Integration programmes offer support for the university community
The programmes aim to ease the integration processes of international employees and their families by helping them create their safety nets. The family viewpoint is especially important for those who arrive in Finland with their families. Spouse Network has many participants, men, and women from all around the world. The Spouse Network welcomes every staff member’s spouse or partner to join: newcomers as well as experienced University of Oulu employees.
One of the newest members of the Spouse Network is Pamela Beloqui. She joined the University of Oulu’s network when her husband got a job at the university. Before that, she and her family lived in Espoo, where she had been part of a similar network. “We hoped that Oulu would have something similar, and I was happy to find out about it here on the University website,” Beloqui says. She arrived in Oulu already during the end of last year, and after a few months of settling, she joined the network.
The goal of the Spouse Network is to create safety nets for international employees’ spouses. “I think it’s really useful when we share our experiences. Even though we are new in Oulu, it’s still important to share tips and situations where we could help each other,” Beloqui sums up. Often the newly employed person gets orientation and support in their integration from their employer. Now, the university as an employer acknowledges their employees’ spouses as well. This enhances retainment, and the employee is more likely to stay in Oulu for a longer time. “Many times, spouses are leaving their careers and their hobbies to move into a different place with their family. So, holding on to your social life is very important.”
If you understand the language, then you can understand the culture
Spouse Network holds monthly Coffee & Chat meetings, where you can network, talk, and get to know other attendees. “Often the common language in these meetings is Finnish”, says the coordinator of the Spouse Network at the University of Oulu, HR Designer Kaisu Kanstren. Sometimes immigrants don’t have a common language as not everyone speaks English. However, almost all either speak or are learning to speak Finnish. “It’s really important to understand Finnish because life is happening in Finnish,” says Beloqui.
Buddy Programme attendee and a “Buddy” Hongmin Tu (in the middle) with Spouse network participant Pamela Beloqui (right) having a coffee chat with the University of Oulu's spouse network coordinator Kaisu Kanstren. Programmes were having a monthly joint meeting at Koivurannan Saunalautta. Photo: Venla Juntto.
In addition to the Spouse Network, the University of Oulu’s Buddy Programme was launched to support the university’s international community. The university wants to enhance its internationalization goals, and this includes having an inclusive community where everybody feels welcome. “By fostering early social connections and minimizing uncertainty in a new environment, we seek to ensure the well-being of our new employees,” says the coordinator of the Buddy Programme, HR Designer Irantzu Garces Munarriz.
The target group of the Buddy Programme is newly arrived or newly employed international people in the university, as well as more experienced, already well-adjusted Oulu residents and employees. Newcomers are then matched up with the “veterans”, and thus buddy pairs are formed. By hanging out together, adjusting to a new life in Oulu and as a new University of Oulu staff member isn’t so hard. Lunch dates or any other low-threshold activity makes integration smoother and faster, as you have someone to turn to with those burning questions or confusions. Buddy Programme does not replace any official onboarding but only adds to it by tackling the social aspect of starting a new job.
“We want to facilitate holistic integration to make it sustainable. This is just an addition to the official onboarding done by the line manager,” says Munarriz. “Integration in a broad sense means work culture, social relations, lifestyles, customs and traditions, university life, and local community,” she summarizes.