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DL student spends 11 months in Finland

Calvin Nodsle is about to enter his senior year at Detroit Lakes High School, but at this time last summer he was just beginning his study abroad experience in Parkano, Finland.

Nodsle’s journey actually began around 5 or 6 years ago, when he first told his parents, Perry and Carmen Nodsle, about his hopes to go abroad.

“They thought it was a phase I was going through,” Nodsle said of their initial reaction.

However, as a freshman in high school several years later, he again brought up the topic. Nodsle’s aunt is a member of the Rotary organization, and she encouraged him to consider contacting the program about study abroad opportunities.

“I enjoy traveling and I wanted to see how other parts of the world, they went to school and studied, and lived, and maybe what their jobs were like,” Nodsle said of his motivation to go abroad.

After speaking with the Rotary Club in Detroit Lakes and receiving preliminary acceptance he progressed to interviews with the District and learned several weeks later that he had been approved.

Carmen Nodsle said of her reaction to his acceptance, “we were excited for him, we were proud of him.”

Of his decision to select Finland, Nodsle said, “I’ve got a background in Scandinavian countries, and I’ve always wanted to see what I’s like.”

In preparation for his experience, Nodsle attended a Finnish language camp through Concordia College.

“That didn’t really help because Finnish is such a hard language,” Nodsle said. “It went by so fast and I didn’t really remember anything when I went to Finland.”

Nodsle also underwent a process of composing an essay, filling out several medical records, and obtaining a visa.

One crucial element of preparation included making an extremely short trip to New York on the last day of his sophomore year. Nodsle flew there, completed the necessary paperwork and 15 minute interview, and took a return flight back to Minnesota in the course of a single day.

After several other gatherings with exchange students and the completion of all necessary steps, Nodsle was prepared to embark on his 11 month long adventure.

Flying from Minneapolis on Aug. 4, 2012, Nodsle made stops in Chicago and Germany before reaching his destination.

Though there were around 150 exchange students placed in Finland during his stay, Nodsle was the only foreign student stationed in Parkano, a community in the southwestern portion of the country.

While in Finland, he stayed with four host families. Nodsle’s parents back in Minnesota were provided with basic contact information and an itinerary for his year away.

“I knew their names and if they had children and what age they were,” Nodsle said of his host families before meeting them. “I didn’t really know what they looked like before I got there, so that was kind of scary because I wasn’t sure if they knew what I looked like.”

Nodsle attended school in Parkano, and was placed in a class with 25 other students. The school had a total enrollment of roughly 140.

Comparing his experience with schools in Detroit Lakes, Nodsle said, “I thought they were quite similar, but in Finnish schools you don’t have homework.”

Instead, optional assignments are offered for extra credit and a test is administered at the end of the term.

“I took English class, which was a foreign language, and math class, and some arts and music classes, and gym class,” Nodsle said. His credits transferred back home as well.

His classes were taught in Finnish, and he said one of the biggest challenges was trying to learn the language.

“It was very difficult because they always wanted to speak English to me, because they wanted to get better at English, and I tried to speak Finnish to them, but my Finnish was very poor so they couldn’t understand me,” Nodsle said.

Another challenge arose near the end of the school year when Nodsle was approached about speaking at the graduation ceremony in front of around 500 people. If that in itself wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, he was instructed to deliver his address in Finnish. 

With the help of his English teacher, Nodsle prepared and translated his speech.

When the time to deliver the speech arrived, Nodsle said, “I felt like I was going to fall over because my legs were shaking so bad.”

He laughed and added, “but everyone who I talked to afterwards, they said I did a good job at it, that I spoke like a true foreigner.” 

Nodsle said that he had little difficulty adjusting to Finland.

“The culture was pretty similar. I didn’t have any culture shock or anything, because it looked very similar to what we have here,” Nodsle said of the community.

The community had a single movie theatre, where Nodsle was able to watch American films with Finnish subtitles, such as the new James Bond film and “The Hobbit.”

Much of the television broadcast in Finland was also from America, though the shows were much older. One example was the show “MacGyver,” which Nodsle said he had never seen before arriving in Finland.

The food in Finland was also comparable to standard American cuisine.

“The foods were very similar. I didn’t find much of a difference in the way they ate,” Nodsle said.  “They had usually potatoes and some sort of meat, and they had bread and milk, and that was a basic meal, and they had different sorts of pastas and hotdishes, they had lots of fish.”

Nodsle had the opportunity to pick lingonberries, which were eaten with mashed potatoes.

He said his favorite meal abroad was reindeer with mashed potatoes, lingonberries, and carrot salad. Nodsle enjoyed the carrot salad so much that he introduced it to his family when he returned to Minnesota.

In addition to the recipes Nodsle brought back from his experience abroad, he said he enjoyed making new friends and the opportunity to travel.

During his year abroad, Nodsle took several additional trips.

All foreign exchange students ventured north to Lapland, and Nodsle also went on a cruise with some students from his school. He also had the opportunity to visit his grandmother’s relatives in Sweden for a week.

Nodsle visited St. Petersburg, Russia, and said that “the roads in Russia are very scary — there wasn’t really a center line that you had to drive on, you could just kind of drive wherever you wanted.”

He was accepted to go on Euro Tour, a 16-day trip that brought him through places like Denmark, Germany, Amsterdam, Belgium, Paris, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, among others.

While the temperature range in Finland didn’t contrast too sharply with that of Minnesota, winter and summer both brought something unique.

Nodsle said that winter brought extended periods of darkness, for up to 17 hours a day.

“It was different, because I’d get home from school, I’d get off the bus and it would be dark, and I’d have to walk a kilometer in the dark,” he said.

In contrast, the summer brings long periods of daylight.

“You could see the whole time, but it got kind of dark for about three hours or so,” Nodsle said. “So that was quite hard to sleep in the summertime, toward the end of my stay when it was bright all the time.”

The entrance of summer also brought about the end of Nodsle’s time in Finland. He returned to the United States on June 28, with souvenirs and priceless memories from his adventures abroad.

After the 11-month absence, Carmen Nodsle said of her son, “I think he has grown up and takes on some more responsibilities. And he was able to present in front of Rotary without speech anxiety.”

Reconnecting with friends in Detroit Lakes, Nodsle is busy preparing for the upcoming fall athletic season and school year, but he has plans to stay connected with Finland.

“I would like to go back as soon as I can,” Nodsle said. He’s already been looking into potential study abroad experiences available in college.

The Nodsle family has some advice to offer any student considering going abroad.       

“If a family or someone is looking into it, definitely contact Rotary. They do an outstanding job of getting the student and the family prepared to go,” Carmen Nodsle said.

Libby Larson | DL Newspapers