Wednesday, 6 June 2007


The long-awaited and well-deserved (I feel) summer holiday is finally here. Ten glorious weeks of family life, gardening and seeing friends to make up for the long hours spent in the classroom or the lonely evenings marking essays and exams at home during the school year. Not to mention the welcome creative idleness to reactivate those hibernating cells in my tired brain! We Finnish teachers are spoiled with this long break every summer, which we can spend travelling, catching up on reading, or just relaxing by the gently lapping water of one of our thousands of lakes. Heavenly! My thoughts go to my dear colleagues in Japan and Korea, for example, sweating away in extreme heat and humidity for another two months. And still, Finnish teachers often complain about their lot. Today, I have absolutely no care in the world!
For me, this summer break will also give the opportunity to reflect on the past year’s intercultural school project experiences and draw from them ideas for improvements for the future. In particular, one aspect of these projects has recently preoccupied my thoughts, and that is reciprocity.

I was contacted by somebody from an internship programme in Tokyo asking whether our school would be interested in hosting a Japanese intern for a year. Yes, of course, we would, I burst out after reading the mail! Until I realized that it also involved organizing home stay for the Japanese guest. Hmmm…. Trouble ahead! Many Finns are notoriously private when it comes to opening their homes to foreign guests. I should know this after struggling for years to find hosts for foreign students during our project meetings, even for a week. I and my family would, of course, host this person for some of the time, but even I must admit that having a foreign lodger in your house for a whole year sounds challenging. So who am I to judge others who wouldn’t entertain the idea of hosting?

But what message does this send about us outside the borders of our country? After all, we profess to be so hospitable and friendly. Come to think of it, it’s not only the hosting, but it’s also the presence of a foreign guest at school in general. Either it troubles some colleagues so much that they start spending their free time out of the staff room, or they just downright rudely ignore the poor guest. Yes, we would love to have a Japanese person at our school to tell us all about Japan, thank you very much, as long as it a) doesn’t cost our school anything and b) doesn’t mean that we should actually engage in any kind of dialogue with the guest outside the ‘hello’ every morning. I have experienced this mortifying embarrassment so many times in my school that I probably should spare any enthusiastic foreign guest from such unwelcoming treatment.

And yet, it’s our students who will lose a marvellous opportunity for true intercultural learning! If we get somebody to commit their time and effort to come here and share their culture with us, isn’t it glaringly obvious that we, in turn, should go out of our way to reciprocate?? Give and take, learn together, instead of thoughtlessly just thinking of our own gain and benefit.
Sounds like my family will have to start seriously thinking of hosting a young Japanese gentleman next year. But before that, let’s enjoy the company of an American summer exchange student… Pheww, seems that I don’t need to feel guilty about reciprocating after all.
I think I will spend the rest of the day sipping summer wine on our balcony humming “strawberries cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring”… Aaah!

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