A Team Approach

I returned to Australia yesterday after a most wonderful memorable Finnish GSE experience.  Before the working week comes upon me thought I must put some final thoughts on the Blog.

The journey has been hectic and intensive but above all enjoyable and fun, with memories, opportunities and experiences that will have a lasting impact on me both professionally and personally.

Thank you Finland’s Rotary District 1410 very much for your exceptional kindness and hospitality, warmly welcoming the team from “Down Under”. Thank you  for arranging and organising such varied and interesting vocational, cultural and educational visits.

The team have been fantastic ambassadors for Rotary International and District 9690.  There have been no complaints (well almost none), hectic time schedules to meet and some 13 presentations to Rotary meetings.  I am so very proud at the team’s achievements and my heartfelt thanks go to Marc, Damian, Andrew, Margaret and their family and friends for supporting them on the GSE journey.


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Moi Moi Finland

Reflecting back, the selection process for the GSE outbound team to Finland in September 2011, was intense. Getting a place in the team, an honorable privilege. Finishing the program gives a sense of accomplishment, in exchange of one month being away from family. It is hard for me to write this last blog knowing the challenges and changes that have occured for me since the GSE and the finality of the program itself. So here goes;

Mother’s or the ladies of the house, create spectacular original meals that have been passed down from different generations. All my female hosts have cooked such beautiful meals that have been nameless. None the less tastes fantastic. The host gentle men have provided non stop saunas from electric, wooden and smoked and even ice swimming. And of course, my wine glass was hardly empty.


The families have been very exceptional, accepting, accommodating and above all fun. So a big Kiitos sinun avustasi.  From Forssa, Pori, Rauma, Laitila, Sastamala, Åland island and Turku I can say that my stomach has never grumbled, conversations never ran dry and that my Christmas card list has now significantly increased. Image

My team that I have had the opportunity to get to know from September 2011 till May has been rewarding. Coming from different vocational and cultural backgrounds, up brining and personalities. We have bonded, and lets say have made nicknames for each other. Mine for instance is Marcu or long legs, Andrew is the big one or Alti, Margaret is the Sauna queen or chocolate, Damian is D and Liz well its Mummi Liz. (Note, these nicknames may vary depending on team member perspectives).


Finally, the GSE has provided me with much insight into my vocational investigation and comparison of the health care systems of Finland and Australia. Finland’s health care system is interesting because it borders on some similarity to America’s health care system where the employer provides private health insurance to the employee (this is limited cover, inclusive are investigations and consultations and excludes operations and treatment). There are a lot of positives I uncovered, but the one universal discovery that can be applied to all health care settings in Australia is: the unified approach and relationship between nurses, doctors and patients. For instance, psychiatrist treating anorexic patients actually goes and visits their patients at home to assess their progress. Doctors and nurses in Turku University hospital dine together. Åland  private and public hospitals work in collaboration and not in competition. And most importantly, nurses and doctors work equally without barriers or seniority. And to top it all off, most hospitals nation wide are paper less.

So thank you Finland (Suomi) District 1410 for your hospitality, and thank you Australia District 9690 for the opportunity. I have definitely made a lot of new mates in Finland. Moi Moi

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GSE- 29 days and 13 sauna’s later

Well its our last evening on the GSE program and I’ve just had my last sauna. By my mathematical calculations thats a sauna on average every 2.2 days. It shouldnt take long for withdrawal to kick in once we get home.

It gave me some time to reflect on some of the unique experiences we’ve had in Finland while on the GSE program, things that you just dont get to do if you are travelling normally. Here are three of my reflections;

1. Meet the real people- Often when you travel the only people you meet are other tourists or tour guides. By participating in home stay programs you get to see what real life is like (The Lonely Planet guide for Finland is right- Finn’s really do love sauna, summer cabins and coffee). But home stay is more than just a quick tour of a historical site, it gives you the chance to talk to people about their experience and what does it mean to them e.g the impact on families who were forced to move from Karelia when Russia took the land. It gives you the chance to get beyond the guide book and see what the locals do/ like e.g standing in a sea of white hats on Vappu. And its better than a 5 star restaurant, every day we are served up great food, generously prepared by our hosts, with local produce and tried and tested recipies.

2. Things I would never do in Australia– And I dont just mean sauna, I mean things like visiting a nuclear power plant and going 400 metres underground, standing on the captains bridge of a passenger ferry (heading towards an alarmingly close pile of rocks!), watching an international ice hockey game, getting a tour of a busy international port by the CEO… the list could go on. Our Rotary hosts have put a lot of thought into creating a program that is rewarding and enlightening. GSE is a vocational, educational and cultural exchange, and we have certianly had a broad range of experiences in the program, we can honestly say there is never a dull day.

3. International (and team) vocational exchange- One of the things that really interested me about the GSE program was the opportunity to see how they do my work in another country. This really isnt an opportunity that comes up very often, because even if you are travelling overseas you cant just pop into somewhere and ask for a tour and a description of what they do. Now there are limitations, obviously how government is structured, taxation and resources, and what services are provided etc are quite different between Finland and Australia so its not always easy to find the right vocational visit. For example, Finland just doesnt have the same problems with crime that we do so they dont have the same concept of crime prevention, but the social welfare, education and support systems are so well developed that I think there is a lesson we can learn. I look back to our first visit in Forssa where the Police station had a mental health worker and social worker based at the station, qualified professionals working in partnership with Police and other Government agencies for immediate response to juvenile offenders and domestic violence victims. This is a great initiative and I wish I was in a position where I could influence a policy like that in Australia.

