Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ramblings About School

Sorry! Many apologies to all those who read this site! I’ve really had no good reason to delay posting for this long, and I’ll do my best to manage a much timelier schedule in the future. All I can say is that I’ve been trying my best to adjust to my school, Kauhajoen Lukio. Speaking of school, the Finnish school system might be the biggest difference from Colorado that I’ve come across so far.


Children in Finland don’t start school until the age of seven, at which point they attend elementary school from first until sixth grade. From seventh to ninth grade they attend middle school, and then they have a choice for the tenth through twelfth grades.* They can either choose to attend the lukio,** more or less the equivalent of high school, or  ammattikoulu,*** the vocational school system.  The student is split quite equally between the two, with a 50/50 percentage on both side, with a difference of maybe one point or two.

*The upper school isn’t mandatory, but most people choose to do it because it’s much harder to get a good job without the extra education. Personally, I think I would just get really bored.
**Lukio is literally the “reading” school, because its name comes from the word Lukea, which means “to read.”
***In a vocational school the students do have subjects like Finnish, math, and other languages (though less than in a lukio), but in addition they are trained to different trades, such as electricians, hair stylists, plumbers, car mechanics, nurses, and so on.

I’m not too sure about all of what goes on in the ammatikoulu, but in my lukio the school year is divided up into six periods. There are others that I’ve heard about being split into five, but most seem to stick to three grading periods per semester. In order to graduate (at least at my school) you have to pass at least 75 courses. This seems hard, but seeing as you take about five new courses every six weeks, it’s not too difficult to get the required amount of classes finished. In fact, it’s not that out of the ordinary to see older students who are in their fourth year of school.


The classes themselves are taught in a totally different manner than back in Colorado (at least at the schools I’ve attended). Because of how short the classes are, there’s lots of new information every day at school, so it’s easy to get behind on what we study. There is no set curriculum for the classes, so it’s up to the teacher to tell us what to study, but we have to buy books for all the classes. They’re quite light compared to the longer course books for a semester or year-long class, but we still cram lots of studying with the books towards the end of the period. The books can get a bit pricey, but luckily I’ve been able to borrow most of my books from my host sister, and the Rotary club pays for the new books I need to purchase.

Kauhajoen Lukio is divided into three years; first, second, and third (fourth years are included in the third year). Within each year there is three classes; A, B, and C. Each class consists of about twenty students. So as long as I’ve done my math correctly, there are about 180 students in my school. It may seem a bit small, but I like it. As a general rule, students stick with their homeroom class for all the classes they take.  I’m in class 1-B, but since I’m an exchange student, I have the opportunity to choose the classes I take.  I’ve taken a mixture of first and second year classes, as the third year classes are much more focused on studying for their matriculation examinations in the spring, and I mean, being a “first year” back in the US, I just don’t feel prepared for the difficult upper classes yet.*

*The Finnish education system has been rated one of the top educations systems in the world. Despite this, many of the first year classes (at least, during the first grading period) are what a typical American student may think of learning in middle school. The difference is that Finnish students learn seven years’ worth of material in three years, as most classes up to the ninth grade are simply the basics. How’s that for cram studying?

Here’s my first period Schedule (simplified):


maanantai
tiistai
keskiviiko
torstai
perjantai
8
English 2A
History 1B
Biology 2A


9
English 2A
English 2A

Biology 2A

10
History 1B

Math 2
Math 2
Math 2
11
Biology 2A
Math 2
Math 2

Biology 2A
12
Math 2
Biology 2A
History 1B
English 2A
English 2A
1

Biology 2A
English 2A
History 1B
History 1B
2
Sports 1
Film Class
Art 1

History 1B
3
Sports 1
Film Class
Art1



I’ve clarified the classes by grade and class, and a blank on a class or grade means it’s mixed. I have quite a few free periods because I’m not taking a fifth core class (this is due to the fact that no classes that I would have a chance at passing are during that time slot). The film class* is open to all students, and all three of my “late” classes have no real final exams and I’ll have them for the entire fall semester. My history class was European history, and my math course was focused on derivatives (algebraic).
I was quite happy with my exam results, getting 10 points in English and history, and 7 points in biology and math. The Finnish grading system is on a scale of 4 to 10 points, and if you fall below 4 points, you have to retake the exam to pass the course.

*Concerning the film class, I’ll be going to Seinäjoki, the head city of my district of Finland, this week to see a musical about vampires!


Above: My friend Bence studiously coloring his picture 
Below: While Lassi... attempts to be... studious? Alongside Anna's head in English class.


Second period Schedule:


maanantai
tiistai
keskiviiko
torstai
perjantai
8
Chemistry 1C
English 1B
Geography 2A


9
Chemistry 1C
Chemistry 1C

Geography 2A

10
English 1B

Physics 1B
Physics 1b
Physics 1B
11
Geography 2A
Physics 1B
Physics 1B

Geography 2A
12
Physics 1B
Geography 2A
English 1B
Chemistry 1C
Chemistry 1C
1

Geography 2A
Chemistry 1C
English 1B
English 1B
2
Sports 1
Film Class
Art 1

English 1B
3
Sports 1
Film Class
Art 1



Right now I’m feeling slightly over boarded with science, even though I only have two science classes due to the fact that my human geography teacher was also my biology teacher in the first period. Never the less, I’ve been having lots of fun in my classes thanks to my friends and much thoughtfulness on behalf of my teachers. So far, I have been able to have the classes I’ve taken translated into English, which helps to better understand the Finnish that I take notes on and listen to in class. My exams should be coming up in a week or two, so soon I’ll have another schedule. I am enjoying having a changing schedule, though it makes doing extensive, long-term projects for a class highly unlikely. Though concerning my biology class,  I did go on a backpacking trip in a national park with my school, led by the same geography/biology teacher. It was fun, and we walked over 20 kilometers through beautiful old forests.


Before I forget, let me tell you about the biggest difference between US and Finnish schools; Finnish schools have free lunch. And on top of that, it’s a healthy, hot lunch with lots of variety to choose from. When I go back to the USA, this is something I’ll miss sorely. You can even take seconds and no one minds! The cafeteria I go to is shared with the middle school students, the elementary students, and the Kauhajoki basketball team (this is both very cool and frightening, since they are one of the best teams in Finland, but when they walk past me on their way to the cafeteria, they all seem to tower ridiculously high over me). All the educational institutions, including the community college and library, are located in the same general vicinity, which happens to be conveniently placed near the center of town.

Looking back, I suppose that despite being taught in a different language and learning through a different system, school still feels like school. Not that it’s a problem, because I really have been enjoying school. I have to give a big thanks to my teachers, who have put in so much effort to help me succeed, and then another one to my friends, who inspire me to do my best. I’ve been quite fortunate to make friends, because my friends – all my friends, wherever they come from – are the ones who make school such a good experience. 

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