11/5/2021 | Author: Ali Vatanshenas and friends
Together Is Better
I arrived in Finland in the worst of times: the middle of winter, in January! It was too cold, snowy and a severe storm was promised the next day. International officer in the university was kind enough to warn me about the storm. Nevertheless, I woke up the next day and walked the whole city under the settled down storm with my exhaustion left from the long trip. This is one of my best memories, which brings a smile to my face whenever I think about it. So much has happened since that stormy day, and I have gone through many ups and downs which helped me to get to know myself and my environment better.
A few years ago, I chose Tampere to study and work, and this year Tampere chose me as its Ambassador. Based on my experience, I felt the need and duty to write about one of the most ambiguous and challenging aspects of immigration: integration. I decided to share my own story, but after typing a few lines I realised it is a very difficult subject to write about. I felt I am not the right person to talk about me. So, I reached out to my friends and asked them to show me to myself and share their points of view regarding integration within Finnish society. Thankfully, my friends accepted my request and shared their opinions with us which you can find in the following:
Make new friends
I met Ali and his friend when I was running around the Suolijärvi in Hervanta. They asked me about any suitable place to set a fire for grilling. I was a bit worried about it, so I showed the nearest grilling place I knew on the map of my phone. As we were talking and walking along the path, I found out they were both studying and working at my old university. We ended up meeting again and soon we were doing lots of things together from playing football to deep discussions about the economy, philosophy, work, etc. Ali is a very easy person to talk to and he got some of his first Finnish lessons from my kids when they taught him colours in Finnish during a board game at my place. We are happy to notice his Finnish skills improve day by day.
It’s a funny coincidence that about a year after we originally met, we were walking around the same area where we met for the first time and noticed the smell of burning ground and followed it to a part of the strand where there was no path next to it. Someone had made a fire the previous day and now it was slowly spreading underground. Luckily there was an empty juice box that we filled about 20 times to put out the smouldering fire. We reported the fire being extinguished and continued one of our many walks together.
Nonverbal communication is more important than verbal communication
Based on my experience, people who need integration into Finnish culture are normally clever, brave, and highly educated. In my opinion, most of them need equal opportunities, good things to do and understanding in a good way. Since integration is a process no one can do alone.
I remember having good conversations with Ali during lunch breaks in the university. One of my favorite discussions with Ali has been culture. What is different and what is the same? Actually, I am amazed how much we have in common compared to differences! Human beings are quite similar everywhere. Even though we are like “products of our cultures”, basic needs and dreams are shared between almost all the people in the world. If thinking about integration, we should exploit this fact.
I am not surprised that in the Finnish integration policy, learning the Finnish language is a very important point. I agree that when you know the language you have better chances to communicate with local people. However, nonverbal communication helps immigrants to see our culture in a new, “richer”, perspective. For instance, having common lunch breaks is a good way to start to build our common culture. Talking is also good but first, you can let the food speak. We need less isolation and strict positions and more understanding and delicious meals!
Meet new people via sports activities
One hears often said that Finnish people are introverted. Somewhat gloomy, shy and not sociable with foreign people. This might hold some truth when we are compared to people from other countries by only taking a glance at our basic behaviour. However, deep down I believe that we are like any other people – we don’t value people’s backgrounds, we value people, their personalities, interests, talents, and friendship.
This is why it is so easy for me to write about Ali and use him as an example. My short description of him would be “a genuine and nice guy with a top-tier attitude”. We first met when Ali came to practice with the football team, I was playing in. From the start, he came across as an all-around friendly and enthusiastic guy. He didn’t seem to have any problem training with a team where most – if not all – other players spoke Finnish and he even stood out with his above-average technique. Maybe you had to pay some extra attention and explain to him in English what “puolustaminen” (defending) means as he liked to hang out up-field and score a lot but that’s okay.
It didn’t take too long before we had chatted enough to find out that he had come to Finland to study in the same university I was studying in and that we were both studying civil engineering. This gave us a mutual topic to discuss – however, we usually focus a lot more on football – and although we don’t share the same courses in school, we always have a chat when running into each other at the campus. I have enjoyed Ali’s friendship since meeting him and I’m grateful to my hobby for enabling me to meet such a positive guy. Most of my other foreign contacts here in Tampere have also come from my hobby of playing football or studying at Tampere University and as a generalization I think that sports and other hobbies where you get to meet like-minded people are a great way of bringing people together – immigration at its best.
Break the ice before it melts
I know Ali since the early days he joined our unit at Tampere University. Ali was a mystery for us for the early few months until he got the chance to present his story to the research group in the office on a Friday afternoon break. Ali gave us truly a big piece of himself. He was so inspired talking and describing his home country, his ambitions and dreams, his interests, and his motivation. His presentation was full of interesting photos of his family, friends, places, and traditional foods in Iran. He spoke so vividly about his interest in poetry and his homeland’s old culture. He told us the turning points that brought him to Finland to do research. It really made an impression on me and opened the world to another culture and tradition. But it was not just an overall cultural presentation, it was truly a trip to Ali’s life and the everyday life in Iran. It gave background and roots to Ali, so that we could see him, so that we could know him.
It’s not easy to be a stranger among new people you know nothing about. In my experience, Finnish people do not know how to chit-chat very well, so it might not be that easy to start a conversation with them. Vice versa, Finns might find it hard to start the conversation. Do not get me wrong, Finnish people are great when it comes to conversations about the true stuff in life, experiences, emotions, and the things you are struggling with. They are genuinely interested to get to know new people and have something in common to share with them. Conversation in general is a great tool of learning and finding out that despite the different roots, people sitting around the same table do not differ that much. Ali gave us all the colors of his life and I find that was the key for us to have the courage to approach and to get to know him better.
To conclude, I should mention that integration is not an overnight process and demands patience and hard work. There are moments that you will make mistakes, feel disappointed, tired, and lonely. This is normal and happens to many people. Sometimes even frogs have rainy days 😊. Instead, honour the struggle and remember it is good to be happy all the time, but you will always learn more on your bad days.
I should also add to my friends’ kind words that integration between foreigners and locals is a complex phenomenon and we are not social scientists. We just shared our thoughts with you. Therefore, since cases vary from one to another please do not consider it as a general recipe. Be bold and create your own story.
If you need any sort of assistance, my suggestion for you is to start from this website and other channels provided by the City of Tampere because we believe: TOGETHER IS BETTER!