perjantai 23. toukokuuta 2014

Eating Rudolf and other ice breaking means in The Get Together events during The International Summer School

When I was assigned to write the blog about the evening gatherings of the international summer school of social work, I was like “Oh grab!” In English. Double Grab! Because, as you might know us, the gawky Finns: not talking to the strangers, avoiding to speak another language besides the Finnish (if that) to other people? Sulking and pouting, being formal and avoiding making ever so awkward eye contact? If you think the Finns are something else, it is just some kind of postmodernist jargon related to the discussion about multiple and varied identities… Right.

But hey, what do you know!

After listening to the Finlandia”  (the classical peace composed by the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius during 1899-1900) I was in a mood, called in Finland as “Sisu” (if translated, it has something to do with your stamina or guts, I guess…). Well, despite the Sisu, when I arrived at the first gathering on Monday evening, The Welcoming Reception, I took my seat from the back of the room as far from the center of the action as possible and respectfully tried to hide myself behind my laptop as if to look very busy. Unfortunately, my disguise attempt hold no longer. So, I gave the machine away and started to eat.

And the food! On the top of the iceberg, there was the reindeer pie, my favorite. While eating the Rudolf, I pondered how the contemporary western food culture as a ritualistic act has become a central point to us to be with each other. Food brings people together, even the serious and formal Finnish people like me. The shared ritual of eating interconnects us; eating together reminds us of our family and friends. By eating your needs get to be satisfied, you feel safe and relaxed; the ice breaks. You boldly participate and get the conversation and even your “Rally English” starts to sound not so bad anymore. Imagine that!

Afterwards, I thought that being in the welcoming reception it was like being in the most vivid and talkative night club party ever, from my Finnish perspective at least. Although there were not shimmer lights, music too loud or persuading drunken men after you, people from many countries around the globe were mingling, talking and laughing and exchanging their thoughts and experiences. There weren’t any trace of the shy, embarrassed English tangling people trying to make sense whatever does it mean you are talking about (as it may was in the lecture hall earlier, I think). Actually, before I even noticed I had bubbled passionately all the topics of my master thesis and didn’t even have a clue to have so many English words to describe about it! So, Thank You Vera from Austria!

Yeah, that was a great evening! But the best was yet to come!

When the Wednesday evening arrived, I put my Kalevala shirt on (You know the famous painting “The Defense of the Sampo” (1896) made by the iconic Finnish painter Akseli Gallen Kallela illustrating the mythological story of stealing the Sampo (some kind a magic device) from the Finnish National Epic: it´s a very daunting image of the two supernatural witches fighting each other… but no, it was not a statement!) and headed to the University premises to participate in the second gathering, The International Evening. I think the main aim of the evening was to get to know each other and one´s national and cultural characteristic by an informal way.

 And what did I learn?

Well, I already knew Finns fancy to the saddest and melancholic music (as it seems to be with the Lithuanians too). Austrians like to get together in pubs, drink Schnapps made out of pine cones while exchanging their opinions about the behavioral patterns of human reproduction. Hong Kongers have the most vivid New Year´s traditions originating from the myth of an old man and dragon and of course they have “the ever so easy to use -chopsticks”. The Germans are quite good in organizing masses to move, but that´s not so strange after you have met the Angela Merkel who tells everybody to be in love with them. Besides the similar music taste, Lithuanians have the oldest language in the world. How cool is that! Also the geographical middle point of Europe is located in the Lithuanian ground.

As-Salamu Alaykum Pakistan! You have the most beautiful and extraordinary architecture in your country! I wish to visit there someday. UK, the land of magic and muggles and the world famous Royal Family and Rock Stars. Your music unites the people! And what can I say: Your language is ever so fascinating! And finally the US, the country of Jeopardies! I never stop be amazed by the Americans’ everlasting enthusiasm, joyfulness and the spirit to throw oneself to the task at hand.

Yeah, despite my exhaustion after a long day, I think the evening was really nice!

Afterwards, while I was walking back to home with the fierce witches Väinämöinen and Pohjan Akka, (who had made a truce!), I was contemplating considering myself a very privileged person in many ways. Although I myself remain spouting gawky Finn, I really am grateful to have a chance to experience the summer school´s liberating spirit in the gatherings. 

So, I´d like to Thank all the participants for the most interesting, inspiring and unforgettable evenings! It was really great meeting all of you! And one day, at the corridors of the headquarters of the UN in New York, when I meet you there, I´ll remember that despite all the overwhelming ferocity in the world, there are people, the social workers, who have the most vivid spirit to cooperate with to make The World a Better Place :)

Johanna Puolakka
Student, The University of Lapland

Picture: "The ever so easy-to-use chopsticks"
Teacher, Arja Kilpeläinen, The University of Lapland

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