Students Study Abroad in Finland
For CU Study Abroad 2016, eight Cameron students and three faculty members traveled to Finland, leaving March 10 and returning on March 19.
According to the program’s website, “The mission of the Study Abroad Program is to provide academically sound study abroad opportunities aimed at fostering global awareness and appreciation of different cultures.”
Director of Academic Enrichment Dr. Tony Wohlers, the main coordinator of study abroad, said students who participate in study abroad tours are required to take a regular 16-week class.
“The class is then framed within the context of a certain theme,” he said, “so the theme for this one was ‘cross-cultural perspective on human development.’”
Wohlers said the term “human development” encompasses a person’s whole life span – from birth to education to professional career to elderly care.
“The idea then was to see how Finland does it in comparison to the United States,” he said, “and there are lots of differences.”
According to Wohlers, Dr. Lisa Huffman and Dr. Dana Hilbert taught students the Finnish educational and social policies in class in order to prepare them for the tour.
“[They visited] certain sites that deal directly with what they learned in class,” Wohlers said. “What they learn in class is great, but it’s so much more enhanced by going to the country because [they’re] touching it, feeling it. [They’re] talking to a Finn about education policies [and] hearing it from them – not just reading.”
Wohler said while in Finland, they stayed in the city of Helsinki and traveled to the cities of Porvoo and Turku.
“Porvoo is one of the oldest cities in Finland, and there we could see the old architecture – beautiful architecture,” he said. “We actually had the opportunity to visit a Finnish home … You could get a sense of the hospitality of the Finnish people because she had tea, she had coffee, [and] she had a very good cake.”
Wohlers said the students had the opportunity to engage in conversation with the home owners, who were Finnish natives.
“We were just sitting in the living room with her [a woman], and her husband came later. We were just talking about Finnish society,” he said. “[That’s] something you cannot do when you engage with a textbook.”
Wohlers said while in Turku, the students toured a university, as well as a training school and daycares.
“They have a training school for high school teachers,” he said. “In Finland, there are no private schools; it’s all government basically, and the government has taken on that role to also train high school teachers, which is a highly, highly esteemed job in Finland.”
Wohlers and the students stopped by two daycares, one run by the city of Turku and one run privately.
“The private one has a bit more leverage as to what they can do as far as the curriculum, but otherwise it’s the same thing,” he said. “They’re treated pretty autonomous in terms of the learning – same at the high school level. It’s a very equal relationship between the teacher and the high school kids – very different from here.
Wohlers said the Finnish education system is very successful, which is one of the main reasons why he and other Cameron faculty decided Finland would be an ideal study abroad destination.
“The PISA study is a global study of the industrialized countries that measures education attainment [in] reading, math and all that,” Wohlers said. “Finland has consistently moved up in the ranking and has consistently now been number one in that area.”
When Wohlers and the students returned to Helsinki, they toured the National Institute for Health and Welfare, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and the University of Helsinki.
“He [tour guide] showed us the [university] library, including the rare book section,” Wohlers said. “Jacob [Jardel] and I – when we find a book store in any other country – we usually hang out there, and we like rare books, so I asked the tour guide, ‘Can you quickly show us the rare book section?’ And he did … just shelves full of old books.”
Wohlers’ favorite part of the trip was seeing the students open up and talk to the Finnish people.
“Then, they started having conversations amongst themselves of what they learned,” he said. “Sometimes, I was able to just listen in, so for me, that was really the greatest joy because it clearly illustrated that the trip had a very positive influence on the students.
“It triggered their curiosity and inspired them hopefully … Hanging out with them and waking through the city and talking [were the] greatest moments – I would do it all over again.”