Cross-cultural storytelling for Finland

We stand in a singular moment in time, where Finland is about to reach its centenary since becoming a country of its own. We all carry diverse existential stories around it, and here today we shall shed light on Peter Seenan’s – about a genuine enthusiast of Finland and storytelling.

After living and travelling around the world for several years, Peter Seenan had a hunch that Finland was his place to settle down. He first came from Scotland to Finland as an exchange student of Political Science at the University of Helsinki in 2004. He then finished his degree at the University of Edinburgh, and went on to explore other countries including Brazil, Sri Lanka, India, South Africa and Germany.

Out of so many countries, how on earth did he single out Finland as his favourite place to be?

“I was always looking for ways to come back because I just had such fun memories of my time here as a student, and I did make good Finnish friends. And Finland was a place that was immensely attractive to me for all kinds of reasons but mainly because I think the country functions so well, the nature is deeply beautiful, I have such good friendships, and it is a positively progressive place.”

Photo: Peter Seenan

Following the hunch, Peter Seenan determinedly returned to Finland by September 2011. Ever since, he has worked as a street fundraiser for the Finnish Committee for UNICEF, as an English teacher, and most recently, he has been working as a Communications and Customer Strategist at a Finnish technology company based in Helsinki, Leadfeeder. “I work for a well-known company in the tech sector. When I joined the company two and a half year ago, there were three co-founders, and I was their first employee basically. And now we’re almost twenty people in six different countries”, he gladly adds.

Peter Seenan is also very invested in his current side project, Finland My Home. As the culmination of his vigorous inclination towards Finland and storytelling, in essence, it is an integration project by which he aims to create an impact locally – especially during this symbolic year for Finland. He has as well managed to obtain its official recognition from the Finland 100 programme.

“I’m going to be interviewing a hundred internationals face-to-face all over Finland, on their personal trajectories to this country. I thought that ‘Finland 100’ was a perfect opportunity to do this project, and also because we’re talking a lot this year about things like ‘sisu’ and ‘sauna’ – which are very typically Finnish but, I wanted to make a statement that in celebrating Finland’s a hundred years, we must also celebrate its internationalism. Because that’s what makes Finland greater. And that these reflections could constructively reach local citizens and Finnish policy makers. So this whole idea sparred me on, I applied for the official recognition and got it approved soon after.”

Photo: Peter Seenan conducting an interview for "Finland My Home".

Moreover, despite most of the fundamentals being outstandingly positive about Finland based on his own experience and on experiences he has heard from other internationals, Peter Seenan considers that if there is anything that could be improved locally, it is the communication within the work culture – regardless of the language in use. In his own words, “some aspects of the work culture could be improved. For example, the way we communicate internally in our organisations, which if improved, it would make Finnish workplaces more appealing to foreigners too. And there is a perception that Finns are cold and silent – and this is not just a perception by a single person but many. And in the context in which Finland wants to grow internationally, and thus attract more foreign workers, it’s going to have to do something about this perception. So that may mean for instance, training engineers or locals with the ‘engineering mindset’ to express more.”

In any case, he has so far been interviewing in Helsinki, Jyväskylä, Tampere, Turku, and Rovaniemi. The next few locations Peter Seenan is aiming to visit for interviews include Joensuu, Oulu and Tammisaari. Although the project is only half way through, it already has over 700 followers on its Facebook page, and thousands of views for each published article on its website. The future of the project also sounds promising: the content may eventually turn into a documentary; a research company has shown interest in utilising his 100 interviews to conduct an extensive study on culture and identities in Finland; and he may even take these stories to Finnish upper secondary schools to share them with local students as part of a “Global Education Curriculum”.

Image: a screenshot of "Finland My Home" website's homepage.

Last but not least, what does Peter Seenan think of Tampere and its international atmosphere?

“I’ve been to Tampere quite a few times now and I like it, particularly because I get to eat those ‘mustamakkara’ black sausages, it’s very like black pudding which we have in Scotland. I have also been interviewing some people around there for my project, and I get the feeling that there was a particular type if international scene in the city, and that the city was doing a lot to help people integrate, through initiatives and organisations such as Talent Tampere and Tredea. Indeed, the first time I heard of Talent Tampere was because of Laura Lindeman at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, when she told me about this at the end of last year. She seems to be instrumental in this area and was also an inspiring influence when I was starting this project of mine.”

All in all, his sustained belief seems to be that discovering cultures, and making cultures cross can give the best societal outcomes. And one major way to propel it lies in generating empathy through storytelling, by everyone, for everyone.

Cover photo: Beautiful nature in the outskirts of Helsinki / Peter Seenan