Our Last Post: Final Days in Finland

It’s hard to believe our adventure is over! It’s been an amazing journey. After a stay at Kanttura, a unique wilderness lodge, we spent our last “official” night in Muhos sharing laughs and a few tears looking back on the past several weeks and all that we’ve learned, experienced and tasted!



Beautiful setting at Kantturra.

Beautiful setting 


Kat & Tara at Kantturra, the lodge we stayed at following the District Conference.

Kat & Tara at Kanttura

Steve - in charge!

Steve – in charge!

Pyhäkoski Hydro Power Plant. Don't push that button!

Pyhäkoski Hydro Power Plant in Muhos. Don’t push that button!

Missy checking out the operations at Pyhäkoski Hydro Power Plant in Muhos

Missy checking out the operations 

Chuck feeling right at home answering the phones

Chuck feeling right at home answering the phones

Tara and Kat with DG Pekka!

Tara and Kat with DG Pekka!

Team photo at our last presentation (at Montta Active Camping resort - Muhos)

Team photo at our last presentation (at Montta Active Camping resort – Muhos)

Now after a few wonderful (and relaxing) days in Helsinki, we’ve all gone our separate ways. Missy left for home today, Chuck, Steve and Kat head home tomorrow and Tara is off to Norway for a few days with her parents. Mixed feelings for all – sad that it’s over, but very excited to come home to our families.

We would like to say one last time a huge “THANK YOU!” and “KIITOS!” to everyone who made this GSE experience one that none of us will ever forget. To District Governors Pekka Pietiläinen and Don Cavalier for putting the wheels in motion for a Group Study Exchange between D1400 and D5580; to Jill Zachary and all those at home (including our families and coworkers!) who helped us prepare for this trip of a lifetime; to Jorma Kinnunen, for organizing our fantastic itinerary here; to our host families, our drivers, the incredible people who took time to meet with us in every city and town we went to, and all those who made us feel welcome and honoured as guests – we raise a glass to you! Kippis!


Rokua-District 1400 Conference

The team arrived at Rokua on May 17th to attend the district conference. After checking into our rooms and eating dinner, we were able to have some time to just be outside enjoying nature or relaxing in our rooms.
The District 1400 Conference began on Saturday the 18th with registration and breakfast. There were Rotarians in attendence from all over Northern Finland and we noticed many familiar faces. The opening ceremonies began at 10:00 and at 11:00 our team was able to meet with Juha Risteli-Team Leader for the GSE Dist 1400 team. He stated that their time spent in our district had been wonderful and they are grateful to District 5580 for their hard work and hospitality. The morning continued with presentations and some break out groups for Rotarians to attend. After lunch, we attended the District Celebration, enjoyed poetry and a song from Japanese Embassadorial Scholars-Ayako Shimada Runo and Sayuri Terai Laulu, a poetry recital by Teija Jokipii, a Finnish song from Kari Hartikainen, a keynote address from Secretary General Arja Sutela, music from an exchange student from Michigan (Mathew), and a Polio presentation from Matti Honkola. After the presentations we all got into our more formal attire for the Muhos Municipal Reception, where we met the Mayor, and then headed to the Governor’s Ball. The Governor’s Ball was a black tie event that started with a welcoming address and toasts by District Governor Pekka Pietiläinen, followed by a show put on by the Rotary Exchange Students, recognitions by Rotary Finland and by Rotary International, a speech by Assistant Governor Aarne Oikarinen, Paul Harris Foundation Recognitions, an auction, and of course a wonderful dinner. The evening ended with a dance, wonderful conversations, and a sauna for some of us.
Sunday morning, our team began the District Conference program at 10:00 with our presentation. We had an hour time slot alotted to our group, so after our original presentation was complete, each team member took a moment to mention what this experience has meant to each of them on a more personal level. For the team, this was a place and time to convey our gratitude, as well as mention a few highlights from our experience. The audience was very pleased with our presentation, asked a few questions and of course we took some photographs. After a short coffee break, presentations continued with a song and poetry from the Ambassadorial Scholars, a presentation from Juha Risteli on the outbound team’s experience in District 5580, presentations from Britta Wallgren and Per-Olof Marklund (DG of Håkan Antilla-Sweden), Presidential Citations and The Rotary Foundation Awards, recognitions, exchanging of club banners, and closing remarks. Being able to attend the District 1400 Conference here in Rokua is something our team will never forget. We are so thankful for our time here and the warm reception we received from the district conference group. We hope we have left even a fraction of the impression on these individuals that they have left on our team.

