The infamous Finnish KKK chap made it to the international headlines earlier this week, and the whole Finland was cast into a panic of epic proportions. Well, not really. But it certainly started debates in Finland on racism, Finland’s reputation in the world, and our national identity. In his recent blog post Jari Tervo, a prominent Finnish author, claimed racists to be white trash, and after a few hours of its publication a reply was posted in Savon Sanomat. Meanwhile Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences announced it is considering launching a program for refugees to help them get employed and integrate to Finland.
So it seems there are two discussions going on in Finland right now: on the one hand, people are debating whether Finland should open its borders for refugees or not, and on the other hand companies, individuals, and educational institutions are figuring out how to help them. For Finland, this is a tremendous opportunity: first, we can show to the international community that we value and respect our past and what other countries – especially Sweden – did to us when we were in a dire situation, and second, Finland is suddenly facing a massive pool of brilliant new ideas! Universities, as birthing grounds for new ideas, should embrace this opportunity.
But before I continue, let’s get some things straight:
- Refugees are people with desires, hopes, passion to realize their dreams
- Racism cannot be equated with pure hatred: more often than not it is based on fear, uncertainty, lack of love and caring
As long as these two camps do not engage in a real dialogue based on empathy and respect, we are only left with negative emotions. Now is not the time to be judgmental or condescending: we need to take action based on empathy and respect.
Good. Let’s continue with two more points:
- Integration follows passion, not the other way round: think about it, would you feel like at home if someone tells you to do so, or is your home there where you can feel safe and pursue your dreams?
- Let’s face it, newcomers don’t have to be fluent in Finnish – or Swedish, for that matter – in order to creating a brighter future for Finland. Of course no one is stopping that from happening, but we shouldn’t restrain passion and desire to do things with language skills. Finnish is not a secret code, just a language among other languages. What is more, Finnish identity doesn’t diminish from this, but instead it makes it stronger.
With these points in mind, what can universities do to help the newcomers? I think Haaga-Helia’s initiative is good in the sense that its proactive, and other universities should build on it. Multidisciplinary education programs could be super promising spaces for this as they are already inclusive to different backgrounds and ideas. In my opinion, educational activities shouldn’t be directly about helping the newcomers to integrate to the society, but instead they should provide people with skills and connections to realize their dreams. Once this happens, integration also happens as a by-product.
Whatever form this idea takes, it is crucial to focus on doing. Finland has amazing resources to make this happen, so there really aren’t any real obstacles to this. What is more, this is a perfect opportunity for Finland to show the international community that we can lead the way in redesigning integration.
Your turn. What will you do?