Thursday, March 28, 2013

Working in the Helsinki/Espoo Area

It's been a great week visiting Maija Aksela at the Finland's Science Education Center LUMA, University of Helsinki, Pasi Vilpas at the Sotungin Koulu, Mujib, Jukka, and Terhi Oksanen at the Kuitimaen Koulu, and Terhi Möslä, Aki Kalliomaki, Johanna Lahti and Sonja Kuosmanen at the Fulbright Center. I have so many stories but no way to get the pictures onto my iPad and upload them to the blog. What's a blog without pictures?  So you'll have to wait, and so will I, until I get back to my computer.

In the meantime, I'm brainstorming ideas for future projects in the laundry room of our Helsinki apartment.  They even have a machine that irons...I think. Here is one picture from my iPad.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Inspiration from Fulbrighters

I've met some pretty remarkable young Fulbrighters at the German/EU conference in Berlin: Ane is studying the successful anti-prostitution policies in Sweden, Karen is studying the different educational choices students make in Finland, Alieza is studying public policy (Berlin), and Allie is working in Jewish studies (Berlin). Heather is a English teacher's assistant in Belgium, William is an engineer interested in human physiology in space (Belgium), and Nicholas is a Schuman Fellow studying EU science policy.

 Ane Mathieson, Karen Lee, Alieza Durana, Allie Brudney

Heather Annette Siegel, Allie Brudney, Alieza Durana, William Runge, Karen Lee, Nicholas Michael Bashour 

And just for fun, here is a man and his dog enjoying time in the local cafe. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Who has Longer Days?

Finland now has more sunlight per day than Los Angeles...even if the sun is hidden behind the clouds.  :)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Berlin Street Art

A little look at Berlin street art - with the knowledge of how it is both discouraged and encouraged in Berlin's culture.  Street art is illegal but it is still a vibrant part of Berlin's "architecture."  Here is a look at a few pieces I photographed on 18 March 2013 on a tour by and then a look at what I created in their street art studio that same afternoon.  (It was never put up in the street so it is completely legal.  :) That evening we attended a Fulbright event at one of the Berlin symphony halls and I was surprised to see that the designers chose graffiti art to hang in one of their reception areas.  Street art seems to be in a love/hate relationship with the people and culture of Berlin; it's fascinating.

 This knitted tree and post covering are considered street art, too.

My piece of "street art," which will never be found on the street.

The artwork in the reception area of the Universität der Künste.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Swimming and Dipping in Icy Finnish Water

 This was the view of the participants as we first arrived at the sauna/ice swimming location in Tampere.  We were in the area because were were attending the Living Colors Seminar for the Finnish Fulbright participants; our meeting would give us a chance to network and learn about each other's research projects. We were not disappointed!

On Friday evening after most people left, some of the Fulbright participants went down to the ice swimming hole for a celebration - a pre-arranged event engineered by Karen Lee to celebrate the arrival of Christine McCartney who had just arrived for her Fulbright experience.  We're so happy she's here and there was no better way to welcome her to Finland than to give her a truly Finnish experience.

I found these stairs down to the water are a bit overwhelming.  There is ice on the ground and ice on the outer rails. You need to understand that I get cold at 60 degrees F/15 degrees C.  This experience would be impossible for me and I did not have high hopes of accomplishing anything other than being embarrassed.  I don't even like a cool shower!

Always remember you should never swim alone.

It's a long, contemplative walk down to the water.  The "bubblers" are meant to keep the water from freezing - they are not here to warm the water.

The first step in this Finnish experience is to warm up in the sauna.  I mean, get HOT. This is the first sauna I've been in that is meant for both men and women. It was PACKED.  Body to body.  And one man was hitting his back with some kind of material or plant.  (Ick. I had to move because water was flying!)  It was truly the hottest sauna I've ever been in - so hot that it hurt my eyes.  Surprisingly, the Finns just sat there - looking quite pleased and comforted.  Relaxed. Clearly, I had a lot to get used to.

There were five of us getting mentally prepared for this "dip"  - Christine McCartney, our newbie, Amanda Siepiola, the one person who has done this before, Karen Lee, Lindsay Whorton, and me.  We were excited, nervous, and, I would say, as a group, "fearless." (Not me.) This is not a group who sits by and let the world roll on by - these are women who go out the world and truly experience it.

Out we went!


Not only did they dip, but they SWAM!  Fearless, I tell you!  Fearless!