Last Days In Oulu

Last Wednesday, the team had the opportunity to spend time on more personal vocational days. Each team member had their own program and each program was exceptional. The information each team member was able to learn was wonderful, but the professional connections we have made are the most valuable souveneirs we take from our vocational visits. After our vocational visits, some team members were able to attend a wonderful event sponsored by the Oulu International Rotary Club. Performers Aurora Reunanen (Soprano) and Tuomas Niininen (Pianist) entertained a large audience with their classical music talents. Aurora is a young opera singer and Tuomas accompanies her on the piano; also playing a few of his own original pieces during this program. The evening’s event was a way to meet with many International Rotarians and other people of Oulu and was a wonderful fundraiser for Polio Plus.
Thursday was another busy day of program in the Oulu area, starting with a trip Kaleva Printing House. During this visit, we were able to tour the entire printing facility with Markku Suorsa. He showed us everything from the large multi-ton printing press, to the robot working 24/7 placing appropriate paper into the machines, to the finished products ready for distribution. In an age where we rely so much on our technologies, it was positive to hear that printed products are still a very valuable part of our future.
After Kaleva, we presented to the Oulu Rotary Club at the Rauhala Restaurant. This Rotary Club recently celebrated their 75th anniversary and is the oldest club found in Oulu, Finland. The club was extremely welcoming and seemed to enjoy our presentation, especially Chuck’s portion about hockey.
Next, we visited Oulu University Hospital and were hosted by Rotarian Heikki Salumäki-Senior Advisor. The team enjoyed refreshments while learning about the past, present and future of Oulu University Hospital. There is a 15-year vision plan for the expansion of this 900 bed teaching hospital, and the team was able to hear about this as well. We learned about the facility, staff, equipment and other resources that make this hospital run efficiently as the northernmost of five University Hospitals in Finland. This hospital employs a staff of nearly 3000 highly trained professionals, has the capacity to handle the most demanding emergencies and its ICU is one of the best found in Europe. We had a tour of the facility and some of the imaging machines before leaving for our host homes.
Friday was a free day for the team and we were all able to spend it with our host families. Tara, Missy and Kat were able to travel with the Myllylä family to a small town about 20 km from Oulu and visit a well known church in the area. Vilho Myllylä grew up in this area and attended this church as a boy. This church was built in the mid-1700s and was built to replace one that could no longer remain standing. When the decision was made to rebuild, construction began AROUND the original church. They wanted the new church to remain on the same grounds so the current church was built with the original church still inside it. The original church was not torn down until the new church was built entirely around it. It was later that a very talented painter was hired by the community to decorate the interior. The artist took his inspirations from the bible and through numerous individual paintings (on nearly every wall in the church), hoped to educate and inspire any who laid eyes on the art. The artwork inside this church is truly remarkable and unexpected. There are paintings from both the Old and New Testaments and they evoke serious emotions. It is something we had never seen before and were so thankful for this experience. Without our hosts, we would have never known about this wonderful work of art!
After such a wonderful experience in Oulu it was time to say goodbye. We loaded up our luggage on Friday afternoon in front of City Hall, where this part of our journey had begun just last week. We said our difficult goodbyes and were on to the next leg of our adventure-Rokua and the District Conference.
Thank you Oulu for an amazing time, the opportunity to meet more wonderful people, and we hope to visit again someday! Kiitos!

Hi-Tech Day – “NO PICTURES – KIITOS!!! (thank you)” Chuck’s 2nd Blog

Greeting and Salutations Blog Followers!


