Finnish Studies, housed in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto, is the largest, most comprehensive, and most highly regarded program dedicated to the study of Finnish language and culture in North America. It was established in 1989 as a result of an innovative partnership between U of T, the Finnish government, and the Canadian Friends of Finland (CFF), a not-for-profit organization committed to promoting friendship, understanding and cooperation between the people of Canada and Finland.
In October in 1990, the President of the Republic of Finland, Dr. Mauno Koivisto, visited the University of Toronto as part of his official visit to Canada . On this occasion, the University’s Provost’s Office announced its commitment to fund a “stipend teacher” in Elementary or Intermediate Finnish “as needed,” thus ensuring that the Program could offer the equivalent of four full courses per year.
In 1990, the Canadian Friends of Finland established the Canadian Friends of Finland Education Foundation (CFFEF), a charitable organization, the for the sole purpose of raising funds for the Finnish Studies Program at the University of Toronto.
The University then entered into an agreement with CFFEF according to which the Foundation agreed to contribute a certain percentage of the three-way partnership between the Government of Finland, the UofT and CFFEF.
A Centre of Excellence in Finnish Studies
The Finnish Studies Program’s reputation is earned by its consistent large enrollments, by its display of academic excellence and diversity, by its significant and meaningful contributions to the discipline of Finnish Studies and by its stimulating impact on the larger community in Ontario and Canada. (Centre for International Mobility, Finland, November 25, 2011)
Finnish Studies Program Overview
Finnish Studies, housed in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at U of T, is the largest, most comprehensive, and most highly regarded program of its kind in North America. The department offers courses in Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian – one of the broadest ranges of Slavic and Finno-Ugric languages, literatures and cultures taught in North America, and one of the most truly integrated.
Established in 1989 with the installation of distinguished scholar and translator Professor Börje Vähämäki, PhD as its Director, the Finnish Studies Program is the only fully accredited degree program in Finnish in Canada. An undergraduate Bachelor of Arts program, Finnish Studies provides instruction in the Finnish language – a three-year sequence together with a linguistics course and a translation course – and offers other courses on Finnish literature and culture, including one devoted to the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, in addition to very popular film and folklore courses. Students also have the option of minoring in Finnish Studies, of auditing Finnish Studies courses or selecting them as electives. In 2009, as Dr. Vähämäki retired, Assistant Professor Pia Päiviö, PhD, assumed the Program Directorship until 2013, when Dr. Vähämäki, was called upon to serve as an interim professor for one year. In 2014 The Program welcomed Dr. Anu Muhonen as Assistant professor and Program director. Professor Muhonen has championed fresh ideas and dynamic reforms, propelling the Finnish Studies Program to further excellence.
From 1989 to 2012, the Finnish Studies Program has graduated more than 25 majors, several dozen minors, and has served well over 1000 students. Currently, the program averages 60-80 students and 5-10 auditors per year. Interestingly, Finnish Studies attracts a higher percentage of auditors compared to other programs in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Often mature students, auditors do not receive credits, but do all the work required to complete the courses they take. Lifelong learners, auditors bring a diverse set of perspectives that enrich the classroom experience.
As the program grew in numbers, so too did its reputation, such that in 2011, it was recognized by the Finnish Government’s Centre for International Mobility (CIMO) as a Centre of Excellence in advancing the study of Finnish language and culture abroad. A significant measure of Finnish Studies’ success can be ascribed to Professor Börje Vähämäki, PhD, Director since the program’s inception to 2009, and significant enhancements by Assistant Professor Pia Päiviö, and most recently dynamic streamlining by the current incumbent Program Director, Anu Muhonen, PhD.