On October 11th, 2014 Finnish Studies Program at the University of Toronto had honourable guests from Finland. His Excellency Sauli Niinistö, President of the Republic Of Finland visited the University as part of the State visit from Finland. His delegation included Mrs Jenni Haukio, Minister of Economic Affairs Jan Vapaavuori and a group of company representatives from Finland. Canadian Friends of Finland Education Foundation (CFFEF) was invited to attend this event.
The program included a panel discussion for a selected group of Canadian Finnish community members moderated by Professor Emeritus Börje Vähämäki. The topic of the panel discussion was “The Future of Finnish Studies in North America” in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Finnish Studies at the University of Toronto. CFFEF with the help of Anu Muhonen, assistant Professor of Finnish Studies at UofT, presented annual scholarships to eight students of Finnish Studies donated by our generous patrons. The recipients had the honour to shake hands with President Niinistö.
Afterwards a larger audience had a chance to follow a discussion between President Niinistö and Professor Janice Gross Stein, Director, Munk School of Global Affairs on the subject of “Current Developments in International Affairs”.
A truly memorable day for Canadian Friends of Finland.
What follows is the Finnish Studies Panel Discussion Transcript
The Future of Finnish Studies in North America
Panel discussion during the Official Visit of The President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö
at the University of Toronto on Friday, October 10, 2014
Moderator Professor Emeritus Börje Vähämäki,
Your Excellency, Mrs. Haukio, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are delighted to invite you all to a brief discussion of the Future of Finnish Studies in North America. As we celebrate 25 years of Finnish Studies at the University of Toronto it is a perfect moment to reflect on where we are today and to give serious consideration to what may lie ahead for Finnish Studies in the future, a future that changes continually and rapidly.
The time for this discussion is right.
Our discussion today will start with brief, prepared statements by our five panellist and when the last panellist has concluded his remarks will we open the discussion. We will then first offer His Excellency, President Niinistö, an opportunity to comment or ask questions, and then, as time may allow, the discussion will be open to others. To conclude the discussion, I will attempt, again very briefly, to bring the conversation to some conclusions.
Now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce our panelists:
Mr. Peter Auvinen, Honorary Consul of Finland in Toronto, Vice-President, Canada Finland Chamber of Commerce, Partner in the law firm Miller Thomson;
Professor Anu Muhonen, newly arrived Director of Finnish Studies at the University of Toronto;
Professor Sheila Embleton, former Vice President Academic, York University, President of the Canadian Friends of Finland Education Foundation;
Mr. Emmett Snyder, Finnish Studies undergraduate major, University of Toronto;
Mr. Juha Mikkonen, Vanier Scholar, PhD Candidate in Public Health and Equity, York University.
1. Mr. Auvinen, let me first congratulate you on your recent appointment to Honorary Consul of Finland in Toronto. “How does Finnish Studies look from your vantage point?”
Your Excellency President Niinistö, Honoured Guests,
I have been asked to comment on the relevance of the Finnish Studies Program from the perspective of the business community and in that regard I would like to offer two observations.
First, however, I think that it’s important for you to know that I am a second generation Finnish Canadian that understands Finnish rather well and speaks Finnish rather poorly – perhaps I should enrol in one of Professor Vahamaki’s classes. I have been on the Board of Directors of the Canada-Finland Chamber of Commerce for number of years and as a lawyer, I travel to Finland at least twice a year and am proud to call many of the large Finnish corporations doing business in Canada, my clients, and many of their executives my friends. I have a keen interest in Canada-Finland bi-lateral trade and investment and on October 28 I will be speaking to the Finnish Canadian Business Club in Helsinki about the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, generally known as CETA. I simply mention all of this to you for context.
