Finnish Friend Project brings the world at your doorstep

Teksti ja kuvat: Sini-Maria Melanen, Translation: Juho Suomalainen
Azra Tayebi and her Finnish Friend family––Maiju Ahlholm and her children, Uljas and Kerttu.

The Finnish Friend project offers an important opportunity for many exchange students to learn about the everyday culture of Finns, while giving Finnish families a chance to get a new friend and to learn about different cultures in the process.

The Finnish Friend project is one way for exchange students to enrich their experience in Finland giving them the opportunity to get to know Finnish culture and daily life outside the university.
The University of Eastern Finland shut down their Finnish Friend Programme late last year due to lack of resources. People of Joensuu were quick to react to this news. The Finnish Friend Club was soon established, and has operated under the Student Union (ISYY) since December of 2015. Azra Tayebi, who had been involved with Finnish Friend projects before, played an important part in getting the Finnish Friend Club underway. Having heard the news of the previous Programme shutting down, she decided to establish a club which would carry on a similar operation on Joensuu campus.
‘Starting my studies, I was lucky to get first-hand experience of living in a Finnish family––to eat pulla and drink homemade berry juice. It was all new to me¬¬, and a little scary, but I met people with similar interests to mine, who wanted to learn more about my country just as much as I wanted to learn about Finland. I’ll never forget those moments,’ Tayebi recalls.

Azra Tayebi acts as the chairperson of the Finnish Friend Club. All ISYY members are welcome to join Finnish Friend Joensuu; however, there is no specific requirement for Finnish volunteers to be members of ISYY or UEF. Families or individual participants simply volunteer to be members of the Club, after which they are introduced to one international student. Both parties, the international students and Finnish friends and families, may get involved in the project by contacting the email list:

There is an event in the works, set to take place in February, where international students and Finnish volunteers will have an opportunity to meet and get to know each other. ISYY’s weekly newsletters (Wiikko-Ärsyke, Monday Mail) will keep people informed about the event.
Both Kuopio and Savonlinna campuses are currently without a Finnish Friend project. Individual tutors have taken on the responsibility for introducing international students to Finnish culture in Savonlinna due to the limited number of international students in the city, whereas in Kuopio, Finnish Friend projects are still under development.