With its #STAYinFinland campaign, EK has been vocal about supporting the employment of international students, but what’s it actually like to be an international intern at Eteläranta 10?
After a summer of hybrid work, intermittently sitting by the windows of Eteläranta 10 overlooking Kauppatori and watching the Suomenlinna ferry float by, it’s finally time to say goodbye to my colleagues at Elinkeinoelämän keskusliitto. With this goodbye, I would like to share some of my reflections as EK’s first international trainee.
Accommodating language differences
It was a double challenge: I was the first employee in the office not fluent in Finnish, and, as many new hires may relate, remote working made it more difficult to get a feel for the “normal” office culture.
While being a learning experience for all involved, from the beginning, EK made strides to be inclusive in their traditionally Finnish-language working environment. My team, Competence & Digitalization, or Osaaminen ja digi & HR (OODI), transitioned to English for our weekly meetings. Trying to figure out how to translate idioms or the long names of Finnish organizations always kept things interesting. Even topics wholly unrelated to me or my work were discussed in English, making a huge difference in my sense of community and my ability to learn more about my workplace and the society within which I live.
I’ve never felt as connected to Finnish society as when I could link what we spoke about in our weekly meetings to the stories that came on during the evening news.
Having these consistent check-ins, and receiving invitations to project groups, seminars, and external meetings from my team members and other EK colleagues kept me engaged and, on days when I worked from home, a little less lonely.
At the same time, organization-wide and external meetings were still mainly held in Finnish, apart from when my work was being addressed or when we were in break-out rooms. While EK will continue to consider how to approach language at work as future international students and employees join both EK and its member companies, I don’t think this was detrimental to my personal experience.
I’ve been learning Finnish since before I first arrived in 2019. Exposure to the language in working life has been important for me to get that practical experience that is so different from a classroom setting. While I certainly didn’t understand everything, pushing myself to try has been a valuable experience.
This also means that taking on international employees does not necessarily mean that a Finnish-language workplace must immediately halt all current activity. It’s all about adaptability and making space; reexamining what work can be done in English can go a long way, and presents an important first step.
However, what helped me to really reflect upon these experiences were the conversations I had with international students, graduates, and professionals as part of my work for EK and its #STAYinFinland campaign.
What does it mean to #STAYinFinland?
Writing an article series for EK’s #STAYinFinland campaign was one of my main projects during my internship. I also analyzed Finland’s talent attractiveness in comparison to other countries and contributed an international student’s perspective to the Oikotie Vastuullinen kesäduuni (The Responsible Summer Job) campaign, but working on the #STAYinFinland Campaign was my biggest project.
EK’s #STAYinFinland campaign aims to encourage companies to recruit from the ever-growing pool of international graduates in Finland. It also draws attention to the challenges international talent face in finding fair employment in Finland.
For the #STAYinFinland campaign, I interviewed currently employed international students in Finland and professionals from the International Business Club (EK’s network of high-level executives who moved to Finland to make career here).
Being able to head this aspect of the campaign, as an international student, was particularly important to me as I sought out a range of opinions and experiences to highlight. Centering the experiences of international students–their successes, challenges, and advice–as well as the professionals who have found success in Finland that can provide advice to those interested in leading change was important to me in this highly personal topic.
These interviews also allowed me to reflect on my own perspectives on international talent retention in Finland. With these different perspectives, potential solutions, and important nuances, I learned of new ways to talk about the issue. In fact, I found myself referencing what these interviewees said while reflecting on my own experiences at EK.
This project, and actually being able to help shape a workplace’s practices for future international employees reinforced my passion for this subject.
What can companies take away?
While this is not new, it should be reinforced: I think my colleagues at EK would agree with me when I say that it is possible to take on international students and a Finnish working language need not be seen as an insurmountable barrier.
International students are adaptable from the very fact that we all decided to move to a foreign country. If Finnish workplaces answer with their own adaptability, and take the steps to create an inclusive, open-minded environment–one in which the employee is able to voice successes and concerns openly–everyone stands to benefit.
I want to finish my internship by encouraging companies and organizations in Finland to consider what work can be done outside of Finnish; to implement fairer hiring practices, such as anonymous applications; to attend networking opportunities hosted by universities and organizations; and to amplify the voices of the international students and workers around whom so many conversations revolve when we talk about what it actually means to stay in Finland.