Boy Meets Girl, Loses Girl, Regains Girl, Loses Student Exchange Program
FARMINGTON, N.H. (AP) _ The Finnish exchange student who was moved to a new family in a different town to get him away from his American girlfriend is back with her in the town he considers home, but at the cost of his sponsorship.
″I really do like these people here - they’re so friendly people,″ Iiro Lehtinen said Wednesday.
The Education Foundation for Foreign Study transferred Lehtinen, 18, of Kiriviem, Finland, from his host family and school in Farmington to South Portland, Maine, on Nov. 11.
The foundation said he was spending too much time with his girlfriend, Kelly LaPointe, and not enough with his host family.
″I really like her very much. She’s ... I can’t find the words,″ said Lehtinen.
On Tuesday, after much media attention and protests by the teen-agers’ parents, friends and the Finnish Embassy, the foundation released him from the program so he could return to Farmington.
Lehtinen said he will remain in Farmington for the rest of the school year with Lou and Rod Waldron, who offered to take him in.
″I’ve never seen Iiro smile so much in my life,″ LaPointe, 17, said Wednesday. She and her parents drove to South Portland to pick Lehtinen up Tuesday night. ″We were going to go in the morning, but he said ’come now.‴
″I’m glad it’s over and I’m glad he’s coming home. He considers Farmington his American home,″ she said.
Their forced separation had led to a walkout by about 100 Farmington high school pupils, about one-third of the student body, and angered the couple’s parents.
″It was a very big headache and I’m not sure exactly why,″ said Meg Holliday, the foundation’s eastern regional director in Cambridge, Mass.
Lehtinen’s parents likely will be reimbursed for the money they gave the foundation to pay for his expenses. Holliday said the financial details have not been worked out. Lehtinen will get another type of visa under the Waldrons’ sponsorship.
Holliday said Lehtinen was taken off the program after officials spoke with his parents in Finland and agreed that his goals had become incompatible with the program’s.
Lehtinen’s father had lobbied the Education Foundation’s offices in Finland in an effort to get his son returned to Farmington.
Lehtinen said his father, architecht Kimmo Lehtinen, hopes to visit him in Farmington, just down the street from the LaPointe house, sometime before Christmas.
State Rep. William Tsiros said he got the good news late Tuesday from Holliday.
Tsiros said an attache at the Finnish embassy in Washington had been angered when she learned about the transfer earlier.
″She said she was going to call the Education Foundation officials and was very irate at the whole situation,″ Tsiros said. ″I don’t know what she said, but it worked. I got the call from Meg Holliday a few hours later.″
The relationship between LaPointe and Lehtinen began in September. Foundation officials said Lehtinen was not told to break up with LaPointe, but only to cool the relationship enough so he could spend more time with his host family.
Susan Jackson, the foundation’s regional coordinator in Berwick, Maine, said many aspects of an exchange experience, including the student’s temporary ″adoption″ by an American family, were overlooked as the story of thwarted young love took on a life of its own.
″I feel confident that the foundation made the right decision, but unfortunately that has become secondary in the eyes of the press to the marketability of a love story,″ she said.
According to Jackson and Holliday, Lehtinen’s original host parents in Farmington, Mike and Diane Crowley, would not see much of him for days at a time. They said he would leave early in the morning for school and return late at night, more like a boarder than a temporary family member.
″The families are volunteers and they expect and perhaps deserve some interaction with the student they are harboring,″ Holliday said.