Today is the day… we are finally leaving for part two of the Erasmus+ Program – a journey to Finland! Five students and one teacher can’t wait till the plane finally brings us to Helsinki Airport, warm clothes, presents for our host families, movies about our city and school and a presentation about a courageous German person in our suitcases. And after some hours of flight we are already enjoying a more than warm welcome in cold Finland. The host families and Finnish teachers are already waiting for us at the airport, and after a big hello take us to our hotel and homes in Nurmijärvi, a pretty little village some 20 minutes ride from Helsinki.
Day 1 – Tolerance by art and music!
The day starts with an official welcome by the principals of our host school, the Nurmijärvi High School. After that, the groups from Greece, Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland and Germany have the chance to introduce themselves and their hometowns and schools. We learn interesting facts about Poland’s history, the famous inventions of Croatian Nikola Tesla, cultural must-haves in Greece and the beautiful landscape in Czech Republic. Some students have prepared presentations, some of them brought self-made short films.
Most of the students are quite nervous, because they are not used to speaking in front of such a big group… in English! But when they see that everybody can make grammatical mistakes and is understood nonetheless, everybody relaxes a little bit.
After that, students are divided into two groups and head off for their creative workshops in art and music. How can I express friendship in a 25-second-movie? How does tolerance sound when everybody uses a different instrument he or she likes? We have a great time all together finding that out. During a break between the two workshops, we enjoy lunch at the school’s cafeteria – have you ever heard of a food duck that spreads just the right amount of butter to your finncrisp-bread? =)
Teachers are shown around the school and peer into classrooms where Finnish students are busy learning mathematics, preparing cakes for a birthday-cake-competition (this year is Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence from Sweden), producing typical Finnish knives in the technical room and enjoying their break in one of the cosy chairs spread all over the school – indoors of course, because it’s about minus 3 degrees outside!
After many meetings and impressions on this very first day, students leave back home with their host students, and teachers are enjoying a traditionally Finnish, totally delicious and 100% homemade dinner as well as a very refreshing sauna-evening. And yes, some of us even dare a dip in the icy cold water of the frozen lake next to the sauna =)
Day 2 – Tolerance by culture!
Today we visit Helsinki, Finland’s biggest city by far – every fifth Finn lives in the capital of the country. Timo, history teacher at Nurmijärvi High School, gives us an impression of the most important historic facts, famous buildings and places-to-be in Helsinki. Guess which country has the leading position in producing huge ice-breakers in their dockyards? Okay, that was an easy one. But did you know that Helsinki should initially hold the Olympic games in 1940, but the games were cancelled because of the Second World War? Only in 1952, Finland got the chance to finally show their qualities as a host for this famous sports event.
After this most interesting sightseeing-tour, we are ready for the highlight of the day: a meeting with the Finnish candidate of the opposition for the presidential election in 2018 – Mr. Pekka Haavisto! His stories about his experiences from different countries, where he worked as a mediator in peace negotiations between governments, political activists and rebel groups, are deeply impressive. He also tells us about most touching moments where he could see how open-mindedness and tolerance or even a small gift like a water canister could change lives. For him, courage is to overcome the discrimination of minorities and to make your own decisions about right or wrong – no matter what others might think about you. Despite his full schedule, Mr. Haavisto takes the time to answer all our questions and to take hundreds of selfies with our excited students – and teachers! 😉
After that, we have time for a little bit of shopping and sightseeing in Helsinki. For the students, there is a mobile game which helps them finding the most beautiful and important spots in Finland’s capital and to take pictures and selfies there. At 3 p.m. we meet our excited and red-cheeked students at the bus and went back h
ome to Nurmijärvi.
Day 3 – Tolerance by outdoor acticities!
Today we wake up and the first glance out of the window reveals that it has been snowing during the night and will continue during the day! Perfect weather conditions for today’s program: outdoor activities! We meet at Sääksi lake and have the opportunity to try some of Finland’s most popular winter sport activities like cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, curling, ice-skating, kick-sliding and even ice-fishing! Unfortunately, our patience at the holes in the ice is not rewarded with any fish. But luckily, our outdoor guides have prepared a proper meal for us on the open fire, so nobody must stay hungry today. Since some of us have never tried things like ice-skating or walking down a steep hill with snow-shoes on their feet, while others (especially our Finnish hosts) are professionals in those disciplines, mutual help is very important and kindly offered and accepted today.
To heat up their frozen bones after that most exciting day, some of the students enjoy the warmth of the Finnish sauna or the hot water in a tub heated by firewood. Some of them feel so brave even to hop in the ice-cold lake after that. Tonight, surely everybody will sleep well! =)
Day 4 – Tolerance by culture and food!
In the morning, students attend classes with their host students, while the teachers are warmly welcomed in Nurmijärvi’s community center. The mayor, Mr. Kimmo Behm and his assistant for health and education, Mrs. Tiina Hervonen, give us some interesting impressions about the Finnish school system and the financing of it. We all agree that we can still learn a lot from Scandinavian countries concerning their support and appreciation of education as well as their attitude towards learning and teaching.
In the afternoon, we meet again in the school’s kitchens to prepare our traditional snacks for the international buffet in the evening. “How do you say ‘umrühren’ in English?”, “Can you please pass me the olive oil?”, “Can somebody help me roasting those almonds?”, “Ah, we have a similar dish in Croatia!”, “Mmmh, it tastes delicious!”. Phrases like these can be heard all around. Together, we translate recipes, weigh out ingridients, prepare delicious food and taste it from time to time. When everything is finished and brought to the hall, everybody is impatient to try all the dainties from the different countries.
Gradually, the students and their host families arrive and fill the great hall, and the party begins. Even more impressive than the international food are the performances that our Finnish hosts and their guests bring on stage tonight. We listen to traditional Finnish folksongs and the Croatian story of Hlapic, applaud to the Czech students who perform a song by step-dancing, learn something about German Karneval and join the Greek and Polish students in their traditional circle-dances. The air is full of laughter, rhythms and music. Tonight, I’m sure not only selfies, but also friendships have been made.
Day 5 – Tolerance by knowledge and courage!
Can you believe this is our last day together in Finland? After cleaning up the hall from yesterday’s party together, each group presents a courageous person from their country. Some are related to the Second World War, like German Graf von Stauffenberg who attempted an assassination on Adolf Hitler but failed, Polish Jan Kirski who reported about the dreadful conditions in Warsaw Ghetto or the survivors of the Holocaust in the Czech Republic who pass their memories to the next generation so that they may never be forgotten. We also learn about Croatia’s most famous photographer, climber and explorer Stipe Bozic who climbs the highest mountains and travels to the most extreme regions of the world, and about Melina Mercouri, a famous Greek actress who made use of her fame to fight for the rights of the Greeks during their political suppression in the 1960s and 70s.
All those people show or showed courage in their own ways and inspire us to follow their example – just like Pekka Haavisto said: Make your own decision and have the courage to follow your principles!
After that encouraging presentations, the students leave to spend their very last day with their host families.
Tomorrow, we will all part and there will be many good-byes… but I’m sure we will stay in contact and meet again one day, maybe in Poland, Croatia, Germany or Greece next time! =)