Hei from Sodankylä!

GSE Team Finland from D5580 visited Sodankyla’s home building factory Teijo-Talot, northern Finland’s producer of ready made homes. 14 homes were manufactured last year taking on average 12-15 weeks and weighing 50-80 metric tons. Teijo-Talot offers homeowners a turn-key home which is manufactured to their exact specifications and delivered to their property. We learned about the various sub-contractors involved in the process including architects, steel work, framing, HVAC, electric, plumbing, and trim work. The average price per square meter is 1,700 Euro. A 3-bedroom, 2-bath home would cost around 254,000 Euro. This business provides a unique opportunity to construct quality homes for a growing community with a long cold, dark winter. A special thank you to Matti Raisanen for allowing our team to have an up-close look at this unique industry.


The team at Teijo-Talot

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Our team then learned about the municipality of Sodankyla, a district similar in size to the country of Belgium. The population of Finland is just over 5 million. Lapland makes up nearly half of the country but has a population of only 200,000. Sodankyla’s population is 8,826, which is 0.71 persons per square km. Interestingly enough there are 1.5 reindeer per square km in this same area! Sodankya is hoping to increase it’s population in the near future secondary to the growing mining industry in the area.

The midnight sun is present in Sodankyla from the 31st of May through the 14th of July. Polar night, or Kaamos, is present from December 20-24. Within 23 weeks daylight goes from 0 hours to 24 hours, truly remarkable and currently disturbing the normal sleeping patterns of GSE Team Finland!!! The hours of daylight are increasing by more than on hour each week. In theory it should make the long days a GSE Team experiences easier, right???

The average temperature in January is -14 C and in July +15 C. Permanent snow cover is present from the end of October to the middle of May. Unemployment in the area is 10.2% with the main employers being the municipality and the military brigade followed by commercial shops and restaurants and the mining and forestry industries. Sodankyla is also home to six centers for science and research and many smart scientists!

The team with Dr. Jyrki Manninen, who taught us all about the municipality of Sodankylä.

The team with Dr. Jyrki Manninen, who taught us all about the municipality of Sodankylä.

We visited a silversmith’s shop, Taigakoru, owned by Rotarian Seppo Penttinen. Seppo uses Lapland silver and gold to create traditional and modern jewelry designs. Thank you to Seppo for sharing his remarkable art with our team.

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It was another round of fish soup for lunch before we headed to the Sodankyla Geophysical Observatory where we were warmly greeted by Directory Esa Turunen and accompanied by Professor Tauno Turnunen. At this observatory significant research is conducted pertaining to near space, especially Aurora Borealis or the northern lights. Beginning in 1869 Professor Lemstrom had a dream that lead him pursue an explanation of this natural phenomenon. During this time there was no road or bridge to reach this area and visitors would arrive by boat to the area very near Sodankyla. Over 50 Sami homes and a rich Sami culture was present.

To study nature you must conduct research in nature. This require the maintanence of over 40 stations in Finland. This would have not been possible possible without the help of local people who helped the scientists immensely and in their own way making significant contributions to science.

The Sodankyla Geophysical Observatory will celebrate it’s 100-year anniversary this year. Remarkable that a research facility which started while Finland was under Russian rule would still be not only in operation but leading the field today. Over 40 people currently work at the Observatory which operated on a 2-million Euro budget with an addition 3-million Euro coming from external sources. These scientists publish over 40 research articles per year.

The importance of a global network and more collaboration was emphasized to our team. Financing and become increasingly more difficult. The European Union however has pledged 5.5 times more funding to science. One of the exciting new avenues of funding is providing grants to bright, young scientists to pursue cutting-edge research and also by investing in infrastructure to attract the world’s best scientists to Europe.

Esa then gave GSE Team Finland a private tour of the Aurora House. Our team was able to relax as he provided us a unique perspective on the northern lights from a business owned and operated by his wife. Aurora, as the northern lights are affectionately called here, is visible 200 nights per year. In Finland folktales, the fox creates the northern lights… my favorite version was as the fox runs through the forest it’s tail sends snowflakes up towards the moon. The northern lights are created when the moonlight shines through the snowflakes.

