From a history student to a diplomat

Name: Matti Heimonen
Studies: Master of Arts, History
Today: Chief of Protocol, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

My work and career have taken me around the world. During my thirty years as a diplomat, I have lived and worked in such places as Japan, China and the Korean Peninsula. Currently, I work as a Chief of Protocol at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In this position, I prepare official visits and organise state ceremonies.

The path into a diplomatic career

I studied general history at the University of Oulu. As minor subjects I chose Finnish history, sociology, political science and education. I did not have a diplomatic career in mind at all. However, the starting points for the history studies were quite international, and I selected a lot of courses with an international perspective. I also studied languages, which are of course always useful. My tip for those planning a similar career would be that you should absolutely apply to a foreign exchange programme.

“It is rewarding that you can do something concrete to promote national interests.”

Not drinking champagne, but getting your hands dirty

In my work, the most rewarding and best thing is the opportunity to interact with very different operators. When working as a diplomat, you never have a dull moment, and sometimes you really need to get your hands dirty, so to speak – for example, when dealing with Finnish people in distress. The stereotype of diplomats celebrating and representing their country with champagne glasses in their hands is far from reality. It is rewarding that you can do something concrete to promote national interests. The fact that national interests are involved in everything you do makes your job meaningful. For me, it has felt important to promote the exports and internationalization of Finnish companies – even though this often takes place behind the scenes, hidden from the public.

The Arctic dimension is a benefit for Finland

Being Finnish, coming from Oulu and the Arctic dimension of the University of Oulu are all becoming increasingly important parts of diplomacy. In this respect, in my opinion, the role played by the University of Oulu is undeniably important. This came up clearly in my latest postings in Tokyo, Shanghai and Seoul.

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