Finnish student celebrates in America

100th anniversary of Finland’s independence marked at Escanaba High School

Haley Gustafson | Daily Press Finnish exchange student Lari Nuutinen, center, sings Finland’s national anthem while holding Finland’s flag with his Escanaba High School classmates Wednesday during a celebration held for Finland’s 100th anniversary of being an independent country. Students participating around the flag, from left, are Escanaba juniors Jenna Pease, Cassandra Kreneck (hidden), Nuutinen, Heather Bergstrom, Brendan Bennett, and Fiona Lindberg.

ESCANABA — A Finnish exchange student at Escanaba High School celebrated a momentous day for his home country of Finland Wednesday with his friends here in Escanaba.

Finland celebrated becoming an independent country 100 years ago Wednesday. To commemorate the occasion, junior government students in Phil Lynch’s class had the opportunity to hear from a native of Finland, Lari Nuutinen, who presented Finland’s flag and sang Finland’s national anthem. Nuutinen also video chatted with his sister during Wednesday’s festivities.

Nuutinen, 17, came over to the United States from Finland at the end of August and will stay here until June. He is staying with Escanaba residents Craig and Patty Woerpel during his time here in the states.

“It’s fun seeing it from the outside,” said Nuutinen of celebrating Independence Day outside of Finland.

Nuutinen explained to his classmates that Finland became an independent country on Dec. 6, 1917. Prior to becoming its own country, Finland was occupied by Russia.

Back home, Nuutinen said big celebrations were happening and he was flooded with pictures from his parents and sister of Finland celebrating.

But despite not being home, Nuutinen said he is loving his time here in the United States and especially here in the U.P.

“I really like the United States,” said Nuutinen, adding he was also surprised to learn of the many people in Upper Peninsula who are of Finnish descent. On Wednesday, he showed support of the Yoopers who are of Finnish descent by wearing a “U.P. Finn” t-shirt.

According to Craig Woerpel, one of his host parents, the process of hosting an exchange student in their home happened faster than he had expected.

“It kind of happened very quickly for us,” said Woerpel. “It’s been interesting to have a kid in the house since we haven’t had one in a long time.”

Woerpel explained that he saw a post on Facebook regarding exchange students and saw comments from Nuutinen that suggested he would be a good fit for the Woerpels. Nuutinen’s interests included Boy Scouts, which Woerpel is highly involved in locally. Woerpel asked his wife if they should help get Nuutinen to the U.S. and she agreed. Two weeks later Nuutinen was in Escanaba.

Nuutinen is from the Finnish city of Tampere, which has a population of 220,000. At first Woerpel and his wife were concerned that coming from such a big city to the smaller town of Escanaba would be a drastic change for Nuutinen, but according to Woerpel, Nuutinen has adjusted well and seems to be really enjoying his time in the U.P.

Woerpel explained that he and his wife have been showing the young Finn all of the sights around the U.P. including walking the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day, going to the Mystery Spot in Mackinac County, and visiting the Finnish store in Marquette.

“He really likes that,” said Woerpel of the Finnish theme storefront. “We’ve been there twice so far.”

In addition to sightseeing in the U.P., Nuutinen has also be introduced to some of the local fare including trying his first Yooper pasty.

“I really liked it,” said Nuutinen.

Nuutinen has also tried some traditional American food favorites for the first time including a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Woerpel noted that because Finnish schools don’t have extra curricular activities, Nuutinen has joined many while attending Escanaba schools including the jazz band and bowling team and he helps manage the high school hockey team.