International students study Finnish as a second language as a part of their degree so that they hopefully get employed in Finland after graduation. A deeper understanding of the Finnish culture through cultural activities helps in cultural adaptation, creates important networks to Finnish companies and organizations and contributes to students’ well-being during studies. International students are also an important customer segment regionally that companies should become more aware of.
Author: Jaana Häkli
Finnish courses taught to international students at LUT & LAB Language Centre focus on language learning and weak Finnish skills are not enough to understand Finnish culture and society on a deeper level. In addition to degree students many incoming exchange students want to learn more about Finland and maximize their cultural experience during their short stay in Finland.
TalentHUB South Karelia -project produced a course called Finnish Culture and Society in co-operation with local companies and organizations to meet the objectives stated by the Finnish Ministry of Education to enable for international students a better integration into Finland during their studies and into Finnish work life during their internships and after graduation. Finland is lacking employees in many industries and the Finnish Government has set the goal that the number of international students in Finland should be tripled. Now international students are also allowed to work more during their studies and with their new residence permit they have automatically two years’ time after graduation to find employment here (Bogdanov 2022). At present 56 per cent of graduates from universities of applied sciences and 43 per cent of graduates from a university want to stay in Finland after graduation, but this figure would be higher if graduates found work here. (Juusola et al. 2021, 25.) Research conducted in South Karelia (Virsinger 2020) found out that most companies are interested in employing international talents, but the lack of company contacts and networks, the weak understanding of fundamental features of the Finnish work life as well as understanding of our values and traditions is lacking among many international students.
The course of Finnish Culture and Society focuses on teaching international students in English about the history of Finland, our values and features of the welfare state, cultural traditions as well as more specified topics such as the Finnish work life, Finnish design and sustainability thinking. The course ends up giving answers to the mind baffling question – why are Finns repeatedly the happiest nation in the world in international surveys? The course was piloted with a group of 30 students in 2021, but the implementation starting in January 2022 has attracted already over 130 students from LAB University of Applied Sciences and LUT University. It has been wonderful to see how project work matters and students’ real need to understand the country has been met.
Cultural activities boost language learning and cultural adaptation
The innovative aspect of the course has been the co-operation with companies and cultural operators in South Karelia and Päijät-Häme regions. As a part of the course all students are obliged to participate in at least 3 cultural activities based on their own interests in their region but also in popular touristic regions in Finland, to document their visits properly and to reflect on their experiences in an essay. This has made students active consumers of services in the regions, but the visits have also created new networks and deeper cultural experiences to international students. Course contents include also English-Finnish vocabulary lists connected with the theme and hence words such as suurruhtinaskunta (Grand Duchy), jatkosota (Continuation War), mämmi (Finnish Easter pudding of sweet malts), laskiaispulla (Shrove Tuesday bun) or lapsilisä (child allowance) extend students’ vocabulary in Finnish and activate them to learning Finnish independently which in long-term will increase their employment in Finland. (Antikainen et al. 2020, 127). The course feedback gathered from the pilot course stated very clearly how students felt that understanding Finland better helped them a lot in their cultural adaptation to a new country they have moved to. Moreover, students with families stated how they involved their entire family into the activities and how e.g. links in study materials made them familiar with sources that family members might need for non-study related life in Finland. This kind of cultural adaptation leads to better integration in Finland in the long term (Juusola et al. 2021, 37).
From elk hunts to knitting and baking Christmas tarts
Students documented with pictures and videos their visits in various museums, touristic attractions, national parks, or Finnish forests, on an organic farm, sports and culture events or their participation in sports’ teams training sessions etc. All activities did not include co-operation with work life as students were also given a possibility to enrich their experience in Finland based on their own interests. It was wonderful to see how a Kenyan student skating for the first time ever was like a Bambi on ice from the famous Disney movie, how a German student participated in an elk hunt organized by a local hunting club, an Iranian student with her family had an overnight stay in an open shelter in a Finnish national park and had learnt to identify ceps and trumpet chanterelles and prepared them for delicious dishes. Overall recipes provided to typical Finnish foods became very popular – oven baked salmon, cinnamon buns and Christmas tarts have been made a lot in student dormitories.
Many students really stepped outside of their comfort zones by completing the cultural activity of their choice. First experiences with nudity in the sauna have been both eye opening and memorable but also frightening experiences to those students who have come from cultures where nudity is a taboo. Some students wrote in their essays how they felt that they violated their cultural identity by participating in something completely new and different. On another note, these cultural activities have encouraged international students to network with the locals and to be active in their free time. Students’ wellbeing has been challenged during the pandemic and these activities have brought them moments of fun to their everyday lives.
Potential clients and co-operation opportunities for companies
Most popular cultural experiences, however, were related to Finnish gastronomy and by visits to local restaurants international students have contributed to the challenging times in the hospitality industry in a positive manner. International students have been frequent visitors in Lemi where they have enjoyed the traditional lamb roast in various restaurants, or they have tasted Runeberg’s cakes or Lappeenranta’s meat pasties filled with ham and egg at different cafes in town. The most positive impact of the project’s co-operation with local companies and organizations has been that they have introduced student prices if they did not have one earlier and they have updated their websites with information in English. Students have purchasing power, but it is limited due to a lower income, and it is important that companies remember this as well. Consequently, many entrepreneurs now have become aware of how many international students representing different nationalities study at Lappeenranta and Lahti campuses and this awareness has also resulted in new co-operation projects with work life.
Antikainen, M., Deseille, E. & Iso-Heiniemi, E. 2020. Töihin Suomeen: uraohjausta ja suomen kieltä kansainvälisille tutkinto-opiskelijoille. Teoksessa: Stenberg, H., Antikainen M., Lintala, E. & Roivas, M. (Edited.). Yhdessä kohti osaajien Suomea – oivalluksia maahanmuuton vastuukorkeakoulutoiminnasta. Helsinki: Metropolian Ammattikorkeakoulu. TAITO-sarja 63. 126-143. Cited 1 March 2022. Available at https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-328-253-7
Bogdanov, J. 2022. Ulkomaalaisia opiskelijoita koskevaan lainsäädäntöön on tulossa isoja muutoksia – tavoitteena saada valmistuneet jäämään Suomeen. Cited 31 March 2022. Available at https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-12298011
Juusola, H., Nori H., Lyytinen A., Kohtamäki V., Kivistö J. 2021. Ulkomaiset tutkinto-opiskelijat Suomessa. Helsinki: Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö. Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön julkaisuja 2021: 14.
Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö. 2019. Kansainvälisten korkeakouluopiskelijoiden maahantuloja integroituminen sujuvaksi yhteistyöllä. Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön julkaisuja 2019: 31.
Virsinger P. 2020. South Karelian Employers’ Needs and Intention to Hire International Workforce. Cited 31 March 2022. Available at https://www.monikampusfinland.fi/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Imatra_Survey_Patricia-Virsinger.pdf
Jaana Häkli works as a Senior lecturer in LAB University of Applied Sciences and as an expert of TalentHUB South Karelia.
Illustration: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1401136 (CC0)
Reference to this article
Häkli, J. 2022. Deeper cultural experiences from Finland. LAB Pro. Cited and date of citation. Available at https://www.labopen.fi/lab-pro/deeper-cultural-experiences-from-finland/