From thousands of miles away, Finnish student adjusts to unfamiliar people in familiar place


Sydney Rowe

Coppell junior goalkeeper Tommi Penttinen, a foreign exchange student from Finland, practices with his teammates on Friday in the CHS fieldhouse. Penttinen is staying with a host family here in Coppell for a year with a program called Sun Tiimi, which is the local version of a program called International Experience.

Karen Lu, Staff Writer

Often, transferring to a new school is a high schooler’s worst nightmare. Now, imagine not only moving to a new city or even a new state, but across the world to an entirely new country.


Making new friends, familiarizing with the new culture, adjusting to a brand new life–a completely unfamiliar world filled with “news”.


This is the situation Coppell High School junior Tommi Penttinen is experiencing. Traveling more than 5,000 miles the week before school started, Penttinen made the journey from Finland across the Atlantic Ocean and is quickly adjusting to his new life in Coppell as a foreign exchange student.


Penttinen has been switching between Finland and America his entire life; he was originally born in Finland before moving to Coppell for four years when he was three years old. He then returned to Finland for 10 years and is now residing in Coppell for the 2018-2019 school year.


“I used to say I grew up in America, but I did [actually] grow up in Finland,” Penttinen said. “I do have some fond memories [of America] but most of my memories do come from Finland.”


Between America and Finland, one of the most surprising culture shocks for Penttinen is the substantial amount of time Americans spend working.


“After school [in America], people don’t do anything except go home, do homework, go to work or go do their sport.” Penttinen said.


Penttinen has also observed that the community in Coppell is overall more welcoming to strangers and friends as compared to Finland. Fortunately, this has led to a smooth transition to an unfamiliar environment.


“The people here are a lot more talkative, a lot more kind, not as straightforward,” Penttinen said. “It’s a very different culture than in Finland.”


As Penttinen familiarized himself with those in Coppell, the staff and students at CHS welcomed Penttinen and his refreshing presence. Coppell boys soccer coach James Balcom repeatedly stressed the leadership Penttinen brings to the team.


“As a player, he’s demanding,” Balcom said. “And out of a keeper, that’s huge: somebody who demands the best out of his players. And if you’re not working, he’ll be the first to tell you.”


Coming in as a new face to the Coppell boys soccer team, Penttinen lacks the timidity and reservation one might associate with being in a completely different setting. Right away, Penttinen has gone further than just acclimating to the soccer team and his new teammates; he has taken on a role in the team as a firm, outspoken leader.


“We’ve got a lot of leaders by example, guys that always do the right thing,” Balcom said. “But for [Penttinen] to come in here, not really knowing the boys that well, and still demanding the best of them, being a vocal leader. That’s been a huge help this year.”


Outside of the soccer team, Penttinen has found a home with his host family, the Lomelis, and other students at CHS.


CHS junior Montse Lomeli has known Penttinen since kindergarten and reconnecting with him now brings back both a sense of familiarity and the task of getting to know the person he has become.


“This is the first time I’ve seen him in seven years,” Lomeli said. “He looked the same but acted differently, like he was from a different world.”


But despite the initial unfamiliarity Penttinen felt when arriving at Coppell, the combination of his outgoing personality and the kindness he has received from students at CHS has led to a quick adjustment.


CHS junior Jude Hadi was one of the first people to befriend Penttinen. Because of this, Hadi has been able to see firsthand the change in Penttinen’s demeanor.


“He’s more comfortable,” Hadi said. “He’s talking to everybody now instead of just the people he knows. He’s not awkward anymore like he was the first couple days of school.”


Despite the sharp contrast in culture and thousands of miles between Finland and the United States, Penttinen has breached the gap with the help of students at Coppell and his own easy nature.


Follow Karen @_karenlu_