It is a Good Day in Oulu Finland, or should I say hyvaa paivaa!  It got to 14 Celsius today.  The team was on an adventure that most people would jump at the chance to try. We went to the Technology Park.  The reason for the title of the blog entry is that we were seeing things that were labeled “Top Secret”.

Seriously though, we had the pleasure of going to meet with Jorma Lammasniemi with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.  Thank you Jorma for your time and energy.  Your company is leading the way of technology and you should be very proud.  At this location, they are doing research on the cutting edge of technology.  I would love to tell you ALL about it, but we were sworn to secrecy.  Here is what I can tell you, they are pushing the envelope of “paper”…  They are also leading the way in research of many other avenues.  We were very honored to be able to listen to the presentation and tour.  KIITOS!!!

We ate some wonderful food – PIZZA!!!  Along with some other things, but the pizza was GREAT!


After lunch, we saw other presentations and had some very good discussions.  At this point, the team would like to thank the following people:

Jouko Uusitalo with Technopolis PLC, Jarmo Lauronen with Business Oulu and Kari Kivisto with Yritys Takomo.


Jouko with Technopolis PLC, had a very precise presentation for us about what Technopolis is all about.  What I can tell you is that they are impacting Oulu in a very positive way.  They provide business people with the things needed to achieve success.  The business idea that they have set forth is to give businesses the premises and services needed to support the company for long-term success.  Thank you Jouko!  KIITOS!!!


Jarmo with Businesss Oulu, explained to us first and for most, that Oulu is the Capital of Northern Scandinavia!  Their responsibility (in part) is to the city of Oulu’s business policy and development services.  The vision of 2017 that they have is not new, but the way in which they are trying to achieve that vision is special to say the least.  They are looking to create new jobs, develop new exports and generate new industry in the city of Oulu.  Again, thank you Jarmo!  KIITOS!!!


Kari with Yritys Takomo was our last stop on the day and it was one that nobody wanted to leave.  I can tell you that the environment in this place is a total facilitator of thinking, teamwork and energy like no other.  They give people a place to be themselves and to work with others to generate ideas for businesses.  I would love to go into detail, bit to be honest, I was blown away by Kari’s energy and positive influence.  They are responsible for giving business owners a place to talk, discuss and learn with peers to help them to be ALL that they can be.  To date, they helped 75 new business owners by giving them a place to do these things.  One last time, thank you Kari!  KIITOS!!!


Here is what I learned today: Allow yourself to fail, but take risks doing it!  If you are going to fail, fail quickly before you but to much into it!  Cooperation is the key to a successful business idea and business.


The Cooperation of the City of Oulu, Business Oulu, VTT and Technopolis have helped to make Oulu a better place…


The rest of the blog entry is about the rest of my day…  Now, I can show you some pictures!!!


I got a GREAT HAIRCUT today…  YES, I GOT A HAIRCUT IN OULU, FINLAND!!!Thank you very much you did a wonderful job…  Better then some in the states…  KIITOS!!!


I had a few very good beers at a few of the local pubs in Oulu, Finland.  The first was London Pride and the second was Karhu, a Finnish brew.  Both were very good.

IMG_20130514_174805_086 IMG_20130514_181051_694

Aarne, Steve and I then ate at Pannukakku Place.  It is an Oulu Special Pancake.  I do not know how to explain this food other then to say that it is a one of a kind pancake with a pizza flare…



Here is the owner, Raili Kukkohovi.  KIITOS, the food was wonderful!!!

IMG_20130514_191050_621 IMG_20130514_191245_406


The team and I had a wonderful day.  Now, it is off to watch Finland beat Latvia in the 2013 Ice Hockey World Championships.  GO SUOMI!!!

Two Great Days in Oulu, Finland

Mother’s Day: A personal note

My decision to apply for the opportunity to represent Rotary District 5580 on GSE Team Finland was one made with careful consideration. I have four children: Megan (9), Molly (8), Eli (6), and Emily (4). I am so grateful for the support my family and I have received from family and friends who have helped out while I am in Finland. Kiitos! Yesterday was Mother’s Day here in Finland and back home. Honestly, I had been dreading Sunday’s holiday since I packed my bags weeks ago. I was worried that my self-inflicted sadness was going to result in more tears than laughter.

