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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Providing an Escape

Olivia Jamandre ’07

As a Fulbright scholar in Finland, Olivia Jamandre was not only studying the works of the country’s most famous classical composer but also using her time to help at-risk youths in Helsinki.

Jamandre, a pianist, taught private half-hour lessons at a center called Tyttöjen Talo, which provides services for girls in need. “They come to find friendship, counseling for pregnancy, rape, abuse or domestic violence issues,” she says. “Or even if they have relocated—from abroad or from other parts of Finland––and are looking to connect with other girls in their area.”

The lessons were just one aspect of a busy and educational academic year for Jamandre, who was a Fulbright–CIMO grantee for 2013–2014. The grant was funded in cooperation with the Center for International Mobility of the Finnish Ministry of Education. She was awarded the grant to study folk music’s influence on composer Jean Sibelius’ piano works. Jamandre recognizes that many Americans may know little about Finnish music, history or culture, and says she would put herself in that same category. Sibelius’ late 19th-century and early 20th-century music is credited with inspiring national pride, especially the popular composition Finlandia, written as a covert protest to increasing Russian censorship.

As a dual citizen of Switzerland and the United States, Jamandre has been doing research at the Sibelius Academy, part of the University of the Arts Helsinki, that led her to question her own ideas about nationalism. “Being a dual citizen, I will always feel like my heart is on two continents,” she says in a video about the Fulbright program.

Watch a video of Jamandre talking about her time as a Fulbright scholar.

Jamandre returned to the U.S. this past summer and is now pursuing a doctorate at the University of Kansas. She credits award-winning piano professor Kasandra Keeling as her main reason for attending UTSA for her bachelor’s degree in music with a concentration in piano. “Dr. Keeling was an excellent musical guide to me and a wonderful teacher,” she says. “Her dedication and investment in her students is inspiring.”

Jamandre took that same dedication to the girls she taught in Helsinki, adding that the one-on-one lessons provided somewhat of an escape. “It seemed,” she says, “they were able to forget whatever was on their minds at the time –– and for that half-hour just focus on something creative and intellectually stimulating.”


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