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Today@Sam Article

Exchange Student 'Catches Her Stride' At SHSU With Help Of Track Team

April 13, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story By: Kim Kyle Morgan

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Saellinen posing for photo
Johanna Saellinen is working on her master's degree at the University of Turku in Finland but decided to come to SHSU as an exchange student in the fall to enhance her English-language skills. She will return to Finland on May 17. —Photo by Brian Blalock


When Johanna Saellinen arrived in Texas last August, the Finland native knew there would be some differences—Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, miles instead of kilometers, semitropical instead of subarctic —but nothing can quite prepare a newcomer for that sauna-type blast one feels the moment one walks off the airplane.

"I wanted to come somewhere warm," Saellinen said, "but it was different to be sweating before I even started running."

Saellinen, 25, is on the track team at Sam Houston State University, where she will complete a marketing degree in May. She is an exchange student from the University of Turku in Finland.

Saellinen was interested in studying abroad so she could enhance her English skills, experience another culture and explore life on another campus. SHSU offers all of that, but another reason she came running to Huntsville is for its track program.

"Here, you have university, you have a sport, and it all goes together," Saellinen said. "I like that."

Jesse Parker, distance coach for SHSU’s track and field and cross-country, said that internationally, track is more of an individual sport.

"It's not usually a part of a school system; it is more club-team based," Parker said. "But Johanna really bought into the team aspect of what we do here and has really thrived."

Saellinen is a middle-distance runner, Parker said, running a range of half-a-mile to two miles.

"She'll ask me 'what's that in kilometers?' so I whip out my calculator," said Parker with a laugh. "But now I have a pretty good handle on it."

Warming up at SHSU...

No matter the measurement differences between the two countries, it's all the same when it comes to crossing the finish line.

And Saellinen is now part of a winning team.

At the Southland Conference in February, Saellinen was the lead runner in the first part of the Distance Medley Relay. She ran 3/4 of a mile before handing off the baton. In the end, the team won the conference championship and shattered SHSU's previous record by almost 10 seconds.

"You always put one of your best athletes in the lead leg," Parker said. "This is Johanna's final year for eligibility in terms of the NCAA. If I could finagle another year for her here, I would."

Saellinen has already stayed longer than most exchange students. After her first semester ended last winter, she made arrangements to stay for one more semester. Upon her return to Turku at the end of May, she will complete a master's degree in marketing with a minor in accounting and management. Saellinen aspires to work in sports marketing for a major brand, perhaps Nike.

"I will continue running," Saellinen said. "But in Finland, you are much more on your own. It's been awesome to be part of a team here. I'm going to miss my team a lot."

Saellinen looks forward to reuniting with her best friends and family, but in the meantime, she's a fantastic ambassador for SHSU's exchange agreement with the University of Turku.

Helena Halmari, SHSU professor and chair in the department of English as well as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Finnish Studies, said Saellinen is the second student from Finland since the exchange agreement's inception in 2008. A third student is coming next year, Halmari said, but only one student from SHSU has ventured to the University of Turku so far.

"We'd love to find more students to go to Finland," said Halmari, who, as it turns out, is from the same town in Finland as Saellinen, where they both attended the same high school.

The University of Turku is said to be an international university where education and research are closely intertwined. The city of Turku is located on the southwest coast of Finland. Halmari said it's recognized as an important business and cultural center in Europe.

Saellinen is excited to go home but will miss Texas. Asked which is best, she's as neutral as Switzerland.

"People ask all the time," Saellinen said. "I don't have an answer for that. I love both countries."



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