Seppo and Paula Koutaniemi, of Kuusamo, Finland, made their first trip to the United States and Petersburg to visit family member Sue Paulsen and fell in love with the area.
“Petersburg is a beautiful place,” Seppo said. “The scenery is so different and we feel at home here.”
Seppo and Paula spent about five days in the community and were able to take in many of Petersburg’s fall tourist offerings.
“We were able to visit the museum and really enjoyed that,” Paula said. “It was interesting that most of Petersburg’s residents came here from Norway, but I know there were a few Finns as well.”
Paula explained that many of the Finnish population left the area in order to remain free of the Russian army. “Many moved away to Norway, and then relocated to America,” she said.
The Koutaniemis live very close to the Russian border, and during the war, much of Seppo’s father’s lands were taken when the border moved.
“So many of our young people left Finland to avoid the army,” Paula explained. “If a person was over the age of 19 they were forced to fight with the Russians. That is why so many of our young people left the country.”
She also explained that it was probably the reason there were Finnish people to settle here with those from Norway.
Seppo, who is an architect by profession, designs high schools and assisted living centers, visited Petersburg’s hospital and schools. “I am so very impressed with the comfortable feel of your school and hospital,” Seppo said. “The buildings here are very different from the traditional style we have at home.”
Paula explained that she was most impressed to see the students in the building after the school day had ended. “They were all working together on homework, or projects, everyone seemed to be very at home.”
Paula, who is a psychologist, views the area from a completely different point of view. “I work with families and children with learning disabilities,” she stated. “I work hard to make sure they receive what they need. Here they all seem to be so happy and comfortable with each other.”
Both Seppo and Paula commented on the way drivers will stop to let them cross the street.
“Everyone is so nice and accommodating,” Paula said. “Everyone speaks to you on the street, this is a wonderful place to live.”
Seppo spoke a phrase in Finnish which translated to, “Living in this town is like living in God’s pocket.”
He explained that the scenery in Finland is very different. “Finland is quite flat,” Seppo stated. “We have a few hills and valleys, but no mountains and no sea.”
The temperatures in Finland compare well with that of Petersburg, but that is where the comparison ends.
A large part of their lives in Finland is the sauna.
“The sauna is where we go to cleanse the body and open the mind,” Seppo said. “It promotes good health and we go there for peace.”
The couple has tried a few different meals since being in the area as well. “We have had moose meatballs, which we like very much,” Paula said. “And pies, we do not have fruit pies in Finland.”
Seppo and Paula have six children and six grandchildren and will continue their trip in Seattle, San Francisco and Florida. They will be visiting their children and other family members along the way.
“Our son lives in San Francisco, and we have old friends in Florida,” Paula said. “We are seeing so much of America on this trip.”
He also explained that one of the big traditions is to go from the sauna straight into the freezing lake.
“We have enjoyed our trip here so much,” Paula said. “We are hoping to come back again very soon, maybe to enjoy your Mayfest.”