Upland Country, Finland celebrate cultural exchange

Finland and Chadds Ford will reinforce an ever-growing bond next week as a group of Finnish students, coaches and administrators visit Upland Country Day School to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a cultural exchange program between Upland and Turku, Finland.

The celebration marks a sharing of two passions that transcend language: ice hockey and dance. More than 75 Finns will cross the Atlantic to celebrate.

The group hails from Turku, a medium-sized Finnish city about 4,200 miles away. The boys’ hockey team is a group of all-star players from TPS Turku. Former Flyer Kimmo Timonen began his career with TPS Turku.

TPS will play with teams from Chester County to Connecticut beginning with a game with Upland’s Varsity Hockey team on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 3:30 p.m. at the John M. Cleveland Rink. The game is open to the community.

The girls’ dance group from Lahjan Tytot will perform the show they compete with across Europe – a dance interpretation of Disney’s “Frozen.” They will perform at Upland and at venues across Chester County.  The Upland performance is Wednesday, February 22 at 2:15 p.m. in The Barn Theater at Upland. It is open to the public and there no is charge.

The group also will spend the week traveling the area, staying with Upland families and celebrating 40 years of friendship, learning, cultural exchange and goodwill.

What began with an ice hockey tournament in 1977 has developed into a long-standing relationship. Each year, two to four Finns spend their ninth grade year at Upland, living with host families and attending classes. Each spring a group of Upland students travel to Finland.

Turku is quite different from Upland’s hometown of Kennett Square and coming to the United States is not without culture shock for the Finnish students. They discover American houses are a lot bigger than those in their homeland, but that most have no sauna. Instead of hopping on a bus to get around, they must be driven everywhere by parents. Their new school is not in a bustling city but surrounded by cornfields and acres of open land with grazing horses.

The Finnish students also are expected to do what all Upland ninth graders do, develop into leaders. In addition to academics, they play sports all three seasons, perform in a play and lead a school assembly. In such a small school setting, each student has a role and can make a difference.

“We believe that ours is the first middle school exchange of its type, dating back 40 years now,” said Andy Morris, Upland’s director of athletic and international program. “It has been a transformative experience for everyone involved.”

The program began with ice hockey as a vehicle for youth from Kennett/Unionville and Finland to establish friendship and experience another culture where language is a barrier.

Since the program began, more than 90 Finnish students have spent their ninth grade year at Upland Country Day School and more than 600 Upland students have traveled to Finland to participate in sports and experience culture near the Arctic Circle. In March, Upland’s eighth- and ninth-grade boys will be traveling to Finland and Germany in March.

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