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2013-01-31

Exchange student happily lands in Cowboy Capital

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Okay. Raise your hand if you know where Finland is. Raise the other hand if you know anything about Finland other than that the weather is most likely cold. If you're like me, you might have hesitantly raised both hands while desperately thinking, "Please, don't call on me! Don't call on me!"
I was delighted to learn something about the country of reindeer and ice recently from Bandera High School exchange student, Eveliina Kuusisto, aka Eve. Kuusisto arrived in Bandera in August to begin her junior year in Texas. She lives with her host family, Chris and Jolline Darus.
"I've wanted to [visit the US] since I was 10," said the petite blond with the friendly nature. "I love traveling and I have traveled a lot."
In fact, this is not the first student exchange experience for Kuusisto. In ninth grade, she spent a week with a family in Spain. "Their daughter was the same age as me, and she then came for a week at our house." She has also spent an exchange week in the Netherlands.
The exchange program is not related to the school system, so after completing her year in Texas, Kuusisto will return to Finland and do her junior year there.
She does not regret the lost year. "I like the weather here. It's great. The fall was so warm," she said. "And I like the people. They are so warm and polite. They really welcome you."
While Kuusisto wasn't able to personally select her final destination, she's happy to have landed in Bandera. "I like the cowboy culture," she said. "It's cool!" Having purchased her cowboy boots, she hopes to take her first horseback ride and go to a country western dance before her visit ends in mid-June.
About one third of Finland lies north of the Arctic Circle and experiences the Midnight Sun near the summer solstice, when the sun never sets. In winter Finns deal with the Arctic Night (kaamos) when the sun never comes up.
"It's very cold there," said Kuusisto. "It's a land of forests and lakes, but it is pretty flat. We get a lot of snow, but we are also near the sea."
Finland's neighbors include Sweden and Norway to the west, Russia to the east, and Estonia to the south. The peninsula is defined by the Gulf of Bothnia, the Baltic Sea, and the Gulf of Finland. The Gulf Stream flowing northward actually moderates the country's temperatures.
Finns escape the cities in the summer to go to their cabins near the sea or on one of the nation's thousands of islands. They also have access to an unbelievable 188,000 lakes [yes, someone apparently counted them!] for swimming and fishing. As the harshness of winter fades, snow skiing and other winter sports are popular in the north.
Kuusisto, who enjoys athletics, plays on the BHS soccer team this season. "I've always been athletic," she says, "and soccer is my absolute favorite." She practiced figure skating for seven years and also jogs.
Finland's school system has proven to be a template for other countries to copy. Finnish students regularly score in the top ranks worldwide in science, reading and math.
"It's harder than here," Kuusisto says. High school is "almost like a college. It is more independent study and you have to take care of yourself." The school year is divided into six-week periods in which the student takes six classes. The fifth week is exam week. Then the classes change to different subjects.
At the end of the three-year high school, or post-secondary school, final exams are taken. If the student fails, he or she can take the exam again. In addition to the final exams, they have to pass 75 classes to graduate.
"Then you have to take entrance exams to get into university," Kuusisto explained.
All students go to elementary school for six years, and then to secondary school for the next three. At the end of that period, students move on to high school or opt to go to vocational school.
Kuusisto says she had such good luck with her host family, the Daruses. "They are really great. We share the same kind of humor." She also shares an enthusiasm for photography with Chris.
She encourages local families to consider being a host family. "It's a great experience and they get to learn about a different culture without having to go anywhere!"
Asked about her future plans, Kuusisto grinned and said, "To be honest, I have no clue! Plan B is to go to university and study English... if I don't come up with a Plan A!"
While Finland is the home of classical composer Jean Sebelius, Kuusisto says Finnish kids like American rock music. The most popular bands in Finland right now are the metal rock groups HIM, which leans toward the gothic, and Nightwish, which sounds to me a little like ABBA on steroids.
Should you come across this charming young woman around Bandera, say, "Hei!" Pronounced "hay," it means "hello!"

Pictured: Photo by Chris Darus
Host mom Jolline Darus and Eve stir up a batch of Christmas goodies.

Photo by Chris Darus
Finnish exchange student Eveliina Kuusisto got a pair of cowboy boots for Christmas, so she's ready to do some boot scootin' in the Cowboy Capital.

Photo by Chris Darus
Host family Jolline and Chris Darus with Finnish exchange student, Eveliina Kuusisto, enjoyed sharing cultural differences and similarities for Christmas.