For Aiden Thede ’20, it’s all about the cold. His home is in Florida, but he prefers temperatures well below freezing. He also prefers hockey. So much so that he asked his parents if he could spend the fall in Finland, where hockey is a national pastime.
Cardigan has had a relationship with a school in Finland since 1979 when a group of Cardigan boys traveled to Europe to compete in a tournament. It wasn’t until they arrived in Finland that they learned that the tournament had been canceled. Fortunately, the principal of Vehkoja Koulu School in Hyvinkää stepped in to help. He found them places to stay, a rink for practice, and teams against which they could compete. Since that trip, Cardigan and many citizens in the town of Hyvinkää have maintained that relationship, building a bond that starts with a love of hockey but has grown to include so much more. Most years a Finnish student attends school at Cardigan, and every other year members of the Cardigan hockey team visit Hyvinkää. Members of the Cardigan basketball team have traveled to Finland as well.
Last March Aiden was on that trip to Finland. Accompanied by his coaches and teammates, as well as Head of School Chris Day P’12,’13, Director of Athletics Ryan Frost, and alumnus John D’Entremont ’94, he stayed with a host family, visited schools in Hyvinkää and Helsinki, and played plenty of hockey. There was also a dance and an alumni hockey game; in all the years since its inception, the Finnish alumni have never lost to the Cardigan boys.
Aiden liked Finland so much that he wanted to return and asked if he could spend part of the fall term there. “I wanted to play more hockey,” explains Aiden. “I also thought it would be interesting to spend time in another culture.”
With the help of his parents and Cardigan, Aiden made plans to live in Finland from August through October. He stayed with two host families—first with the family of Oskari Hakkarainen ’20, who is a student at Cardigan this year, and then with Hanu Lignell, a Cardigan graduate from the Class of 1992.
Aiden got his wish to play more hockey. In a culture in which hockey is almost a way of life, Aiden was able to practice 3-4 times per week and play games on the weekends. But he also went to school, taking chemistry, trigonometry and geography as well as Finnish and Swedish.
“Learning new languages was tough,” says Aiden. “And their schedule was different every day. It was hard to keep up at first.”
For Aiden, the biggest change for him was riding his bike to school every day. Because gas is expensive, he says, more than half his classmates pedaled to school.
“The value of the program is tremendous,” says John D’Entremont, a longtime supporter of the trip who was also an exchange student in the program when he was a student at Cardigan. “It demonstrates to the boys that the world is much bigger than Canaan, NH. They learn what it is like to be a minority and to not be able to speak the language.”
Aiden agrees. “I’m much more open now to going to new places and learning new languages,” he says.
Aiden returned to Cardigan in late October and is now busy catching up with the school work that he missed. He is hoping to return to Finland next summer, to visit his new friends, do a bit more sightseeing, and of course, play a bit more hockey.
In the meantime, the ice is back in Turner Arena and snowflakes are in the air over Marrion Field. For now the air is cold enough for Aiden and he is looking forward to the hockey season in the months ahead.