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Intercultural Competence course for Finnish and international students to get to know each other

“My goal was to create an inclusive, international environment in a professional way, so the students had a place to learn about their cultures”, says Andra Ene from International Affairs office. She developed an Intercultural Competence 5 credits course for Laurea.

Andra Ene and the course participants. Andra sitting second to the right in the forefront.

How to get into the Finnish society, how to become one of them? If I am an international student, can I just sit down next to Finnish students in a cafeteria and start a conversation? Are they interested meeting me? If I am a Finn, how to approach a bunch of international students? Are they willing to get to know the locals? 

To answer those and many other questions related to international relations at the university and among the students, Andra Ene, who worked in the International Affairs office at Laurea, developed an Intercultural Competence 5 credits course. 

Originally from Romania, she moved to Germany to study and from her own experience she knew what a cultural shock means. She also worked in an international affairs office at a university in Germany and met many students tackling the same problems. After she moved to Finland and got a chance to work at Laurea, she decided to develop a course to help students adapt to their new country and culture.

-My goal was to create an inclusive, international environment in a professional way. The course was a 5 credits study unit. I introduced a new topic each week. We talked about elements of culture, about cultural differences, cultural shock, conflicts, how to make business around the world. The course was open to all students regardless of the study programme. I had international students, exchange students and Finnish students, says Andra Ene.

At the beginning of each class, students had a presentation on a given topic. It was also a good start for a discussion, asking questions, comparing to one’s own country. Students were willing to share their experience and knowledge; they were curious and wanted to get to know each other. 

- International students were interested in discovering the Finnish culture. I had first year students who are fresh in Finland and they wanted to learn more about the country and Finns. The Finns on the other hand wanted to discover other cultures, says Andra

Whenever possible she asked Finnish students to tell about Finnish holidays, phenomenon, or design. To her surprise, the majority of international students and especially exchange students did not know anything about Finland. For Vappu Andra Ene prepared some Vappu treats like sima and munkki and told about the tradition, about the overalls Finnish students wear and about the graduation hats. 

The course had a workshop style with students working in mixed groups and interacting with each other. They played many games and quizzes about own cultures and the Finnish culture. Students participating in the class admitted that before they did not have a possibility to make friends with Finns as well as the other way round. 

- Not everyone is a party animal, not everyone is open enough to approach a group of students he doesn’t know. Thanks to my class, they were able to get to know each other. Finnish students told me, they became more open to the internationals they have more inclusive attitude towards foreigners, says Andra.

The course was a part of the Internationalization at Home programme, which means if students cannot go abroad for a semester, they can stay at Laurea but have to take classes in English and with international students. It was also a part of the internationalization of curriculum, providing English language courses for students studying in Finnish.