It doesn’t seem possible that I am already nearing the last few months of my Fulbright term, especially when I think about the work I still have to finish. Yet this past week we had our final full group event of the year – Fulbright Forum – to present, at least on some level, our work over the past six months.
The first day of the forum was focused exclusively on education. Some of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching fellows presented the innovative teaching methods they use in their U.S. classrooms and the ways that Finnish education incorporates similar methods. Others, like Michelle and Jules, who have been studying the Finnish education system all year, presented on both the strengths and weaknesses of Finnish education. While I’m certainly not a pedagogue and a lot of the terms these scholars use went over my head, I was still able to make connections to my own experiences in education and to my own work.
For example, I couldn’t help but think about the ways that education and health are so intertwined. Whenever someone mentioned the equal footing that all Finnish children find themselves on as they walk into primary school, my mind automatically went to early childhood, infancy, and prenatal care. The Finnish neuvola system is the reason for this success, and education and health scholars alike are big fans. Do a quick GoogleScholar search for it and you’ll see what I mean. The word neuvola literally translates to “A place for advice,” and that’s what these families get in addition to basic care. Mothers receive prenatal care from these regional public health clinics, and after birth, their children receive pediatric care in these same clinics. The neuvola system also includes parenting training, psychosocial support for the family, and assistance with nutrition, behavioral problems, and learning. In many ways, the success of the education system in Finland is directly related to the success of their public healthcare system. In the same way, the healthcare system benefits from the education system by producing well-educated students who become healthcare professionals and scientists, in addition to producing a generally health literate patient population. It is no wonder that both of these institutions are well regarded throughout the world.
The final day of the forum was dedicated to the arts and sciences. Topics ranged from the algae and parasite eco-apocalypse to socially conscious engineering, and social justice approaches to law, humanitarian aid, and the armed forces. I was able to present my work and received good feedback from some of the social science scholars in the audience. While it is always fun to see your friends present on their passions, and to present on your own, I think my favorite part of the conference was finding the small ways our work connected. Whether it’s the way that breastfeeding could contribute to saving our environment or how educational pedagogy aimed at improving language development could be utilized with children who were once preterm infants, I always learn something when listening to my amazingly intelligent Fulbright peers.
As the conference came to a close and we began to say our goodbyes, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for all the ups and downs my time here has brought and the people who came along for the ride. Both the Fulbright Finland team and the American grantees I’ve met throughout my grant term have helped me grow in my scholarship and in my understanding of the connectedness of our world. We all endured the winter, embraced some awkward Finnish moments, and found joy in the differences and similarities between Finnish and American life. Although I have a lot left to accomplish in the only 70 days (eep!) I have left here, I know that this is only the beginning of a lifelong connection to Finland, its people, and the Fulbright Finland community.