August 1, 2018

Through the Participant's Eyes: Adventures in Scandinavia

"Adventures in Scandinavia" by Stacy Moreno, Executive Director of CIPUSA Affiliate, Empower International

Throughout the year we brainstorm how we can keep improving on the programs we do, and see new things in the world around us that would make sense for professionals and students alike.  A base of our supporters are in Social Work or the greater Human Services field, so we want to stay loyal to not only their interest, but our passion to (as we are as well qualified and curious social workers!).  This time, we approached a colleague in Education who is very forward thinking, interactive with her students, and innovative in her teaching methods and community partnerships. What did we have in common? A love for our community, a desire to help others learn best practices, and a keen eye on the Nordic Countries who have more progressive ways at working in both of our professions.  So now, our newest program was created.

For this adventure, it was only fitting to see Norway, Sweden and Finland, as it was quite a long and expensive travel excursion.  We extended our normal 9 day trip length to 15 days to accommodate this lengthy and luxurious adventure this past May. We created the trip to see a little bit of several fields of work, so that every traveler had a chance to see something specific to their interests, and not feel overwhelmed by repetitive conversations.  Some highlights include touring a working farm in a more rural area outside of Oslo, that employs individuals with intellectual delays. We also had the most magnificent tour and dialogue at Halden Prison, known as the most humane prison in the world. It was such a significant opportunity for all of us, as we were truly able to grasp a deeper understanding of why, or how, this model works. It isn’t just a model that can be picked up and recreated with success. It was a mindset that people have about other people that is at the root.  When you truly believe people are worth a second chance, and believe that when you meet people where they are at, provide them with support to get better, and walk alongside them in partnership and support, it creates an environment of mutual trust, self reliance, and opportunity and hope. They also taught us that the punishment IS imprisonment. There is no punishment within the punishment. Being there is punishment enough, so let's build their time to be rehabilitative, as they are destined to be in the community again. We will be forever honored to hear that we were chosen among many others who also requested a tour.

In Sweden we had amazing opportunities to learn about children’s libraries, and youth programs.  Again, what is astonishing is that pupils are not tracked based on ethnic background, so it was hard for them to share with us a demographic makeup of their population. What was insightful is that the youth feel connected to the people that work there, that they feel represented, and they are provided opportunities to thrive in areas that other schools and centers may not have accessible to them (such as music production, skateboarding, sports, dance and much more).

In Finland we focused on Education.  They are known around the world for their excellent school system and for their student success. It was such a great in person opportunity for us to tour schools, meet principals, teachers, administrators, parents, students, social workers, special ed teachers, counselors and more!  We had several opportunities to dive into the school system. One word that comes to mind is TRUST. This was brought up a lot in conversation. Teachers are highly trained (no less than a masters degree), revered by the community, and trusted by their supervisors and peers. They know what’s best for their students and are provided a creative environment to help students succeed.  They also do not conduct standardized testing. They focus all their time on individualized student learning, and by removing the testing, they can continue to introduce new material to their students. Another thing that is impressive is second language learning and primary language preservation. In America, we do have a way to support the English language learner, but we don’t provide targeted classes to also empower that student to maintain their native language and culture.  In Finland, we learned of schools that have high Finnish learners (migrants) also help them to keep their Arabic or Somali languages/cultural identity. Migration at this rate is relatively new to them. The social worker in me is delighted in how this “person first” technique comes to this country, new to immigration, as a rather natural phenomenon.

Comparative learning experiences is what makes our trips unique and exciting.  What makes it memorable and worthy of repeating? The relationships and other experiences that come along with it!  We can successfully say we traveled by plane, train, subway, metro, bus, cruise ship, ferry and taxi! We tried moose meatballs, reindeer and other local dishes, took excursions to the archipelago, museums, walking tours in the forest, experienced white nights, and had the typical Finnish sauna/Baltic sea jump experience, among other amazing opportunities.  We found a free day somewhere and decided to take the ferry boat to Tallinn’s Medieval quarter, across the way from Finland. So, we added a beautiful Estonia to our itinerary, which was the perfect way to end an amazing adventure!

Lesson learned?  This region of the world was safe, healthy, protected its people, provided opportunities, and was magnificently beautiful. The learning was just beginning…..

…..I wonder what we should do next.  


Posted by Lindsey Walsh on August 1, 2018 at 5:22 PM in Participant Permalink
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