Sunday, 20 August 2017

Hello Washington, DC! Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Orientation Workshop 2017



Finally I get a chance to write about the two orientation weeks I've just had the pleasure to experience! It has truly been a pleasure, I'm not exaggerating, regardless of the very busy schedule (yesterday was my first day off in 12 days!). This post will be all about Washington DC and the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching orientation there, to be followed by a post on the Indiana University Orientation Week here in Bloomington.

Day 1
So, Julcsi and I left for the USA via Reykjavik with Icelandair on Monday the 7th of August. We had a morning flight and a quick change at Keflavik before crossing the pond and starting our Big Adventure. The flight to Iceland was just over 3 hours and we mostly spent it watching Beauty and the Beast (loved it!). It felt so cool to be in Iceland, and I instantly got the feeling that I would want to spend some time there, too, instead of having to board another plane within one hour of landing, so we need to go back! We saw the Blue Lagoon from the window, by the way - very cool!

I ended up having to go through an extra security check at Keflavik where they randomly select people who're travelling to America, so I had to take a number, wait for my turn and then be thoroughly searched, but luckily it didn't take too long and soon I was good to go. I didn't know that these days there's no free food on transatlantic flights, either, but luckily we managed to buy some sandwiches at the airport for the next 6,5 hours. And by the way, I was surprised the Icelandair plane from Keflavik to DC wasn't any bigger than the plane from Helsinki to Keflavik. I'm afraid of flying, and my friend Tiina once told me when I was panicking about big planes that I should think about a sparrow in a storm and an eagle in a storm...and since the plane was small this time, all I could think about was that sparrow...Luckily not much turbulence, though the little we had was completely enough, thank you very much. I watched How to Train Your Dragon and some of La La Land before dozing off.




We arrived at Washington Dulles (which is actually in Virginia - yay, a new state!) at around 1:30 pm and then got into the country really easily. There was no queue by the time we got to the Customs & Border Protection, and they asked me two questions: what is the purpose of my visit, and if we brought any food. I don't think Julcsi got asked anything. They took our fingerprints and pictures, stamped our passports, and we were good to go. We caught a SuperShuttle from the airport to the hotel. It was a little bit difficult to find as the signs disappear once you get out of the terminal, but you get out, turn right and walk until you find some blue vans. You book your ride with the people standing there and pay the driver. The airport is quite far away so the price is quite reasonable ($29 for the first passenger of your group, and $10 for all the rest).

The IIE (the Institute of International Education) had booked rooms for everyone at the Loews Madison Hotel - oh my God, it's luxurious! Nothing we would ever go for if we were the ones to book our own accommodation! A 4-star palace! Soooo lucky! We checked in, got our keys, and a bellboy carried our bags into the room!!! Now that certainly never happened to us before :)! Loved the place, and loved the room! There even was a throne for Julcsi there!





All the orientation activities happened on the 2nd floor of the hotel, which has conference rooms and a huge ballroom that was used as a dining area. Once we'd got settled a bit, we went there to meet Angelica from the IIE and to get my Fulbright Registration Kit containing the Orientation Program (quite a thick booklet, by the way!), a prepaid bank card worth $381 for any expenses we might have before our actual stipend is paid out (these expenses would be paying for luggage fees on flights, grocery shopping in Bloomington, stuff for the flat...in addition to this, 350€ was sent to my Finnish bank account prior to departure for any expenses on the way to the States), a name tag, and a Fulbright bag. The happy news was that family members were also welcome to join the grantees and alumni for some meals = every breakfast as well as the first and the last dinner. Yay! We were quite happy with this arrangement!

Quite a few people hadn't yet arrived by the time we already had dinner, so we had dinner in a smaller room together with Sanna and her husband Kimmo, and an American Fulbright DAT Linda, who's coming to Finland in January 2018, and her husband. It was really nice to get to know Linda, and I'm looking forward to meeting up in Finland as well!



The waiters were elderly, to say the least...In Finland, they would've retired 20 years ago! I remember wondering about this in Hawaii as well, as some of the people working at the airport there looked about 90 but were still lifting people's luggage...Oh, and here, ice cubes seem to be the thing - all glasses of water come filled with ice cubes, and when checking in, we were recommended a room close to an ice machine. When we didn't go for that room, we were at least told where the closest ice machine would be :D.

