaan myöhemmin! (Finnish for "talk to you later")

Monday, November 17, 2014

What's next?

Hello all!

I decided to try this whole blog thing for at least my time student teaching because if I can keep up with it, blogging is a great way to keep lots of people connected to the work I do. For those of you who don't know yet. I am going in the second year of my Masters in Teaching program at Woodring College of Education- Western Washington University. I am studying to be a secondary education teacher (6th-12th grade) in social studies/history and English Language Learners. At this time, I want to teach high school level social studies classes and eventually be a vice-principal or principal. I will be graduating in June 2015.

In more interesting news, in less than two months I will start my student teaching internship at a secondary school in Vaasa, Finland (or Vasa if you speak Swedish). I will be there from the first week of January through the very end of March 2015. I wanted to take this post to explain the back story of why I am student teaching in Finland as many people are curious about my reasoning.

When I started my masters program in Fall 2013 I wanted to student teach in St. Lucia which is in the Caribbean. My undergraduate history research work and final thesis-like paper was on colonial Caribbean history and I thought it would be amazing to get to teach and live in the area I had spent so much time learning about and St. Lucia was the one place in the Caribbean my university could send me. That was the plan until January 2014. In January however I went to the annual MLK Human Rights Conference at Whatcom Community College and attended a breakout session run by a teacher at Kulshan Middle School. He showed a video of a talk given by Amanda Ripley, in which she talked about her work on Finnish education and her research into just why Finnish education was better than anywhere else. This video raised so many questions for me and I made it my personal goal to learn more about Finnish education.

Thus started a quarter long personal research project. I used my research class that quarter to get credit for my personal research and it eventually took me down a completely unexpected path. I soon discovered that one of my professors was also interested in Finnish education and starting to do her own research. We decided to team up and she even invited me to join her work with the Bellingham Sister Cities Association (BSCA) on an Education Project she wanted to start with one of Bellingham's sister cities- Vaasa, Finland. One thing led to another and I found myself completing a large scale survey project of Bellingham and Vaasa teachers and professors, applying and being accepted as the first Student Representative on the Bellingham Sister Cities Association Advisory Board and giving talks at the university, a public high school in Bellingham, and in front of the whole BSCA membership on my research work into comparing and contrasting education systems and teacher training programs in Finland and the United States.

By the time March rolled around I started to realize that maybe God was pushing me in a different direction then St. Lucia. I couldn't believe it at first (apparently all of the signs in the last two paragraphs weren't enough). I was supposed to go to St. Lucia and spend the cold, dreary winter in hot and sunny St. Lucia. That was the plan right?! Well, it is times like this that God sends a two by four to hit you in the head. This professor I was partnering with, my fellow masters students, and my friends and family started to suggest that I actually apply to student teach in Finland. Then, my professor and I got connected to a university in Vaasa that not only is well known for training teachers but also has a lab school (public elementary through high school program) and they often have foreign students in their program. Things just fell into place from there. God has blessed me with a great job at Western that has allowed me to save money these last few years and I realized that I could still afford to pay for grad school independently without loans and still go to Finland. When God has a plan in mind he makes sure that doors are opened and people are there to support you. 

After completing way too many applications and filling out a lot of forms my dream is finally becoming a reality. I have been placed at the school in Finland and will spend 75% of my time there working in the high school in IB (international baccalaureate) history classes and the remaining 25% in a 6th grade classroom helping with their English as a Foreign Language lessons. My airfare is booked. My housing with a family from the 6th grade class is pretty much confirmed. And I am starting to get really excited.

I will endeavor to keep this blog updated as I prepare and eventually leave for Finland. While I will be pretty busy while I am in Finland, lesson planning, teaching, and the like I am sure I will be able to find the time to post blogs and pictures of my adventures. Please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions. Also if you would like to learn more about the work I have been doing on a Bellingham-Vaasa teacher collaboration program please check out our website- Bellingham - Vaasa Education Project.

I would like to thank my family (Martin, Diana, and Heidi), my extended family, Professor Lauren McClanahan, Heimo Oksanen, my friends and all of my fellow Western MiT co-hort mates for their support. Also thank you to anyone who had the patience to read this whole thing. I promise the rest of my posts will not be anywhere near this long.

Thank you,

Andrea Antrim