Siirry sisältöön

Internationalising Student Union POKA 


Students.New Degree Tutors at their first meeting on 11.4.2024 getting to know each other, planning activities and recording ideas and wishes in small groups (Photo by Tiia Kyllönen).

The Student union POKA of Karelia University of Applied Sciences is strongly involved in the Cultural Diversity of Study Paths project. For POKA, the project is developing: 

  • Internationalization and internationalization skills of the student union 
  • Participation and empowerment of international students in decision-making 
  • Forms of peer support for international students 
  • Karelia for all –activies, communality, networking and Finnish students’ internationalization 

The International Division is the first step towards genuine participation and involvement of international students in the Student Union

POKA is strongly bilingual and equity and the ”come as you are” theme have long been reflected in POKA’s activities, communications, services and strategy. However, as the number of international students has increased, the need to increase the opportunities for non-Finnish speaking students to participate in decision-making and administration has been recognized. We see increasing the participation and active involvement of international students as an important next step for the well-being of the whole community. As Aicha Manai said in her lecture on Diversity in the Workplace (9 April 2024), a diverse community provides different perspectives and there is strength in that. This is how we in “Karelia for all” want to work and make decisions together, so that everyone feels part of a diverse community. 

The first step towards truly bilingual (Finnish-English) decision-making and participation is POKA’s International Division, which will be established in May 2024. The Division’s mission is to act as a messenger between international students and POKA’s Board and Council of Representatives, to support Degree Tutors and VIPs (Atmosphere on Caring) in their role and to bring together international and Finnish students. In spring 2024, the international students have had a nice active attitude towards working together and developing, and the division has also aroused their interest. The next step is to hold POKA’s first bilingual election of Council of Representatives in November 2024. The development work will be based on the knowledge of the student unions and will be further shared with the whole student unions’ community. 

The development of internationalization skills for POKA’s trustees and employees is carried out in cooperation with Karelia University of Applied Sciences. The project’s micro-studies on topics such as multiculturalism, diversity, anti-racism work and cultural and linguistic awareness will provide the actors with tools. An information package on general issues and support needs of international students will be compiled for POKA’s actors in customer service work, also drawing on the guidelines compiled by National Union of Students in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences – SAMOK in spring 2024 and will also be distributed for use by Karelia’s various services, such as janitorial services. 

Peer support activities combine and connect


New Degree Tutors in their first meeting on 11.4.2024 – get to know each other and have a chat (Photo by Tiia Kyllönen). 

At Karelia, peer support activities between students include Degree Tutoring and VIP (Atmosphere of Caring). Degree Tutors are mainly 2nd year students who act as tutors for incoming 1st year students in International Business, Industrial Management and Information and Communication Technology. Degree Tutors act as experience experts and provide peer support on arrival in Finland and Joensuu and on starting their studies. They introduce new students to Finnish culture, campuses and study methods, and introduce students to each other. The project’s focus on meeting international students and emphasizing inclusion is already visible in the increase in the number of students applying to become Degree Tutors in spring 2024. 

VIP students are selected from each starting group of students. VIPs sense how the group is doing and what kind of discussion openings or support might be needed in the group. We see it as something worth trying to combine tutor and VIP activities – joint peer support activities for the starting group. Combining these activities is also aimed at bringing more students from different year groups together. Together we are more! 

Networking through cooperation

A fairly extensive network of cooperation has already been built around the Cultural Diversity of Study Paths project in Joensuu. In order to support students’ networking and communality, cooperation has already been established during spring 2024 for example with Talent Hub Eastern Finland, INVEST, Tulevaisuuden työkyky, Tarmo, University of Eastern Finland, Riveria, City of Joensuu, Helposti Joensuuhun, Joensuu district multicultural association, Joensuu Library, North Karelian Society for Social Security, Student Union of the University of Eastern Finland ISYY, Kilta ry… Cooperation with different actors brings holding power to the area and increases the internationalization of Finnish students by bringing students together in different activities. How about an organization fair, a new students’ event, an ice fishing trip, student forums, immigrant coffee or a buddy activity? 

The project will develop POKA’s Into free time activities in line with the wishes of international students. We will bring activities to where the students are, on campus, during their study days: filling “laskiaispullat” (buns), zumba during lunch break, karaoke and crafts. Events and free-time activities are also highlighted as the most important factor for inclusion in the student participation survey conducted by the City of Joensuu in spring 2024 (  

However, simply bringing Finnish and international students together in the same space is not enough to promote networking. Students must have a common mission and a common goal. The best way to create cooperation is to integrate joint activities into studies. A project week for Finnish and international students linked to the working life, combining a Community Work course for social work students with support for international students, and buddy-class activities are examples of activities that will bring students together during the project. The Community Work course will be developed in spring 2024 for autumn 2024 by Mervi Väänänen, an intern from the Cultural Diversity of Study Path’s project. In the pilot of the buddy-class activities, we will connect the starting IB, IM, ICT and language-supported nursing groups with the corresponding Finnish 2nd year student groups. To be successful, the pilot requires commitment from the student groups, the POKA and project coordinators, and the teachers. By bringing Finnish and international students together, we will make our expertise visible and learn from each other – home-grown internationalization at its best. 

#monikulttuurisetopintopolut and #kareliaforall

Getting international students to become active actors requires targeted communication and face-to-face encounters. From autumn 2024 onwards, the ”Karelia for all” slogan will be strongly visible on the new tutors’ T-shirts. We hope that the shirts will bring a smile to the faces wherever tutors are working to welcome and support new students! 

You can follow more of POKA’s activities related to the project on Instagram @varmapoka, #monikulttuurisetopintopolut and #kareliaforall. 


Tiia Kyllönen 

Project Specialist, Cultural Diversity of Study Paths 

Specialist, Student Union POKA / +35850 438 9071