Risto Leinonen: Visiting Arizona State University, Mesa, United States of America
As a part of my post-graduate studies I spent six months in Arizona State University located in the city of Mesa, right next to Phoenix. My aim was to familiarize myself with theoretical background related to my research topic, learning and teaching thermal physics in university. Under the watchful eye of Professor David Meltzer, a man with a unique talent of singing 150 national anthems in their original language, I got new ideas, advises, and experience-based knowledge.
Figure 1: A puddle called Superstition Spring, Mesa
Going to States for a longer time was anything but trivial, thanks to the bureaucracy and medieval payment policies, namely checks. Getting an Exchange Visitor Visa required for such a long stay was a time-consuming process including filling a great stack of forms, unreasonable time of waiting to get one document from Arizona, and a thorough interview consisting of three questions. Other practical details, such as an apartment, flights, and insurances were rather easy to take care of despite the fact that small backlashes became unnecessarily familiar. Fortunately, our Faculty of Science gave financial support for my stay, which made the whole trip easier to arrange and carry out.
As a part of research project aiming at PhD degree, the trip was, without any doubt, useful. Meltzer's undisputable expertise in the field was a great help, without ignoring the continuous support and supervising from Finland. Hard working in forms of reading, writing, and discussing helped me to achieve the goals that were set up to the trip. Concrete results can be seen in a form of one journal publication, a poster presentation, a plenty of knowledge, and a great number of interesting new ideas.
Figure 2: Small group sessions took place in a castle-like building, Maine.
I also participated in two research conferences held in Maine and Michigan. The meeting in Maine took place during June, and thanks to Maine's geographical location the trip reminded me about Midsummer festival in Finland; it was rainy and cold compared to Arizona's furnace that I was already adjusted to. The meeting was extremely small and homely, and for a Finn it was easy, if not embarrassing, to take part in the meeting where Finland's achievements in international tests like PISA were discussed quite a few times. Naturally, I took all the credit as a physics teacher. The other conference in Michigan was the biggest conference of our field and I found it interesting to see all kinds of viewpoints to do physics education research. The value of the meeting was even greater when my colleague Ville from Joensuu showed up there; it was so nice to chat in Finnish when local people couldn't understand a word. During both meetings I had a chance to discuss with colleagues, and I have nothing but warm memories about the people who were struggling with similar problems than I was.
Six months is a way too long time to spend only working. Besides that, all work, and no play makes Risto a dull boy. During my stay I visited places such as Las Vegas, Florida, and Grand Canyon to see what the fuss is all about. My short trip to Las Vegas to see a Finnish physicist and friend Jussi was enough to show that the place can be the best or the worst place on Earth, depending on your viewpoint. Personally, I liked it worth of two days. A week spent in Florida with friends from Finland and Denmark was one pleasant journey. Scenery familiar from Dexter and CSI – Miami made a perfect context to relax, chat, swim, and enjoy the local food and drinking culture. Just as much fun was to see Grand Canyon with my brother. Only one word can do justice to massiveness of Grand Canyon; spectacular.
Figure 3: Grand Canyon. A car ride to the other side takes approximately five hours when a bird can do it in fifteen minutes.
Living in States was an experience that I wouldn't trade to anything. Overwhelming friendliness of the people was a great surprise for a laconic Finn; I will never forget my neighbours who helped me with anything I could imagine. Also the local bartender saying one of the most beautiful phrases, "This one is on the house" is one person that I won't forget. I will also remember the noisy and ineffective air conditioner, temperature of 47 degrees, live performance from Spinal Tap guys, and the ridiculous amount of junk food that local people can eat while watching movies.
As a whole, the trip was a great success, and definitely worth all the effort. As an employee I managed to achieve my goals, even outrun them in one sense. As a private person I managed to do majority of the stuff I had planned, and much more. USA is a nice place to visit, and Arizona is certainly one extreme and enjoyable place to live in, thanks to its stifling climate.