Text: Mirja Onduso
Photo: Merja Halivaara
Laughter and chatter in various languages filled TAMK’s cafeteria on a Friday evening in March when 59 international students from TAMK, TUT and UTA and 43 local Friend Families met each other for the first time over blueberry pie at TAMK.
– I was thrilled and eager to meet my friend family, said Hai Luong Dang, a first-year student from Tampere University of Technology (TUT).
Hai was one of the lucky international students studying in TUT, Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) or University of Tampere (UTA) to get a local friend family through the universities’ Friend Family Programme. His Friend Family is Mira Pihlström’s family.
The universities have been running the Friend Family Programme together for already six years, and this year a record number of 43 families got involved. Earlier the programme was coordinated by UNIPOLI staff; from this year onwards it will be TAMK’s responsibility.
The idea of the programme is to help international students integrate into Finnish way of life, and to offer families a chance to practice their foreign language and intercultural skills. TAMK arranges the first and the last meeting jointly to all participants, and the family-student pairs otherwise agree on how often to meet and what to do. The families and the students commit to the programme for one year – but may even become friends for life!
Most families ‘adopt’ one international student, some brave ones even two.
Exciting experience for both sides
Mira Pihlström was an exchange student in Spain during her own studies, so she knows how it is to live in another country.
– I like meeting people from different countries and learning about their cultures, and it’s never a bad thing to have more friends either, she said.
In her application, she wished to have a “social, humorous and chatty” student friend – and she got two social, humorous and chatty Vietnamese boys, who had never met each other even though they have both lived in Finland for almost one year.
– I didn’t know anything about Vietnam but they told me e.g. that the traffic is chaotic and that families are only allowed to have two children, Mira said.
Hai was also excited:
– Meeting Mira erased my preassumed thoughts that Finnish people are not so into small talk: she was so receptive to our conversation and it was a memorable experience. We talked a lot of many different things: life in Vietnam and for example Finnish life, food, traffic and law. We helped Mira to know a lot more about Vietnam, since she didn’t have any clues about our country before, said Hai.
Students may live here for 4-5 years without ever seeing a Finnish home
International students often find it difficult to integrate into the Finnish society and local activities. Many have said that they have lived in Finland for many years and have never been to a Finnish home or met other people than students: children, elderly or working people.
– My first meeting with my Friend Family is actually my first time ever talking to Finnish people outside the university and supermarket, said Hai.
The Friend Family Programme is open to TAMK, TUT and UTA students and any local families. Students may be selected for the Friend Family programme only once but families may act as Friend Families as many times as they wish!
Although most of the advertising is done through the universities, families don’t need to be related to the universities: any family interested in sharing their family experiences and learning about other cultures is welcome to apply. Also, all kinds of families are welcome: families with children or no children, large families or single-person families.
Both students and families have to apply for the programme. The application period is in January-March, and the programme runs in March-December.
The next application period for 2018 programme will be in January-March 2018. The instructions can be found on the UNIPOLI website.
Kauppi forests calling in May
Many international students are usually interested in nature – and they have often only heard stories of the Finnish summer cottages. Hai might or might not yet know that Mira’s family also has a summer cottage!
In May, TAMK usually arranges also a joint forest trip and sausage roasting in Kauppi forest for the families and students.
Before the forest walk, they have plans for May Day (in Finnish, vappu) celebration:
– I wait for more activity with my Friend Family. These weeks are very busy for us, the exam week. However, we are going to have a picnic after the exam. I hope the weather will be nice to us, wished Hai.
Hai, how was blueberry pie?
– I don’t remember, all my memory and attention was drawn into the conversation with Mira!
Text: Mirja Onduso
Photo: Merja Halivaara