Last Monday, October 6th I had the honor of launching the Fulbright Speakers Program in Tampere. I spoke to nearly 300 students and educators from three different high schools in Tampere about “What is it like to be a teenager in the U.S.” It was so fun to see what Finnish high schools are like and talk to the students!
The Fulbright Speakers Program was a fantastic way to see another part of Finland, get an inside view of the Finnish education system, and spread awareness about opportunities for Finnish students to study abroad. For example, my presentation was followed by a presentation by John Gaines, an admissions representative from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt University is a medium-sized university with top-notch research programs, a competitive admissions process, and expensive tuition fees. Most Finnish students are probably not aware that Vanderbilt offers a full-tuition scholarship specifically for Finnish students! This is an amazing opportunity, but to take advantage of it Finnish students must prepare well in advance by taking the necessary standardized tests and completing the application. I was really excited that John and I got to introduce high school students to these opportunities and point them to the Fulbright Center as a resource.
Talking to teachers and students about my experiences in American high school and college, and listening to their experiences in return, was a natural and productive method of cultural exchange. I was astonished by how open, modern, and relaxed both high schools felt, both in terms of building design and student-teacher interactions. Both high schools had beautiful atriums where students had the freedom and space to hang out, eat lunch, and do schoolwork on public computers. In the cafeteria students and teachers all eat the same buffet lunch (which did not cost money and was quite tasty) and sit at the same lunch tables. I enjoyed talking to the Finnish teachers about topics such as fostering a comfortable environment for both introverted and extroverted students and the compare concept of school spirit in the United States and in Finland. I was delighted and surprised when, as we were eating lunch, a Finnish student came and sat down next to me at the table with the teachers. We talked about how she lived in Uganda for many years before moving back to Finland.
I also got to sit in on part of an English class, where I felt the same atmosphere of freedom and comfort. Students were openly using their cell phones and iPads in class for school work and Annukka (who seemed like a really fun English teacher) encouraged students to stand up and sit down to get their brains moving during their quiz on irregular verbs. I was partners with a 15-year-old student named Oona, and together we worked through the exercises, me helping her with English and her helping me with Finnish. We were completed the quiz together as team “Moona.” I think she carried our team 🙂
At Sammon lukio John and I were greeted by three second-year students, Mari, Kati, and Linda. They were very engaged students, all participating in a mock European Parliament and interested in studying in the United States. I was surprised by the different cultures in each school. The first school was for students focusing on the arts and the second was for students focusing on athletics, and the difference among the student bodies, both in terms of aesthetic styles and academic interests, was immediately obvious. It was interesting to me that students were divided based on interests so early in their academic careers.
Special thanks to students and staff at the Classical High School of Tampere as well as at the Tammerkoski and Sammon lukio upper secondary schools for warm reception and excellent questions!