Jarno Syrjälä is the alumnus of the year 2023 – University of Vaasa launched him onto an international career
– I am honoured and deeply touched by this recognition. It has been quite some time since I left Vaasa. I haven't visited Vaasa very often, partly due to the international nature of my career. However, the University of Vaasa has reached out to me around the world, for instance, through university collaborations when I served as the Finnish Ambassador in Beijing. I believe there is more I could do, and perhaps now that I am back in Finland, new opportunities to engage with the university may arise. I have very positive feelings towards my alma mater and the city of Vaasa, where the collaboration between the business community and educational institutions has always been strong, says Jarno.
Close-knit community helped form lifelong friendships
Jarno began his studies in 1984. During his fourth year, he worked as an acting assistant in international marketing at the Department of Marketing. After graduating, he also briefly worked as a lecturer. So, the university served both as his educational institution and workplace.
– I especially remember the close-knit community we had. It wasn't just among the students but also within the university as a whole, including staff and students from other institutions of higher education. Back then, the university's activities grew and developed rapidly, but we were still relatively small and cosy. I formed many good friendships that have continued to this day.
Jarno also highlights Vaasa as a city of students. Today, the city is home to six different higher education institutions, and the student community is exceptionally tight-knit.
– The city of Vaasa has always been very welcoming towards students.
University studies lead to an international career
– The most important insight for me during my studies was the significance of internationalisation. My interest and passion for international affairs developed and strengthened. At that time, internationalisation wasn't a given, and we had only a few exchange opportunities. My degree specialisation was international trade, and that sparked my interest in international matters, especially in the economic and business sectors. This led me to my career. I started working for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 1990.
Since then, Syrjälä has worked in foreign affairs. He served as the Finnish Ambassador in Beijing from 2017 to 2021. From 2013 to 2017, he worked as the Director General of the Department for Africa and the Middle East. He served as the Head of Mission in Riyadh from 2010 to 2013. Before that, he gained diplomatic experience in Berlin, Washington, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, and Jakarta. After his time in Beijing, he took a one-year leave of absence to establish the China Office of Finnish Industries Ltd. He has been appointed Under-Secretary of State for International Trade starting from 1 September 2023.
– I cannot pinpoint one peak moment in my career; there have been several. I have had the privilege to serve in very interesting positions in very interesting times. Each place and time holds something special. Diplomatic work typically involves changing roles every three to four years, which is enriching in itself. Of course, if you look purely at my career path, my latest appointment may be the most significant, but all of my assignments, starting from junior positions, have been interesting and rewarding.
Invest in the basics
What advice do you want to give to current students?
– I encourage students to explore various aspects of internationalisation, as there are so many dimensions to it. Investigate different options with an open mind, and don't limit your thinking. It's worth exploring opportunities outside of the business world as well. Even though I studied international trade, I have spent almost my entire career working for the government. If you aspire to an international career, institutions like the EU and international organisations also offer interesting job opportunities. Keep various possibilities in mind and be honest about your strengths.
Jarno also emphasises language skills. While English is undoubtedly strong on a global scale today and can take you far, proficiency in other languages opens many doors in the professional world and enhances your understanding of different cultures.
– Even though the current generation is quite well-prepared for internationalisation, it's still important to invest in the basics, such as language skills. While English dominates foreign languages today, in my work, knowledge of German and French has been beneficial, not only for communication with foreign colleagues but also for following foreign media. Along the way, I have also picked up the basics of some rarer languages, which have provided me with deeper insights into different operational environments.
Alumni of the year
The alumni of the year of the University of Vaasa are chosen by the Vaasa University Society. The honorary title is given to alumni who have used the capabilities they have acquired at the university in a positive way and who have increased the interaction between the university, the society, and the economy and inspired other alumni.
Previous alumni of the year include Tiina Helenius, Team Jakamo, Eeva Kalli, Samuli Manninen, Anne Korkiakoski, Sari Essayah and Kari Leppilahti.