Anyways, we were knackered, and at one point Linda told us to go to bed, and we happily obeyed.

Day 2
On the 8th, we would still have a lot of free time as this was the day for international teachers to recover from jet lag and for American teachers to arrive. So, after breakfast, we took off for some sightseeing! We had booked a tour of the US Capitol for 12:10 pm and had some time before that, so we went to see the White House, which is basically just around the corner from Loews Madison, the Washington Monument, and the Mall with all the museums. The good thing about DC is that everything is free - the museums, the Capitol tour, the cemetery...And it's very walkable as well!


The White House.

The White House is heavily guarded.







We needed to be at the US Capitol 45 minutes before our tour to collect our visitor passes. You and your bags basically go through a metal detector at all places of interest in the USA, and the Capitol was no different. Luckily, though, there was no queue and we were there well in time for our tour. You need to give the last four digits of your booking code to get your ticket, so no printouts were needed even if the booking confirmation says to print it out. By the way, you can go inside the Capitol building even if you're not planning on going on a tour, and you can also just queue for a ticket without a prior booking, though it might take a very long time.








The tour was well worth it! It begins with a 13-minute video on the history of the building, the senate, the congress and the presidents of the USA. Then you get a headset and a guide (ours was excellent!) and go on a tour of different rooms in the building while listening to your guide's voice through your headset. Very practical!

The centre of Washington DC, with George Washington's empty tomb below.

The Apotheosis of Washington, the fresco in the Capitol dome.

The Rotunda of the Capitol.

The Frieze of American History.



The Whisper Spot.

The statue of Rosa Parks.



A very good visit, all in all! We then had a look around the souvenir shop and got some exercise books to bring back home with us. Also ended up buying the most expensive fridge magnet ever - whoops! Didn't see a price on it, which should've already been enough of a sign not to go for it...:D

There's a tunnel from the Capitol to the Library of Congress, so we decided to go and have a look at the Great Hall there, as well as the Main Reading Room. Very nice, see for yourself!

The Great Hall.






The Main Reading Room.

The Library of Congress.



The US Supreme Court.

The Capitol once again.

We had quite a long walk to get back to our hotel, and the weather was scorching hot, so when we got to our street, we decided to go to a Korean restaurant even if my Welcome Dinner was just an hour away. It was a good decision - we had amazing food! I had something noodle-based while Julcsi went for a rice-based option.



Aaaand, then it was time to start preparing for the Welcome Reception & Dinner. The DC Orientation was organised for the international and the American 2017-2018 Fulbright DATs, and quite a few Fulbright DAT alumni were there, too, to lead workshops on various topics and to help us prepare for our Fulbright semester. We had two and a half days of workshops before flying to Indiana - the Americans, on the other hand, won't start their adventure until 2018.

Here in the US, quite a lot of events like this have a dress code - "business casual" seems to be my new middle name! Those who know me well will know that I'm not the business casual type - I always wear jeans and T-shirts and don't even own anything fancier than that. Here, we've already had three business casual events and I've had to represent in a dress enough to have grown a little bit used to it. I definitely want to look into a business casual look that can be created with pants, though.

So yeah, I was quite nervous about the Reception as I had no idea what to expect. It turned out that the first hour or so was spent mingling (yet another thing that is new to me as in Finland we don't mingle, or even talk to strangers, period), getting to know people and talking about our projects here. There was a cocktail bar with things like olives, as well as a cash bar for those who wanted to purchase alcoholic drinks, and people were standing and talking to each other, though not for a long time as it seemed that the purpose was to talk to as many people as possible but only very briefly. I often get the feeling here that people are not in fact interested in what you have to say or who you are, as all encounters are very brief and somehow distant despite the friendly smiles and questions. It's definitely something to get used to for someone valuing deep conversations!

