Exploring themes rather than a single discipline in the Master’s Programme in Intercultural Encounters

As interculturalism remains in the news from year to year, with new issues constantly emerging, there is an ongoing need to examine current intercultural encounters with a multidisciplinary approach and adjust the focus in response to changes in society.

Saila Poutiainen, Director of the Master’s Programme in Intercultural Encounters at the University of Helsinki, recently asked new students what made them choose the programme.

“They said they appreciate that they don’t have to commit to a single discipline,” Poutiainen explains.

Rather than taking a narrow view, the programme explores intercultural issues by concentrating on specific themes. The topics are not examined from the perspective of sociology or media communication studies alone, for the programme aims at a genuinely multidisciplinary approach.

“Our courses are structured around a handful of themes, not individual disciplines,” Poutiainen continues.

Originally offered in Finnish, the programme is now available in English in a redesigned format. Applicants must decide whether they intend to pursue a Master's degree in arts or theology.

“Students pursuing a theology degree complete the thematic module in religion, conflict and dialogue, while humanities students are to choose two modules. In addition, all students select some elective studies.”

The thematic modules focus not only on religion, conflict and dialogue but also on politics, identity, security and migration as well as tradition, knowledge and change.

Poutiainen herself specialises in intercultural communication. All students in the Master’s programme are to take her course on communication and encounters.

“The course examines encounters at many levels of communication, from two-way communication to communication in media and work communities,” she explains.

Focus on current topics

The Master’s Programme in Intercultural Encounters aims to be in tune with the times by adjusting its focus areas in response to changes in society.

“Interculturalism remains in the news from year to year, with new issues constantly emerging.”

New methods have been adopted in research and teaching; researchers are no longer solely comparing survey responses of people from different countries.

“In the area of, say, immigration and refugees, we have abandoned focusing on boundary-crossing as well as distinctions based on nations and the state in favour of multicultural communities and the multiple identities of a single individual,” Poutiainen describes.

Components of society, from politics to media, are an integral part of the programme structure.

“Contemporary political life and the diversification of media raises new issues relating to international and intercultural activities,” Poutiainen says.

Strength in multidisciplinary skills

Intercultural encounters are part of modern life, with experts needed in companies, ministries, institutions of higher education and NGOs.

“Career studies are a compulsory part of the degree. Career clinic acquaints students with employers and work environments,” Poutiainen explains.

The students in this multidisciplinary programme come from various backgrounds and end up in a variety of fields, including planning, education and consultancy work.

“We consider it an important mission to educate future academic professionals by providing students with diverse knowledge and skills for international duties in our constantly changing world.”