Maiju Tarvainen
Maiju Tarvainen

Being an international tutor has changed the way Maiju Tarvainen views Finnish culture.

Housing, banking and other day-to-day necessities – those are the subjects of questions an international tutor most often gets from newly arrived exchange students.
”Although once someone asked me, why Finnish people don’t exchange kisses on the cheek when they meet. For that I had no answer”, tells Maiju Tarvainen, an international tutor and a fourth year marketing student at the University of Jyväskylä.
Tarvainen was chosen to be the most distinguished international tutor this semester. The award was given for a reason: in her second year of tutoring Tarvainen had to handle a difficult case with one student in her group having serious problems adjusting to being far away from home.
”It’s easy to help someone with housing problems, because there are guidelines for that. But when someone is homesick, you just need to do everything possible to make them feel comfortable here. And it’s not always easy”, Tarvainen says.
So Tarvainen did what she knows best – organized parties, meetings and trips for her group for them to get acquainted with the local culture and most importantly: the locals.
”My tutoring partner and I arranged get-togethers, so that international students could meet up with our Finnish friends. It’s usually a blast”, Tarvainen tells.
A tutoring partner, the tutors and especially the university’s international office are also helpful with the more difficult questions.
”We tutors have a strong team-spirit. We help each other and since most people are really open, we also discuss our worries together. It would be hard to do this alone.”
Cooperation with the international services proved to be vital with the case of the homesick student.
”Though the student ended up still going back home early. It was really sad, but probably for the best, still”, Tarvainen says.

According to Tarvainen, openness is one of the key things of being a good tutor. Otherwise, you need to be spontaneous and brave.
”You don’t need to worry too much about how well you speak English as long as you have the guts to talk”, Tarvainen says adding that being a tutor has improved her language skills.
Although Tarvainen is still only planning to do an exchange herself, she feels that her worldview has changed.
”I’ve started to look at the Finnish culture in a different way, comparing it to how things are done in other places”, Tarvainen analyses.
”I also try to get over the stereotypes I might have about other cultures. You have to admit to yourself that you have them, even if you wish you didn’t.”
As the semester is already turning towards its end, Tarvainen is done with most of her responsibilities as a tutor. She is still hanging out with her group, but now as friends.
”And I still keep in touch with my tutoring group from last year. It feels great, when the people email you and ask you to visit their home countries”, Tarvainen tells.
”When I started as a tutor I wanted to meet new faces and do something different than just hang out with people I already knew. The best thing you get out of this are the new friends.”

Marja Honkonen