Not me, I dipped.  That was plenty and it was WONDERFUL.  I dipped three times and then on the fourth, I just couldn't do it anymore.  Clearly, my adrenaline was all used up.  In all honesty, I can't wait to do it again - and next time - I'm bringing my brother.  He will love it, too.  :)

Here's Christine's group picture and a link to her blog:

 We asked the man to pose with us and he reluctantly said, "Yes."  It does add a bit of local personality to the picture, don't you think? 


If you get to Helsinki be sure to visit Kaffeecentralen, a lovely coffee shop and seller of all things delectable to coffee lovers. Their address is Pursimiehenkatu 23 and is right next door to the Design Museum, which I also LOVED. The people at Kaffeecentralen are warm and personable and the coffee - exceptional.  

Actually, the barista served my favorite coffee - and I've only had it once before - I was in South Africa and I was allowed only one cup (with no refills) because the Africans were saving the coffee beans for the World Cup!  I was in heaven to taste it again!

So delicious!

So I spontaneously bought a few packs and sent one to my mother and one to Bob and Anna.  Well, it was a bit extravagant and WAY too expensive to send, but, well, I did it anyway.  And my brother doesn't even like coffee! 


(Note to family - I probably won't be sending anything else home; it is too expensive. Anna, try it as espresso or a latte. :)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The "Puzzle" Hotel in Helsinki

"Giving thanks for kind taxi drivers: I arrived in Helsinki at 11:00pm on the train and I took a taxi to my hotel. We couldn't find the hotel, however, because there is no address on the building. There is a phone number on the door but the sign has the correct name of my hotel. There is no hotel reception because it is after 10pm. My phone is almost dead so the taxi driver calls the phone number and then he tells me he won't leave until he is sure I can get inside. The lady on the phone gives me two codes for the hotel - one for the front door and one for a key box inside. There are two code boxes on the front door; the first one box doesn't work but the second one does. Inside we find the key boxes but they are up four stairs to the right and hidden around a corner. The sign near the boxes says, "Please only take your key." My code opens the little box and I find my key but the room number is missing. We find the room number hidden inside an envelope and then the taxi driver leaves. There's a note on the wall near the boxes that says "the second number in your room number is your floor number. " My room number is 212 and another note says to go to stairway 2. There is no stairway, much less a stairway 2 that i can find, but there is a lift with a list of room numbers and the corresponding button I'm supposed to push. I push 1. I get off the lift and there are a variety of room numbers and all of them have a "1" as the second number. I find my room. Now I know why the Finns are such good problem solvers. "  (My post on Facebook.)

The front of the hotel.

The front door.


Sign on the front door.

The boxes that hold the room keys.

Directions to find the rooms.

More directions 


More directions


This is the room directly outside the elevator, one floor up from the lobby.

My hallway (Notice the raised line on the floor.)

My room

Another stairway down the hall.

I climbed to the top of the building - this stairway that was hidden in the back of the building.

I solved the puzzle!  The hotel is actually the joining of two buildings and if you look closely at my hallway you can see where the buildings are joined.  Room numbers have three numbers and the ones that start with "1" are in building one and room numbers that start with "2" are in building two.  The second number in the room number is the floor number and the third number is the actual room. There is a stairway for building one and another for building two, but not all rooms can be directly accessed by the first stairway.

This is actually one of my favorite hotels - it is close to the city center, museums and restaurants, the price was decent (through and the staff was very helpful.  The rooms have small kitchens so it's considered more of a hotel/apartment building - that's why the reception is closed at night and on the weekends.  That being said, I had a lovely stay and I enjoyed the puzzle.  Thank you, Hellston Helsinki Parliament!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Night as a Winter Animal

Last Friday I awoke thinking, "What am I doing?  Why am I going to spend the night in a Finnish hunting cottage that has no electricity, no heat other than a fireplace, and no running water?"  I had serious second thoughts about joining Sirpa Karkkainen and her class of student teachers on this excursion away from Joensuu.  But Sirpa, with her charm and her lovely sense of humor, told me about it and giggled as she spoke about what the experience would be to us - I couldn't turn her down! She talked about experiencing the winter as the animals do and learning how to appreciate how difficult it is to survive the long winter months.  This experience should help teachers understand the value of immersion into the an environment and how to use this as a tool to engage thinking and learning. She talked about sleeping on the floor in a cottage whose only heat was from the fire we would take turns stoking throughout the night, and about the dead animals that hung on the walls and stared down at us at night as we slept.

