Last week I had the opportunity to travel again to Tampere, a lovely old city about an hour and a half away by train. This was my second visit to Tampere and I happily visited the museums that had been closed the last time I was there: the Lenin Museum and the Workers Museum. This old mill town is considered to be the birthplace of the Soviet Union because Lenin and Stalin met here to plan their revolution and agenda for Russia. The museum is small but fascinating. I also enjoyed walking around without worrying about ice on the sidewalks, as I did in February, and without my huge parka.
The reason I returned to Tampere was to present at the American Studies Seminar at the University of Helsinki. This event, which is actually the annual meeting of the Association of Teachers of English in Finland, is an opportunity for Finnish English teachers to hear from US Fulbrighters about our experiences and projects. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to this group of highly educated, knowledgeable teachers and was struck by their modesty and intelligence. Most of the Finns I meet, especially in education, are incredibly well read. These teachers are obviously more interested in the US than most, and their comments and experiences support that. At lunch, I learned that they travel to the US in groups, and many of them have been to major cities in the States. Their favorite? New Orleans, of course!
Another feature of Finns: they are able to laugh at themselves (though quietly). In a conversation with a long-time teacher, Tuula, I mentioned that I feel people in Maine are somewhat similar to Finns in their reticence and dislike of small talk. She agreed and mentioned that she learned that from literature, specifically reading Elizabeth Strout’s novels including Olive Kittredge. We proceeded to talk about the movie and the talented Frances McDormand. Conversations like this remind me how small the world is and how language and literature can connect us to each other.
By sharing my experiences and perspectives, I inevitably learn more than I give. This is the true gift of travel for me. The world is both larger and smaller than I imagined.