Mika Launikari

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Identification across cultural borders

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Our understanding of our own and others’ identities, the way we establish our values, shape our worldview, and adjust our responses to social experience are traditionally influenced by our culture and society. Yet, today’s international world shakes up our perception of time, place and space, whereby the question of how we identify ourselves and how we relate to others here and over there becomes highly critical.

Individual exposure to being international, intercultural or multicultural is vital in overcoming an entirely national identity and in starting to experience oneself as a member of a wider cross-border community. Essentially, all this is about citizens whose horizons are notably expanding beyond their own cultural frames. 

Indeed we are expected to grow to human beings that transcend our national/native cultures and successfully interweave complex social, political, economic, spiritual and global concepts into our identification. This may be confusing, although in the end it should result in a positive notion of identity, which is capable of recognizing and respecting otherness.

Feeling European “without” stereotypes

To become a citizen of the world seems to be the ultimate goal. If we consider Europe as a space of encounters, where free mobility of people is a fact, the outcome of this should be increasing intercultural interaction. This, in turn, should enhance a common sense of a European identity and identification in the long run, and reduce our stereotyped thinking of other people and nations.

What actually comes out of my PhD research – for which I interviewed 20 experts working for three different EU Agencies located in Greece, Ireland and Italy – is that working in a multicultural environment makes stereotypes fade away. All interviewees admitted that stereotypes do exist, but that they do not really influence the cooperation between colleagues from different EU countries as everybody acts as a professional at work. Moreover, these respondents appear to be highly aware of the complexities of identifying themselves as a European, even if they consider it as an integral aspect of who they are.  

Tuning your cultural sensitivity and awareness antennae

Based on my PhD research I can see that different types of sensitivities and awarenesses get developed among the interviewees. This is not only about being sensitive and responsive to cultural differences and knowing how to deal with them, but it goes much beyond that. It is more about letting oneself grow personally and professionally through continuous intercultural interaction, and thanks to this process reach such a high degree of psychological adaptability that adjusting to any situation any time anywhere happens easily and naturally.

The willingness and readiness to finely tune one’s cultural sensitivity and awareness antennae are key to make sure that the internal cooperative processes within a multicultural working environment driven by individuals with diverse cultural or ethnic backgrounds will work out productively and efficiently. Both attitudinal qualities – willingness and readiness – are required from all staff members. Without them it will not be possible to respond to the most diverse needs, interests and expectations emerging in an international professional environment.  

Photo: www.wirtschaftsschutz.info

 

 

Developing sensitivities to diversities

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Increasing international mobility and cross-border migration result in a more diverse population in many countries these days. As such this is not a totally new phenomenon, but for those who have other agendas contrary to this development, it can be a potentially problematic threat. Diversity is on increase in Europe and this is something we cannot deny. Knowing that diversity is nothing static, but something steadily changing, it challenges us individuals to learn, re-learn and unlearn on a constant basis.

Understanding diversity begins with understanding oneself. In simple terms, diversity means recognising differences and understanding that each individual is unique. Respecting each other and knowing how we are similar and different will help us to develop better human relations. We are similar and different in so many ways, let alone in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, worldviews, political affiliations, educational attainment, career, physical abilities, value base, family history and many more.

There are many ways to be sensitive to diversity in our everyday lives. For instance, we should make an effort to refrain from stereotyping and avoid stereotypical comments. We should also watch our behaviour and humour in general, whereby we can act as a role model and set a good example for other people. With an open and curious mind we can better recognise different forms of diversity and learn to be more tolerant towards all kinds of differences. True tolerance is based on the profound conviction that diversity is a blessing, not a curse. An inclusive and integrated society (or workplace) can, among other things, be built on valuing mutual recognition, clear communication and critical self-reflection.

Diversity Wheel

In my search of practical, self-reflective tools to deal with diversity, I made a discovery the other day and became acquainted with the Diversity Wheel model. I got really excited about it. The Diversity Wheel gives an overview of the dimensions of diversity that are present and active in one’s workplace or environment. It consists of four layers of diversity (personality, internal, external and organisational levels) through which stimuli, information and experience are processed by all of us. By means of the model we can explore differences, but also similarities from multiple perspectives, get hold of our own assumptions and behavioural patterns.

·        Personality (1st layer) shows how a person interacts with others and what his/her characteristics are, whether s/he is an introvert, ambivert or extrovert, active or passive, a fast and dynamic doer or a silent and reflective thinker etc., and how all these aspects together affect the way the person is treated by others.

·        Internal dimensions (2nd layer) are based on six aspects that an individual possibly cannot choose or control him/herself, i.e. they are given: age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, ethnicity and race. These aspects influence how the person is treated when s/he is dealing with diversity in communication and interaction with others.  

·        External dimensions (3rd layer) depict the outcomes of life experiences and decisions/choices taken. Altogether there are ten different areas (such as education, work experience, income, marital status, … ) through which people can be appreciated or degraded, connected or disconnected depending on how exactly these aspects are seen and applied.

