An Email to My American Students

Dear Juniors,

The Class of 2017 was on my mind yesterday and today as I watched the rite of passage for rising “seniors” here in Jyväskylä. 


Yesterday morning, all the current seniors who will be taking the matriculation examination in May had their final day of classes. Now they will only be studying. So they celebrate here by dressing up in silly costumes and riding around the centre of town in a caravan of open-backed trucks. Students from all the schools in town filled dozens of trucks, cruised the downtown where thousands gathered to be showered with candy by the students.

Version 2

Now that the seniors are gone (today they won’t receive the free school lunch they’ve eaten since pre-school), the juniors step it up. At 10 this morning, they gathered in their gyms, dressed in ball gowns and tuxedos. From 10-11, they danced waltzes, tangos, and other formal dances.


Tonight, all the juniors in Jyväskylä will gather at the largest sports hall for a gigantic prom. One neat twist: each school choreographs a dance, often quite inventive. They share them with each other (the one I saw this morning narrated all the juniors going on an airplane, crashing, and then dancing to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight). After every school performs its dance, there is a formal.

After the formal, the students head to cabins along the countless lakes which dot the pine and birch woods that cover most of the country. On Monday, they will begin their final set of courses.

Pretty cool! When I teach Globalisation in the fall, we will be talking with some of these kids about their lives and about their outlook on global issues. I am also working on setting up a Skype with the director of a refugee camp here, where unaccompanied minor migrants stay. Hopefully some of the migrants will join in, though most speak Arabic–and now a little Finnish. What would it be like being 16 or 17, from Baghdad, and being among strangers in a refuge camp in rural Finland? I can’t even imagine.

So some people your age here are re-hemming their ball dresses right now. Others are sitting in tents, learning Finnish. 

I hope you are well. Take care and free to drop me a line if you want to!

Warm wishes from Finland,



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