After a long weekend of racing, I decided to take Tuesday completely off. This gave me the perfect opportunity to carry out a project that I’d been thinking about. I thought it would be fun to stop by the local school to see if a visitor from the US would be welcome in an English class.
My only knowledge of the school’s location came from having seen some kids with backpacks a few days prior, around 3pm, all walking in a particular direction (AWAY!) from one side of town. So I set out to find their collective point of exodus. Before long, I heard the unmistakable sounds of recess. Even in Finnish, playground chatter is familiar. I followed some middle school-aged kids inside, and learned right away to take off my shoes at the door. My black leather boots stood out in the rows of sneakers and skateboarding shoes in the entryway. The kids slid around the slippery tile floors in their socks, and for some reason I feared that the first teacher I encountered would be shoe-clad and alarmed to see me in socks. I couldn’t find the office or any adults, so I asked one of the older students if she spoke English, and if she could show me to the office. She responded politely in clear English that she understood and showed me upstairs to a teachers’ lounge.
I introduced myself to the first teacher I saw, (who happened to be wearing sandals over socks, but socks were also an appropriate choice for adults) and pitched the idea of visiting an English class. She immediately brought me to the headmaster, who approved the idea and began shuffling around the students’ schedules for the next two days so that they could all have a chance to meet with me! I guess I had somewhat expected this reaction. Maybe because I am a former high school exchange student or because I have an admittedly nerdy interest in second language acquisition, but I know for sure that there is not a language teacher out there who wouldn’t be thrilled to have a native speaker visit the classroom, especially in a remote community. So I made a slideshow of pictures and maps and went back the following two afternoons. My presentation focussed on my hometown and high school, and where I live and what I do now. I put a picture of me skiing on the first slide and wore skinny jeans and a trendy flannel so that the 13-year olds might actually perceive me as ‘cool.’ My nose piercing may have been my best chance on this one.
The teachers and students were gracious and curious and asked good questions. Some of my favorites were, “Do you play angry birds?”, “What kind of car do you have?”, “What is your deepest fear”, “What did you know about Finland before you came?”, “How much money have you made skiing?” and “Do you know Andy Newell?” The students were definitely a bit shy, so I gave them something to laugh about with my very best attempt at pronouncing their vanhat nimityyppimme, “Finnish names.” (Two y’s?? I mean come on.) Their school was nice and new and extremely clean. They hosted me in their auditorium, which was complete with a theater-sized projection screen. The students seemed to have a lot of both freedom and responsibility, which may be part of why they top the charts. When I left on the last day, an English teacher and special education teacher who had been especially welcoming to me gave me gifts, including homemade cloudberry jam, a necklace with a cloudberry charm, a reindeer ornament, and a bag full of Finnish chocolates. I would say “the work paid off!” but it wasn’t work, just fun.
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