Brita and Tauno then treated our team to an amazing dinner complete with Vappu celebratory champagne. We were also able to meet their daughter and grandson. The Turunen’s have been fantastic hosts here in Sodankyla and have made us feel at home. We will never forget the times we have shared together. Thank you both for sharing your Sodankyla with us!

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Tomorrow we are packing up again and off to Rovaniemi! Stayed tuned and check back for photos!


April 29th – Sodankyla, Tankavaara and Saariselka “CHUCK’S 1st BLOG”

Hello followers of GSE Finland 2013 blog,

Today was like any other in Finland, as far as we know…  We started the day with a great breakfast like usual at the Geophysical Observatory.  Breakfast was a choice of cereal, hardboiled egg, bread meat and of course CHEESE!!!  I love the CHEESE here!  The juice was especially good today.  It was a pineapple mango blend.  After Breakfast, it was about 100 kilometers to Tankavaara to visit the gold museum.


We had a great time with Hanna (she was the lady that gave us the wonderful tour).  We learned about how, where, when the gold rush happened.

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It was a great time seeing all the gold that Finnish Lapland has.  We were very impressed with all the information that Hanna and the gold museum had for us to see.  She also gave us a wonderful demo of how someone would pan for gold.  It is a lot of work that you need A LOT OF PATIENCE for along with a lot of hard work.

After the museum, we went to the presentation of activities in Saariselka area at the Ivalo Rotary Club (it felt like the coldest day thus far).  Presenting to us were Janne Seurujarvi and Markku Oravainen.  THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME, YOU DID A WONDERFUL JOB!!!  We learned about tourism and economic development.


What a cool club banner…

We then went to a location where we saw clothing from the Sami people of Finnish Lapland.  Everything on the clothing has a meaning…

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We then went to a SECRET Santa location…  Along the way we also saw class igloos…

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We did have a minor issue with transportation…


NO reindeer or vehicles were hurt in the process of getting this picture.

Here are a few other random pics for you to look upon in amazement…

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We would really like to thank Tauno and Brita Turunen, they had a rough day, but it was very successful.  Team GSE Finland 2013 learned a lot.

Tomorrow will be another day of the “Magic of GSE”!!!

On a personal level, I think that for this being my first EVER blog entry it is AWESOME!!!  I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed giving it to you.  I will be doing more in the future, but this one took me some years to do so do not hold your breath…

Tara’s Vocational Visit


This past week, the members of our team were able to spend a first day on their own personalized vocational visits.  Tara was able to spend the day with Juha Taanila who showed her multiple facets of the social services available and operating in the city of Kemi.  Their first stop of the morning was to Pohjantahtiopisto where they first participated in a multidisciplinary meeting.  There were professionals from all different specialties who came together to solve some common problems in their community.  The main focus of this day’s meeting revolved around children whose parents were divorced or in the process of divorcing.  The problem in Kemi is that the process for deciding on their children’s custody agreement in court is a long and painful one (primarily for the children involved in the case).  So, this community has an alternate route that they encourage parents to take.  The parents are encouraged to use the aid of an advocate and think about their children first.  A judge is brought into these meetings and lawyers are present but silent.  The parents speak for themselves and the advocates and judge ensure they are acting in the best interest of the child.  By minimizing the impact of the lawyers and by bringing the judge directly into the negotiation process, decisions are made much more quickly and the case does not remain in the court system as long.  It is reportedly too soon to tell if this system will work for Kemi as well as it has in other cities of Finland but hopes are high.

The next meeting was in the same building, just down a short hallway.  This was a support group for women in the community, specifically women with children.  The women are invited to come to this place and gather with their children and support one another.  Sometimes the women are in abusive relationships and needing support, and sometimes they just come to socialize but it is always a positive environment.  Tara met with the staff and patrons of this group and also met their children.  Women and children have been served here for years and most are not from Finland at all.  This organization sees women from around the world, primarily war torn countries.  The women present today were from Ghana and Burma and 80% of the group’s participants come from other countries.  The organization has other groups for family work, independent living skills, etc on other days of the week.

