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Away from home but close to success Finland native finds opportunities in Texas

2016 UTRGV graduate Rico Laitinen works for Bert Ogden BMW under an F-1 student visa. He hopes to continue working in the U.S. after his Optional Practical Training (OPT) ends. LESLEY ROBLES/THE RIDER

UTRGV graduate and former soccer player Rico Laitinen is living and working in the United States thanks to his F-1 student visa. Although it’s temporary, he plans to stay in Texas.

Despite the majority of students at UTRGV being Hispanic, Laitinen never felt alienated nor found it difficult to adapt to the culture.

“Not at all, I think it was even easier [to adapt],” said Laitinen, a native of Finland. “All the people were really outgoing and they were really friendly and helpful.”

Laitinen’s family resides in Finland, but for him, part of his family lives here with him.

“Everybody lives over there; my family is just my Finnish teammates right now,” the alumnus said. “It’s kind of like a small family for me when my real family is back in the other side of the world.”

Despite difficulties, Laitinen graduated last December with a general studies degree and three minors: business administration, marketing and kinesiology.

“The reason I chose those minors is because I wanted to do business but as well as do something with health related to soccer and sports, so that’s why I picked up the kinesiology,” he said. “If I had just graduated marketing or business, I couldn’t have had a chance to study anything related to the human body or athletics or lifestyle.”

Life as a student athlete may have been difficult, but he was able to stay focused. He also kept high standards, excelling on and off the field.

“It was a challenge but I was able to balance it really well, even when we were on the road,” Laitinen said. “I took the time and I always did all my homework on time. I was always trying to take care of school, even when we were traveling and things like that. I was able to do well and I ended up having all A’s in my classes at UTRGV.”

With Laitinen’s student visa, he will be able to work full time in the U.S. for a period of one year after graduation under a program called Optional Practical Training (OPT).

“It’s kind of a like an extended internship, if you will,” the UTRGV graduate said. “It gives you the option to stay here and get work experience and at the same time get to know what real life is like.”

Laitinen works at Bert Ogden BMW in McAllen as a client adviser. However, since the work permit is temporary, he is required to obtain a sponsorship from the company if he wishes to stay employed.

Patrick Fralick, general sales manager at Bert Ogden BMW in McAllen and Laitinen’s boss, said it is the first time that the branch office employs an international student under an F-1 visa and even though they have had employees from Mexico, Venezuela, and other countries in South America, he is the first employee they have had from Finland.

Fralick said Laitinen has been a great asset for the company, especially because he is always trying to learn and progress as an employee and as a person.

“He is a very courageous person,” Fralick said. “Not a lot of people would travel across the world to pursue a career or an education. He is a great individual. He’s got a real smart head on his shoulders, he picks up on things really quickly. He’s never said ‘no’ when presented with different tasks, always excited about learning more and moving forward.”

Regardless of what happens in the near future, Laitinen plans to acquire a master’s degree in business administration.

“I definitely plan to stay here in Texas,” Laitinen said. “At work, there’s always competition for job openings, so you never know where you are going to end up going. Right now, I can’t think of a place where I want to stay, but definitely in Texas. Not sure if South Texas, but I want to stay in Texas after I get my master’s and work in a large company, kind of like in the management field.”

As an international student and a former UTRGV soccer player, Laitinen has had the opportunity to visit many states but Texas is still his favorite place.

“I love the weather here, the palm trees, but the most important thing is people,” Laitinen said. “People are great here. They are really friendly and helpful; it feels like a second home to me.”

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