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Corner cabinet: Challenging the island syndrome

Tampere is my third “home city" in Finland and after living here for more than one year, I already feel that the city is partly mine. However, only here in Tampere could I experience something I have never experienced before in Finland: sometimes in the bank, some offices or even shops, I have felt suspiciousness suddenly lowering between me and my interlocutor like a transparent wall.

Courtesy phrases sound rather offensive when they are said quickly to deal with me as rapidly and with as less bother as possible. “I am really sorry ... but I am just following the procedure, and since you are a continental European ...". Yeah, I always forget that Finland is an island on the edge of civilisation and the rest of the world is somewhere there, beyond the seas. My accent, my darker aspect often betray me as ‘outlandish’ and thus suspicious.

I understand it. It is not racism. Not yet, at least. It is a sort of natural ‘intolerance’ which comes with the unknown and unexpected. Unlike Helsinki and its metropolitan area which experienced this earlier, Tampere is the biggest Finnish city to face this sudden internationalisation of society.

Most of the people did not expect us but here we are, for many reasons. One of the reasons is studying, since Finland and Tampere have good and renown universities. I know that we foreigners can be a nuisance: we are outside the system. Finland is a very organised society, we do not know how it works and we often clash with its mechanisms. Yet, we just need some time and people patient enough to help us with the first shocks. And do not put us all into the same lot! We are all ndividuals with specific needs: many people like me come to study and learn the most from Finland to return the favour now and in the future.

The internationalisation of society is always praised as beneficial and preferable. I fully agree: it is enriching! Yet it also needs action, otherwise it remains just a word. Tamy has already taken a few steps towards this goal, translating bulletins, news and documents in order to make them available for foreign students who already represent 1/10 of its members.

I know some student associations are doing the same to include international students in their activities. In my opinion, communication, interaction, partaking and sharing are the best ways to express the best of all of us and to not seclude us from each other. It is demanding both for the host and the guests but in the long term, it will make us feel as a part of the same community, starting from the University.

Stefano de Luca
The columnist is a member of TamyÂ’s council of representatives

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  1. spiderman (20.11.10, kello 14:45)

    You say that "internationalisation of society is always praised as beneficial and preferable", but fail to mention by whom. Your use of the word "always" comes into contrast with a recent study presented in HSanomat, showing that the amount of people between 20 and 24 years old who would vote for the True Finns has tripled in just two years (14% in total). This category of the population is generally the one which tends to be in its great majority and in most OECD countries, very much on the left of the political spectrum. A majority of them (28%) still consider in fact voting for the Finnish green party.
    As a foreigner in Finland I have noticed the difference in how I am treated with respect to my situation in the country. When I had no work and went to Kela and Työvoimatoimisto, they looked at me as if thinking:"yet another one we are going to have to feed with taxpayer money". When I came back to show my new contracts, meaning I would start paying taxes, I received sincere smiles and honest best wishes.
    I do not think that Finns are intolerant, they have a well functioning society and they just would like to keep it that way. It is also up to us immigrants to show that we are not living here to be a burden in Finnish society but that we actually want to contribute making this place such a nice country to live in. It is shameful to speak of Finland in this way, you do not realise your luck.

  2. Gabriel Herrera (22.11.10, kello 21:58)

    The rise of the conservative right-wing is indeed a trent withing the OECD countries. It is remarcable however how many of the people that vote for them based on their tight stance on immigration never consider or even accept the other side of the coin. They would make comming to Finland difficult, but naturaly Finns would be able to travel without restrictions. It would be ridiculous to have it any other way wouldn't it? We know how to behave ourselves!

    Of course we don't! We are just as much foreigners clashing with the systems of other cultures we move to as the immigrants we have here. To claim otherwise would be tantamount to demanding the return of colonialism and claiming western supremacy over others.

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