Sweden and Finland, so similar but yet so different?

During the seminar in Finland in October we got new insights on Finland's migration background and Catch up with Work project and their peer tutor method and the cooperation with a trade union. 

Finland – feels like coming home (almost) 

None of us from Piteå had been in Helsinki or Tampere before. We have visited Finland, but mostly in northern Finland where you can drive over the border or take the ferry to Vaasa. We were all surprised that it took such a short time to fly from Stockholm to Helsinki. We thought it was a little farther away than it was. 

Once in Finland we felt a great deal of safety when we noticed that the public transportation and other functions work in a similar way as in Sweden. Just getting all the information presented in Swedish on traffic signs, in ticket machines etc. felt very familiar and good.   

Peer tutor’s best advice – buy a bike 

When we all met again on the first morning it immediately felt like we had come a bit further in our cooperation just by meeting before in Brussels and Piteå.   

During the first day our Finnish partners presented their national project Catch up with Work. The presentation gave us a really good picture of the project and of the situation of people with migrant background in Finland. 

Peer tutors shared experiences of their training and leading the peer groups.
Catch up with Work project staff has trained peer tutors who then themselves lead their own peer groups. In the group the participants learn from each other how the Finnish society works and how to get a job. The project also has cooperation with The Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL. The union offers activities for its migrant members and, as a result of the project, has also decided to organise working life tutor training courses next year. 
When we thereafter had the opportunity to listen to two peer tutors themselves about the work in the peer groups, it showed that they as well gain and learn a lot by leading the groups. What was their best advice on how to integrate in the Finnish society? Don't focus on language as a problem and buy a bike! 

The day ended with a smorgasbord of Finnish specialties such as traditional Finnish pastries and on top of that - a genuine Finnish sauna.   

Workshop activities – a stepping stone to labour market 

How to instruct fixing a motor without a shared language?
On the second day we took a bus to Tampere and, just like in Sweden, we travelled through forests, fields and meadows. In Tampere we visited Silta-Valmennusyhdistys, where people can do internships/work training in various professional areas. It reminded us of an activity center we have in Piteå that works in a similar way and often becomes a stepping stone for migrants to enter the labour market. 

We also met supervisors of some of the activities Silta offered and here as well it became clear how important it is to have good supervisors, not least when you need to fix a motor and don’t know a word of Finnish.  

A lesson about Finland’s migration background 

The seminar's final day began with a city tour in Helsinki. We found out more about Finland's quite a short history as a nation and it also made us think about Finland’s and Sweden's history, which has not always been so cheerful. Perhaps many of the prejudices that Swedes and Finns have about each other descend from this time? 

During the afternoon Senior Researcher Pasi Saukkonen from the City of Helsinki informed us that Finland was a country of emigration until the 1990s. Nowadays about 6-7% of Finland's population is foreign-born and Finland has become a country of immigration. The percentage of migrant people can be compared to Piteå with about the same figures. Piteå is the municipality with the lowest percentage of migrant people in Sweden. Although Finland has a low proportion of foreign-born people, it was one of the first countries to adapt a migration policy and is also one of the few countries that have integration services available for all, not just refugees.   

The project group from Piteå on the city tour of Helsinki

Our overall reflection is that the transnational seminars give us and our national projects so much back, there is so much to learn from each other. By reflecting on differences and similarities between Finland, Sweden and Belgium, we can also gain a greater understanding of the foreign-born people who come to our country. It also gives us a picture of all the complexities people meet when they move to another country. 

Linda Stenström, Quality and EU coordinator
Piteå Municipality