Students from the Hockey Canada Skills Academy at Okanagan Mission Secondary School (OMSS) in Kelowna, B.C., headed overseas, spending nine days in Finland from Dec. 3-11.
The purpose of the trip was to introduce the students – 24 of them, from Grades 9-12 – to the Finnish school system, Finnish culture and hockey in Finland. It was the inaugural exchange program between OMSS and Schildtin Lukio High School and others schools in Jyväskylä, Finland.
While in Jyväskylä, students stayed with Finnish families to experience life and culture in Finland. In the morning, the students participated in on-ice skills sessions alongside Finnish hockey players before spending the rest of the day learning in a Finnish school environment, in Math, English and PE classes.
The nine days in Finland were filled memorable moments, on and off the ice: a first trip outside Canada; skating on a bandy field outdoors; watching games in the Liiga, the top Finnish pro league; meeting with Nolan Yonkman, a Canadian defenceman who plays with JYP Jyväskylä in the Liiga; interacting with Finnish high school students; and, of course, the saunas.
Dec. 6, was Independence Day in Finland. School was out, but there was a dance to celebrate the national holiday. It also marked the end of the dance unit for the school's PE program; Grade 7-9 students dressed in their formal clothes and showed off the dances they had learned.
The last full day, Dec. 8, featured a scrimmage with and against the Finns, who had been gracious hosts all week. The Canadian and Finnish students played on lines together for a truly international finish to the trip.
Friendships were made, fun was had and for some of the students from OMSS, it will be the closest they will ever come to representing Canada in the sport they love.
A huge thank you to Mika Lienoven, a teacher at Schildtin Lukio High School, and Miko Palsola, head coach of JYP Jyväskylä, for their time and effort arranging billet families and activities on the ice and in the classroom.
The last word goes to Alexander Jansen, one of the OMSS students who made the trip.
"On Dec. 3, 2016, my classmates and I embarked on a new journey to experience culture in Finland. As we left from Kelowna and made our way through Vancouver and Frankfurt, there was excitement in everyone's eyes. After 25 hours of travel we finally made it to Jyväskylä, where we met our host families and the trip really began.
Over the next five days, we spent time playing hockey, hanging out with our host families, going to Finnish school and watching games from the pro league to Finnish minor hockey. We also spent two days in Helsinki, where we shopped and enjoyed playing tourist. On the plane ride home it felt like a dream that never really happened, but you know it happened because you were there.
This experience was life-changing!
One of the things I loved about the trip was just playing hockey with Finnish students and seeing what it was like to do on a typical Friday night with our host family. I also jumped in a hole in the ice of a frozen pond, and then into a sauna ... twice!
Hockey was very perspective-changing, as they play similar to Canadians in the way they prepare themselves off-ice before and after practice, which is more intense yet more relaxing and calming. In Finland, if you show maximum effort and attitude you will play where you want to. Seeing everyone smile really made me believe how calm they are, no matter the stakes.
Finnish culture is similar to Canadians but their view of foreign policies and immigration is different. Finland is 90 per cent Finnish people, while Canada is far more diverse, as one of the most multicultural countries in the world. The teens at the local school were just like high school kids in Canada – a bit moody and always having a good laugh.
This trip changed my life and if I had the chance I would do it again over and over again."