Parkland shares experiences with visiting Finnish educators

Matthew Moss

Staff Writer

 

Parkland instructors played host to two educators from Finland, trading knowledge on their respective countries, living environments and school systems.

Isabel Scarborough from the Anthropology Department and Paul Young from the Fine and Applied Arts Department took two Finnish educators into their homes and offices, granting them a glimpse of what life is like in central Illinois and how Parkland operates.

Photo by Samuli Kuittinen | Finland Above stands Finnish professor Pasi Räsämäki. Both Räsämäki and professor Päivi Järvinen took part in a two-week exchange program with Parkland College. The program is run by the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs.

Photo by Samuli Kuittinen | Finland
Above stands Finnish professor Pasi Räsämäki. Both Räsämäki and professor Päivi Järvinen took part in a two-week exchange program with Parkland College. The program is run by the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs.

Päivi Järvinen and Pasi Räsämäki hail from the roughly Champaign-sized university town of Joensuu in Finland’s easternmost region of North Karelia. They are both educators involved with North Karelia Municipal Education and Training Consortium, which has multiple colleges and institutions spread across the region.

Järvinen and Räsämäki were here as part of a two-week exchange program run by the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs which includes numerous schools throughout Illinois. They are among 12 Finnish educators who came to Illinois being assigned to Parkland.

Scarborough, who has experience in studying and interacting with other cultures, said the exchange is not just about comparing the American and Finnish school systems, but how by being thrust into an unfamiliar culture, one can learn about it more effectively.

“You do the work, you compare educational systems, but what you’re also doing is experiencing another culture,” Scarborough said. “And the best way to do this … is immersion.”

As part of the exchange, Järvinen and Räsämäki stayed in their host’s homes. Scarborough and Young took their guests to various cities and landmarks in Illinois and showed them around Champaign-Urbana to provide them with an idea of the local lifestyle.

Järvinen and Räsämäki were both intrigued by the kindness, consideration and open-mindedness community members showed in comparison to their Finnish countrymen. Räsämäki says in his experience with Americans, Finns are a more private people.

“Everybody’s so helpful and warm,” Räsämäki said. “Europeans are different … we’re more private persons in Finland.”

He said he was surprised how people would approach and help him if he could not find his way around campus.

“If someone sees that I’m looking for something, it’s immediate for someone to ask, ‘Can I help?’” Räsämäki said.

Scarborough commented that Järvinen felt the same way when she went biking, being surprised when she was being smiled at and greeted by strangers.

Järvinen is a competence tester at the consortium’s North Karelia Adult Education Center, which focuses on developing adult working skills in a variety of fields such as healthcare, information technology and mining.

Räsämäki teaches graphic design and photography with the North Karelia College at Joensuu. He said that Young, who teaches graphic design at Parkland, was a good match for him for the exchange program.

Räsämäki and Järvinen gave a presentation to Parkland faculty members in the Center for Excellence on Wednesday, Oct. 21, that detailed the educational environment of North Karelia and Finland as a whole. According to Räsämäki, education is almost entirely free in Finland, even up to the university level, and provided by the government.

Räsämäki and Järvinen found that the Finnish and American educational systems are quite similar in their ways of operating. Both educators used the phrase “learning by doing” when describing how material is taught in the countries’ educational systems.

Järvinen and Räsämäki returned home on Friday. Both of them, as well as their respective host, wish the experience could have been longer. However, the experience does not end with their departure; Scarborough and Young will visit Finland next year, trading places with their current guests.

Scarborough and Räsämäki both think it will be easier for everyone when the Parkland instructors head to Finland, after getting to know each other. Plus, both say many Finns have some knowledge of the English language, contrasting the comparatively fewer number of Americans who can speak Finnish.

In addition to Scarborough and Young, 12 other Illinois educators from various schools will all be going to Joensuu. Scarborough said there are joint events planned that include all 14 Illinois natives, which she says should make the experience a bit easier for them.