Finnish exchange students Inka Sirkiä and Johanna Smalén have brought their synchronized skating skills to the Halton School District in Ontario, Canada and are having an incredible experience so far.
The two girls decided to study abroad to develop their English skills, as well as to meet new people and discover a different culture. There was, however, one condition. It was very important for both girls to find a place they could study while continuing their synchronized skating. Back in Finland, they have skated for many years and compete on synchronized skating teams that are ranked among the best in the world. Inka skates on a team called Reflections, while Johanna skates on a team called Musketeers. The Musketeers won back to back silver medals at the ISU Junior World Challenge Cup in 2011 and 2012.
Our partner organization in Finland, Universal Players, approached us about potential opportunities we could provide both Inka and Johanna. Universal Players has been offering student-athletes incredible opportunities to receive both high quality athletic and academic experiences since 1997. Working together, we were able to bring both girls to the amazing Halton School District where they could continue their synchronized skating.
Synchronized skating was created in 1956, as entertainment for spectators at University of Michigan hockey games. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the sports really started to grow. And though still relatively new, synchronized skating has become a very popular discipline in the world of figure skating. Today, synchronized skating consists of teams of 16 skaters who all perform a unified and choreographed skating routine to music of their choice.
In Canada, Inka and Johanna have had the opportunity to compete on a team called NEXXICE Junior, one of the most successful and decorated skating team in the country. With this team, both exchange students compete in international synchronized skating competitions and will have the chance to qualify for biggest competition of the year in the ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships.
Off the ice, the girls live with two separate Canadian host families. They developed very close relationships with their host siblings, who are also synchronized skaters. They have been able to travel throughout Canada, as well as the United States during their time abroad. Both foreign exchange students have also made many friends, especially with the other girls on the skating team. Although from different cultures, the Finnish girls immediately found common ground with their Canadian friends. They found that the Canadian girls were just as dedicated and enthusiastic when it came to synchronized skating. It has created an amazing opportunity for both cultures to learn from each other, not only personally, but athletically as well.
It is amazing that halfway across the world, our students can make friends with other students who have so much in common. This is one of the best things about student exchange. Even though we may be from different countries and different cultures, we often find out we are not so different from each other.