The Experience Goes On and On!

Doug Maynard

University of Helsinki
Fall 2006

I was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Helsinki Department of Sociology in the late summer and fall of 2006. My wife, Joan, took a leave from her occupation as a Social Worker to join me, participating in activities facilitated by the Fulbright Center and through the American Women’s Club, a very dynamic organization encompassing many nationalities and a variety of interests.

I would have enjoyed participating in the Women’s Club myself, judging by the variety of pursuits it made available. But I mainly stuck to my research and teaching. My field in sociology involves the study of what we call “naturally occurring talk,” using audio and video recordings of people actually engaging one another in telephone or face-to-face interaction. There are many scholars not only in Helsinki but also at other universities in Finland who study conversational interaction like I do. Consequently, on my Fulbright sojourn, I felt I had stepped into the midst of a wide intellectual community, and could feel at home professionally from the very moment we landed.

Photo: Doug and Joan at the Sibelius Monument

By pursuing my own research and talking about it while in Finland, and by hearing and seeing the presentations of Finnish Conversation Analysts, I learned more about what is universal in human interactions and also what is unique about Finnish contexts and language. For example, on my Fulbright, I was researching complaint sequences in conversation, and had a chance to see whether Finns complain like Americans do and vice versa. (The answer is yes!) In fact, I drew on the Kalevala, the famous Finnish epic poem, to document and illustrate some of the patterns I was finding in contemporary conversational complaints. As the study progresses, and I publish this research, it will embody components and references that are a direct result of my experiences with the conversation analysts in Finland and with the culture of the land.

Feeling at home in Finland was not only in the intellectual realm, however. Joan and I were welcomed in many ways while we lived in Helsinki. The Fulbright office and its functions and events were a big part of this, for it was there that we met our Fulbright “buddies” as well as other Finns and Americans with whom we continue to have warm and friendly relationships.

We had the privilege this year of returning to Finland for ten days in June (2008), nearly a year and half after the end of our Fulbright stay. When arrived back, it almost felt like we had never left. In some sense we hadn’t, because in the interim we had soaked up everything in the news about Finland (did you hear about the Finnish educational system?), reviewed and shared our many photos and books from the journey, and vividly kept the experience in our imaginations. We had also stayed in touch with many friends and colleagues, but even with those whom we hadn’t been in direct communication, it seemed we could take up immediately from where things had been left upon our previous visit. It was that rare but treasured sense that any time intervals were irrelevant to our continuing relationships.

When we arrived home after this most recent journey, it was a mere two weeks before the summer solstice. We happened to hear about a Juhannus Celebration on a local farm called the Blue Skies Berry farm, owned by a Finnish-American. The event was co-sponsored by the Madison Finnish-American society: www.madison.com/communities/finnish/. Joan and I attended with friends, shared in a sumptuous feast complete with sauna, listened to folk music, and heard another kind of music as well—the intermixture of Finnish and English being spoken around the farm as we celebrated into the night with bonfire and fireworks!

Judging by the last 18 months, and even our last two weeks, our Finnish Fulbright experience blessedly will not cease. It only grows and expands.

Joan Maynard

I Know I've Lived in Finland...

Now that I’ve settled back into life in my US community, Madison, Wisconsin, I have reflected on how living in Finland in the fall of 2006 had its influence on me. Here’s what I’ve realized:

I was reminded that I’d lived in Finland when making purchases or being served. The first word that came to mind when we first returned from our four months was “kiittos,” not “thank you.” I may not have uttered the Finnish word of appreciation, but it was almost automatic to think it first. I wish there were more words from the language that would have surfaced so easily, but I think that would take some hard work…a class, or disciplining myself to spend time with those books and tapes we bought before our Finnish experience.

I know I’ve lived in Finland because I now give myself the gift of a sauna after every gym work out. I never took a sauna at the gym before. Those ten minutes or so in the steamy hot room of cedar give me time to reminisce about our time in Helsinki. But my feeble attempts to reproduce the “ice swimming” experience with a cold shower after sauna hasn’t been terribly successful. How could one ever duplicate the Baltic or the cold December waters of Kuusijärvi in Vantaa?

I know I’ve lived in Finland because now I keep looking for buildings built next to or from huge granite rock. The Rock Church in Central Helsinki is an incredible structure, but seeing rocks crop up so many unusual places was a constant source of entertainment for me. Although there is lots of granite in Wisconsin so far I’ve had no luck finding rocks incorporated so impressively into the urban landscape. In Helsinki, one huge rock even popped up in a tunneled area of the Forum!

I know I’ve been in Finland because (having returned home with a pair of Excel walking poles), I’ve decided to join the ranks of those peculiar-looking pacers as long as I can produce good form. Fortunately, the guru of Nordic Walking in the U.S. lives right here in Madison, so I’ve been able to get a video describing good technique. I wouldn’t want to embarrass my Finnish walker friends with a less than perfect stride!

I know I’ve lived in Finland when I jump into my car to go a short distance and wish I were jumping on a tram or bus. Sure it takes a shorter time to grocery shop by car, but when in the U.S. and working as I do, one doesn’t have the luxury of spending half a day on dinner.

I know I’ve lived in Finland when I long for walks where I can just look up and see some wonderful architectural detail. I miss the Jugen style, the National Romantic style, and even some of the Functional style buildings on a Helsinki street. Thank goodness for the hundreds of photos on my computer capturing the Finnish sense of design. It’s literally everywhere you look.

I know I’ve lived in Finland when I wash dishes in my sink and miss putting them into the drainer hidden in the cupboard above. At my sink back here I look out a window. The site is beautiful, but I find myself thinking, “What a shame!”

I know I’ve lived in Finland when I think of the many people who made our stay so special. I look forward to the day when I can see them again and build on the friendships that have roots in this practical, enterprising and beautiful country – Finland.