One of the great things about GSE though is that over the last month I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about my team mates professions, their opinions, knowledge and experiences. I think I have learnt just as much from my team about existing programs/ initiatives in Australia on the trip as I have about Finland.


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Sauna’s 12 and 13- HOT!

Sauna 12 was my hottest sauna yet. I know people say that electric saunas are not as hot as a wood sauna and you just dont get the same kind of heat but when the thermostat is nearing 100 degrees its hot, wood or not! In Australia children are taught a fire safety message from a young age, if you are ever caught in a fire you should “Get down low and go, go, go”. This works for hot sauna’s as well. The lower you sit in the sauna generally the cooler it is.

Sauna 13 was a comfortable 80 degrees and perfect to relax the muscles after my afternoon run. I remember Heidi telling us an hour in the park is great for relaxation, but top that off with a sauna as well, its a great combination!

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Did you know …

  1. The city of Turku operates some small ‘garden cottages’ ont he outer edge of the city.  These tiny cottages are rented to citizens who use them for gardening during summer.  They are not for living in just for gardening.
  2. Some sections of highway road is intentionally widened to allow fighter jets to land and take off there should a war ever break out!
  3. There is still sufficient ‘day light’ to walk freely in the streets without lighting at 10.30pm
  4. I was told that by law every home must have a wood fire for heating incase of power cuts.  They had some big storms here in December last year which left some homes without electricity for over a week.  Its easy to freeze to death in your home when its -30 outside and you have no heating inside.
  5. Finland has a strange attachment to heavy metal music.  The strangest example of this is a Wiggles style children’s entertainment group who are heavy metal singing dinosaurs.  Have a look … Hevi Saurus


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Our Presentation

Many people have asked about getting a copy of our presentation about Australia.

We have uploaded a copy to the internet and we are happy for anyone to use it.


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As we start to think about heading home to Australia I think one of the things we will miss is the Salmon. I have never eaten so much of it and there are so many great ways to cook it. I thought I would put a call out there to any Finnish readers if they would be happy to share their best Salmon recipie on the blog for us.

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GSE teams Australia and Finland reunion

My fellow team members and I had the opportunity to attend and present during the District conference held in Sastamala. It was a fantastic and memorable event. The team had the chance to talk with the international exchange students and catch up with those we had already met earlier on in our program such as Mai in Pori and Justus in Rauma. And of course, to meet our dear friends, the Finland team Nora,Johanna, Lisa and Annina.


It was a great night filled with inspiring speeches, awards and raffles that I did not win :(. But it was great to catch up and with the teams and share our unique expereinces.


And of course, not all was formal and we shared drinks with our hosts and fellow rotarians. Below, the men tried this alcoholic drink that involved eating a small sausage, before drinking. Lets just say, it was a very interesting mix 🙂 I do not know what it was called though)


The expereince was quite exceptional. Someting I will never forget, is when the Finnish rotarians started singing beautiful songs together during the way home on the bus.

P.S. apoligies to the loyal blog followers, my family and friends for my late entries. Unfortunately I have not had frequent internet access during the last few days.

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The doc, nurse and kangaroo


It was a great privilage to have visited both public and private hospitals in Aland island. Liz and I recieved a VIP tour with Dr. Christian Johannsen (Pediatrics consultant in the public hospital) who was quite charismatic and well infromed. The functions of the public hospital in Aland is similar to that of Australia. Aland public hospital was tight policies regarding hand hygiene and control of nosocomical infections (hospital attained infections such as MRSA and VRE) by carefully screening all patients and isolating those that have been infected with such pathogens. An interesting aspect I wound unique in Aland public hospital is the careful architectural planning of the facility. Most notably the emergency bay. There, the ambulance can drive through and within a short distance access the emergency department. Similarly with the helipad, is alos located next to the emergency bay, often used for transporting patients inter hospitals in Sweeden and mainland Finland.

After ward Liz and I got to visit Medimar, the up and coming private hospital in Aland. With close relations with the public hospital, both health care institutions work in partnership (After all, Aland is known as the island of peace!). For instance, inter hospital transfer of health documents and access for doctors to use the consultation rooms (although there is a fee to the doctors to use the private facilities). The impressive facility boasts state of the art equipment and specialised staff. One of the things that stood out during the visit, is how well the working environment is between staff (admin, health, cleaners etc). It is not frequent in my expereince to see such a harmonised atmosphere. Special thanks to Kia for the tour and the hospitality she showed us during our stay in Aland :).

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Laitila poly clinic health care centre

Laitila poly clinic health care centre

There is an interesting contrast between community nurses in Laitila and Australia. For instance;

*Community nurses in Laitila can take blood samples (Australian nurses are restricted by area health policy to do such) Although if allowed, I am very keen to do so ;).

* They send supplies such as continence pads via post to their clients (an efficient way to minimise home visit times) However, three years ago, health care products, such as for treatment of wounds was not covered by the local municipality. Meaning, the clients had to pay for their supplies. It is only recent that this has changed, and now it is only within the first 3 months that the clients have to pay for their consumables. There after, it is free. In Australia, most health care supplies to treat clients is covered by the governent.

*The centre itself uses only two types of nurses
– Registered nurses: governs and case manages their own areas with the assitance of practical nurses (the same in Australia but with enrolled nurses)
– Practical nurses: (assistance in nursing equivalent in Australia) who manages the daily food intake, hygiene and basic oral medication needs of the clients.

Interestingly, community nurses in Laitila use their own cars. They keep a record of their kilometers used and get compensated by the municipality. But in the event of a car accident, it is the community nurse or practical nurses perogative to have appropriate car insurance as this is not covered by the municipality.

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