My first observation is that the Finnish studies program is extremely important for the very simple fact that it makes people aware of Finland. While this might not sound like an overly significant contribution, it really is. Generally speaking the Canadian business community has always been focused on the United States and in recent years on the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China. In many ways, Finland is a well-kept secret and interest in Finland needs to be generated at every possible opportunity. While the program is a liberal arts program, and not a business program, it serves an important purpose simply by creating awareness about the existence of Finland. Without awareness, there can be no interest and, of course, without interest there can be no interaction. A number of years ago I worked with two English speaking Canadian business consultants who regularly traveled to Finland to work with Finnish companies that were exporting their products to Canada. I remember asking them how they came to be doing business in Finland. One of them said that he had a girlfriend in high school that was Finnish and that he had always been interested in Finland since meeting her Finnish family and relatives and, based on this interest, he and his partner had decided, many years later, to investigate business opportunities in Finland, and they actually found a very good one. It all started from simply being made aware of Finland, in their case, many years earlier. So awareness is very important.
My second observation is tied to the first and that is that I think that the Finnish Studies Program could usefully serve as a vehicle through which to promote Finland’s country brand – the whole idea of a “made in Finland” brand. As we all know, when we think of Germany we think of manufactured goods of the highest quality. When we think of Italy we think of great food and fashion. And when we think of Switzerland we think of high quality products like chocolate, swiss army knives and watches. We all know that Finnish companies make products that are every bit as good as German or Swiss products but the challenge is that large parts of the world don’t know this. In my day to day business life when I represent Finnish companies doing business with Canadian companies, I often hear compliments about the quality of the Finnish products and services which have been purchased. But I also hear Canadians say “I didn’t know that that company was from Finland”, or “I didn’t know that a Finnish company manufactured, a certain product.” Country brands can be powerful marketing tools for companies within countries and for their societies as a whole. The unique qualities of the “made in Finland” brand are something that could easily be woven into different aspects of the Finnish Studies Program to help to tell the story of Finnish product excellence.
2. Professor Muhonen, Our new Finnish Studies colleague. Congratulations on your appointment to Assistant Professor of Finnish Studies at the UofT. “You now have the Floor”
Your Excellency, Mrs Jenni Haukio, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
Studying language and culture are social processes and classroom activities need to be supported by learning in the real world. Using authentic materials is necessary in order to provide students with the best possible input. This requires closer contact with Finnish speakers and creates a need to apply technology in teaching and learning activities.
This autumn I have designed a curriculum where students work on a collaborative and culture based out-of-classroom research project meeting Finnish speakers in Toronto. We are also using blogging as a learning tool and for reflective learning practice. I have also invited Finnish expert speakers to my classes to give short talks relating to Finnish culture, literature, society, politics, and business. For the spring semester I will start collaborative Internet based e-learning projects. I will also have a student teacher tutoring my students online as a part of her Finnish teacher education.
All these collaborative exercises allow my students to engage in a meaningful and authentic interaction in the real world. Students need to see that Finnish lives outside the classroom and that it has a culture worth investing in. Culture based learning connects language into its history, literature, music and society. Learning becomes a comprehensive and holistic experience. I am very impressed with my enthusiastic and well-motivated students. We are getting good results in an inspiring collaborative teaching and learning practice.
All these practices and projects could easily be turned into a more continuous curriculum components. Yet, these plans and projects need resources and facilities. In addition, designing any sustainable long-term plans is challenging within a limited contract time.
In the future, I would like to work actively to recruit more heritage students because I think we should collaborate more with the community, and give back. It is never too late to return to your roots and I am sure that there are many students out there who have that dream. I would also like to search for collaboration with Canadian companies with Finnish or Scandinavian connections. University of Toronto can offer outstanding opportunities to educate students who have that little extra. Companies are already searching professionals with something extraordinary – multilingualism and multiculturalism as capital will be the next asset in a super diverse post-modern employment market.
As an assistant professor, one has both privileged and required to conduct research. Personally, I am very ambitions when it comes to my research. But I am concerned. To conduct good, innovative, high quality sociolinguistic and ethnographic research in requires resources, facilities and equipment.
When learning input and given challenges are in connection with learners’ preferences, strengths, inner motivation and aspirations, learning is promoted. I tell my students that language and cultural knowledge are resources, capital. I tell them that Finnish studies look good on their resumes. I tell them that in competition with other top candidates – who knows – perhaps the knowledge of Finnish language and culture can help just our students to get the top jobs and positions. I have certainly seen it happen many times in Sweden. If you have a first-rate academic education and you are multilingual – you have superpowers.
