January 2, 2014
Foreign Exchange Student Appreciates Cultural Differences During Time in Scotland County
Iiris Heikkonen, a senior at SCR-I High School, is enjoying her time here as an exchange student from Finland.
By Christina Duzan
Foreign exchange students are no stranger to the Scotland County school system or to the family of Mike and Kathy Stone as they hosted other foreign exchange students in the past. This year they are the host family for Iiris Heikkonen, senior, an exchange student from Finland.
While Iiris misses her parents and her dog, she also misses some things that do not initially come to mind, like snow skiing, ice hockey, rye bread, and going to the sauna.
“I have the best possible host family. They are always there for me if I’m homesick,” Iiris said. Skyping with her best friend back home, even though it is difficult with the eight hour time difference, also helps.
Iiris is close with her parents. She regularly goes to ice hockey games with her father, and she and her mother enjoy shopping for home decor and frequenting the little coffee shops throughout the city.
Her father is the manager for the security department at the company where he works, and her mother is a kindergarten teacher and a bus driver.
Normal activities here for young adults and their friends are going to the movies or grabbing food somewhere. In Finland Iiris and her friends typically go sit at a coffee house and talk. They also travel up north to Lapland to go skiing, where temperatures can be as cold as -30 degrees Celsius during the season.
Lapland is also home to Santa’s Village, where Iiris said Santa lives according to Finnish tradition. The Santa Clause Village is located at the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, Lapland.
Aside from visiting Santa in his office, tourists can also work in the Elves’ Workshop, take a reindeer sleigh ride, and mail Christmas letters that will receive a special Arctic Circle postmark.
Differences, especially cultural ones, are to be expected, those who have not traveled abroad may not appreciate the significance of the differences. Iiris is from the capital and largest city of Finland, Helsinki. The population of 603,968 is just a little different from Memphis, and city life is vastly different from rural life.
“I tried so many things. There are similarities, but everything works just a little different,” Iiris said. A traditional American Thanksgiving was one of the many new experiences she has had while visiting.
She also tried peanut butter and beef jerky, two things she will miss when she goes home in May. In Finland she eats a lot of seafood, crab and salmon specifically, and they also eat reindeer.
Iiris likes that in a small town everybody knows everybody. Coming from a big city, she does not get the opportunity to know many people other than the ones she interacts with on a regular basis.
The Scotland County community is stronger and more open than what she is used to back home.
School is strictly business. It is looked at as, ‘Work is work and fun is fun.’ Iiris said, “Asking teachers personal questions like they do here would be strange.” She was not sure how they would react.
Most students have to take the bus or train to school, and in the afternoon it can take an hour to go eight miles.
In Finland, young adults cannot get their driver’s licenses until they turn 18, and even then most do not drive because traffic is so heavy.
Community members, specifically students at the high school, were very welcoming when she started classes in late August. “The first day I was still a little shaky on the language, but people showed me around and asked questions.”
Iiris did her best to get involved; going to school dances, attending sporting events, and joining the girls’ basketball team.
Iiris does not have any siblings and when asked what it was like to go from being an only child to having an older brother, Iiris said it was kind of nice having someone her age around. Mike and Kathy’s son, Harley, is a sophomore at Central Methodist University.
“He and his friends like to do different things [than what I normally do] so it gives me a chance to have some new experiences.”
Harley has also been helping her with basketball. Iiris played tennis and ice skated back in Finland, but basketball has been an entirely new experience.
Some of Iiris’s favorite experiences since she has been in Missouri are road trips to the Ozarks where she got to jet ski for the first time and nights not doing anything special, just enjoying normal things and realizing she has become part of the community.
Iiris is speaking for the Genealogical Society on January 13, 2014