A note from Greenheart Travel: Eva Levin is a high school student from Maine who studied in Finland during the Spring 2021 semester.
By Eva Levin
School life all across the world leaves a very bold mark on the culture of every nation’s youth. The way that we learn in our communities affects our relationships, our free time, and our overall outlook on life. I was lucky enough to get to experience a semester abroad in Tampere, Finland, to conclude the final five months of my freshman year. Having lived in a relatively small town in Maine for the past five and a half years (excluding my time abroad), I was very used to the Northern climate, and a lifestyle with certain aspects influenced by Nordic culture, due to my previous fascination with the region. Because of this, prior to travelling to Finland I faced some concern that the social environment would be similar to that of my own region, just like the physical environment is. However, this notion was far from the truth, which I soon realized upon entering Finland and it’s school system, and getting the chance to become acquainted with Finnish school culture and their communities.
Oftentimes, schools in Finland will have different classes that specialize in different subjects, and take extra classes in their group’s subjects. When I attended Linnainmaan koulu (Linnainmaa’s school) in Tampere, Finland, I was lucky enough to be placed in a music class, (where we’d have more music lessons each week than the average group of students as every student in the class was a musician prior to joining the class), where we’d play a variety of different songs on different instruments. My school would hold events where the students who played music would perform songs in both English and Finnish (many students in Finland are interested in American or English music and pop culture).
In terms of physical education, gym teachers in schools in Finland will utilize the advantage of the cold winter and sometimes excessive amounts of snow. On my first day in Finnish “liikunta” class, or “exercise” class, we got to go out and do cross country skiing across the paths in the back area of the neighborhood that my school was located in. Other activities that students get to do together in the winter time that may not be very common for schools in the U.S., specifically in the southern U.S. where snow can be rare, are outdoor skating and ice hockey with chairs (one person skates and pushes someone in the chair who is holding an ice hockey stick to play against the other sitting students and their partners.) As an exchange student who didn’t know the language well, I particularly enjoyed playing ice hockey, as I got to learn a lot of new words in Finnish about speed and turning, so it was a fun opportunity to communicate in Finnish to use teamwork with a classmate.
Depending on what time of year you choose to travel, you’ll get to experience different strangely lengthened days during your life in Finland. As most of the states in the US (minus parts of Alaska) are too far South to experience the elongated days in the summer and the elongated nights in the winter, going to Finland and seeing daylight for nearly 24 hours (depending on your city) in the summer, or walking to and from school in the dark in the winter may seem like the strangest thing. At the very beginning of my trip in mid-January, I would walk to school in the dark, and by the time I left school, the sun would already have begun setting. By the very end, in mid-June, the sun would officially set around 11:30 at night, but the sky would never truly get dark as it would in the wintertime. Though this aspect to Finnish life may seem very strange to most Americans, or most people from any part of the world, it’s also a really amazing thing to experience. To a foreigner from any country that’s further south, the long nights and long days depending on the season make the days feel special and unique.
There are many small and large aspects to Finnish lifestyle and school culture that will differ from your life as a student in your own country. However, the close communities and well trained, friendly school teachers will make you feel at home in your future community and town. Most students and teachers will likely be accommodating to your language requests in terms of how much Finnish you use or how much English you use, as many people in Finland are proficient in English. However, if it is your goal to learn the Finnish language, don’t be afraid to push yourself to practice Finnish and ask those around you in your host community to speak Finnish with you, as with such a difficult language, the best way to learn it is to speak it as often as possible. Hopefully you’ll be able to recognize some of these fun cultural differences and aspects to Finnish school culture and life on your trip, and discover many more with meaning to you.