Before I moved to Finland I was worried about what it would be like living in a place with far less ethnic and cultural diversity than New Zealand. Auckland, my home city, is one of the most diverse in the world, with 39% of our population born overseas and 220 different ethnic groups recorded as living there. Being one of only a handful of Pākehā on the packed Dominion Road bus is what feels normal and “home” for me. Finland doesn’t have the same history of immigration, and the majority (93.4% as at 2014) of inhabitants are ethnic Finns. The capital city Helsinki is much more multicultural than Oulu, where I live in the north. I’m happy to say that I need not have worried so much, because the friendship family we are forming in our class of 20 has 19 different nationalities represented. Every class discussion, shared meal and party develops our intercultural awareness and expands our perspectives. It is a privilege and joy to be a part of such a group and to learn so much from each of its members.
One of the readings we have been assigned for our Orientation to the Finnish Culture and Education Systems is Katri Jokikokko’s article on the role of significant others in the intercultural learning of teachers. Katri is a graduate of the Intercultural Teacher Education programme at the University of Oulu, which is a five year master’s degree in primary teaching. (All teachers need to have a master’s research degree in Finland). The ITE programme’s aim is to respond to the challenges posed by multiculturalism in the Finnish education system and provide competences for international tasks in the field of education. I would love to study the ITE course but I already have a teaching qualification, and I think if I’m going to dedicate another five years to study after my MA I should probably just do my PhD!
The article is interesting because it is compiled from data taken from ten biographical interviews in which Finnish teachers talked about their lives through the lens of intercultural learning. Their reflections often involved other significant people who played an important role in the development of their intercultural awareness and shifting attitudes towards diversity. While I had a range of questions, some of them critical, about the research, it was helpful for me to reflect on my own life’s journey and the role that significant others have played in it.