Friday, June 7, 2013

Our final post...

Home sweet home....bittersweet however!  We had a long day of traveling on Wednesday.  By the time we got home, we had been up close to 24 hours.  The flights went really well but we were sad to fly away from Finland.

We'd like to thank The Rural School and Community Trust for this beyond amazing experience.  We've talked a lot about how this experience has transformed many of our views of education.  It has truly expanded our cultural horizons.  It's not everyday that a person gets the chance to visit a different country and learn as much as we did.  =)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 11: Goodbye Helsinki!

Before getting to today's happenings, we'll give more details about our trip to Tallinn.  Too worn out yesterday to elaborate on our great day.  As we mentioned, the ferry ride was more like a ship ride.  Very smooth sailing with beautiful, clear skies.  We stayed out on the deck for as long as we could handle the wind!  Chilly....even though the rest of the day was very warm with all the walking and sightseeing.

The Old Town of Tallinn is nestled right in the middle of the modern, larger Tallinn.  The tall skyscrapers and hotels mingle with the church towers and old city walls in the skyline.  It's quite unique.  We walked around the wall until we got to the main gate.  The narrow cobble streets and clay rooftops instantly bring you back to when this town was the heart of Estonia.

We visited a bakery for lunch and began to explore.  The first church we visited allowed people to go up to the top of the tower for a small fee.  We both thought that the views from up there would be worth it!  The winding stairs were very old and there was only space for one person so meeting someone coming the other way was tricky!  Kristi made it about 1/2 way before saying "no way!" and headed back down.  (I don't really do heights and those little windows didn't help!)  Lynn made it to the top but only peeked her head out.  The edge was only protected with a few thin wires.  For someone not weary of the height and edge, the views of the town are probably priceless.  Not for these 2!!!!

Throughout the day, we visited several other churches (no tower climbing however!).  We also visited the City Museum and tried to visit the oldest pharmacy and it's museum but they are closed on Mondays. The antique shops were neat because of the old Soviet and war memorabilia.

The ride back was nice.  We caught a taxi back to our hotel.  Our feet were not in the mood to walk the almost 2 km. back to our hotel!!

After a good night's rest, we got up this morning for one last walk around Helsinki.  We headed over to a market with vendors selling handmade items.  Then, we made our way down to the harbor and around Senate Square.

We packed up, said goodbye to Raddison Blue, and headed over to the hotel by the airport.  The check-in desk gave us the same room we stayed in when we first arrived.  It's a nice room with a great view of the runway.  It's fun to see the planes landing and taking off.

Our flight to Frankfurt leaves pretty early tomorrow.  We have about a 3 hour layover in Germany before we head home to NC.  We commented about how it seems like we've been here so long yet doesn't seem like we should be leaving just yet.

Old KGB tower the used to block outside radio and TV airwaves

Coming into Tallinn

Gate into the Old Town

Beautiful church

Narrow, cobblestone street

St. Catherine's Passage

Another beautiful church

Another beautiful church

Wall surrounding the Old Town

View of Tallinn

View of Tallinn


Narrow street nestled between the old buildings

Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 10: Estonia!!!!!

Whew!!!  What a day!!!  We had a blast visiting Tallinn, Estonia.  Our feet are nice and tired.  :)

Our "ferry" ride was about two hours.  It was a really neat ship.  It looked like a smaller version of a cruise ship that you might see in the Caribbean.  Passengers can even rent cabins for the two hour ride.  We started out on the top deck, watching the scenery.  Helsinki was beautiful from up there.  But then that breeze off the Baltic got too chilly so we found a nice spot by a window inside.

After we got into port, we made our way to the Old Town.  It's a very interesting skyline.  You have this very modern, large area around the outside of the stone wall.  Inside the stone wall, you can see the old buildings and churches. 

We visited many churches and museums today.  Tallinn was very busy....and hot! 

The ride back into Helsinki was nice.  We chose to sit inside this time  :)

I'll elaborate further on Tallinn tomorrow....and post pictures. 

