The city of Turku and the higher education institutions in the area consider it important that the international students enjoy their stay in Turku. When international students feel at home in Turku, they are more likely to return to the banks of Aurajoki river – or even to stay to live in the city after they have graduated.
Last autumn, the city of Turku and the higher education institutions in Turku under the Study in Turku network decided to invest in the well-being of international students. The idea was put into practice through the Friendship Programme in which international students were paired with locals so that they could become friends. The aim of the programme is to connect international students and the citizens of the Turku area.
“The Friendship Programme gives the international students a chance to get to know the Finnish everyday life and culture in a natural way with the help of a local friend. For the locals, the programme offers an opportunity to become internationalised without leaving their hometown, to get to know new people and cultures, and perhaps to improve their language skills as well,” says Amanda Viitanen, the Friendship Programme coordinator at the University of Turku.
Already 550 friends participating in the programme
The first season of the Friendship Programme started in October-November 2021. A lot of people registered in the programme, and the number of participants exceeded all expectations. Now, at the midpoint of the second season, approximately 550 international students and local friends have already participated in the programme.
“We expected the international students to participate actively in the programme, but the number of locals participating in the program has really surprised us positively. It is great to see that the locals are interested in meeting the students,” Viitanen says happily.
International students from the University of Turku, Åbo Akademi, Turku University of Applied Sciences, and Novia University of Applied Sciences are participating in the programme. The locals participating in the programme include all kinds of people from families with children to pensioners. After the initial meeting, the friends have agreed on what to do together, but the Study in Turku network has supported the friends’ activities, for example, with tickets to museums.
Aiming to facilitate adapting to Turku
Viitanen says that the feedback given by the participants has been mainly positive. The participants have commended the opportunity to learn from each other.
“According to the feedback questionnaires, the programme has contributed to the positive image of Finland, Turku and the Finns in the eyes of the international students. The same has happened the other way around as well: most of the local friends feel that the programme has increased the positive image of the international students.”
At best, the programme and the resulting positive image of Turku may have a bearing on the decision of international students to stay and live in Turku after they have graduated. Turku needs international experts, and therefore the aim is to help students to feel at home in Turku.
In the photo from left to right: Maryam Esmaeilzadeh, Merja Skaffari-Multala, Maedeh Ghorbanian and Yasith Hirimburegama at the international students’ May Day event.
“So far, we have met only three times, but the Friendship Programme has already been a nice and interesting experience. It has been interesting to learn about the reasons why the friends have come to Finland and what they think about the country. Yasith is also learning Finnish, which is great,” says Merja Skaffari-Multala, a friend of Yasith and Maedeh. The Finnish friend of Maryam could not make it for the photo this time.
Cooperation for making Turku the best city for students in Finland
The Study in Turku network aims to facilitate the adaptation of international students with other measures as well. One of them is the Study and Stay in Turku career event, which offers international students concrete tips, for example, for job-hunting in Turku.
“We want to integrate international students in Turku so that they feel at home here, get to know the city and the locals, and could better find their feet in Turku after they graduate,” says Anssi Kaisti, coordinator of the Study in Turku network at the city of Turku.
The aim of the Study in Turku network is to make Turku the best city for students in Finland. The network is working to help students to enjoy themselves in Turku and to stay living here after their graduation.
The cooperating parties are The City of Turku, University of Turku, Turku University of Applied Sciences, Åbo Akademi, Novia University of Applied Sciences, Humak University of Applied Sciences, Diaconia University of Applied Sciences, student unions and organisations, and Turku Science Park.
More information about the Friendship Programme: The Friendship Programme | Turku.fi
Text: Satu Lithovius
Photo: Hanna Oksanen, Amanda Viitanen
Institutions of higher education in Turku are home to thousands of experts and over 40,000 students. There is a strong tradition of collaboration in research, education and innovation, and the different institutions are located within a shared campus area. Together with city administration, local businesses, the hospital district, and other local operators, institutions of higher education play their part in creating a prosperous, attractive and competitive city for all. Let’s build Turku together!