My Finnish Experience




I spent the month of May as a visiting researcher at University of Jyväskylä, Finland. I worked with Hannele Dufva who is one of the few applied linguists in the world who can talk to both psycholinguists and sociolinguists. Hannele, like our well-respected, well-read, Leo van Lier, can speak both intellectually and in lay-person’s language about the historical progression of language and second language acquisition theories and practices. Hannele, also like Leo, does her research and reveals her perspectives in subtle ways, does not say this is THE way of doing applied linguistics, and does not make a loud noise to prophesize a ground-breaking theory of how languages should be learned. Rather, one needs to navigate one’s own path to figure out her wayfinding. One will need, perhaps, to understand Finnish culture in order to find Hannele’s way.



On the surface, Finnish people are reserved and private. But once you get to know them, you cannot help but being compassionate about them because their compassion will change you and the surroundings. How am I, a Chinese, feeling this deep connection with the Finns? Growing up in Northeast China in severe cold winters with hot, spicy and richly herb-flavored stews, it is not hard to develop a strong personality that seeks rhythms of life in all aspects. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I realized this part of me by being in Finland. I immediately fell in love with Finnish music, a lingering of Russian melancholy, the depth and strength of Beethoven, the orderliness and Romantics of Germany, the hopeful and pioneering spirit of America, and hospitality and wisdom of ancient China.

Julmat Iammet

Julmat Iammet

Now back to Hannele’s work, with its dialogical roots as quiet as a Finnish lake in Spring, as straightforward as a Finnish pine forest, as cheerful and bright as Marimekko design, as solid and nutritious 100% rye bread, and as deep and simple as Lao Zi’s Daoism philosophy. As for our collaboration, we didn’t rush into a project or a publication. I was provided time and space to get to know my Finnish colleague’s work, the Finnish culture through different levels of interaction with the Finnish education system and graduate students. It was as if we were planting bamboo together, maybe a bamboo forest. It takes bamboo 4 years to establish its roots before the bamboo shoot comes out of the ground in the spring, but once it is out , it grows at lightening speed. The characteristics of bamboo also speak to Finnish culture, in my view. It is a hidden Nordic bamboo, quite and modest, strong, elegant, stylistic but not domineering, not in a hurry to catch up nor fear of falling behind, which I surmise, attributes to the reasons Finland is a leading country in education.

Magic reflection

Magic reflection

Though I have been planning to write a blog about my Finland experience, it only came three months later, while I am healing from a recent health problem, while Mäntylä Katja wrote a thank you note, while FB friends were bragging about our CILC II Conference at the University of Jyväskylä, from which I was sadly absent.

More photos of My Spring in Finland Collection 


Research Fellow at Oxford Univeristy Harris Manchester College


with fellows from Hawaii: Peter Shaindlin (Halekulani Corporation), Edna Magpantay-Monroe (Chaminade University)

Oxford-2 Oxford University is one of the most beautiful, charming and quintessential places I’ve studied and worked in. Its beauty and charm lie in the relevance of both the old and new. The old lies in its architecture, tutorial system, and social traditions. And the new (to me) lies in its exuberating social dialogue opportunities found in the dining hall, which reflects the tradition Socratic conversation of hundred of years past.

My daily routine as a fellow during the Summer Research Institute is simple but highly educational: I have 3 meals in the OLD Dinning Hall with other fellows, go to the library and attend some evening activities. My downtime was spent on going to the museums, taking a walk in different parts of the city and jogging in many colleges. The library system is impressive and the colleges are just beautiful with a rare combination of a perfect English garden and classic architecture style. However, the most educational experience comes about from a deeper understanding of the need for communication across disciplines and education of independent thinkers and agents.

With the Principal, Revd Dr. Ralph Waller and Fellows from Thailand on the roof top of the chapel of Harris Manchester College

With the Principal, Revd Dr. Ralph Waller and Fellows from Thailand, Witsanu Attavanich and Nadhawee Bunnag on the roof top of the chapel of Harris Manchester College

Oxford uses a tutorial system. The critiques of a such a system are of anarchism, inefficiency and even to the extent of being anti-collaborative and anti-cooperative. However, if one takes the students’ dinning hall social life as part of the education system, one will have a different perspective of how the tutorial system works in the large picture. In the dinning hall routine, conversations are usually centered on serious topics expressing a project or a topic to someone from a different discipline. It is also not uncommon that one will sit next to an expert or a prestigious alumnus who joins the dinner on different occasions. So in my view, one cannot give a quick causal judgment that the tutorial system is old and not efficient. One has to take in how other events are going on in a student’s life to evaluate certain pedagogical effects. Conversation in the dinning hall is a very major part of the system. These social opportunities that are both life and academic in nature are engaging, and I personally believe the Oxford system is a gem for educating independent thinkers and socially and globally responsible agents.


Harris Manchester College

See more of My Photography of Oxford

Every fellow has a project to work on during this intense week. My