Lilja Michaud’s adventure in Finland

This article was submitted by Greg Michaud, Lilja's dad: Lilja says hi to everyone at GCAA from Finland, where she is a GCAA foreign exchange student.  She wanted me to let everyone know she misses GCAA and all of her friends. She will be back by the next school year, or maybe even April if I can’t get a glitch in passport worked out (a long story). Lilja stays with her grandparents in Oulu, Finland, neither of them speaks English. Oulu is near the Arctic Circle and on the Bay of Bothnia near where Sweden borders Finland Lilja’s high school is in downtown Oulu, near the harbor. Oulu has a population of around 200,000, so it is not too much smaller than St. Louis City. She could have gone to the English only language school in Oulu, but instead went to the native Finnish speaking high school also attended by a cousin who is one year older than Lilja.  There are a few other foreign exchange students at her school from South America and from Europe, but Lilja is the only American.  She says she is beginning to understand general conversations in Finnish but not the details. The school helps her and the other foreign students, but her classes are taught in the Finnish Language. Lilja takes public transit to school. In fact there is no such thing as school buses anywhere in Finland. Public transit is excellent and students use it to get to school. Lilja tells me she feels  independent in Oulu.  She doesn’t need to ask me for rides to go to friends homes, get picked up or anything else.  She and her classmates travel where and when they want. Sauna is a tradition in Finland. Lilja does sauna twice a week. Sauna is a hot steam bath that sweats impurities out of your body. If the sauna is near a lake, Finns will jump in after a sauna even in the middle of winter.  Talk about waking you up. Everyone in Finland has a sauna or has access to one. Almost all homes have one and even small apartments in downtown Oulu will have a small sauna. Since Oulu is near the Arctic Circle, it is cold. But the sun is different, in midsummer, if you sit at a high point you will see the sun all night long hugging the horizon, in midwinter the sun never really rises and in both cases the sky has a faint glow, something like an early dawn sky we experience here in St. Louis, the difference is the early dawn sky lasts for hours in Oulu and Northern Finland. Lilja took some photos on a recent trip to Helsinki, the capital of Finland.  Helsinki is about the same size as the metro area of St. Louis. ballet Above, Lilja is striking a GCAA ballet pose on the steps of Helsinki Cathedral, behind is Senate Square, a major location in downtown Helsinki.  There a number of such squares and plazas in Helsinki. jumping Lilja practicing a theater/dance jump on the lower steps of the Cathedral. Lilja misses the rigorous joy of the Arts at Grand Center Academy. Cathedral Helsinki Cathedral from Senate Square.  You can see the fountain at the edge of the photo. Math Lilja’s math book is featured above.  Look at the word problems. You know Lilja is having fun now! Lilja posing with friend Lilja posing with a friend in front of the fountain in Senate Square.  This girl, as well as a couple of others that were with her, were foreign exchange students and all attend high school in Oulu with her. Part 2  The differences in education at American and Finnish schools. It is hard to know too many differences yet; I can only go by what I have managed to learn from Lilja so far. In Finland, school is already starting a third set of courses and the first semester is not finished yet.  What I mean is a completely new set of courses with a new schedule is issued and this is the third schedule she has used. For instance she is taking Russian starting only recently. I can only assume this will continue the next half of the school year, but I don’t know for sure. The arts do not seem as strong as GCAA on the surface; she took theater the 1st schedule, photography the 2ndschedule and now is taking dance the 3rd schedule. The theater course didn’t seem to hold a candle to what happens at GCAA. The photography course was interesting in that they made pinhole cameras and actually used a real darkroom and taught the students how to use those now old processes. I don’t know about the dance course since she just started it. Lilja tells me she met a new friend who attends both a vocational school and her high school (Finland appears to integrate vocational schools with regular schools better than in the states). This girl has a blog that features make up and body paint.  Lilja tells me that many of the students have their own blogs. The make-up and body art on this blog is amazing. This is a high school student. So there must be some more training in the arts available that is not immediately evident to me. Part 3  Language, Art and Architecture Finland has a population around 5 million, about the same as Missouri. Finnish is part of the Uralic family of languages which includes Estonia across the Gulf of Finland/Baltic Sea, Hungary and a small area in Russia. Finns and Estonians can understand each other, language differences in Hungary and other areas are too different to communicate with Finnish speakers. You can see with such a small population of Finnish speakers that Finland is very protective of its culture. As a result, artists of all types are noticed, celebrated and recognized much more than in the United States. This translates to Finland having strong arts in a number of areas, including glass works, fabric works, iron work, furniture making and in architecture and urban planning, this in turn has led Finland to develop a more sustainable environmental profile, for instance using city planning to create efficient transit throughout Finland. That means Lilja and her friends were able to take a train to Helsinki, stay at the home of a friend and use mass transit the whole weekend to get around Helsinki. No cars are needed. We must also remember our own Arch in St. Louis was designed by Finnish Architect Eero Saarinen.  His father Elliel, also an architect, helped found Cranbrook Arts Academy near Detroit. It is considered the cradle of American modernism in art. Finnish literature includes the Kalevala, an epic poem on the scale of Homer and the ancient Greeks.  The difference is Elias Lonnrot complied it from the Finnish oral poetry tradition dating back centuries. He spent the early years of the 1800’s discovering, listening to and recording folk poets all over Finland, but especially in Northern Finland and the Karelia region to record and create the Kalevala which was published in its final form in 1849. Finland became an independent country in 1917, but had inhabitants as far back as 9000 BC. Language and culture helps drive a support for the arts in Finland that Americans, with a large land mass and universally used language by large numbers of people take for granted.  Art and design are important to Finland; it insures the viability of Finland far into the future and creates a high quality of daily living.