"It is important to learn Finnish to find a job in Finland"

After studying accounting and economics as well as social services and youth work in the past, Samiuela Elone wanted to study further and stumbled upon the Religion, Conflict and Dialogue track (now Religion and Diversity) of the Master's Programme in Intercultural Encounters.

Samiuela Elone

Youth worker, City of Helsinki, Finland

Graduated in 2021

Samiuela benefited from the international environment of the ICE programme and enjoyed the diverse backgrounds and views represented by the students and teachers. For him, Finland is paradise. However, he emphasizes that despite the presence of companies hiring English speakers, it is essential to learn Finnish if you are planning to stay and work in Finland. After graduation, Samiuela continued his job as a youth worker for the City of Helsinki. The acquired knowledge about religious identities and their negotiation supports him in his work.

  • Track of specialization: Religion, Conflict and Dialogue track (now Religion and Diversity)
  • Best memories: Group discussions, diversity, social and cultural aspects
Full interview


Why did you choose to study in the ICE programme?

I did my BA in social services and diaconal work at the Diaconia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki. I always wanted to study further. I just happened to find the ICE programme when looking up some study opportunities. I applied for the Religion, Conflict and Dialogue track (RCD, now Religion and Diversity) leading to a Master of Theology degree. It was always a dream of mine to study at the University of Helsinki, so I applied and got in.

What is your study background?

I studied accounting and economics for my BA degree at the University of the South Pacific. When I was studying in high school, we needed an accounting and economics teacher and I did quite all right in science subjects. For this reason, I did my BA studies in this area. When I graduated from university in Tonga, I taught in high school but then moved to Finland. Here, I studied youth work and my BA degree in social services. I became a youth worker, which I am until today.


What did you like the most about the ICE programme?

I liked the people the most because it was a very international group. I might have been the oldest one, so I did not participate in social events. However, it was a group of people of different backgrounds and different views, which was very interesting. Somehow, the Finnish students were quite international too. Besides the contents of the courses, that was very interesting. I applied for the subject and expected to learn about Interculturality but then the group itself was very diverse. Unfortunately, Covid-19 started and most of the teaching went online. Anyway, I really liked the programme.

What were your areas of interest?

I chose my study track because I wanted to look at the role of religions in conflicts and conflict resolution. In the RCD track, we dealt with Christianity and Islam and had many discussions about it. We did not share our personal beliefs but I suspect some of us were of strong Christian belief. The discussions were interesting, especially because there is a lot of talk about openness and freethinking at the University of Helsinki. Yet, you can still hear people talk in a very conservative manner. It was fascinating to listen to these people’s thoughts. It also made me reflect and discover my own thinking.

What is unique about the programme?

I found the multicultural aspect of the ICE programme very interesting. Even though all of us were studying social studies, people still had different views. We talked about the same issues and somehow we were thinking similarly, but at some point, the cultural backgrounds of the people from different countries came through.

For me, it was fascinating to see that the teachers were quite young. I think this is related to my cultural background. In Tonga, you go to school and only if you have enough money or a scholarship, you continue to university. Often once you graduate from high school you are done and get a job.

So it was fascinating to see the different cultures and exchange with different people. I realized some of my colleagues were quite young compared to me, which was also mind-blowing for me. The whole social dynamic of the school environment was interesting to experience. From my perspective, not only the academic part but also the social and cultural aspects was positively shocking and always surprised me.

What’s your best memory from your time as a student in the ICE programme?

I enjoyed the group discussions. Unfortunately, when the pandemic started in spring 2020, most of the teaching went online. I appreciated the discussions and it was always nice to talk and exchange, even online on Zoom. We also had a few enjoyable events in the beginning. But somehow, I felt a little bit out of place because of my age.

What was the best/most memorable course you attended and why?

It is not necessarily so much about the content of the courses but about the teachers. There were some teachers, with whom I felt more comfortable and that I liked better than others. Not for personal reasons, but because of their style of teaching. In some cases, I hated the course but I still liked the teacher.

How did you benefit from studying in the ICE programme?