2 tired teachers tonight   =)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day 9: Getting everything in!

Today was really the last full day that we had to see everything that we could possibly see in Helsinki.  Tomorrow we have a full day traveling to Estonia.  Tuesday we check out of this hotel and head to the airport hotel for the night since our flight to Germany is super early Wednesday morning.

We got to the Finnish National Gallery just as it opened this morning.  The building itself was stunning.  They have a huge, wide collection of art from all over the world.  We were able to view one of Van Gogh's last paintings, "Street in Auvers."  The colors are so beautiful!!!

Next, we hopped the city tram to go over to the harbor.  While we were over on that side of town, we visited a breathtaking Eastern Orthodox church.  The outside was very pretty but paled in comparison to the inside.  The detail and work that went into designing and building the church is amazing.

After we saw the church, we took a 20 minute ferry ride out to one of the world's oldest zoos.  It's on a small island just off the coast of Helsinki.  We enjoyed going to a zoo without worrying about keeping 60+ kids safe!!  :)  The highlight for us was getting to see the reindeer!  We made sure to make it to their exhibit.  We also got up close and personal to a giant male lion lounging in the sun.  It took most of the day to explore the island and see all of the animals.  Many of them were inside their "houses" because of the exceptionally warm temperatures.

For dinner, we stayed at the hotel and enjoyed their very nice restaurant.  The waiters brought us tablets to view the menu and order on.  Very fancy!!  Lynn decided to try a very Finnish dish....she ordered the reindeer steak!!  It is a staple over here for many people!  She said that it tasted very much like beef.

Tomorrow will be an exciting day!  We are both really looking forward to our day trip across the Baltic to Estonia!   :)

Eastern Orthodox church

Finnish National Gallery

Our ferry to and from the Helsinki zoo

Lazin' in the sun


Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, - is that you??!!

Look at those antlers!

View of Helsinki from the zoo

Lynn's reindeer dish

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Day 8: Some Finnish history...

Absolutely beautiful day today!  We've heard many people comment about how unseasonable warm and nice it has been the last few days.  We're sure that we brought the nice weather to Finland with us  :)  Unlike a previous trip complete with snow and getting stuck in an airport hotel for a week!!!!!!!!!

We started our day walking around the sights of busy Helsinki.  A lot of people seem to come into the city for the weekend.  We stopped at a few shops on our way to the market harbor.  We caught a city ferry to Suomenlinna (or Sveaborg, which is the original Swedish name of the fortress) the once-Russian held fortress, which spans 5 of Finland's 180,000+ islands.  The ride was only 10-15 minutes and the ferries run quite often.  We spent the majority of our day exploring this very neat place.  About 850 people reside on these 5 islands and it is a very, very popular tourist attraction.  We took a guided tour with Susani who was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the fortress.

It was originally built when Finland still belonged to Sweden.  Augustin (who is buried on one of the islands) was the main designer of the fortress and oversaw much of it's development.  It was built because of the belief that the Russians would not be able to overtake the fortress, which would keep them from getting to the mainland.  The Sweds (and Finnish) knew that the Russians could not attack from the East because of the dense forests.  They believed that they would only be able to attack from the Baltic Sea.  It took 40 years to build because of several construction stoppages due to peace talks with Russia.  After it was finally built, another man took over as commander of Suomenlinna (Augustin had died of pneumonia).  When the Russians did attack (in the winter, which was very rare), he surrendered the fortress to the Russian military.  The fortress then came under Russian control.  About 50 years later, the Anglo-Saxon fleet (with its "modern" warfare tactics and weaponry) attacked the aging fortress to show force and power in the Baltic region.  After Finland declared independence in 1917, the Finnish government took control of Sveaborg and rename it Suomenlinna.  In 1991, it was added to the World Heritage list.

We really enjoyed this very unique place.  The landscape and views of the Baltic Sea were just beautiful.  We both went out on the rocks and felt the chilly Baltic Sea water.

When we got back to market square, we tried to visit a few museums and a church but because it was late in the day, almost everything was closed.

