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Åland gave Finnish Maria a Nordic language boost

Åland gave Finnish Maria a Nordic language boost

| Text: Bengt Östling, photo: private

Improved self-confidence, great experiences together with other Nordjobb workers and useful language training. These are the best memories from Maria Karjalainen’s time working through Nordjobb. Her job was in Åland – exotic enough for a student from Rovaniemi in northern Finland.

Many of the over 30,000 Nordic youths who have found work through Nordjobb since the start back in 1985 have had similar experiences. 

Finding a summer job away from unemployment at home can be important, and so is finding an internship after graduating – or your first proper salary. But many also talk nostalgically about great Nordic experiences which they would have missed without Nordjobb. 

Maria Karjalainen recalls the unique midsummer celebrations in Åland. Others have been on whale safaris in Greenland or experienced the allsång singing event in Skansen in Stockholm. The memories remain, says Karjalainen. 


Midsummer night

Midsummer night in Åland.

In the summer of 2018, Maria Karjalainen could not find a summer job in her home city of Rovaniemi, nor in the student city of Oulu. She had heard about Nordjobb before, but during a time when the bar for her was too high, as it is for many Finnish-speaking youths.

In 2018, Maria had begun studying at the University of Oulu. She applied through Nordjobb and got a summer job as a waitress at a restaurant near Mariehamn in Åland. She had no work experience from the trade, but wanted to challenge herself and go outside of her comfort zone, she explains. 

Swedish is the only official language in Åland, although it is part of Finland. Many tourists visit Åland in the summer. Most come from Sweden, but some Finns travel there too. This means there are many openings for season workers in the tourism industry. Many of Nordjobb’s positions are in tourism.  

Cultural differences in Swedish

For the first time in her life, Maria Karjalainen got to practice her Swedish in real life at work in Åland. This gave her confidence in a language she had studied at school but had still felt uncomfortable with.

Maria Karjalainen

Maria Karjalainen in front of the Bomarsund museum in Prästö. Bomarsund is the ruins from a Russian fortress which stood between 1832 and 1854, when it was blown up by the British and French after a battle there. 

She also knew that she would need the Swedish language later on. The year after, she was due to be an exchange student at Stockholm University.  

The cultural differences between Åland and northern Finland were not as big as they would have been if she had been working in Denmark or Norway, she realised. But there were some differences still. Åland’s marine environment was very different to her home city in Finnish Lappland. She saw how the small Åland society worked as a team. The dominance of the Swedish language in Åland and the importance of the Swedish media became clear to her. 

Personal development and an interest in the Nordics

The actual summer job might not be the most important thing for those who find work through Nordjobb. Maria Karjalainen talks more about new experiences and gaining confidence in speaking several languages.  

Her progress strengthened her self-confidence and gave her a feeling of being able to succeed at more things. For her, the expectations she had had to Nordjobb were fulfilled.

Maria Karjalainen also fulfils Nordjobb’s aim to increase people’s interest in the Nordic cooperation between workers later in life. Today, she is active in the youth wing of the Federation of the Norden Association, both in Oulu and on a national level in Finland. 

Nordic work experiences are useful for all, says Maria Karjalainen. It allows people to learn new things, develop new language skills and gain new perspectives. 

No need to go far

“There are differences within the Nordic region for sure, but it is easy to move around and adapt to your neighbouring Nordic countries. Nordjobb offers a great opportunity for young people in the Nordics, and it ought to get more attention,” says Maria Karjalainen. 

She also sees it as a secure summer job in more than one sense. Accommodation, practical help and togetherness is also part of the package. 

Many in Finland believe Swedish is such a small language that it is not needed, and that schools should focus on the big, global languages like English. 

Maria Karjalainen disagrees. Nordic work experience is also equally valuable as any work experience from further afield in the world. A new environment always brings new and useful experiences, she says.

English is now the most important foreign language in Finland. But knowing some Swedish or Scandinavian brings added value. Via languages you get deeper into the culture, where language plays an important part, says Maria Karjalainen. 

Speaking the language of the country where you work improves your chances of creating contacts and the skills are appreciated by people you meet. Also, many Nordic companies are operating in Finland. That means Nordic language skills are valuable in the Finnish labour market too.

“Thanks to the Nordjobb summer, I later got a dream job in Finland because I had the necessary Swedish language experiences,” says Maria Karjalainen.

That summer job also provided her with more opportunities. At least I see Swedish as an important factor for future progress, she adds.


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