Briefly on intercultural interaction in Finland

‘When cultures meet…’

Human life on earth can not be described without a migration story. As clouds travel without limitations, the wind crosses borders, ideas fly across the minds, humans as well, repeats the natural tradition of moving from one place to another. It is a joy, it is a new adventure, it is a pain, it is a sense of life, or it is the only way to stay alive. According to the ​UN​, some people move in search of labor or economic opportunities, to join family, or to study. Others move to escape conflict, persecution, or human rights violations. Still, others move in response to the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters, or other environmental factors. While many individuals migrate out of choice, many others migrate out of necessity. There are approximately 68 million forcibly displaced persons, including over 25 million refugees, 3 million asylum seekers and over 40 million internally displaced persons.

Migration in Finland
Finland has been a country of emigration (People in Finland were moving to other countries) until the 1970s. According to Korkiasaari and Söderling (1998), Finland accepted its first refugees from Chile, an event that marked the beginning of Finland’s refugee policy in 1973. Over the next decade, Finland accepted further refugees from Latin America and Vietnam, and from 1986 onwards, the country began to regularly receive refugees. The 1980s showed an increase in immigration to Finland, which resulted due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Civil war in Yugoslavia, and refugees coming from Asia and Africa (Korkiasaari & Söderling, 1998). The beginning of the 1990s can be considered the genesis of mass immigration to Finland.

Migrants and the SDGs
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes for the first time the contribution of migration to sustainable development. 11 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contain targets and indicators that are relevant to migration or mobility. The Agenda’s core principle is to “leave no one behind,” including migrants.
The SDGs’ central reference to migration is made in target 10.7: to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies. Other targets that directly reference migration mention trafficking, remittances, international student mobility and more. In addition to this, migration is indirectly relevant to many more targets across topics, says UN, Migration.

When cultures meet
Given many sides of migration, acculturation (cultural transformation) is an important matter for migrants as well as for the receiving society. It is assumed that, every human being carries both dynamic (changing) and essential (fixed) set of culture: behavioral settings, mentality, language – a software of the mind that may differ from other human beings. For example;
In Central Asia, it is not common to open the received presents immediately in front of the presenter, instead, opening is done later at home, to not let the presenter feel uncomfortable (if the present is too simple), as well as due to the understanding that the present itself is less important than the presenters good intention and attitude. However, in many parts of Europe, what commonly done is, people usually open the present right in front of the presenter and show gratitude immediately. Both are beautiful and both rely on certain background reasonings. That difference requires an appropriate introduction, encounter, and exchange. If done properly, this might result in interest, learning, understanding the beauty of diversity.
Therefore, despite the old one-sided approaches that claim acculturation is only about migrants adaptation, there are now more holistic approaches recognize that it is at least a two-way process where both the migrant and the receiving society play an important role.

Receiving society’s role
This is an important aspect for many developed countries to reach social cohesion and prevent exclusion. Its role starts with a legislation that treats fairly, institutions that promotes and practice equality, media organizations that do not regularly cherry-pick negative stories on migrants, society with knowledge, experience and neutral attitude if not positive, as well as the individual level, where the person tries to get out of the prejudice if any and interested to learn about people, cultures, about how common or different approaches to life people may have. In a recent study, it has been said that the more prejudice the person has towards a certain people, the more negative is the attitude or expectation (​Nshom & Khalimzoda, 2019)

Newcomers role
A crucial part of the life of every person moving to another place is to be deeply aware that the new place has its own (familiar and accepted) culture, history, and tradition. And whatever the circumstance is, a person should try continuously to read about the culture, observe, meet and ask the people. Not asking the fellow immigrant friend, but asking the local one for their understanding of the things around, the way they think and do certain things. Trying to learn the receiving country’s language, making new local friends, asking them advice and active participation in society is a way to start. That may give a self-reflection, when a newcomer starts to realize his own cultural patterns and begin to adjust, to negotiate within himself what is best, which is best to take in each cultural domain. There is a lot to emphasize on the role of the society and the newcomers, but here is the limit for this piece.

Living Human Library in Jyväskylä
Emphasising the role of both sides in cultural transformation, UN Association of Jyväskylä (JyYK) in partnership with The Society for the Study of Ethnic Relations and International Migration (ETMU), organised a ​living library event​ to bring Finnish community members from different backgrounds together. As a live book, an asylum seeker from Iraq, a ​refugee from Turkey ​and​ student from Pakistan who came for studies shared their personal story of migration. How it was alike coming to Finland, what shocked them, have they met their expectations and do they see their future in Finland was the core dynamics of their talk. Apart from that, participants listening to each live book in a circle actively asked questions, and that has facilitated understanding some reasons why migration happens and what people may experience during that time. All participants came to a big circle at the end to share their thoughts about what they have learned and why there is a need for this kind of interactions, where people sincerely listen to each other. The friendly atmosphere, conversations around the tea and coffee, getting some food for thought has left the impression that living libraries will happen more.

Ilkhom Khalimzoda
Vice board member,
UN Association of Jyväskylä
Published on September 6 at

Nshom, E., Khalimzoda, I. (2019). Prejudice and acculturation preferences towards Russian immigrants in Finland, Migration, and Development. rds-russian-immigrants-in-finland/
Khalimzoda. (2018). The magnitude of Contemporary Turkish Refugees.
Korkiasaari, J., & Söderling, I. (1998). Finland: From a country of emigration into a country of immigration. In I. Söderling (Ed.), A changing pattern of migration in Finland and its surroundings (pp. 7-28). Helsinki: Population Research Institute.
Khalimzoda, I. (2017). Are you confused about integration and assimilation? Retrieved from ​
UN migration, 31.07.2019, retrieved from
UN Association of Jyvaskyla Events. ​

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