January 17

January 17, 2017

Our last school visit! Nine visits later and we have made it to our final school. With little sleep, it took Rachel and I all we had to wake up. The visit was as expected from a primary school.

Lessons. Tour. Presentation. Coffee.

This was one of my least favorite schools we visited. There was little interaction with students and the presentation was incredibly long. Granted I am not an education major and was exhausted from the night before. I can only listen to so much about the Finnish school system.

I visited a woodworking class where the 3rd grade students were practicing skills. The students obediently followed instructions which was impressive. The teacher gave them the job to show us how to use the tools. They were reserved so I’m assuming they knew little english. A girl would show us how to use a drill and then let us try. When we completed the task she gave us a thumbs up.

This was the only student interaction I had received at this school.

Once we finished our school lunch we left to visit Santa’s village. In the village there was a line indication where the Arctic Circle began. Not many people can say they have crossed it, but we have!

Later that night we attempted to see the Northern Lights again. Although we did not see them, it was not a failed attempt. We found a snow hill and began sliding down on our backs until someone found sleds. At the bottom the hill was a frozen lake. After an hour sledding in the dark, I walked onto the lake. It was the most magnificent sight.

I stood there looking into the clear sky and embraced the moment. The moment of knowing that I was in FINLAND. The moment of hearing my classmates having fun sledding. It still gives me chills.

The best parts of the trip are going to remain unwritten and as memories.

That night concluded the most remarkable trip for me.

Finland was a great beginning to my new journey.


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January 13

January 13, 2017

Finland School Systems

Finland is known to have the best education system in the world. Drake University offered a J-Term to Finland to visit 10 different schools. As a non-education major, who needed a Critical Thinking AOI, I was thrown into the education world. Frustrated with attempting to understand what I was witnessing, I realized I needed to change my mentality in order to take something away from this educational expereince.

Successful teams are made by combining and utilizing different member’s personality traits. As a journalism major I realized I was going to take away something different than the majority of my class. This led to a revamp of personal goal setting. Along with trying to understand the education system I was now going to create personal relations with the Finnish.
When first visiting the schools, what really threw me for a curve was that the pupils do not wear shoes. Of course I was narrow minded at the time, but that was really the only difference I could compare. We went on a tour with four 6th graders. This was my first actual interaction with the Finnish. I attempted several times to converse with them, but they were too shy or knew little English

When visiting the upper secondary school later that day I was intimidated beyond belief. These kids looked older then we were. There was a huge maturity jump from the students we had just seen to the students in the upper school. I found this true with every upper school we visited later on the trip.

United States VS. Finland

There were times when I wish I had the two or three years of an education major’s knowledge. When visiting the schools I relied on my personal experience of schooling.

When talking to the students and teachers I found that obviously the two rely on each other. The students want teachers to be passionate on every subject they teach. The teachers wanted the students to be eager to learn. The two must operate in unison for full affect.

As compared to the United States, the teachers in Finland assign a lot of independent work. A typical class would have the teacher instruct the pupils for about 10-15 minutes on a subject. The pupils would then have the rest of the class period to complete the assignment.


In other classes the student would go right to work with little to no instructions. This makes me curious to see what the first few days of school operate. The students are much more behaved and obedient that their work is more productive.

From my school experience, my teachers would lecture until five minutes before the next class. This would mean that I had to complete my homework outside of class time.

Homework for me could be several hours a night. Students constantly told me they rarely had homework. It would either take 30 to 60 minutes to complete each night. Finnish students also did not have homework on the weekends. The weekends was a time where I had the most homework since the teachers that I had more time.

After an hour of class the students then have a 15 minute break. The only break I received in school was the extra time when we completed our lunch.

The Finnish teachers also do not discipline their pupils. There was one class I walked into where I student was jumping on his desk and shouting. The teacher did NOTHING. Teachers do not discipline their pupils. If a student were to do that in America that would have been an immediate appointment with the principle. Yes, the Finnish are well behaved, but everyone slips up. When the pupils acted out, the teacher continued with his or her work with no attention drawn.

Teachers in Finland are the 2nd most respected occupation underneath doctors. They receive about $50,000 and only work half the year. I was informed that the teachers have little work to take home. They basically are done when the students are out of school for day. In the United States, teachers spend long hours going over time to prepare lessons. Many teachers also work in the summer to make more money.

This was a very educational trip and I have more respect for this field than before. To me the Finnish success is still somewhat a mystery. The American education system should model their system to have the smartest kids in the world.




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January 11

January 11, 2017

Personal Connections

Life is about people.

One night my class went to Two Chickens which was a bar across from our hotel. We had been together all day but my classmates still conversed among each other. As I sat at the bar I began a conversation with the barista. I asked him about his job and what he liked. He told me he loved his job because everything he does relates to it being “about the people.” I sat back and could really relate to what he had just said. Life is about the people. 

Before we left he said goodbye and said he hoped to see me again. In that moment we both knew we were never going to see each other again. But that’s what made it special. I thought of all the people that I was meeting for the first time that I would never see again. I would visit the schools and restaurants and look at people who were in my life in that very moment, but would never be in again. As I turned to say goodbye I told him “Thanks for everything, I hope you have a joyful life.”

This trip for me was truly embracing the experience.

