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Getting to know Finland and the Finns

At Aalto, international employees are invited to events and courses to help them settle in.
The ex-ambassador of the United States, Bruce Oreck, recalls his early experiences of Finland at the Experiencing Finland event.

Roughly one in three of academic faculty at Aalto University come from outside Finland. Starting work in a new country is often a leap into the unknown. Even if the work itself is familiar, and the immediate working community is international, everything outside work is different: working spaces, transport, your home, running errands, the language, culture and habits. New arrivals often do not come alone, but are accompanied by a spouse and children. Settling in and adapting to being in Finland is a major factor in being happy and successful at work.

Experiencing Finland every half-year

Experiencing Finland events are arranged for new arrivals at Aalto twice a year in cooperation with the University of Helsinki. This autumn, the welcome event was organised at Aalto University’s Design Factory, and there were 60 new arrivals present.

Among the speakers was the previous American Ambassador Bruce Oreck, who told about how he experienced the move to Finland and how he got to know Finnish people. Mr Oreck clearly settled in successfully since after his period as ambassador he stayed on to teach entrepreneurship, among other things, at Aalto University. The audience also heard about the Finnish winter and tasted Finnish delicacies such as salty liquorice and “leipäjuusto”; a Finnish curd cheese. The next Experiencing Finland event is planned for March.

One of the people at the event was Maryam Hanifpour, an Iranian postdoc researcher of applied physics who came to Finland last March.
‘At the beginning I was taken aback by the weather and how quiet Finns are.  Experiencing Finland, and the ‘Family Friends’ Aalto put me in touch with, have helped me to understand Finnish and to feel welcome.  It is safe and free in Finland and Aalto University values multiculturalism and takes good care of us’, enthuses Ms Hanifpour.

Visiting places with Aalto Club

Aalto University also supports settling in and integration with its overall ‘Feeling at home’ programme which offers information, support, opportunities for networking and events.

Everyone at Aalto is welcome to join in Aalto Club’s activities and the idea is to introduce issues and places that are important to Finns. Club members have gone to Christmas concerts, visited Parliament House, the fortress of Suomenlinna and the Nuuksio National Park. In November, a group of 30 people braved the ice-hockey game between the HIFK and Porin Ässät teams.

The ‘Family Friends’ initiative also promotes people’s enjoyment of Finland. A colleague from Aalto and their family take a family that has moved to Finland as friends and even invites them to their home for dinner.

Lots of language and culture courses

Learning to speak the language is obviously an important part of settling down in a new country. Aalto arranges its own courses for those studying Finnish or they can take part in courses organised by other universities.

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