By EVAN REID
IRON RIVER - Among the things 17-year-old Tommi Keski-Kastari has accomplished while in the United States is a touchdown scored with the West Iron County Wykons.
Tommi Keski-Kastari, center, stands on the football field with Debbie and Rich Nieminen of Iron River. Tommi is a Finnish exchange student staying with the Nieminens while he attends West Iron County High School.
While playing on the football team last season, the Finnish exchange student also kicked an extra point and blocked several touchdowns by knocking the ball from the receiver of the opposing team.
Tommi has also been a member of the basketball and track teams while a junior at West Iron County High School this year.
Tommi is from Ylojarvi, located within the Pikanmaa region of Finland. The population of Ylojarvi has increased rapidly in recent years, from 18,000 in 1990 to over 31,000 as of January.
Tommi's parents are Tuula and Leo Keski-Kastari. Tuula is a secretary and Leo is an entrepreneur. He also has an 18-year-old sister named Taija.
Since he arrived in the United States last August, Tommi has been staying with Richard and Debbie Nieminen of Iron River. This is the first time hosting an exchange student for the Nieminens.
Tommi and the Nieminens have been on quite a few trips together. While in Florida they made stops at Universal Studios in Orlando, Daytona Beach, the Epcot Center at Disney World, and the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville.
The group also visited Debbie's sister and went to the Mall of America in Minneapolis, went to Green Bay to see Rich and Debbie's daughter Amber, and watched a Northern Michigan University hockey game in Marquette.
Rich also took Tommi hunting for deer and grouse in the fall.
Tommi said that the climate of the Upper Peninsula is similar to that back home, which means dealing with the winter has not been a problem.
Food is similar as well, though Tommi noted that the Finnish diet includes "more fish and pasta." Of all the food he has tried while in the United States, corn pancakes are his favorite.
Tommi said that school here is a little easier here, and that high school classes in Finland are closer to what college classes are like in the United States.
In Finland, Tommi had 90 minute class periods and school days that varied in length from day to day.
In addition to Finnish and English, he speaks "a little bit of Swedish," and has studied German.
He would like to go to college after high school but has not decided where or what he will study.
Tommi misses his family and friends, but is grateful for the opportunity to "meet new people and try new things."
Evan Reid's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.