·        Organisational dimensions (4th layer) include elements that are integrated into work and social interaction in an organization/at a work place. They contain a number of hierarchical as well as functional aspects of working life and how a person relates to them in the context of diversity.

The Diversity Wheel is a good instrument for shedding light on various, sometimes hidden and less explicit aspects of life in an organization where diversity is present every single moment. Using this tool can make things better visible to people who work together and that way increase their understanding and acceptance of diversity at work. Further, I am convinced that the Diversity Wheel can be an eye-opening instrument to be applied to guidance and counselling, too.    

Image: The Diversity Wheel

N.B. The original Diversity Wheel was introduced in Marilyn Loden and Judy Rosener’s book entitled “Workforce America! Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource” (1991). 

Interview with Aarne Puisto (PART 1): Studying law abroad, aiming at an international career

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It is pretty common among young Finns these days to take a university degree abroad. The top three destination countries where Finnish students like to go are the United Kingdom, Sweden and Estonia.

This is exactly what Mr Aarne Puisto (24), a Finnish law student, has done. So far he has completed his Bachelor degree at the Tallinn University of Technology/Tallinn Law School in Estonia (2012-15) and he is now pursuing Master degree studies on European Business Law at the Lund University in Sweden (2015-17).  

International law was a natural choice for me

“Initially I had the intention to do my legal studies in Finland, but as that did not work out the way I would have preferred, going abroad felt like a natural thing for me to do”, says Aarne. The choice of international law as his study field had been clear to him from very early on.

After some investigation the Tallinn Law School appeared as an optimal solution. “They offered a highly recommended Bachelor programme on international, comparative and European law, which genuinely was what I was looking for. Content-wise it was like tailor-made for me and my professional interests in the European justice system”, Aarne explains.

When launching his studies in Tallinn in the autumn of 2012, Aarne was of course very excited, but a little nervous at the same time. The main stress factor for him was simply the fact that the study programme was run completely in English. “I had not been using English in my daily life that frequently before, and then all of a sudden all communication was in academic English. At first it was a little hard, but very soon I felt that I was able to interact in English inside and outside of class without any major obstacles”, Aarne summarises his first months in Estonia.

The studies at the Tallinn Law School were composed of lecturing, independent learning, practical assignments and case studies including teamwork and presentations given by the students. “Of course it is crucial to listen to the lectures and learn about theories, legislation and the legal system as such. But I think that it is even more important to understand how the law can be interpreted in and adapted to different situations and contexts. To this end the different case studies and exercises were extremely useful”, Aarne reflects on his study experience.

On top of his studies in Estonia, Aarne took the initiative with some of his co-students to establish the Tallinn Law School Student Association as no such a forum was in place there yet. “There was an incredible amount of bureaucracy and administrative aspects involved in this venture”, Aarne says laughingly. “Had we known that in advance, we would never ever have taken the step to set up the Law Student Association. But now it is there and it is running all well.”

From Estonia to Sweden

Upon successful completion of his Bachelor level studies in Estonia (spring 2015), Aarne was interested in continuing his education in another country. So, again it was a matter of choosing a new study destination abroad. This time his choice fell on the Lund University in Sweden. The decisive arguments for him were that the legal education at the Faculty of Law there is based on research, has an emphasis on the EU and competition law and has the best ranking among the Nordic university faculties of law. Finally, it offers a solid foundation for entering a career in legal professions worldwide.

“I have truly enjoyed my study time in Sweden. One of the best things is that there is a perfect match and complementarity between what I learnt in Estonia and what I am now learning here. The most rewarding learning experience, while in Lund, has been the numerous visiting lecturers and external experts from the European Court of Justice, the European Commission, multinational companies and law firms. They have really added to the quality of learning with their legal expertise.”

“But now as I am supposed to finish my studies in 2017, my focus is getting more and more on how and where to enter the labour market. Making the transition from education to work as smoothly as possible is something that I am thinking of very much these days. I have had good summer jobs and other interesting part-time working experiences throughout the years. I also know how harsh the competition among graduates can be to find employment that corresponds to one’s qualification. So, I am well prepared for that!”

“As I see it, my professional orientation and my future career goals are somehow two-fold. On one hand, I am interested in a career as a lawyer in a larger law firm in the sectors of competition law, intellectual property rights and/or mergers and acquisitions. This could be in Finland or in any other European Union country. On the other hand, I could also see myself working for the European Commission in Brussels or for National Competition Authorities”, Aarne shares his future aspirations.

Aarne is promoting himself and his achievements to potential employers for any interesting job openings that fit his professional profile. “I am doing a lot networking within the academic circles and also in the private sector. Despite my young age, I have already learnt the value of setting up and maintaining good social relations and professional networks”, Aarne adds. “This is one of the key assets and resources that I possess!”

READ also the second part of Aarne’s interview through this link.

VISIT Aarne’s LinkedIn profile through this link.

SEE also this academic article by Puisto, A. & Alavi, H. (2016) Abuse of Dominant Market Position by Predatory Pricing - The Valio Case

Text: Mika Launikari based on an interview with Aarne Puisto (Löyly, Helsinki, on 10 July 2016)

Photo: Aarne Puisto