By JIM ANDERSON
NIAGARA, Wis. - Coming from Helsinki, 16-year-old Finnish exchange student Linda Helin expected to see a glitzy America.
Linda Helin of Helsinki, Finland, has played volleyball and basketball at Niagara High School.
To her surprise, she's found it in the glistening trees of Homestead, Wis.
"I like four-wheeling and snowmobiling," Helin said of her favorite new American pastimes. Her host parents are John and Judy Nordell, who live "out in the country." Host sister Shanna provides a daily lift to Niagara High School.
Accustomed to a school of more than 1,000 students, the close-knit Niagara setting was a bit of a shock, Helin says. And the "big and glossy" America of popular films is another world altogether.
"Normal life is not like in the movies," she said. "You have to go to school, do all this stuff. You can't travel a lot when you have school."
English is required in Finnish schools, so language hasn't been a barrier. Helin also speaks Swedish and French.
She's found America's television choices to be a bit much. "You have 800 channels," she observed wryly.
Embracing athletics at Niagara, she's participated in basketball, volleyball and track - diversions from Shakespeare's "Julius Caeser" in Ginger Anderson's English class.
"I kind of like it," she said of smaller classes and the routine of practice, games and homework. "It's fun," she said. "I've been in every sport almost."
She's also enjoyed good-natured ribbing among classmates, especially during the Olympics. Finland crushed the U.S. - 5-0 she reminds - to win bronze in men's hockey. "They kept telling me, oh, your team is going to lose."
The record-setting winter was a jolt. "Our weather isn't always this cold," she said. "I've bought lots of clothes."
Back home, her father has a home remodeling business and her mother works in insurance. High school scheduling in Finland is much like a university, emphasizing final exams, she said. Sports are confined to club teams.
Helin, who might pursue a career as a dentist, said Finland's universal health care system is less complicated than the insured/uninsured situation in the U.S. "But we have higher taxes," she adds.
With fast food offerings sparse in Helsinki (where the urban population tops 1 million), she's discovered a new weakness in the environs of Iron Mountain. "Totally Taco Bell," she said.
A trip to South Carolina with her host family is in the works. She later plans to travel to New York. Of course, there'll be no four-wheeling or snowmobiling there.
Jim Anderson's email address is email@example.com.