School Encounters

Each school visit provided a different experience for our class. My least favorite school could be someone’s favorite and vise versa. It all depended upon one’s placement.

At a technology school we visited I had a ball. A small group was led by two 8th grade boys and they were a riot! This was when I really connected one-on-one. Afterwards we added each other on Facebook. I had finally become excited to meet more people.

There were more failed attempts on this trip than not with communicating with the Finnish. There was an English lesson that I attended with other American students. The teacher had her class pair into groups of two. The Americans were then placed in those pairs to play an English game. I was unfortunately placed into a group of four 9th grade boys. When I sat down they kept their backs turned to me and acted like I never sat down. I was so upset that I didn’t even want to try to make a connection. By this time of the trip I had realized that if they really wanted to try they would have. This revolted me beyond belief. If a guest from another country visited my classroom I would acknowledge them and want to learn about their culture. That was the rudest thing I had experienced.

Many of my classmates reached out to the pupils and received the same result. The worst was when they would look at us, speak in Finnish, and then laugh.

Not every attempt was a fail. I met many students who would converse with my classmates and I.

It was interesting to see our culture immerse in theirs.


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January 9

January 9, 2017

The first day in Helsinki and jet lag hit hard.  I was more than happy and appreciative to sleep in instead of jumping right into group activities. My roommate and I joined the group at noon in Stockman’s to walk around Helsinki. We walked through a few shops, but we were more excited to take pictures.

Everything was new and exciting. I came on this trip not knowing anyone so at the time was quiet. What I learned this day was that Helsinki is always cloudy.

After several hours we went back to the hotel and got ready for dinner at Seahorse. As a group we walked about 30 minutes to the restaurant. Meatballs and mashed potatos was my first Finnish meal. Six of the students, including me, found an unexpected surprise in our dinner.

It was during dinner that I thought to myself that as a visitor in a foreign country I should at least make an attempt to speak their language. ‘Kiitos’ was the Finnish word for ‘Thank You.’ As we were leaving I told the man who was working at the coat check ‘Fiitos.’ He looked at me very confused and said something back.

When I walked out I was telling the group what had just happened. Little did I know that the Finnish do not use the letter F in their language. To this day I have not forgotten the phrase.

After dinner a few of us went out for ‘dessert.’ This was fun for the group of us as we played Never Have I Ever. The 5 of us grew closer that night which helped me. This also was a night to remember as it was my first legal drink.


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January 8

January 8, 2017

When arriving to the Vienna airport after an 8 hour flight I was eager. Eager to leave and have my passport stamped and to also see my uncle. My uncle, Tom, has resided in Gaming, Austria since 2005. With a 12 hour layover until my flight to Helsinki, Finland, I had a good amount of time to pass.

Tom was willing to pick me up and help settle me in for the next flight. Once I had checked my bags we left the airport and went towards
downtown Vienna. Unsurprisingly the first stop we made was to attend mass at a cathedral since it was Sunday. Lucky for me we arrived late. Sitting in the Votive Church I looked around and said to myself “this is now my life.”

Since I am now immersing myself in many new cultures the opportunities this trip could hold began to cross my mind. Not only was I hearing about the European culture, but I was now living it.

Once mass was over Tom took me to the Hofburg. He showed me the palace grounds and gave me a history lesson. After several hours Tom took my back to the airport. I was exhausted since I had stayed up 24 hours.

I arrived in Helsinki at midnight. Needless to say I slept well.

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The Beginning

January 7, 2017

The day has come where I have finally arrived in Europe. Unfortunately the journey had been anything but easy. On January 6 I packed my bags and headed to the Des Moines airport. My J-Term class met as we
had the same flight from Des Moines to Chicago. Already having had a delay and gate change, our pilot informed the passengers that the airplane door had fallen onto the ground. It was quite comical until our 11:20 a.m. flight turned into a 3:00 p.m. flight.

After an hour flight, we landed in Chicago where I independently had to catch a flight to Vienna, Austria. Landing in terminal 1 provided 10 minutes to get to terminal 5. Unfamiliar with the O’Hare airport, I asked multiple United workers for directions. One informed me that the gate for the flight closed and I should go to customer service immediately.

Mortified and heartbroken, I made my way to have a 45 minute discussion of what was going to happen next with a United worker. They offered me a hotel room at the Hyatt for the night and $30 to spend on food. I was going to have to catch the same exact flight the next day and rearrange transportation to Finland.

Day two of traveling was not any easier. I got off the bus shuttle at the wrong terminal and it took several attempts to navigate by tram. When checking into Austrian Air I was told that I could not go because I “had the wrong Visa.” Eventually the confusion was cleared and was let through.

When I made it through security, after being held back for 30 minutes, I made it promptly to my gate.

When preparing to study abroad I was always told I’ll have the opportunity to grow as a person. At the time it didn’t mean much of course. Life events must happen to someone in order for one to fully understand the meaning of  personal growth.

My traveling experience was a test of self-reliance and a reification that I can do this. It was an experience that gave me a perspective of where I am at in my life. I turn 20 in a few weeks and I am moving to live in Europe for 5 months. This spring semester of 2017 is going to be about me and about my zeal to learn about the world.

The day that I had thought and anticipated for months had arrived. The excitement of the unknown was near and I was officially off to Europe for 5 months.


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