The other day while reading this newspaper, I came across an article called Finding your way in Finland starts with the individual, about the integration of international students in Finland.
After reading it, I, as an international student, not only disagreed with the view presented in the article, but also felt a little worried about the rhetoric used in it, which I found too similar to a wider trend in media when it comes to topics such as foreigners and integration.
Media works as builders of opinion, and despite the fact that in this case it aims at a small section of readers such as the student population (and specially because of that), I believe it should be called to our attention a more critical reading and formulation of conclusions.
There is a double discourse in terms of content and the form information is presented. While multiculturalism is considered a collective issue, immigrants are usually presented as individuals who refuse to adapt to the predominant culture.
An example of this approach taken by the article is illustrated in phrases like “students who are well adjusted” assuming the existence of non-well-adjusted students?
In 1990, measures taken principally by the Council of Europe, encouraged good ethics from journalists and a responsible treatment on reports related to acts of racism in order to spread tolerance and combat xenophobia and racism among European societies.
Unfortunately, the discourse changed when these words started to be in disuse and instead, were replaced by others such as ’adaptation’ and ’integration’ -or lack of it- specially when it came to minorities (Horsti, 2012).
So when the article suggests that “adjusting” is ultimately a matter of being “proactive” and “curious”, as my two fellow international students interviewed claimed, not only it raised some red flags, but also did not resonate with my own experience at all.
After all, what do we understand by adaptation? The text seems almost oblivious to the fact that not all international students’ problems limit to “finding something to do” or “getting stuck in social bubbles”.
While I do believe personal determination is key to the success of our stay in Finland, there is still plenty of room for improvement in terms of institutional support for international students; “finding your way in Finland” goes far beyond the individual, and the idea that integration is mostly a personal choice appears to me naïve and somewhat careless.