While I may not be the best at mingling, I still managed to talk to some very nice people like my fellow international Fulbrighters Sanna from Finland, Karen and Keith from New Zealand, and Michelle from Taiwan. Michelle is here with her family, and her kids Jerry (1) and Cherry (5) are the cutest! Love them! Other than that, I have to say that mingling is quite loud - I couldn't hear anything anyone was saying as it felt as though the whole room was shouting in unison. It was a relief when it was announced that dinner would be served as we could finally hear each other a little bit better. Before dinner, we also had some lovely welcoming words from Betsy Devlin-Foltz from the US Department of State.

For dinner, we were seated in country groups, so I was sitting with Sanna and the seven teachers coming to Finland in 2018: Linda, Kerry, Sarah, Aulikki, Sam, Ebony and Martha. Everyone is really nice and I'm looking forward to getting back together next year! I'm slowly starting to realise how big of a deal getting selected to do this actually is, and I'm super happy and proud to be included in this group!



Day 3
On the 9th, we had breakfast and Julcsi then left for the National Gallery of Art and the National Museum of the American Indian (I will interview her later on those for the blog). There would've been an optional Morning Walk led by alumna Cathy Kazio, but we chose to sleep as it would've been between 6:30 am and 7:30 am, so even before breakfast. It's nice, though, that they try to make the most of the time we have for sightseeing!

On the first actual orientation day, we first had Opening Remarks from Anthony Koliha from the Office of Global Educational Programs in the US Department of State, and a Workshop Overview led by Holly Emert from the IIE. We then went on to have a session on Intercultural Communication with Dr. Barbara Kappler (an excellent presentation!), a session where alumni were sharing their tips, a session with Jacob Butler (our amazing program coordinator from Indiana University! Jacob's time management and organising skills are out of this world!) on the inquiry projects, a session with Angelica from the IIE on virtual collaboration and sharing our experiences through social media and blogs, and there still would've been an optional session on bringing your family with you abroad, which we chose not to attend. We started at 8:45 am and ended at 5 pm with a couple of small breaks and a one-hour lunch break in the middle, so it was a long day! I was sitting between alumna Erin Dowding and Sanna, and got to know Erin a little bit better, which was nice as she went to Finland for her Fulbright DAT :).




In the evening from 5:45 pm to 6:45 pm we had dinner, and after that from 7pm to 9:30 pm a Washington DC Monuments Bus & Walking Tour where family were also invited. We went on two separate buses and had a guide in each bus. First we stopped at the White House, then the Capitol, and finally Lincoln Memorial. I really appreciate getting a chance to go on a tour like this and the fact that family was included, too. Overall, I think family members have been welcomed with open arms just as much as us grantees, and we were told that we're all a big Fulbright family! I like this attitude!




Sanna and me!


Lincoln Memorial.

The Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.



Day 4
On Thursday the 10th, we started with breakfast at 7:30 am with yet another Morning Walk option before it, which we didn't go for. Julcsi then left to finish her tour of the National Museum of the American Indian and to visit the National Air and Space Museum.

On Thursday, we started off with separate sessions for the US and the international teachers. The main topic of the morning was the administration of the Fulbright grants, and we talked a lot about what our program consists of, financial matters, health coverage, travel logistics, and our responsibilities. An excellent and very informative session led by Jacob! We then continued with the topic of living in the USA, which I didn't think contained anything new apart from tipping rules. We learned that 15% is good, some tip even up to 20%, some tip the taxi driver but not everyone; if you're only having drinks, $1/drink is a reasonable tip; and basically you're supposed to tip anyone who serves you personally including a hairdresser. However, at places where you queue for your food, you don't need to tip. Also, in Indiana, there's a 7% tax added to all the prices you see on price tags, and around 25% in the case of alcohol and cigarettes.

After the lunch break, we had a session on meeting the needs of under-resourced students around the world, which for me personally was the most inspiring session of the whole orientation week. We started off by working in groups, determining what is meant by "under-resourced student", and then went on to think of ways of supporting them in schools. During this session, it dawned on me that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be - the main purpose of the Fulbright DAT program is to help the non-mainstream students, such as ethnic minorities, immigrant students or LGBTQ+ students. This is exactly what I want to do and exactly what I'm all about! I felt so inspired and happy after this session, and now I can only hope I will be able to make a difference with my inquiry project and that something more will come out of it in the years to come! The American attitude of "Think big!" has definitely got to me!