3. Dr. Embleton, “Please share with us your perspectives on today’s topic.”
Your Excellency, Mrs. Haukio, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
There’s no doubt that this is a difficult moment for the humanities, and to some extent many of the social sciences, across much of the world, specifically Europe and North America. Enrolments are falling, largely due to a chill around job prospects, even though that chill is statistically largely unfounded in terms of outcomes. This difficult moment for the humanities is not universal though, so there is something of a renewed interest e.g. in India, as people there are realizing that there has been some neglect over recent years, but also they are realizing – as we should too – that for many of humankind’s most pressing problems, the technological or medical solutions are known, but the political, social, economic and in some cases cultural knowledge or will for implementation are often what is missing – and these are squarely the social sciences and humanities. Thus true progress for humankind depends crucially on not just technology and engineering, or scientific and medical knowledge, but crucially on the practical knowledge accrued through studying the social sciences and humanities.
It’s also widely acknowledged that some of the best creativity, no matter what the area or the problem to be solved, is now coming from interdisciplinarity, from the interstices between disciplines, from people trained in different disciplines and their different thought patterns. And this in turn necessitates that we work in teams, which are also acknowledged to produce more robust and innovative solutions when made up of people of diverse backgrounds, whether that’s different disciplines, different ways of thinking, different life experiences, different genders, or different linguistic or cultural backgrounds. And from bringing those at the margins, for whatever reason they are at the margins, to the mainstream, to strengthen and improve our collective way forward.
That’s the context! So where does this leave Finnish Studies in the contemporary world, whether in North America or anywhere else? A small language, a small country, in one of the more distant corners of Europe? It’s a precious piece of the mosaic, a precious piece of that diversity.
Knowledge of languages or cultures “of smaller dissemination” (as they are sometimes called) is often difficult or even lost because of the sheer weight of numbers of more “central” or large languages or cultures. Obviously this is a challenge for Finnish Studies, but in the end we face very similar issues for Canadian Studies, small culture in the world, despite the vehicle of English (or French, both of which are major world languages), perhaps almost because of the vehicle of English, where we are swamped with larger cultures in English, primarily Britain and the US.
So the questions of why Canadian Studies, why Finnish Studies, and perhaps the same question for other languages or cultures “of smaller dissemination” all echo each other. They are all precious pieces of the mosaic, precious pieces of the diversity which is necessary to prevent homogeneity and homogeneity of thinking.
For our students the existence of such programs as Finnish Studies also enhances the possibilities beyond the degree program or the curriculum in the classroom, extending to extracurricular activities and student clubs, to exchange opportunities, whether for study or for work or for internship (e.g. long-running Hart House exchange, the U of T’s first international exchange). And it’s these types of experience which are needed to give our young people exposure beyond their comfort zones, whether that’s to another language or culture, and any courses, even just one, in Finnish Studies can be a part of that exposure.
Finland is an interesting case study in economic success and recovery – endowed even if not as abundantly as some with natural resources in minerals and timber, but a harsh climate – investment in education at all levels, and investment in other ways in people (and particularly mothers and children) has enabled this success, and has enhanced the latent creativity of the Finnish population. The investment in people also shows us other ways of approaching health care or respectful ways of accommodating the elderly part of the population, all of which have contributed to giving Finland top 10 rankings in virtually every index or ranking around quality of life or human and social development. There is much to learn, and knowledge between countries flows best when there are people-to-people networks that go beyond just family ties, and incorporate academic and research linkages.
Right now is a particularly opportune moment for our two countries to engage in closer economic cooperation and knowledge sharing, as more of the world turns its attention to our northern regions, so things such as Arctic technology, clean energy and mining and transport, sustainability, and respect for indigenous peoples and their knowledge and ways of knowing become more important and immediately relevant than ever before.
