Supporting Immigrants in Higher Education, SIMHE-Metropolia, started its guidance services for educated immigrants, or those who are willing to apply for higher education, in early May 2016. Now that I have had a dozen or so customers visiting me, it is a good time elaborate the outcome by far. I wish to raise few issues that I find important when guiding people with little or no experience in the Finnish society, let alone in our education system and all that lies within.
You are not dealing with the statistics when meeting someone face-to-face
It is somewhat easy to hide behind the statistics and look into the immigration phenomenon through numbers, figures and percentages. There are currently over 200, 000 immigrants residing in Finland for various reasons and the amount is growing year by year. However, statistics do not count, when you have someone sitting in front of you in need of guidance and advice.
At this point, your task is to listen to his or her individual life story and try to make people to see the difference that they are able to make for their lives. Immigrants are often seen as one pool of people and objects, not as capable individuals who are able to make their own decisions.
All my customers have been highly educated and talented people who are just facing new circumstances they were not able to predict. They are ready to make a new start, even to take a step back in their already acquired competence level in order to fit in and fulfil the requirements of our society.
My task is to provide the necessary facts and information to support the process. I am not being naïve as I know the existing hardships and obstacles on both sides, but giving options and possibilities is what matters here.
Knowing me, knowing you is the best I can do
Guidance is always about communication, seeking common grounds and establishing trust between people. I have worked with international degree students from various parts of the world for ten years, so the change in the clientele was not that dramatic to me. I have learnt through experience and my own education in intercultural communication that knowing yourself well is the key for understanding others.
Also, guidance work is first and foremost done through your own personality traits for which I hope to come across as competent, down-to-earth kind of person with a tender heart. Yet this needs to be decided by my customers.
Firstly, I feel humble and privileged to have this opportunity to be able to be one of those, who make Finland and its peculiarities more familiar and less haunting for immigrants. Secondly, my guidance work puts me in the learning curve too as every person needs to be treated not only as a member of a certain group, culture or ethnical background, but as a unique individual. My job is not to fortify the existing boundaries but rather lower them to help us to find the common platform to build our dialogue together.
Thirdly, meeting people from other cultures gives you more than it takes from you as you broaden your horizons through every encounter. If you just let it happen.
Like a beacon shimmering light at night
How do I see the SIMHE project and its objectives after working in the project for three months? It seems to be well needed for sure and has been welcomed by many. There is a constant need for having a place where an immigrant-background people are able to seek for advice in the amazing maze of the Finnish education system and society when searching suitable paths for themselves.
We are not to change the world, perhaps we only just tickle a corner of it, but I find SIMHE and its guidance services to have its stance among other similar activities. I somehow see SIMHE project like a beacon shimmering light at night; you do not see everything clearly at one glance, but you start to get the big picture by each beam of light.
The more familiar you make the system and its demands and possibilities to immigrants, the easier it is for them to find their individual paths in Finland. It takes time, but it’s worth a go for us and them.
We will have the first Guidance Generalia lecture in June, so stay tuned for hearing more about it soon!