Here's what my group produced. The first "goals" sentence is written by me, and I'm so proud of it!



We still had a couple of sessions left. First, we had a country group discussion about the educational systems in our countries (in my case, Finland and the US), which was really nice, and I actually would've loved to have even more time to talk with the teachers who'll be coming to Finland next year. This session was very useful and we got a lot of good tips!

The final session of the day was optional, and there were actually several options as the sessions were all about identity groups. So, if you identified with a certain group, you could join in the discussion. The groups on offer were Participating as a person of colour; an LGBTQIA person; a person bringing family; a single person; and as a person leaving family behind. I really appreciated this identity group discussion option as it really makes you feel like you're important and your needs and situation are taken into account. I obviously joined in the LGBTQ+ discussion, and even if it was just the four of us, it was meaningful and important to see that I'm not the only one here!

Finally, from 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm, we had a Closing Dinner where family were invited, too. Business casual of course, with the option of wearing a traditional dress as well. I went in my one and only dress, with Julcsi looking gorgeous in her Desigual one <3. The food was good, the company was good, and we got some freebies - for example, a pen with a Fulbright signal flashlight at the end (kind of like the Bat Signal :D!) and a Fulbright badge. Yay! Here, freebies are the thing, unlike in Finland where you mostly never get anything for free :D.





Then it was time for group photos! Here are the results:

Our International Fulbright Teachers Cohort! 

All the Fulbright DATs 2017-2018, international and American!

Sanna and I representing Finland!

Team Finland! Sanna and I with the US teachers to Finland!

Team IIE and Department of State! So grateful for everyone for making everything happen!

Julcsi and me!
Finally, we had a Culture Night Celebration where family were also invited, with some grantees performing. We had Team Morocco teaching us traditional Moroccan dances; Team India reciting poetry, performing an Indian wedding dance and singing; Adina from Israel teaching an Israeli dance, and Maeve from the USA reciting a poem.






Day 5
On Friday the 11th, we still had some activities in the morning. After breakfast, we had a session called Developing Global Competence, which was done in groups and basically very similar to the Multilingual Hämeenlinna project Julcsi and I did with our optional English groups in the spring. We were sent outside in groups to find specific locations with the help of picture clues and to discuss education-related topics once we found the places in question. After this, we still had a session with the international teachers and Jacob to discuss program activities before joining everyone else to hear the concluding remarks. All in all, it was a very good week that left me very inspired!

After lunch, the international teachers had a quick session to sign a release form to let a lawyer take care of our taxation here in the US, and at around 2:30 pm I was free to go and meet Julcsi, who was busy exploring the National Museum of Natural History.

Julcsi and I ended up walking 10 km!!! We went to see various memorials and finally the Arlington National Cemetery where JFK and his family are buried. A very busy afternoon, but I'm glad we had time to do all these things!





Jefferson Memorial.












The gate to Arlington Cemetery,







JFK's grave.

JFK and Jackie Onassis.


Robert Kennedy.


The view from Arlington House.



It took us a long time to walk back - we'd been planning on catching the metro, but it turned out you needed to pay $8 for the card to be able to catch  a $2 ride, so instead we walked...there were a couple of lightnings, thunder and rain to accompany us, but we made it, packed our bags and went to bed as we had an early morning the following day.

On Saturday the 12th, we grabbed some breakfast to go, then waited (and waited and waited - there was a delay) for the bus to take us to the airport - this time Ronald Reagan National Airport, which is really close to the city centre. You can see planes landing and taking off constantly! The check in system was strange, to say the least - they weigh your bags, put the sticker on them, and then give them back to you to bring them to wait for someone to bother to pick them up and send them on their way on the conveyor belt! Quite a few of us were not that into this system as the bags were just hanging there, right next to an exit...anyone could've taken them, and you could've easily added some extra weight in afterwards. Not impressed. We were all really eager to get to Bloomington, though, so we left the bags, went through security and boarded our plane to Indianapolis!


Stay tuned for a post on our Bloomington Orientation Week!