A positive future for Finnish Studies requires us to keep the core strong – core = language, literature, culture, film, music, mythology (in other words, the humanities) – but also to move well beyond the humanities, into history (and the lessons of history) and into other social sciences, whether as courses in and of themselves, or as case studies incorporated into other courses of Finland’s remarkable successes in education, in politics, in diplomacy, in economics, in health policy, in design, in architecture, in IT and digital media, in the interfaces of IT and digital and communications, even in such fields as gaming …
And we – as academics, as professionals, as government, as industry and private sector, as donors and philanthropists, need to support what supports this, the large frame for understanding and working together. Such a program as Finnish Studies facilitates what has been called the “brain circulation” of others in other fields, their ability to move from culture to culture and situation to situation. No matter what the major or the profession, those who have studied at least some humanities and social sciences have a stronger understanding of the social currents and environment, are broader and more innovative thinkers than those only schooled in their profession, and as technology and globalization blur global borders, the need for appreciation of diversity and the variety of cultural approaches intensifies. Programs such as Finnish Studies are a part of providing that richness to many different types of student, not just those who will major in Finnish Studies, but perhaps most particularly to those who may only ever take one course or go on one exchange, but whose life will be broadened permanently as a result of that exposure.
4. Mr. Emmett Snyder, “We look forward to your thoughts on the question: ‘How do you see Finnish impacting your Future Career and Future Studies?’”
That is a very interesting question for me, because it was Finnish studies that taught me one can never be certain what the future holds. A little over two years ago when I first began my journey into the world of academia, I saw myself as a budding young scientist, a young man following in his grandfather’s footsteps down the path of microbiology.
Yet, when I sat down in Finnish class for the first time – my first ever lecture as a student here at the University of Toronto – something told me I would end up walking a very different path. I had no idea where this new and exciting language would take me, I certainly had no idea I would end up in this room today, but something told me this new direction would be one full of joy and excitement.
There was something so appealing, so… magical about starting my day by hearing the words “hyvää huomenta”, and it was that something that led me to where I am today: a Finnish Studies Major that has had the pleasure of studying in Finland, and an individual that hopes very much to return there. Many of my peers in the program have said they hope for similar things in their futures: study, translation, teaching, living or working in Finland. There is no doubt that if I was able to do all those things in addition to everything else, I would without a moment’s hesitation. Nowhere else have I found such a rich and diverse culture, a wonderful selection of music, literature, and art that appeals to me on such a strong and personal level.
And though it is difficult to speak of what is to come, one thing is very clear: Every step I take towards the future brings Finnish closer to me: Just yesterday I found myself speaking Finnish in a place I would very much like to work someday.
What I am trying to say is that while the future is, and will always be uncertain for so many different reasons, I firmly believe and hope with all my heart that Finnish will continue to be a very large part of my life on an academic, personal and professional level. It was a stroke of luck that led me to enroll in that first year language course, and never have I been more lucky, for it is Finnish studies that has introduced me to some of the most wonderful people I have ever had the privilege of knowing, and it is Finnish studies that has turned me into who I am today.
5. And finally, Mr. Juha Mikkonen, “What are your thoughts on the Future of Finnish Studies in North America?”
Your Excellency, President Niinistö, and Mrs Jenni Haukio, and Distinguished Guests:
It is my honor to be invited to this discussion. As a PhD candidate in a Canadian university and a former graduate from the University of Helsinki, I am pleased to have this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on the future of Finnish Studies in Canada and elsewhere. The following ideas are based on my experiences in two different educational systems, and in two different cultures: Finnish and Canadian.
I will start from the history. During the past 25 years, the Finnish Studies program at the University of Toronto has done a great job in teaching students about the Finnish language and culture. My first experience with the Finnish Studies was eight years ago when I was a visiting student at the University of Toronto. I remember visiting Pikkujoulu (meaning a pre-Christmas party) organized by the Finnish Studies program. They had those great Christmas cookies that I miss.
Now I would like to share three points with you. After listening the other participants, I have to conclude that some of these ideas were already mentioned. However, I think that this does not decrease the value of my arguments but it will rather increase their significance.