Tomorrow, we have plans to hop another ferry to another island to visit the Finnish zoo. :)  We also hope to visit those churches and museums that were closed today.  If we miss them, we always have Tuesday morning.  Monday is a full day.  We are crossing the Baltic Sea to visit Estonia!  We'll be up early and back late so that we can take full advantage of our time there.

Military Museum on Suomenlinna 

Augustin's burial site

Dry dock on Suomenlinna 

The Baltic Sea from Suomenlinna 

Lynn feeling the Baltic Sea

The fortresSuomenlinna 

View of Helsinki from the fortresSuomenlinna 


Friday, May 31, 2013

Day 7: A lot of sightseeing!

Since we were unable to meet with any other schools and/or professors (we tried lots!!!), the rest of our trip is sightseeing and learning more about the Finnish history and culture.

We started the day with an hour and 45 minute guided bus tour of Helsinki.  Several languages were offered so it was nice to understand what the recording was saying!!  We circled around the new part and old part of the city (even though none of it looks "new", with the except of a few modern-designed museum buildings).  We started by one of the harbors.  This harbor is a port of call for several cruise lines.  Next, we got views of and information about the House of Estates, Finnish Bank, several statues from centuries ago, cathedrals, and historic buildings.  We took a short stop at Temppeliaukio Church, which is a church designed and built into rock.  This is a very popular tourist destination.  Also on the tour, we were able to see Suomenlinna, the island with the former Russian-controlled fortress, from the mainland.  The harbor on that side of town is very famous for its shipbuilding. Many of the ships that cruise the Caribbean were actually built Finland.  We also stopped at a park to view Sibelius Monument, which was built to honor the very famous Finnish composer Sibelius.  He is the composer of "Findlandia" which is very popular around the world.  We're not sure that we can explain all of the amazing sights that we saw today!  There is so much history and culture that sometimes it's hard to take it all in!

After the tour, we grabbed lunch at Stockman's little cafĂ©.  This is a HUGE department store in the middle of Helsinki.  The saying goes that if you can't find it here, you don't need it!

We walked back along the guided tour route to the National Museum of Finland.  This museum presents Finnish life from prehistoric times to now.  The exhibits tell about life over a period of around 10,000 years!!!!!!!  Now that's history!

We did a lot of just walking around, taking in the sights and sounds of Helsinki today.  The weather was perfect for exploring the city.  Tomorrow, we will take the ferry and spend the day at Suomenlinna, exploring the fortress and series of islands.  That should take the majority of the day.  When we get back, we plan on seeing more historic sites and visiting more of the museums.

Hope everyone back home enjoys their weekend!!!

Lynn on the guided city tour

Statue outside historic building (now a bank) -- notice the damage at the bottom of the statue (from fighting during the war)

"Rock Church" organ

"Rock Church"

1952 Helsinki Olympic Stadium

National Museum of Finland

Lynn with....well, we're not quite sure!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day 6: Helsinki

"...the most important part of any successful education system -- the teacher..."  (quote from Finnish educational system literature)

What started out as a cloudy, dreary morning in Espoo ended up being a beautifully bright afternoon in Helsinki!  We arrived at our hotel around noon and luckily, were able to get into our room right away to leave our luggage.  We walked back over to the train station for a quick sandwich before heading over to the teacher education building of the University of Helsinki.  Being able to see the classroom/teacher dimension of their educational system was just half of why we decided to come to Finland.  The other half deals with how teachers are trained before going out into the workforce.