I am so thankful to my Team for their understanding of a mother’s love and extra support over the past few days. I also have been blessed with an amazing host family, Jukka and Katariina Meikanto, who have welcomed me into their home and treated me like a daughter. Jukka prepared breakfast for me and Katariina and had a flower for each of us. The weather held up and we were able to take a long bike ride around the city before going to dinner. I was also able to meet their oldest daughter and her two beautiful children who were full of life and energy. Most importantly, I am thankful for the gift of technology. I was able to Skype with my mom and Facetime my children in Minnesota! I am so blessed to be surrounded by so many friends who made a difficult day wonderful. Thanks guys! I love you!

A Mother’s Day rose from Jukka!

My Oulu Family!

Oulu Deaconess Institute

Today was a vocational day and I was honored to be a guest at the Deaconess Institute (ODL) in Oulu. The institute was founded in 1896 with the mission of educating nurses to serve in Northern Finland. The group currently works to promote well-being through Christian-base values. Areas of focus include: Sports Medicine, Diaconal Polytechnic (education), Geriatric Services, Diaconal Projects (rehab of torture victims), and Pastoral Care.

I was able to spend time in both the Rehabilitation and Research areas with their amazing staff. I was able to collaborate with their multi-disciplinary team who specializes in prevention and treatment of obesity and related diseases. Even though St. Joseph’s, my employer, is so far away, we share many common obstacles and methods of behavioral change. Positive thinking, ownership, focusing on improving patient’s support network, and techniques of Cognitive Behavior Therapy were important in both places. The main differences were availability and follow-up care in regards to bariatric surgery as well as the length of lifestyle coaching appointments… they have anywhere from 45-minutes to 2-hours with their patients but see them less frequently than we do at The Center for Weight Managment in Park Rapids. I enjoyed the opportunity to network with OCL’s staff and learn about their passion for lasting behavior change and conducting research focused on increasing physical activity in overweight patients.

The Chief of Staff also shared with me OCL’s commitment to vocational rehabilitation, job coaching, work and training trials, and workplace health promotion. Evaluation periods last 1-12 days during which time an individual plan is developed. The rehabilitation period can last up to 21-days and can be provided in either an inpatient or outpatient setting. Many vocational rehab patients struggle with depression or other mental health issues.

I met an amazing physiotherapist (PT) who showcased OCL’s facilities, equipment, staff, and service lines. The positive energy and passion for rehab was remarkable. I left feeling revitalized and excited to make a difference.

Thanks to all the staff I met today, medical doctors, physiatrists, physiologists, social workers, physical, occupational, and speech therapists, and nurses who are committed to working together as a team to provide the best possible care to each and every patient!

One of two pools at Oulu’s Deaconess Institute

Ability to gait train in the pool is available at both pools

I had serious gym space envy! Absolutely great space!

Occupational Therapy handy-craft room. It was huge and provided patients the ability to weave, sew, paint, bead, crochet, knit, and absolutely anything else you could imagine.

Oulu’s International Rotary Club

My host dad Jukka is a member of the International Rotary Club in Oulu and I was able to attend his meeting tonight and give a presentation about GSE, my sponsoring Rotary Club, my profession and my family. This is a unique club as they are English-speaking and have members from all over the world including India, Denmark, Holland, England, USA, and many many other countries that I honestly cannot remember! They are hosting a charity concert on Wednesday night in Oulu to raise money and awareness for Rotary International’s Polio Plus campaign and I am excited to attend and help out. Rotary is truly an amazing service organization that makes a difference every day all over the world.

Club banner exchange with Oulu International Rotary Club

Tomorrow Team Finland reunites! We have been apart for over 48-hours! Our program includes a trip to the Technical Research Center of Finland, Technopolis, and a tour of the Linnanmaa area.

Hyvää Äitienpäivää

Just a short message from Team Finland to wish our teammate Missy, all our host mothers (past and present), and our real mothers back home a very Happy Mother’s Day from Oulu, Finland!  Today is a rest day for our team and hopefully a day of rest for each of you as well!  image