The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Eighteen, Huitennen, Finland — On Teaching and Learning Across National Boundaries

The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Eighteen, Huitennen, Finland — On Teaching and Learning Across National Boundaries

Kaia Lawton
Week 4 and Week 5

Hello! So this week is now over, as is my second session of students! The last week we were together I had my students writing and giving reports on countries other than Russia and Republics of Russia. I also had them watch a documentary, which they were not thrilled about in the least. They complained that it was not a real film, which I found a bit ironic. I tried as hard as I could to facilitate discussion but they were very reluctant to start talking. Instead I gave them things to read and write, just so I could hear the pronunciation and then go over their sentence structures. We had to do some in class activities involving sentence structure, and why one word would be better than another, or we would have to talk about verb agreement and so on. At the end of the week, they surprised me, as I thought this group didn’t like me very much, by writing a note to me on my white board again. It was very sweet and appreciated. I now wish that I had done things like that for my past teachers more often as I now see how much work is put into a job like this.


This week we got new groups again. My group is older than my last by far, but a little less advanced. It is strange to have kids who are fourteen or fifteen, even one seventeen year old and one nineteen year old, who can’t do the same amount that my last session of twelve year olds could do. But this group is very clever and knows some things that are very surprising for their level.

One thing I have also noticed with this group so far is how vastly different language can be, even non verbal language and communication. In the US many would find some of the things that the kids do or say to describe others would be politically incorrect. I even had a moment of shock or two with words thrown around. However, after carefully explaining to them that in English speaking countries, words like that would hurt people’s feelings, I understood that there was no malice behind what they were saying or doing. It was a difference of culture and exposure.

I am also finding it much more difficult disciplining this particular group. It isn’t that they are sneakier or think they are, but they simply don’t care. If I say put your phones away, they do and the second I turn my back they are out again. I now understand just how disrespectful that feels. I also have a hard time not getting angry when the kids whine every time I give them a task. It is something that my colleagues and I tend to marvel at. We, adults at all different ages, from different parts of the world, including the United States, Finland, South Africa, Canada, and Ireland, all find it strange as we would never have even thought to whine in school. It wouldn’t have been okay or acceptable at all. Yet I have seen it in each and every session with all of the kids.
Regardless, I still have that desire for my students to learn something, and I really hope, every single day, that I taught them something worthwhile. It is a really scary job, being in charge of someone’s education and making sure they get something out of the experience. But I think it will be and has been at times, rewarding as well.

The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here throughout the summer, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, June, 2013

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

2 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Eighteen, Huitennen, Finland — On Teaching and Learning Across National Boundaries

  1. Jonia G

    Personally, I doubt I would ever be handle a situation of teaching something to students (no matter what age) – I admire that you are doing so. Plus, you enjoy helping them learn, grow, and gain a new perspective (at the same time I am sure that you are gaining your own new perspective). I always find language interesting and it’s use (e.g. slang, formal, tonal, etc.) with it’s influence through different cultural norms. Thank you for sharing, I shall hope for your success as you seem passionate about this path in life.

  2. Tamer Mische-Richter

    Your reaction that the older group is less advanced than your previous, younger group, is intriguing. As a person teaching a language I bet this is as common as it can be. How can it not be? People get to different places in their lives at different times and judgement should be set aside. Reading your previous posts you mention that Finland has a similar landscape to Minnesota. I wonder if the “cool” factor of a teacher from another part of world is worn off slightly because of this? Would your students be more intrigued and more likely to listen to you if they knew you were from New York? Cultures are totally different wherever you go. Words in context have meaning otherwise I see them as just scribbles on paper.

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