“My dream is to be a superhero. I wish I could influence the workings of the world. To do something big that would make things better for many people. If I were a superhero, I would give each young person with an immigrant background their own guidance counsellor,” said a young Afghan woman, living in Finland since arriving as a quota refugee when she was a small child, in a seminar organised by Svenska social- och kommunalhögskolan and Centret för livslångt lärande.
The seminar was focused on immigrant girls’ dreams of studying and building a career in Finland. Particularly aimed at guidance professionals in education and employment administration, the event’s topics included Islam and the Quran and how they help women make their dreams come true. Imam Abbas Bahmanpour emphasised that the teachings of the Quran, interpreted and explained by theologians, are different from the meanings given to them by fanatical extremist movements and radical groups. According to the Quran, a woman is equal to a man in creation, in the eyes of God, at work and under the criminal code, for example. In terms of using the hijab, Bahmanpour stated that it is a question of modesty and should not be considered means to restrict or control women. This is something western people find hard to understand.
Finland enables but excludes
In a panel discussion, young migrant women talked about the challenges of balancing the expectations arising from their ethnic background as well as the demands of Finnish society. Being a member of both a minority and a majority at the same time is not an easy feat. It is quite difficult to avoid feeling like an outsider in Finland. This particularly applies to young people and adults from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The participants of the panel commended Finland for making nearly anything possible. In Finland, success is up to you. If you are willing to work hard, you can get the degree and the job you want. This brings you forward in life and more fully integrates you in society.
Guidance means encountering people
The young migrant women wished that there were more resources for guidance and counselling in educational institutions. Personal guidance was considered extremely important for immigrants. Young immigrants may not have adults besides a guidance counsellor with whom to ponder and discuss important questions in life. Guidance counsellors are expected to be able to see people for who they are and empathise with them. However, guidance counsellors are not always prepared to understand all the things young refugees may have seen and experienced.
A trusting guidance relationship is not automatically created between the student and the counsellor. In her address, Anne-Mari Souto from the University of Eastern Finland stated that counsellors need to stop being afraid of discussing difficult subjects with young immigrants. Counsellors must have courage to ask young people about their lives (family situation, hobbies, religion, friends, ethnic background, etc.) and not be afraid of surprising answers that may lead the guidance process in an unexpected direction. The lack of such courage may, at its worst, result in a situation where the counsellor and the student are not talking about the same thing. The role of a counsellor is to genuinely support, encourage and ask interested questions, teaching the young person to trust them and open up about topics that may be sensitive.
Similarities are key
Mika Launikari from the Finnish National Agency for Education emphasised that guidance is always about encountering people and the interaction between individuals. Excessively focusing on cultural differences or using them as an explanation for everything may cause unnecessary tension in the guidance process. It would be more important to understand how our living environment and social relationships impact us all and how they mould our view of the world, our values, attitudes, ideals and behaviour. The most effective guidance relationship is one where the counsellor and the student find even the smallest similarity between them and, as a result, build a connection.
Text: Mika Launikari, Finnish National Agency for Education/Euroguidance
First Published in finnish on Finnish National agency for Education webpage
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