I bet most of you are familiar with TED talks and have seen videos of e.g. Steve Jobs, Hans Rosling, or Susan Cain presenting their ‘ideas worth spreading’. So had I, but I had never had the opportunity attend a TED seminar in person before this April. TEDxFulbright, an independently organized Ted event, took place here in DC at the beginning of the month.
The day of the event happened to be one of the first sunny Saturdays of the spring, so it felt like a huge investment to spend the day indoors. Luckily, it was worth it. I had no idea how much one can learn just by listening to inspiring speakers in just one day. The speakers shared their stories of how they had dared to start to tackle social, societal, and environmental problems around the world. The tsunami of topics covered everything from carbon capture, open data, and drones to empowering street kids by teaching them ballet. All the speakers and performers were Fulbright alumni. It was incredible to see the amount of talent and geographic reach that the community has.
The finals of the Fulbright Social Innovation Challenge were also a part of the event. One of the finalists pitched over Skype from Lahore, Pakistan. I thought that was quite cool, but it was maybe even more memorable to see a grandpa pitching. My favorite finalist, a facilitated hitch-hiking service Lawrence OnBoard, did not get too many votes from the audience, but I definitely plan to stay tuned to how their story continues. After eight intense hours, the event ended with a champagne and cookie reception and further cross-cultural mingling. Just another day in the life of a Fulbrighter?
2. Getting Outdoorsy
I could not have been happier in April when even Americans started to consider the weather to be nice enough for all kinds of outdoor activities. One of the highlights of the month was volunteering with REI to clean up Kingman Island and prepare it for Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there really was a lot to do for 100+ volunteers, even some serious pruning. Mom would have been proud, had she seen me using my raking and weeding skills developed as a child. And it was a proud moment for a Finn to see Fiskars garden tools in action. Once again, I also learned something new: Fiskars produces machetes! Finally, I should mention that all the volunteers – obviously – got a free T-shirt.
Another great outdoorsy experience was the first hike of my Fulbright year. A friend of mine is a member of the Wanderbirds Hiking Club that organizes weekly hikes. Early on a Sunday morning, we hopped on a bus full of sweet old ladies and gentlemen. The bus dropped us of somewhere in Maryland, and we started our beautiful day hike along the Catoctin Trail to Gambrill State Park.
The Wanderbirds concept is brilliant: The leader of the hike leads the group and leaves red arrows to otherwise potentially tricky turns and crossings. Hikers can either hike with the leader, or at their own pace, like we did. Another experienced club member is a designated sweep whose task is to be the last one to make sure that no one is left behind and to collect the red arrows. This makes hiking safe and accessible for a wide audience, regardless of previous hiking experience.
When it comes to food, Finns living abroad typically miss most rye bread, our national obsession. I’m not an exception. The only equivalent in the US market is rye bread made by Nordic Breads in Long Island City, NY. Their products unfortunately can’t be bought in grocery stores outside NYC. Thanks to my recent Finnish visitor, I happened to have my favorite snack available for the hike: Reissumies. If you ask me, nothing beats the taste of fresh rye bread enjoyed in a scenic spot and with great company.
We spent about a little below four hours on the 10 mile / 16km trail. I loved every moment in the quiet and peaceful forest! After the hike, the group gathered by the bus and hung out for a while sipping recovery beers, eating chips, and chatting. I made lots of new friends with my secret weapon, Finnish chocolate by Fazer, hand-carried to me by another awesome Finnish friend. This icebreaker even triggered one of the hiker ladies to share that she had been on a business trip in Finland in the 70s when she worked for CIA in Paris.
3. Major League Baseball
Americans love not only free T-shirst, but also their sports. Before coming here, I was pretty familiar with NHL, NBA, and NFL. My knowledge of Major League Baseball, MLB, was very close to zero, although our national sport is actually also called baseball, pesäpallo. That’s why I was delighted to be able to go to my very first MLB game as a part of the Fulbright Enrichment Program.
The biggest benefit of going to the game with the Fulbright group was that before the game started, we got a brief but incredibly comprehensive introduction to the sport. Our baseball guru could not have been more knowledgeable: Michael Gibbons has been the Executive Director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum in Baltimore, MD since 1983, so baseball really is his life. (Babe Ruth was a legendary American baseball outfielder and pitcher who played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball from 1914 to 1935.)
Mike summarized for us everything from the history of the game to rules, roles, and tactics. The way he illustrated his key points on a whiteboard made me think of an ice hockey coach. One of my key take-aways was that the role of the pitcher is far more important in American baseball than in the Finnish version. Our pitcher does not even have a pitchers mound! The shape of the field and locations of the bases are also somewhat different. Otherwise there are lots of similarities in the logic of American and Finnish baseball. That made learning the main rules relatively easy for me. For many, even the idea that the defending team always has the ball may be completely foreign.
After the thorough briefing, it was time to head to the Nationals Park. It was fun to see all the theory in practise right away. Washington Nationals seemed to completely dominate the game since the beginning. They ended up winning San Diego Padres 4-0. I leave summarizing the game in more details for someone more professional. Mercifully for us first timers, the game was exceptionally short, only 2 hours and 19 minutes. The average lenght of a Major League Baseball game is around 3 hours, but they can last up to 7 hours.