Exchange students get more than a little Houston wild

Petteri Tuovinen of Finland and Ivar Knain of Norway on a whole Houston year of bears, fish, and Red Wings.

Exchange students Petteri Tuovinen

Flaming cars and rioting Canucks fans—the last B.C. story to make TV news in Finland and Norway painted a pretty wild picture for exchange students Petteri Tuovinen and Ivar Knain.

“It was like, ‘Okay mom, here’s where I’m going!” says Knain.

Lucky for their parents, no new riots broke out when the boys touched down at the Vancouver airport last August. But they did survive one small disaster—sleeping through their flight up north.

Sue Stringfellow, who with her husband has hosted the boys through their Grade 12 year at Houston secondary, says both looked more than a little jet-lagged when they finally arrived, smack in the middle of Fall Fair weekend.

“My daughter’s shown 4-H sheep all of her life at the fair, so for us it’s a really big deal,” Stringfellow said.

But for the boys, she said, “It was like, ‘Where did I land?'”

“I think it would be a different story now.”

Now, Knain and Tuovinen have a whole Houston year under their belts.

Sitting on a deck outside the Stringfellow’s hobby farm off Buck Flats Road, they look at home with the cats, the pigs and the sheep all around.

It’s is a far cry from Knain’s hometown of Trondheim, a fjord-side city of about 180,000 people, known throughout Norway for its high-tech university.

Back home, he said, Norwegians’ view of Canada is rich in stereotypes.

“All the big ones are from American TV shows where they make fun of you, right?” Knain said.

“So it’s basically hockey, beer, lumberjacks, and beavers.”

On hockey at least, Knain says, Canada has more than lived up to its reputation, and made him a fan.

Norway, where ski-jumping and biathlon are TV sports, is more into skis than skates, he explains.

Stringfellow says that was clear after taking Knain up to the Morice nordic trails last winter, where the skis were “like extensions of his feet.”

“Of course! I’m Norwegian,” he said, adding that the Morice trails were better than expected, and “easily on par with most of the trails at home.”

But he’s a hockey fan now.

After skating just three or four times in his life, Knain got to train up with Houston’s Midget team.

But foreign students can’t play games in B.C.’s minor hockey league ever since a Surrey team stacked their bench with a whole squad of Russian ringers.

“They didn’t want me to play because they were scared of my skills,” Knain joked.

But when teammate Austin Sullivan hurt his back shortly before a Terrace tournament, Knain got his one-and-only chance.

He dressed in Sullivan’s jersey, crashed the net, and came away with two goals and three assists.

Now, he’s ready to retire.

“I’ve got a five-point average,” he says, laughing.

Petteri Tuovinen hails from just outside Helsinki, a port city of nearly 600,000 where he lives right on the coast.

It’s a busy place, Tuovinen says, but he was ready for rural Houston after several summers fishing walleye and trout at a cottage in eastern Finland.

“Why choose Canada? Because of hockey and fishing,” he says, smiling.


Between learning how to fly-fish the Morice River in his Outdoor Recreation class at HSS, and a chance to see his favourite hockey team, Tuovinen hasn’t been disappointed either.

Unlike Norway, Finland is a hard-core hockey country, Tuovinen says, where fans manage to watch live NHL games at 3 a.m.

Most watch for Swedish players, who have a stronger league than Finland or Russia, he says. And many of the best Swedish stars have wound up on Tuovinen’s favourite team—the Detroit Red Wings.

Along with trips to Vancouver, Victoria, and Whistler, Tuovinen said his big highlight this year was when the Stringfellows took him and Knain to Edmonton for a Red Wings game and Coldplay concert.

“It was awesome,” he said.

Besides live NHL and playing Houston’s recreation hockey league, Tuovinen says he’s been well impressed by the wildlife here.

“It’s crazy,” he says. “I’ve seen a wolverine, black wolf, grizzly, black bear—everything.”

“If you see a bear in Finland, it’s in the newspaper.”

Houston is a friendly place, said the boys, and both plan to visit again in a few years.

Although both finished Grade 12 at HSS, they still have more high school at home.

In Finland, students start at a new school after Grade 9—a two-year trades school or a three-year pre-university or college school. In Norway, it’s a similar system, starting in Grade 10.

“Our school is more like university now,” said Tuovinen, who wants to study biology or earth sciences. “You have to study by yourself.

Although he likes the Finnish system, he said, “The teachers there are not your friends, like in Houston.

“They’re teachers, and after a class you don’t talk with them.”

For his part, Knain would like to study engineering at university. He made some headway this year, taking his first dedicated physics course through an online course hosted at NWCC.

“Sandy at the college is fabulous,” said Stringfellow, referring to Sandra Lavallie, who guided Knain through his course.

Knain and Tuovinen arrived in Houston through Shecana, a Prince-George based exchange program that takes in high school and gap-year students aged 14 to 25.

Hosting Shecana kids is a lot of fun, said Stringfellow, who got involved at the request of her travel-keen daughter.

“Really, the kids become part of your family,” she said.

“I think the hardest thing is letting them go.”

“Before you come, you’re always a little bit afraid because you don’t know about the family,” said Tuovinen.

“But we had good luck. NHL game, Coldplay, good host family, fishing—perfect.”


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