AWAITED RETURN: Former host parents David and Judy Lee with Finnish guests Mirja and Petri Laitinen.
AWAITED RETURN: Former host parents David and Judy Lee with Finnish guests Mirja and Petri Laitinen. Matthew Purcell

Years apart hasn't abated this Fin's love of town

A FORMER Finnish exchange student has returned to his temporary home after 33 years.

Petri Laitinen spent a year in the area and attended Stanthorpe State High School in 1984 and jumped at the chance to return when an opportunity presented itself.

Bizarrely, the idea for a visit came about after a Finnish television outlet ran a news story about Stanthorpe.

What the news item was about exactly, Petri can't entirely recall.

"We were too excited. You could see the town in the background and everything. I think most Fins saw it.

"Our daughter was doing voluntary work in Vietnam and she was coming back in January.

"It's been such hard work for her, taking care of parentless kids in Vietnam. So we thought she needs a holiday and thought why not take her to Australia and see the host families I stayed with at the same time,” Petri said.

While here they got out and about doing the touristy stuff but found time to attend a Rotary meeting.

Petri's stay in Stanthorpe back in the 1980s was through a Rotary exchange program.

"We've just visited some of the places I visited before - went to Ballandean winery and the primary school because Mirja (Petri's wife) is a primary school teacher.

"We had a nice tour around. Mirja was very interested.

"Many things here are still the same. The high school is expanding. The wine college is new.

"But the main street is really the same... Commonwealth Bank, the post office, shops. More pubs that weren't there.

"We hear there's 70 wineries around... when I was here there were like two.

Petri and Mirja stayed with David and Judy Lee while in town, one of his previous host families.

"There was the Lees, the Hayes family and Helen and Nev Jones.

"My stay here gave like the keys for life. I have been running my own business for a while now.”

He's the VP for renewable energy company C2 SmartLight in Jyvaskyla these days.

"Petri was a great exchange student. He left here as a youth and is returning a man: 'he said yes, with grey hair and a pot belly',” Judy said.

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