Welcome Package

Feeling welcomed in Finland is linked on a great extent to the personal experience one has while
interacting with the locals.

It is also good to keep in mind reports from various scholars that positive social contact between the
host culture and international students is reflected in better academic achievement, a lower dropout
rate, better self-motivation, better usage of campus services, less alienation and homesickness,
a better sense of identity, greater satisfaction with courses, and greater enjoyment of university and
of life generally (Sovic 2009).

International Student’s Well-being: How Can We Contribute?

“For a human being there is nothing more terrible than a lack of response.” (M. Bakhtin)

Psychological research shows that self-determination – that is, the feeling that one has the necessary resources to lead one’s own life with autonomy – requires not only having a feeling of competence (ability) but also a sense of belonging and social support (Deci & Ryan, 2001). During a workshop that aimed at improving the situation of international students in different Finnish universities, some interesting ideas emerged that could be interesting to share.

One of the most frequent problems faced by international students in Finland is loneliness. This may sometimes be reinforced by the way Finnish people communicate and relate to others in general. For instance, newcomers in the country may interpret silence and the respectful distance shown by their hosts in the wrong way. The worst feeling that a person can have is not to exist to anybody. How does your unit welcome newcomers and introduce them to people, places and resources?

Florencia M. Sortheix, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki.

“Maybe this is related to Finnish society. What I wrote here is closed society but honest. What I meant by closed society is that the Finnish society they're a bit closed to the outside. They're kind of compact. They don't let foreigners in that easily. There's some kind of a fire wall if I can call it like that. There's some kind of, you know, there's a wall keeping some foreigners entering in.”

To promote a feeling of belonging

The lack of campus life and belonging to a certain campus ‘collectivity’ needs to be addressed. Universities should strengthen their campus activities or simply have a list of the different types of activities and clubs offered for foreigners in Helsinki. The staff guiding new students should introduce them to the student organizations of their field. Supervisors could expand areas of conversation to e.g. leisure time and help the students in contacting organizations and social networks (Voo, Tsemppi) to promote a feeling of belonging.

Another frequent difficulty is related to the variety and amount of information newcomers need to handle. Students in Finland are expected to have high levels of autonomy and initiative. However, too much autonomy and freedom of choice can create uncertainty and chaos, especially for students with other cultural backgrounds. The staff working with foreign students should not only provide them information but also help newcomers navigate through it. It is important to keep in mind that without guidance, new students and the staff quickly become lost; it is not enough to offer assistance upon arrival but on an on-going basis.

Some international students may be interested in volunteering. This could contribute to making them feel that they are worthwhile and have something to give back, too. A teacher or lecturer could think of an assignment which gives the students a sense of belonging to the programme, the campus and the university. Provide opportunities to ‘give back’: voluntary work for the faculty or the professors can make the students feel useful; even small tasks can be helpful.

The integration of international students is not a unidirectional process. Students who come to study in a new place should expect that it requires a huge amount of effort and initiative from their side to contact the local people and resources. Asking for and finding English courses and getting to know the language and working culture requires the Finnish quality known as “sisu” (persistence, willpower).

Florencia M. Sortheix, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki.

Examples from Helsinki region 

Below you'll find few examples of functions which welcomes and integrates students, families and professionals in Helsinki region. Helsinki Region Welcome Weeks gathers events targeted for international students organized by different actors. It is built around a core of featured events focusing on creating opportunities in relation to important issues such as housing, careers, language, education, leisure and networking. In addition, partners across the region are invited to enhance the programme with numerous events of varying content under the Welcome weeks umbrella.  By joining forces it is possible to achieve more.

Helsinki Region Welcome Weeks

Helsinki Region Welcome Weeks, annually in August and September, are a chance to discover the regional opportunities!

The Welcome Weeks invite internationals students, professionals and families living in the greater Helsinki region to a number of events whose aim is to open up the regional opportunities for better integration and participation in the community.

Check out the details and full programme at www.welcomeweeks.fi and find just the right event for you! For instance, you can get well acquainted with the Finnish labour market and career opportunities, find a place to live temporarily or permanently, and discover the hidden gems and pearls of your city.

Søren Berg Rasmussen
Helsinki Region Welcome Weeks

Welcome to Jolly Dragon

Building new networks in a new country is not an easy task for anyone. To help in this, the Jolly Dragon events community was started to integrate international newcomers into the Finnish society and help Finnish and international students understand each other better.

What does JD do?

Jolly Dragon helps international people to build social networks in Helsinki by creating events. With more than 7,000 contacts, Jolly Dragon has become one of the largest social communities in Helsinki.

Small things to help international students

Our weekly events include the Language Exchange event, where people can learn and teach different languages without a teacher and actually use the language they are interested in. Wednesday and Saturday are common days for networking events; for example, Wednesday’s Weekly Welcome has been around for seven years now.

Other activities include wine & cheese nights, karting, yoga, squash, swimming, ten-pin bowling, salsa nights etc.

We meet every Tuesday at JD HQ, Kaisaniemenkatu 6A. Whether you need a summer work placement, want to volunteer, or learn to be a master at Lifestyle or Big Social Impact, drop in for our Open Day!

More info:
http://www.jollydragon.net/

Sources of information:

Dragos Ciulinaru: Beyond Studies: Struggles And Opportunities - Perspectives on International Student’s Settlement in Finland, 2010
Interviews with Florencia M. Sortheix, Søren Berg Rasmussen and Paul Brennan