Fostering a welcoming environment – Extensive collaboration for the integration of incoming international students

This spring, the University of Vaasa received a record number of applications to its international degree programmes. Now, the university is collaborating with student organisations, the City of Vaasa, local institutions of higher education, and other stakeholders to ensure that international students feel welcome upon their arrival.

– It is not enough to recruit international students to our university; we must also ensure their study experience is positive. Therefore, we must invest in the integration of international students into the community now and in the future, says Sanna Kotajärvi-Söderholm, head of study services.

One concrete example of these efforts is the recently concluded "Extra boost to international collaboration" project, which focused on improving the international capabilities of student organisations. Another one is the "Building Inclusive Vaasa Together" training for tutors, which was organised by the City of Vaasa and local higher education institutions in May.

Bridging the gap between local and international students

During autumn 2022 and spring 2023, student associations, the student union, international degree students, and university staff participated in a workshop series organised by Männikkömetsä Oy, which provided student organisations with additional means to internationalise their activities.

– The project provided concrete support to student associations operating within the student union, such as communication, event planning, and reaching out to international exchange and degree students, says Elmo Paloniemi, chair of the board of the student union.

The workshops increased dialogue between student associations, the student union, the university, and international students.

– Our student associations are now more involved in international student orientation and integration into our community. As a student union, we received feedback from international students and student associations on issues we need to address in the international tutor project next autumn, Paloniemi explains how the dialogue has translated into practical changes.

Development measures bring local and international students together from the beginning of their studies and promote integration into the community.

– International and local students still tend to stay within their own circles. That is why it is essential to create as many opportunities as possible to break down those barriers and facilitate cooperation between international and local students, says Sandaruu Jayawardhana, a first-year business management student who participated in a workshop.

With the plans created in the spring, both student associations and the student union are better prepared for the autumn and the arrival of new students.

Building an international Vaasa together

The goal is for international students to find their place not only within the student community but also in Finnish society, the local community, and the job market after their studies. Collaboration with local stakeholders is therefore extensive. In May, local institutions of higher education and the City of Vaasa organised a joint training session called "Building Inclusive Vaasa Together" for tutors, who are often the first contact for international students in their new hometown. During the session, tutors received tips on how to ensure that everyone feels welcome, as well as valuable information about the services offered by the City of Vaasa and the Welcome Office.

Other examples of local collaboration for the benefit of international talents include the Vaasa Spouse Programme, which is coordinated by the university and aims to help the spouses of international talents to network. There is also a Vaasa International Talents programme and a Linguavaasa network that offers language courses for international students to familiarise themselves with Finnish or Swedish during the summer before their university studies start.

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