Chapter 5 – The school where I am

Ok, let’s talk about my Finnish daily routine!

I will give you some general information, and I really hope that this can be useful for anyone of you who will decide to spent few months volunteering here in the North.

What do I concretely  do here in Seurakuntaopisto?

First of all, I am in one of those schools that in Finland are called “opisto”. That means people live here during the week days. I also stay here in the student dorm. Other schools are named “Koulu”, and there is no dormitory there.

Other thing, this school is a Vocational School. Students learn a profession here. The school that prepares better for university instead is named “Lukio”, and it can be compared to the Italian “Liceo” (though, I don’t know what it can exactly be in the Anglo-Saxon tradition).

I understood that Seurakuntaopisto is a kind of unusual place.

So, what’s different? In Seurakuntaopisto there are lessons for Special Needs Students and for Not Special Needs ones. In the same place you can see both, this is the peculiarity of the school. In fact, many changes are currently taking place in the Finnish school system and one of those regards Special Needs Education. They are trying to integrate more and more Special Needs students. Otherwise, the mainstream solution here in Finland (as in many other countries) it’s to make them study in Special schools.

So, back to my personal experience! I live and I do my volunteering work in the same place, that is quite comfy since I don’t have to take any transportation and I don’t need to wake up too early. Remember this if you search for a project in Finland! Check the distances! It can be very annoying if you have to travel a lot. The weather is not always good and even if public transportation is not bad, buses have to deal with snow and ice. They can be late, and in Winter outside is freaking cold!

What about my duties? Well, volunteers don’t have many responsibilities. On the one hand this can be great, it makes you feel more relaxed. On the other hand, it means that sometime the day could be too relaxing. But the point is to understand that as a volunteer, first of all, you should observe and learn. You have to be patient, and when you feel confident enough don’t be afraid of putting yourself in action. In Finland people do appreciate personal initiative (at least the ones I met in Pieksämäki).

I can work either in the morning or in the evening. The morning shift starts at 6.45 and it ends at 14.45, the evening shift is from 14.00 until 22.00. During the morning I go to the special needs students dormitory and with them we have breakfast in the dining room of the Campus. After breakfast students have one hour of free time and usually at 9.15 the lessons begin. In the free time we can play some board games in the living room of the dormitory, then we move to the classroom and I attend classes with them. Most of the time I can help and support the students during their activities. The teachers always give me some tasks.

Just few words to describe the classroom. I was really amazed by it.

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When I write classroom you probably picture in your mind a room with one teaching desk in front of several student desks, that’s kind of normal in Italy. Here, it’s not like this! The classroom is a sort of little house. Inside this house there is the teacher’s office, a couple of “living rooms” with couches and a computer, a kitchen and then also the actual classroom with desks for the students (but not for the teacher).  I think that using the space in this way is amazing.

Let’s finish with the description of the volunteers daily routine in this school.

The evening shift is totally different. It’s not really structured. Students are in their free time and they can join activities or they can just relax in their rooms.

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A good way to survive these long evenings is to find something else to do, like reading a book or studying the language. As there are no students sometime If you do something by yourself is not that bad!

And that’s all about everyday work-life in Finland. For now!

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