Integrating into Finland and learning Finnish

My interest in other languages and cultures originates from school back at home in Britain, when I studied French and German and participated in an exchange to Germany. During studying the International Baccalaureate I was given the opportunity to participate in another exchange to Germany. This led to my decision to study a Bachelor’s degree in International Development with Spanish at the University of Chester. During the third year of my degree I did a year abroad placement working in Melilla, a Spanish enclave surrounded by Morocco. I am now in my first year of studying the Master’s Degree Programme in Global and Transnational Studies at the University of Tampere (UTA).

When I first arrived here I was surprised at the internationality evident at UTA and the support and facilities provided for international students. I think studying here is a fantastic opportunity because I am meeting people of nationalities that I have never encountered before and learning about their countries and cultures.

I visited Finland several times before I moved here because my partner is Finnish, so I didn’t experience that much culture shock when I arrived. Before I moved here I was hoping to participate in a Finnish language course, but I thought I would have to pay for evening classes. However, I discovered that international students are able to participate in the Finnish language elementary courses offered by UTA for no extra cost and incorporate the credits we gain from them into our studies.

As English is considered a lingua franca and it is my native language, I am lucky enough to be able to use my native language when travelling to many other countries. Whilst it is useful, I think that the widespread use of English or other languages such as Mandarin and Spanish discourage native or fluent speakers from learning other languages. Therefore I want to make the most of the opportunity I have to learn Finnish whilst I am here. Sometimes I feel that people are shy to speak to me because I’m a native speaker and maybe they think that I might judge them, but actually through studying languages and living abroad I feel that I have at least some understanding of the struggles they involve. I’ve had next to no contact with native speakers since I’ve been here and my partner is not a native English speaker, so communicating with non-native speakers is my everyday reality now.

Lauren_1_photoLearning some Finnish can help me in everyday situations and enrich my cultural experience here. But, studying at a university whose primary language I cannot speak fluently is not without its challenges and sometimes it feels that Finnish and international students are separate in a way. However, I think that this is improving and can be developed further by more international students who try to break the barriers and who embrace these challenges.

I am not sure whether I will stay in Finland after my studies to continue living with my partner, or whether we will move to the UK together. Admittedly, although Finnish is not such a widely spoken language I can see the benefit of using it personally, for example to improve relations with my partner’s family and hopefully to teach it to our future family. For those who are surely only staying in Finland temporarily, perhaps it can be difficult to see the benefits of learning Finnish. However, I think many long-term benefits exist, such as something to add to your CV to show that you’re engaged, enthusiastic, motivated, and perseverant. In my opinion, I would like to take the opportunity to learn as many languages as possible, regardless of how widely used they are.

– Lauren

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