Axseli “Axl” Hatakka (right) is Luverne High School’s 2015 cultural exchange student and is pictured with his host family, Cyndi Priebe (center, holding Dakotah) and her son, Seth.

Living in the USA

During his cultural exchange experience in Luverne, Akseli Hatakka from Helsinki, Finland, has garnered a nickname, a new haircut and an understanding of staying on schedule.

For the past eight months, Hatakka has been hosted by the Cyndi Priebe family and adopted the nickname “Axl” at the beginning of his 10-month stay in the United States because people stumbled pronouncing his name.

Axl comes from Axl Rose, the lead singer for the 1980s rock ‘n’ roll band, Guns N’ Roses.

“Music is a passion of mine,” said the easy-going 18-year-old. “(Axl) was the closest American version of my name.”

Hatakka has expanded this passion for music by playing guitar in the high school jazz band and participating in its concert choir. He hopes to make music a part of a career choice once he returns to Finland in June.

Hatakka is participating in the AFS Intercultural Program intended to help students develop the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world, according to its website.

For Hatakka, his exchange experience also included taking part in sporting events, something he had little experience in at home.

“I am not the most athletic type of person,” he said. “I’m glad I did – I am in better condition.”

Hatakka said he chose the sports activities of cross country and wrestling, because he could compete individually to better his skills. While he was familiar with cross country, because he used to run at home, wrestling was an unfamiliar sport.

“My goal was not to get pinned,” he said.

He achieved that in Luverne’s last team meet during sectional competition in Worthington.

“I lasted the six minutes,” he said.

He may have lasted six-minutes on the mat, but his normal shaggy haircut received a little trimming by the wrestling team captains when Hatakka didn’t have his hair trimmed on his own. Excessive long hair, especially bangs, is prohibited, according to Minnesota High School League rules.

“I had that coming,” Hatakka said of the impromptu ragged haircut.

He fully admits he is a procrastinator.

Cyndi Priebe said the change to following a daily routine was something she had to help Hatakka work through.

“He has been surprised by the expectations of coming to class regularly and doing his work around the home,” she said. “He has matured quite a bit.”

From discussions with Hatakka’s mother back in Finland, Priebe learned that life there is at a slower pace, even in the large metropolitan city of Helsinki. Public school is conducted more like college, where students have classes on a weekly basis versus every day.

The new pace is something Hatakka has been getting used to, thanks to Seth, a junior in high school.

“Sometimes Seth thinks he is the older brother,” she said.

It is a role that Seth has embraced.

“It’s been really good,” he said of the experience.

Each has taught the other different guitar playing techniques and, while Seth said Hatakka handles the skateboard better than he, both have developed better moves.

One thing he has learned about his new brother is that he needs a lot of sleep.

“(Axl) can’t focus otherwise,” Seth said.

Before Hatakka leaves in June, the two will take on one of Seth’s activities — mixed martial arts.

Once back home, Hatakka will finish his last year of high school before taking the test for college.

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