I was surprised at the internationality evident at UTA when I first arrived, as well as 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. However, sometimes it is easy to feel segregated within the university due to language barriers and cultural differences. 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.
Before I moved to Finland 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. Learning some Finnish can help us to avoid making mistakes and enrich our cultural experiences here. Perhaps it can be difficult to see the benefits of learning Finnish for those living in Finland temporarily, although I also think it’s something to add to our CVs.
Student associations’ use of Finnish can limit the participation of international students, but of course they cannot be expected to always use English. Even though international and exchange students are a relatively large group within the university, we can sometimes be forgotten about. I have felt encouraged after seeing events advertised in both Finnish and English, but when I attended some of them I realised that they were only in Finnish and I couldn’t understand much. Of course it is understandable that some events will only be held in Finnish (we are living in Finland, after all!).
I believe it is important that the voices of internationals are heard. I would like to help international students integrate into the university community and Finnish society, and encourage Finland to become more open for international people. For this reason I chose to run as a candidate in Tamy’s Representative Elections last year. It may be considered demanding, time-consuming and expensive to expect the university to provide information in English all the time and of course it is very important that the university continues to speak Finnish. However, as well as being encouraged to participate we should be provided with resources that enable us to participate. The university accepted us as international students and we have just as much right to participate as other students. I think that the situation is improving and can be developed further by more international students who try to break the barriers and who embrace these challenges.
The writer is a British international student in her first year of studying the Master’s Degree Programme in Global and Transnational Studies.