Finnish Exchange Student At Payson High School Aspires To Write

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Taru Tarnanen will have to repeat the year she has spent as a junior at Payson High School, not because she didn't pass, but because she is an exchange student from Finland.

When she returns home, she will have two years to go until graduation.

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Finnish exchange student Taru Tarnanen enjoys Rim Country life.

"But it's worth it!" she said.

Tarnanen became an exchange student because, "I wanted to have new experiences and learn better English.

"I like school and the school's spirit here."

In Finland, she attends "Pikkurila," an "upper secondary school." The school is in one large building, but students go to different classrooms for each subject. For those taking five classes in a day, school begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 4:15 p.m., however, there are longer breaks between classes, Tarnanen said. Sports and other hobbies happen outside of school.

She thinks she reads and writes English better than she speaks it, although she sometimes must read a sentence several times for clarity. She said, for the most part, she finds school in America easier than in Finland.

The young woman, whose name means "legend and myth" in Finnish, said she is not certain what she wants to do as a career yet, but added, "I like to read fantasy novels like ‘Harry Potter' and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia.'"

She aspires to be a fantasy novelist and is "working up the courage" to submit for publication the short stories she has written. They are in her native tongue, not English.

"I like the music in ‘Narnia' (the movie) and how they did the wardrobe," she said.

Besides just hanging out with friends over Christmas break, if she were back in Finland, Tarnanen said, they would be building snowmen.

"You start with a little ball and keep rolling it. You make the biggest ball first. It can sometimes be hard to get the other snowballs on top of that one, depending on how big a snowman you are making."

She thought the biggest snowman she has made was over two meters tall.

In Payson, she hangs out with friends she has made. The 17-year-old is not allowed to drive here, but she wouldn't be allowed to in Finland either. She said 18 is the driving age there. Teens take the public buses when they want to go somewhere, like Helsinki, the capital of Finland, which is about 20 minutes away from her hometown.

Here, she and her friends "like to go to Chili's or someone's house and hang out," she said.

She said she is not fond of spicy food, but likes the hamburgers at Chili's.

Ask her if there is a food she misses and her prompt reply is "chocolate." It is the only thing she has found she doesn't like about the U.S.

If she were celebrating Christmas in Finland, "There would be snow. I miss the snow. It doesn't seem like Christmas," she said. "I would spend Christmas Eve with my family, and on Christmas Day we would go to my grandparents' house. On New Year's Eve I would stay up all night and sleep in really (late) the next day."

As part of the celebration in Finland, Tarnanen said she might hang out with her friends Sonja, Lotta and Elina and watch fireworks for New Year's Eve.

"I miss all my friends, but especially those three. I write e-mails to them sometimes and letters, but not quite so much anymore. And I miss my mom."

She said she thinks her 13-year-old brother Toni might be missing her, but admitted with a smile, that he might like having things to himself.

She has made friends here she believes she will keep in touch with upon her return.

"I don't think there is much different between American and Finnish teens," she said.

According to Tarnanen, musical tastes are similar.

Her personal favorites are the Finnish hard rock bands Nightwind and Him, yet she also likes the softer sound of Celine Dion.

Guitar lessons are an activity she is enjoying. She said she plans to continue with the instrument upon her return to Finland.

An avid golfer, she has been playing about four years. She has not yet had time to golf, along with the fact that she didn't bring her clubs. It may be something she will do in the new year with her back-up host family.

Before she returns home in June, she is thinking about visiting the East Coast on a discovery tour offered through the exchange program, but isn't sure about it yet.

Locally she has explored and hiked.

There is a forested area in the center of her hometown of Ilola in the province of Vantaa, she said. She thinks her home is greener than Payson.

Tarnanen was able to make a trip to the Grand Canyon.

"I'd seen pictures of it in books and seen it in movies. It was beautiful!" she said.

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