Fulbright Finland definitely knows how to welcome their American grantees. I’ve just finished a wonderful week of orientation in Helsinki where I was finally able to meet the other grantees, learn more about Finnish culture, and see the energetic Fulbright Finland team in action.
Fulbright Finland is fairly unique in terms of the work it does to support both American and Finnish grantees. As a Fulbright commission country, rather than a Fulbright consulate country, Finland has really put energy into creating a strong bilateral program that allows for innovation and free trade of ideas between our nations. The long history of exchange between our nations began even before Finland joined the Fulbright program in 1952.
In order to make us feel welcome and learn as much about Finland as we possibly could in 4 jam-packed days, we had speakers from various Finnish ministries and U.S. departments. A representative of the Ministry of Education and Culture and two higher education representatives came to discuss the Finnish education system. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinated discussions on Finnish international relations and the Finnish economy. There, I got my first in-person glimpse of a Finnish baby box, and pure joy obviously ensued.
We also had some time to engage in Finnish culture this past week. Our first evening in Helsinki was spent at a Finnish cultural center on the island of Hanasaari learning how to properly sauna, ice swim, and play Molkky. Sauna and ice swimming were quite invigorating, although I don’t know how the Finns cope with the cold water once winter comes. With the air temperature currently less than 60 F in the evenings, the water is already cold enough to knock the wind out you. Molkky is a traditional Finnish yard game that requires tossing a wooden mallet at pins labeled with numbers. I would describe it as a mix of corn hole and bowling.
The week ended with a celebration of our achievements (although we all know that there are lots more to come before the year ends). Meeting my fellow Fulbrighters was exactly the energy-boost I needed to start my research. It was good to be in a group of people just as passionate about the work they are doing as I am about my own. Even though many of us are in different cities throughout the country, it is nice to know that there are people going through a similar process, and that we will all see each other soon. Until then, it’s time to get to work!