Helsinki, ‘Boot Camp’ & Rovaniemi; Finland so far…

Day 6 in Finland and it is time for an update on the trip so far….

We flew into Helsinki late on Tuesday night, and spent the following day exploring the city. We took in the frozen harbour, and walked out to stand on the ice sheet that forms the edge of the baltic sea at this time of year. A group of us also ventured out to an island in the harbour, aiming to visit what we thought was a museum in an old prison and turned out to be a prison still full of inmates and in full service…

Late that night we boarded a double decker sleeper train, and after some catching up in the train’s ‘bar car’ we settled down to attempt some sleep. Somehow our train was delayed by five hours in the night, which had the payoff of allowing us a stationary few hours to get some undisturbed sleep.

We stopped at Oulu only long enough to catch a bus, and head North to Pikku-Syöte, where our ‘boot camp’ began.

The students will be teaching in a number of schools in two locations for six weeks. Four are linked to the University of Oulu and teaching in two of their partner schools, the remaining eight are based in Rovaniemi further north and working in schools linked to the University of Lapland. This forms their official teaching practice for the second year of their BEd in Primary Education, and is assessed according to the English Teachers’ Standards.

The ‘boot camp’ is a chance for them to get to know each other and their tutors from Finland and the UK, and to begin to settle into Finnish culture. The first evening they completed a fun treasure hunt around the area to test their general knowledge of Finland and some initial Finnish language, which was organised by the tutor from the University of Oulu, Vesa-Matti. We then ventured into the forest to find a fire hut for a traditional get together fuelled by Finnish beers and sausages cooked over the fire. Finding the hut in sometimes waist deep snow was a challenge, no less so when it was time to find our way back in the dark…

Day two was a day of Skiing, and a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better through teaching and learning from each other depending on our previous experience and skills (of which I had none). My complete lack of experience was helped by some truly excellent teaching from students Gabriel and Sophie, and I was once again reminded of how privileged I am in this job to work with such great people.

The evening saw us getting to grips with the Finnish Education system in a seminar with Vesa-Matti, followed by an evening social in a conference room complete with its own open fire and sauna. The Finns really like their saunas, and apparently this is often where business deals and meetings take place. The saunas are single sex but clothes are strictly prohibited, partly because the intense heat can vaporise any chlorine left in swimming costumes causing respiratory problems. The sauna is an egalitarian place, where everyone is equal and is a key social part of Finnish culture.

The following day we had a briefing about the technicalities of the teaching practice the students are soon to begin, and then travelled back to Oulu. At this point our group split, with four leaving for their accommodation at the University of Oulu, and the rest of us taking the train North to Rovaniemi. Since then we have been exploring the local areas, with the Rovaniemi group taking a long walk through a mountain covered in deep snow to a vantage point across this town on the edge of the Arctic Circle.

It is an interesting place, and very much feels like one of the last outposts of any size before the expanse of the frozen north. The large river is currently frozen over, thick enough that many locals are walking their dogs, and even riding bikes across the ice. Ice fishing seems to be popular, and whilst the rods used are smaller than for river fishing in the UK, this is made up for by the need to carry a large drill to make a hole in the ice.

Today we visited the University of Lapland, with the students registering and Miles (my colleague) and I meeting with the staff there to discuss how our work with them will develop in the coming year. Next we have two days visiting schools in Rovaniemi, before Miles and I travel back to Oulu to visit schools there with our other group of students.

Having explored the area, and had a taste of Finnish culture, I am looking forward to seeing first hand how the education system works, and will continue recording my thoughts here…

The photos of my trip to Finland are continuing to collect here…

My blog posts from Finland are all available here.

Related posts:

Lessons observed in Finland
Teacher Education at the University of Oulu
In discussion with a Finnish primary head teacher

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