Overall this visit was eye opening and exciting.  They do so much through motivation and cooperation and are able to really make an impact on the quality of life of those in their communities.  It is so exciting to have gotten a glimpse into this facet through this vocational visit.

April 28 – A Rest Weekend In Levi

We had excellent individual vocational visits in Kemi on April 25, each of us meeting with specialists working in careers related to our own professional fields. We have a wide variety of professional backgrounds in our group: healthcare, youth social services, journalism & public relations, marketing and accounting. Melissa, for example, visited a Veterans Hospital, Tara visited a support group at a women’s shelter, Chuck met with companies specializing in telecommunications and business innovation, and Kathryn discussed public relations and marketing with managers at the City of Kemi and the university of applied sciences. Very interesting and inspiring!

And so, after a busy week in Kemi, we drove way up past the Arctic Circle for some relaxation and fun at Levi, an awesome ski resort. Many thanks to our amazing hosts Seppo, Pekka, Matti and Armi for taking us skiing and making fabulous dinners. We had a blast, and will miss you all!

The team at the Arctic Circle!

The team at the Arctic Circle!

The girls tackled the mountain

Missy conquers a huge slope - pretty impressive for a first-time skier!

Missy conquers a huge slope – pretty impressive for a first-time skier!

Karelian pastry with "egg butter" (Chuck's favourite)

Karelian pastry with “egg butter” (Chuck’s favourite)

Armi and Matti - our ski guides

Armi and Matti – our ski guides

"The Cheese"  YUM!

“The Cheese”


April 24 – Rocks & Trees

This morning we had an excellent tour of the Outokumpu chromium mine at Elijärvi in Kemi. A big thank you to General Manager Antti Pihko for taking us deep underground and letting us experience the mining operations firsthand. Originally an open pit mine, Outokumpu moved to an underground mine in 2006. It sits on one of Finland’s biggest ore deposits with 33 million tonnes of ore reserves and an additional 105 million tonnes of additional mineral resources. The mine employs about 180 people, with 150 more working on contract.

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In the afternoon, we had lunch at the Metsa Fibre mill and a visit to the mill museum. Metsa produces coated and uncoated white top kraftliner for high-quality corrugated retail and consumer packaging. We also visited a gem museum (unique in Finland) where we saw some beautiful samples of precious and semi-precious stones.

And now…we rest! We’ll be spending some free time with our host families this evening. Hyvää yötä!

April 23 – Ice Fishing and Saunas in Tornio

Great day in Tornio today, despite the ugly weather. We had an excellent meeting with representatives from the Tornio / Haaparanta organization, a very interesting cooperative initiative between the two border cities: Tornio in Finland and Happaranta in Sweden. We had a lot of questions for them and had some great discussions about urban planning between two cities (in two countries!)


After lunch we went out to the Kukkola Rapids in Tornio, and spent the day at a tourist lodge called Pohjan Pirtti. Here we went ice fishing (unsuccessfully) and enjoyed some excellent, relaxing sauna time. Missy and Tara were brave enough to take a dip in the partly frozen river afterwards!

Kat and Steve ice fishing

Kat and Steve ice fishing


Kukkola Rapids

Kukkola Rapids

Our hosts were wonderful, and we had some great chats about fishing and tourism while we all tried reindeer for the first time. Interesting…and delicious! Sorry, Rudolph.


Reindeer wrap and whitefish soup


In the evening we went to the Tornio music hall to watch a performance by Wärttinä, a well-known traditional music group from the Karelia region of Finland. We didn’t understand a word, but enjoyed the music all the same.


Kemi/Tornio – April 22

Today we travelled to Kemi and Tornio, near the Swedish border. On the way we stopped at a cool rest area called Marihelmi on the Gulf of Bothnia.


In Kemi we met our host families at the Hotel Merihovi for a light lunch, where some of us learned a valuable lesson: the brown sauce next the the potatoes in a buffet is “gravy,” not soup 😉

We spent the afternoon settling into our new homes for the week. The girls are staying in Kemi while Chuck and Steve are staying in Tornio. The two towns are about 20 minutes apart.

In the evening we gave our first presentation to four (!) clubs at the Tornio City Hotel. Here we are with Tornio Club President Seppo Valtanen.