Jari Lavonen (Ph.D, professor, head of the teacher education department at the University of Helsinki) made some time in his schedule to meet with us this afternoon.  He leaves tomorrow for a trip to Japan so we did not take too much of his time.  The time that we did spend with him was very enlightening.  To keep with the tradition of our other posts :) , here's what we learned today:

1.  About 10% of the people that apply to the teacher education programs are accepted.
2.  Each university has complete autonomy when it comes to the selection of the open slots.  At the University of Helsinki, applicants take a comprehensive reading test that measures how well they apply and analyze.  Then, the applicants are given an educational topic and discuss this in teams of 4 while the faculty members observe how well the students are listening, participating, articulating, etc.  Finally, the applicants are interviewed.
3.  Even though Sweden is very close in proximity to and hold similar values in their society, their universities have a difficult time recruiting students to join the education field.
4.  Teachers go to school for five years (except pre-school teachers which is 3 years unless they choose to keep going the full 5 years) and leave with a Master's degree.
5.  There are no teacher tests (Praxis) or portfolios at the end of the program.  They feel that their rigorous application process yields the most motivated and eager students.
6.  When monies/salaries are comparable, Finnish teachers make comparable to the US national average (around $40,000).
7.  Teachers are required to take 3 days of professional development a year.  Most of that time is used for school planning and improvement.  They feel as though the teacher prep programs have prepared these teachers to go out and learn on their own.
8.  A PhD and a EdD are of equal importance and value in Finland.
9.  Society holds the teaching profession in high regard.  It is a sought after profession that not just anyone can do.
10.  Finland does not have "police" (as Dr. Levonan called it) for checking in on schools and teachers.
11.  There is no discussion of accountability or emphasis on testing.

It was very evident that Finland holds a high standard for their teachers and their teacher education programs.  But with that high standard, comes trust and a certain degree of freedom or autonomy.  Dr. Lavonen commented that in Finland, it is understood that classroom teachers can and do make the biggest impact on a child's education.  He (as many other educators that we spoke with) does not understand why and how the US tests young children as much as we do.  It is not a part of their educational system, as it is here.

Dr. Lavonen was very kind to meet with us and we really learned so much from him.  It was very interesting to hear how such a high-ranking system trains their teachers.

After our visit, we walked around Helsinki.  We were able to go into the Helsinki Cathedral today, as well as  view the ships in the harbor.  And of course, we couldn't visit Helsinki without at least one meal at Hard Rock Cafe!!!

Tomorrow, we are taking a guided bus tour of the city and plan to visit some of the museums.  :)  If the weather is nice, we will take a ferry ride to an island that has a sea fortress that used to be controlled by Russian forces.

Lynn in city square

Train Station

Architecture  :)

Kristi inside the Helsinki Cathedral
Inside Helsinki Cathedral

University of Helsinki building (teacher education)

Theater and statue in square

More architecture

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day 5 - A little sightseeing...

Today was a little bit of a down day for us.  We did not have a school to visit here in Espoo.  We would have planned to go into Helsinki today but we thought that we might be able to plan a visit with another school.  Many schools we contacted said that they were unable to meet with us because of the end of school being so near.

We decided to go into Helsinki for just a few hours today since Espoo doesn't have as many attractions to see.  We've seen all we can see here!!!  Yesterday, we were able to go inside the cathedral.  It was just amazing.  The drawings on the walls are originals from the 15th Century, as well as the crucifix (what is remaining of it).  Takes your breath away to walk inside.  We also saw the oldest schoolhouse in Espoo.  It was a cute little red building that they've done a terrific job keeping up for people to visit.

We hopped the train to Helsinki around lunch (we are expert train riders now!).  It's a short ride in so we grabbed lunch at an open air market by the harbor in Helsinki.  The architecture is striking in the city.  Some of the streets are cobble and you can definitely tell that it's an old city.  We walked around the harbor area and the square before finding where our next hotel will be and the University of Helsinki.  Tomorrow, we will go there to meet with the head of the teacher education department. 

We have a lot planned for the next few days in Helsinki.  Lots of museums and landmarks to see, as well as a few boat rides.

We noticed how polite the Finnish people are and how clean they keep their country.  They are very big on keeping the environment healthy.  It's nice to see.  We also noticed that they LOVE pizza and ice cream!!!!  There's both on almost every corner! 

Oldest schoolhouse in Espoo

View of the area of Espoo where we are staying

Our hotel, Hotel Glo (very nice!!)

Lynn in one of the squares in Helsinki

A cathedral in Helsinki

Statue in the city square