My spring reading weeks have been increasingly more exciting over my time at university. Last year was a trip to Paris and this time, I was heading out furthest North than I have ever been: to the coastal city of Oulu in Finland. Representing UCL EDUCATE and as an Erasmus student, I was joining the European Edtech Network Intensive Study Programme. After delayed flights due to Storm Dennis and precariously catching a connecting flight from Helsinki, I ventured into this beautiful city.
On the second day, bleary-eyed at 8am, we got on a bus and headed into a remote village called Yli-li where we were to visit a comprehensive school. The first thing which struck me as we entered the school was the fact that students and teachers took off all their winter gear including shoes; school in socks! We heard from the principal as well as some teachers from the school and I was just blown away with the forward-thinking and technologically advanced learning environment in the middle of a snowy nowhere. The underlying theme which I fell in love with was building the independent learner at such a tender age; students determining and leading their own education.
The school deeply ingrains a maker attitude in their student and gives higher focus to project based learning rather than formal tests - they don't even have exams!
Every Finnish school has a kitchen and teaches home economics to each of their students. Imagine how useful that could be for each of us who move away from home and realise we have no idea how mummy kept us fed!
As midday approached, we were invited outside to a cosy hut; fur blankets lined the benches and a fire roared in its centre. I discovered firsthand how smoked salmon was made; the fillets are attached to wooden planks and lined along a smokey, wood-fire. After about 30 mins, the steaming fish was brought out and the freshest and most delicate meat melted in your mouth.
As if the school had not had me jumping with joy, I discovered they had their own ice rink! The principal of the school showed me inside their sports gear store cupboard and after picking out a pair of ice skates, I was off! The weather has been relatively warm the past few days (and by warm I mean it's only 2 degrees...) so the ice wasn't as great and there was water on the surface. However, this is bringing me close to another thing on my bucket-list: Nordic ice-skating on thin, black ice.
After toasting my soaked socks in front of the fire, we jumped back into the bus to our next stop, a reindeer farm!
We weren't allowed to get inside the fencing but it was truly magical to see these magnificent, fairytale-like creatures. And the undisturbed snow was so deep that putting my foot in, I was sunk knee-high in a cloud of cold.
Back into the city centre, I set back out for my run as the sun set and the ice glowed around me. With warmth emancipating from my body in the frigid winds, my running route had me cross a bridge to get to the island of Pikisaari and then across another to Hietasaari before reaching the shore of the Baltic Sea at Nallikari. Within the first 48 hours, I have had so many unique experiences but I was truly left speechless gazing across a frozen sea - an opulsecent never-ending expanse.