At noon on Friday, the 16 or so of us met in the parking lot outside the Educa building at the University of Eastern Finland and packed up the vans to go.  I had my belongings in two separate bags, but most of the Finns came with sophisticated backpacks and equipment, along with cross-country skis, boots, a sled, and food and equipment for cooking.  I brought lots of warm clothes, some sticks (ski poles with large baskets) and a pad to sleep on (thanks, Tuula), and some sandwiches for the afternoon.  Sirpa was bringing us food, sleeping bags, and some skis and snowshoes.  We piled in the vans and off we went.

Sign for the Hunting Cottage

It was a beautiful day and not too cold - about 5C, and it took less than an hour to arrive at the hunting cottage.  We were all pleasantly surprised to see that the cottage was much nicer than any of us had anticipated!  There was the main cottage on the left, a woodshed, a wooden house for a fire and singing and cooking sausages, a sauna building, and a first-class outhouse. 

Heikki, the expert biologist who met us at the cottage had kindly arrived the day before, and realizing the cottage temperature was -10C, began the fire almost 24 hours before we arrived.  By the time we got there, it was 12C, a warm 50 degrees F or so.  Very comfortable.

There was a lot of bustle and activity inside the cottage with us organizing our equipment and then everyone was gone - this is not uncommon when you don't know the language!  They had shared some information in Finnish but of course I didn't understand it - but now everyone was outside getting on their skis and snowshoes and preparing for a three-hour nature experience with Heikki. I found my snowshoes, got them attached, and off we went.  I didn't know we were supposed to bring snacks and drink, but I was on my way with the group.

It was funny, and awkward, to be a group of snowshoers and skiers - there were some terrains that were easier for the skiers and some that was easier for the snowshoers.  (video)

Moose Tracks

We found some adult moose tracks, and some young moose tracks - both a few days old based upon the freshness of the tracks in the snow.  There were tracks of shrews and martens, mice, and then... a hole about the size of a softball where a grouse flew - dove - into the snow to make a safe home for the night, and then markings were it had flown out the next morning.

We also saw some moose "beds" where the moose had clearly bedded down for some rest, and some plant tops that had been eaten as the moose browsed their way through the young forest.

Our dinner was pasta made from hot water from a packed mix, a welcome treat after time in the forest, and two small sandwiches.  We stoked the fire but there was a problem, the cottage was filling up with smoke and it wouldn't be safe to sleep in such a smokey environment - we may never wake up if we fell asleep in that room.

Some of the students went down to start the fire for the sauna - it would take a few hours to get the room warm enough for the sauna, and other students shoveled snow into plastic bins to use for washing.  The women would go first and then the men, and if you know anything about Finnish sauna culture, it is typical to go naked.  For Americans this is a shock, I know, but to the Finns it is no big deal.  They were more concerned that there were a few sticks and needles in the melted snow water!

A Finnish Sauna

While we waited for the sauna we sat around one of the tables (family-style) and looked at cards showing the wildlife and their footprints from the local area.  It was all in Finnish and it gave us a good chance to talk and discuss and laugh together as friends.  Some were riddles and some made you compare and contrast different imprints in the snow.  I was quite impressed with the group of young people who would soon become Finnish teachers. 

We reluctantly let the fire in the cottage burn out, bundled up, and hoped for a night that didn't get too cold. The animals on the walls didn't look too scary and we all settled in for a night's sleep.  Some of the young men decided to sleep in the house shaped like a tall yert - wooden with a big hole at the top to let out the smoke.  Unfortunately, the hole in the top also let out all the heat.  The men were very, very cold when we saw them in the morning and it seemed to take them hours to warm up completely.

We each came to the cottage with an idea about a project we wanted to think about - these were mostly primary school student teachers so they worked on projects that could use with their students - for example, "How do animals move in the snow?" Or, "What plants are living under the snow?" Or, "How does sound differ when you stand in the forest or out in a clearing?"  My question was, "How does the stress of the cold affect human behavior?"

I interviewed student teachers, others took videos of themselves pretending to be animals moving through the snow (on feet, on hands and feet, or crawling - they were hysterical to watch), others took the shovel and dug deep into the snow to see what was living beneath the snow (these student teachers seemed to get the coldest), and we all took many, many pictures.  Sirpa was, as always, calm and pleasant and so pleased to have everyone have this experience.

There were several aspects of this trip that made it wonderful - we learned about nature and how to engage our students in the winter environment and we because closer as global teachers.  There was also a student teacher in the group from Spain, and she was interesting to talk with, as well.