Hailey Hadley, a UVU student studying to become a high school history teacher, is passionate about the Utah Valley University study abroad experience she had this summer in Finland . He said it is an experience that no student of the education department should miss.
“You can learn the steps they’re using to try to improve their schools and you can apply that to your own teaching,” she said. “I think this is something that any student in the education program should really do.”
Hadley said it was valuable to interact with students, teachers and administrators from various Finnish schools to see how they approach education.
The whirlwind two-week program was led by Benton Brown, assistant dean of the School of Education; Trevor Warburton, Assistant Professor of Secondary Education; and Mia Wang, associate professor of elementary education. They visited not just one, but three places with a rich history and culture, chosen for their reputation for innovative teaching approaches and outstanding educational performance internationally: Helsinki, Finland; Tallinn, Estonia; and Stockholm, Sweden.
Brown said study abroad aims to help students prepare for their future professions as educators and deepen their understanding of the world’s diversity through cross-cultural exposure.
“Our trip to the Baltics exposed our students to unique cultures, dynamic and successful education systems, and exceptional students and faculty from diverse backgrounds,” said Brown. “We are thrilled that our students will return to Utah equipped with new and unique perspectives, including innovative teaching and learning methods.”
Abby Skousen, a special education student at UVU, appreciated the autonomy Finnish educators gave their students and how they trusted their students to do their work in a way that fit their learning style. ‘learning, whether doing a worksheet or doing a group project.
“I feel like a kid would get up and leave the classroom, and the teacher would just know, ‘Oh, they’re going to the bathroom,’ or ‘Oh, they had to figure something out. They’re going to come back,'” Skousen said. “It was as if the teacher was there facilitating the work, but I felt that everyone was at the same level. So that’s definitely something that I really want to implement, just trusting my students in what they’re doing and how they’re learning and letting them be different.”
Hadley felt the same way. “I feel like we as teachers and, you know, people who work in education, we can try to incorporate that kind of environment where students feel like they’re in charge of their education,” she said.
In addition to making connections with educators and students from Finnish schools, students were able to tour the Fryhuset school and community center to see how the unique organization, based in Sweden, has focused on youth and growing immigrant population over the years.
They also took part in many Nordic cultural experiences, including bathing in a traditional Finnish sauna in a cold, icy lake. They toured the high-end shopping areas of the Design District, the UNESCO World Heritage Center in Helsinki, Gamla Stan (the Old Town), the Royal Palace, the Nobel Prize Museum and Drottningholm Palace and Gardens. They even had the opportunity to visit some of Stockholm’s most famous sites, such as the ‘Venice of the North’, the Vasa ship and the Nordic and Viking museums.
Skousen said the trip was special because of his immersion in European education and culture. Her experiences in the Nordic countries, including meeting a classroom full of Ukrainian students, exploring the KGB museum, and meeting and talking to Finns in the sauna, had a profound impact on her.
“It was great to help me recognize cultures and why countries were where they were,” she said. “And just seeing all the different buildings and all that was really impactful, like the world was so great and so much bigger than me.”