Section 3. Practical tips for finding your own place in the academic community
Fon Krairiksh, Aalto University
Key Question: What are some concrete ways international students are included in student life?
In 2021, a survey and series of interviews was conducted on the inclusion of international students. In addition to strategies used by associations to include international students, the study (forthcoming) identified the means international students used to both assert their own boundaries and find their place in the community.
Some ways fellow students may be trying to include you in their activities
Language choice or changing language: For most people, it is comfortable to speak in their own native language. However, many people opt to change the language they are speaking to include you in their conversation.
Clarifying slang and expressions: People in social groups form their own slang and ways of speaking. Most of this happens subconsciously, so when someone recognizes that they are using in-group jargon or slang, and strive to explain it, they are effectively realizing you are on the outside and are inviting you to join in on the conversation.
Multimodal expression in support of speech: Some people may not be able to switch languages or clarify slang. However, people will also use other means to express their willingness to include you. For example, they might use their fingers to point to the part of the song book being sung at a sitsi party (academic table parties involving singing), use hand gestures to help you understand the meaning of what they are saying, or slow down their speech and use simpler words.
The examples above are all instances of ad hoc accommodation of others’ needs at events. However, these might be too little, too late, and sometimes they are based on assumption and/or become forgotten as the evening progresses.
Remind others you want to be included
It is totally fine to remind your peers that you want to be included! The easiest way to do this is by discussing in advance what helps you feel included and safe. In that way, you avoid negotiating from a position of already feeling left out, and you can simply remind people of your needs, for instance speaking in English. Below are some examples of strategies used by students to ensure they are included at various events and social gatherings.
One student made certain that all their friends knew that they would otherwise prefer to function in English but that they did wish to learn Finnish:
"My free . . . lessons in Finnish are when I go to the sauna [and] keep quiet and listen to conversations. . . . I do prefer that people speak in Finnish because I’m quite alright with being silent and trying to pick up what they say and . . . learn some Finnish. . . . Most of my friends if not all know this, so . . . they try to switch to slower language and . . . try to keep the conversation more understandable when I’m there."
Another student, after a few unfortunate experiences at the beginning, decided that learning Finnish was not the path for them. Instead, they opted to surround themself with friends who were happy to speak English. Whether or not you want to learn the local language or get to know local students, you may sometimes find yourself in situations where you need help to understand what is happening.
For many locals, traditions seem obvious. For that reason, they have not really given them any thought. Most students are happy to share their knowledge, but they do not necessarily realize that you might need a helpful introduction to local customs.
For example, one international student described how they decided to approach older students and ask them to go through the rules with them. The older students were more than willing to help, and, in the end, the international student made some local friends!
International students often used strategies such as simply asking whether they could participate in an activity, finding a person who did not mind speaking English at events, requesting to be seated next to someone who spoke English, and finding ways to break the ice, for example, through humor:
"I learnt the best way to make someone relax is to break the ice very fast. The faster you break the ice the sooner you can just be yourself. . . . I’ve been using a combination of weird rude words and regular words and creating these strange concepts [to make people laugh]."
Different kinds of events
There are many kinds of student events, ranging from sitsis (academic table parties involving singing) to board game nights to appros (student bar/restaurant/café crawls). If parties are not your thing, there are also other types of events, such as company outings and Zombies v. Humans (a large role-playing event) where you can interact with people without drinking or too much social pressure. In general, though, students who were interviewed found that joint activities were a great way to find a sense of belonging in the community:
"[Playing Zombies v. Humans] I got to know multiple people, and some of them are the closest people that I have now, so that is a cherished memory for me. . . . For example, we were hiding in some bushes after I got turned into a zombie, and there I started talking to some people who were hiding with me and got to know them and met up later too."
It can take a while to find a group to belong to, but, fortunately, there are many places to look! With so many options to choose from, we are confident that you will be able to find a place where you can be yourself, set your own boundaries, and find some friends who are right for you!
Last modified: Monday, 3 April 2023, 11:55 PM