Thursday, September 16, 2010

Column in the New World Finn - Fall 2010

Here is a column that I wrote for the Fall 2010 issue of the New World Finn. It can be also found on page 16 of this PDF.

In case you didn't already know, the New World Finn is a Finnish-American quarterly published in the U.S. If you would like to subscribe to this great little paper, you can find information
here.


Summer is pretty much over and fall is almost here. During our last visit to the cabin we spent the weekend in wool socks and sweaters, making sure to remember to add a piece of wood to the fireplace every now and then. Just a few weeks back we were enjoying morning coffee in the sun and the nights were so warm we slept with the windows open.

The approach of fall brings a sense of normalcy back to Jyväskylä. The students return and once again we get a real sense of how young this city is. There are 16,000 students at the University of Jyväskylä, 8000 study at JAMK (the University of Applied Sciences). The various trade schools in town take care of the education of additional 15,000 or so students.

Jyväskylä has been an educational center since Finland’s first Finnish-language teaching college was founded at the top of the hill back in 1863. The city itself was founded in 1837 by decree of Czar Nicholas I. The teaching college became the University of Jyväskylä in 1967. The university is just a small part of the Finnish educational system – an educational system that played a large role in the decision of a particular international weekly to proclaim Finland as being the best country on earth. Best country on earth is a mighty high title to live up to and it must be mentioned that some Finnish citizens may not quite agree with the panel that chose them to receive the honors this year.

I’m happy here. Finland is a great place to live. You do need to understand though, that it’s not all perfect. The unemployment rate for folks with university education is at an all-time high. School children across the country are studying in temporary modular classrooms while their schools are being renovated or rebuilt. Chronic mold infestations have made such steps necessary, both students and staff have suffered from mold-related health problems. Factories close down and jobs disappear. Construction sites teem with laborers being paid under the table. Populist politics have whipped up an anti-immigrant sentiment that at times is downright scary (if, like me, you happen to be an immigrant). All of the political parties are toeing the “I’m not a racist, but…” line. They want only “good” immigrants, immigrants who are here to work or learn. Almost as though they think that we have all come here with the intention of goofing off at the expense of our fellow taxpayers. Such sentiments are as ridiculous as the idea that we have come here to work for lower than honest wages, thereby stealing jobs from the locals.

My summer vacation is coming to an end. In two days I’ll be heading back to work - a Friday night shift. My classes at the university start next Tuesday. The laid back rhythm of summer is picking up and the march of fall with its “get things done before winter” tempo will soon be in full swing.

Carrots wait to be dug up. Acorn squash need to piled in the bike basket and pedaled back home. There are fish to be reeled in before the lakes freeze up. Winter coats to bring down from the attic and air out on the balcony. My graduate research project has been approved; part of it involves translating a novel by an author whose works have never been translated to English or any other language. This exercise should do wonders for my Finnish skills and hopefully will add a little something fresh to my English prose skills too.

Despite the lateness of the hour, the street below our window is full of life. It is Wednesday, known in these parts as pikkulauantai (little Saturday). Students make their way from the uptown pubs to the downtown clubs. For many, classes haven’t begun yet, so they have a few more nights to enjoy before have to start cracking the books for real.
The air is cool and the sky is dark, clear. The occasional car rolls along our street. The local weather page promises that my last day off will be a sunny one. Even if it rains I will make sure to enjoy it.

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