Just having this piece of paper is very important to find work in Finland. I would like to change my job. I am more interested in doing a similar job with adults and not with young people up to 18 years old anymore. I have done it for more than 18 years. Of course, my Finnish is worse than my English. In Finland, you have to speak Finnish, especially in social work. You have to be able to communicate. In that sense, it is a bit difficult for me. This is challenging of course and it keeps me from looking for a new job. Overall, I am sure that it is beneficial to have the diploma.

What would you say to students who are wondering whether this Master’s programme is right for them?

In Finland, it is important to have a certificate to apply for jobs. Once you have graduated you get a piece of paper. Of course, the degree should fit your career goals and the jobs you want to apply for.

How do you find Finland and Helsinki as a place to study?

The way I look at it, Finland is paradise. Since I am a Finnish citizen now, I am free to study whatever I like. The possibilities are unlimited. However, when I first came to Finland I was not prepared. Even though I have enjoyed my time in Finland, it would have been better if I had known more about the Finnish culture and life.

I think the experience is very different if you come from outside of Europe. The culture in Europe seems to be somehow similar. People coming from outside Europe face similar challenges. Often, people talk about the weather but this is the last thing to worry about. You just have to put on warm clothes. You either like it or do not like it. The cultural and social aspects of life are more challenging. It is difficult to get work if you do not speak Finnish, even if you have a degree in English. I did not know that in the beginning. Anyway, I am very happy to be here with my kids. We are very lucky to live in Europe.

Which kind of tips would you give to someone, who moved to Finland from outside Europe?

If you want to stay in Finland, you have to learn the language. I always told myself that I could learn whatever, except for languages. This attitude has affected my way of finding a job. There are companies, which operate in English and hire English speakers but if you are in the social work field, unless you are a researcher, you have to speak the language. That is very important. If you want to find a job in Finland, it is important to learn Finnish.

Professional life

What was your journey after graduation?

After graduation, I continued my job as a youth worker for the City of Helsinki. I am comfortable doing what I am doing now, even if I am thinking of doing something else. I hope that I put my act together and start applying for jobs.

What is your current job and how did you obtain it?

I got my job because I studied youth work. After some years in Finland, I thought: “Okay let’s get a job”. For some reason, I thought that my BA in accounting and economics did not mean anything in Finland. For this reason, I acquired a basic certificate in youth work from the City of Helsinki. It was a two-year programme. The people at the Youth House knew me and that is how I got my current job.

What is the coolest thing about your job?

The satisfaction. Sometimes I reflect on my workday and realize that I made a mistake or I did something well. At the same time, I know that everything could collapse the next day. It is on me to try to learn that the kids are not the ones who have a problem but myself. It is important to explain to them that it is important to discuss and communicate no matter what happens. It is nice to see that they do not only learn from their mistakes but also when things go well. The best part of the work is when you realize that you did a good job. Sometimes, I am very happy that I figured something out. Occasionally, I say something, which catches their attention.

As I already mentioned, I don’t want to blame the kids. It is me who can’t figure out how to get through to them. So when I manage it is my success. The kids do whatever they like. They climb the tree or cut it down. If I can convince them not to cut it down, that is my success. I have to figure out how to talk to them. The reward is not financial but emotional.

Of course, there are times when it is the other way around because it is emotionally draining if I do not manage to get through to them. So, it can be hard too, but I know it is only hard when I cannot figure out how to reach the kid.

Which challenges do you encounter in your day-to-day work?

It is challenging for me if some of the kids are misbehaving. In that sense, it can be draining when they are shouting, running around or fighting. Sometimes they are swearing, joking or bulling each other. It is important to draw a line and to make sure it stops there. However, some kids continue with this behaviour. In this case, you have to cool down and not get angry. It is part of the work to deal with this behaviour and accept it. Otherwise, you get crazy.

Which skills have been useful in your working life and how?

I think the studies are less about the skills than an opportunity to learn something about yourself. Of course, in the ICE programme you learn about religion and societal organisation, but my work is more micro-level related. Somehow, my work is not directly connected to my studies. However, it helped me to think and talk about the role of religion, reflect on religious beliefs and think about how we negotiate our religious identities.

However, there is always a difference between theory and practice. Every situation and every person is different, so you apply something and learn about it on the go. In my work, I constantly have to modify and evaluate how to deal with certain situations. You have to be resourceful and patient. It is most important that you are patient when you work with young people because it takes some time to get through to them.

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