First, I believe that Finnish Studies program cannot survive as “Finnish Studies” without the Finnish language: think of teaching and studying British culture without any command of the English language. I think that culture and language are deeply interconnected. The language is the key to the culture, one might conclude. We should remember this connection when we consider everything else I will say.
Second, the Finnish Studies program in North America needs to open up to the wider society. The University of Toronto is one of the top universities in the world. To be able to survive in these turbulent times, the Finnish program needs more openness, more interaction, more networks, and more innovation. I think this is what is just happening here, right now.
And if I am allowed to make one concrete proposal, there should be a course titled as “The Contemporary Finnish Society”. The course could engage visiting speakers from the different fields of expertise. They can be from science, business, culture, or even from sports (ice hockey seems to connect many Finns and Canadians!). These new relationships and connections can bring us new innovations and ideas. Personally, I would be interested in learning more about internationally successful Finnish innovations: why they were successful? What was done right and what can we do better?
In Finland, there has been a lot of discussion about the third mission of universities. Two other missions are, of course, teaching and carrying out research. The third mission refers to the way how universities contribute to the society: what is the social impact of academic programs? What is the role of academics in public life? Universities have a role to play in economic, social, and cultural development. The Finnish Studies program could focus on how better carry out its third mission.
Third, anything I just mentioned cannot be done without resources. Now the highest priority should be put in ensuring a stable financial base for the Finnish Studies program at U of T. Because the Finnish government has decided to cut back the funding, the program will need support from individual donors and non-profit foundations as well as from the private sector.
The Finnish Studies program can show its relevance only by being relevant for the students and for the greater community. We have to drop the puck on the ice and start playing the game that has new and more players. The Finnish Studies program can have an important role to play as a central hub of the Finnish-Canadian community. It has a cultural significance and it can bring more people together. That is the game.
All Finnish Studies programs in North America have great opportunities ahead of them. But we (and by “we”, I mean: everyone who has some connection or interests regarding Finland), so we need to be able to use these opportunities and bring out new ideas and innovations to develop the Finnish Studies to be the best it can be, and do it together.
Moderator: “Your Excellency, might you have a question or comment at this time?
President Niinistö expressed his gratitude to the panellists for their thoughts and suggestions. He addressed each panellist individually by name and offered appreciative comments and reactions to their presentations.
Moderator: “In the interest of time I will now attempt to briefly summarize today’s panel contributions”
Today’s conversation has been valuable indeed.
During our 25 years journey more than 1000 students have taken at least one Finnish Studies course. Many have had life-changing experiences. Emmett Snyder’s story is a good example of this.
The core, the humanities part of Finnish Studies: language and culture is clear. Our dynamic new professor, Dr. Anu Muhonen, does cutting edge language and culture research, studies of identity in multilingual youth, and she is an enthusiastic teacher.
Dr. Sheila Embleton outlined a multitude of contexts of academic programs such as Finnish Studies. Finnish Studies needs to become more interdisciplinary, embrace greater diversity, work more together in teams made up of people from diverse backgrounds. She emphasized the Finnish Studies is “a precious piece of the (global) mosaic” but also, that Finland and Canada share many interests, for example, in the arctic.
In today’s world, University programs, including Finnish Studies, need to incorporate what Juha Mikkonen calls: the third mission: How university programs contribute to society. This is what Peter Auvinen called for as well: creating awareness of Finnish accomplishments, disseminating the Finnish brand, be it in education, economic or social development, or innovation.
However, to survive and flourish, Finnish Studies at the University of Toronto and elsewhere in North America needs resources. For 25 years the government of Finland has generously supported the Finnish Studies Program and for this the University of Toronto is deeply grateful for that support. Support will in the future increasingly be needed from the private sector, the business community, individuals and foundations.
I would finally like to thank the panellists, President Niinistö and the audience for their contributions and for what Dr. Embleton referred to as “Brain Circulation”.
We embrace the future with enthusiasm, now equipped with new ideas.
Thank you to all.