The visiting Group Study Exchange team from Finland and Estonia presented the May 24 program.

Visiting Rotarian and GSE team leader Sirje Nilson, a financial manager in forestry/agriculture, introduced the members of the GSE team: fellow Estonian and development agency director Peeter Hagen and photographer/teacher Sade Kahra, marine archaeologist Minna Leino and retail manager Virpi Katajala from Finland.

Sirje began the team's presentation with an overview of Rotary district 1420 (which includes Estonia and southern Finland). Rotary has had a presence in Finland since 1926 and in Estonia since 1930. She also gave a brief history of Estonia, which has been ruled by Livonia, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Germany and the Soviet Union.

Peeter continued with the introduction to Estonia. The country is 1/40th the size of Alaska, but has a population of 1.3 million. A third live in the capital city of Tallin. The government is a democracy with a multi-party parliament (101 members elected for four year terms). The country is very tech savvy and is nicknamed the "Baltic tiger" because of its fast economic growth. Peeter acknowledged some of the famous Estonians (including Estonian-born Germans Otto von Kotzebue and Adam Johann von Krusenstern) and businesses (including Skype).

Minna gave an overview of the Baltic Sea, her "office" as a marine archaeologist. The watershed for the Baltic includes nine countries with a combined population of 84 million. There is concern for the health of the Baltic Sea because of the human impacts and because it takes 30 years for the water in the basin to cycle through.

Sade gave an overview of Finland, the land of 10,000 lakes. Finnish and Swedish are the primary languages for the nation's 5-6 million people. Forestry, agriculture and technology are the major industries; Nokia, Linux and MySQL are all Finnish companies. She noted some famous Finns (including architect Eero Saarinen) and asserted that the real Santa Claus comes from Finland.

Virpi highlighted Finnish sports and culture. Not surprisingly, winter sports are very popular, especially hockey. Finnish baseball is the national sport. They also have the "peculiar" wife-carrying event. She also noted that Finland was the first nation to grant full suffrage to women (in 1906) and to have a woman elected to parliament (1907). The first female premier was elected in 2006.

Questions from club members abounded; not surprisingly, we ran out of time for questions from the visiting GSE team.