Internationality does not take away anything from anyone

For Gramoz Shpendi, internationality has long been a lifestyle. Now he also promotes it through student policy and declares: "Internationality does not take away anything from anyone. On the contrary, it opens doors."

"The beginning was easy, even too easy,” Gramoz Shpendi describes his first contact with Finland and the Finnish education system.

"In Kosovo, I only used to be a number, a part of a vast mass. Suddenly, I was in the small town of Hämeenlinna, in a higher education institution, where we were only 35 1st-year students in my course. We were in familiar terms with our teachers and knew them personally.”

Foto: Samuli Siirala

It was a big change, but a change for the better, Shpendi explains. He also liked the modern teaching methods.

"In Kosovo, studying was very old-fashioned, largely learning things by heart."

When Shpendi moved to Finland in 2012, it was also the first time he moved abroad. However, it was not his first contact with other cultures and internationality.

Film festival Dokufest, in which he participated as a volunteer for the first time in 2010, made a lasting impression on him.

"It was a tremendously international event. It felt as if the whole world were in Kosovo. A number of seminars and discussion events with participants from all corners of the world were organised in the festival.”

"It was also the moment when I understood that I want to continue to live and work in an international environment."

In the following years, he already worked as an engineer in the festival and as festival coordinator.

Going abroad was the natural next step

When it was time to apply for a place to study, going abroad seemed natural. My family also encouraged me to apply to study abroad.

"My parents were young in the 1970s and the Yugoslavian passport granted entry to almost anywhere they wanted. They really took advantage of the opportunity and went and saw the world.”

In the end, I chose to study in Finland, as there was something exotic about the country.

"I already had some kind of impression of the other alternatives, but Finland was something mysterious and exotic. Finnish celebrities seemed unassuming and there was something fascinating about that, too."

Another reason was, of course, the fact that the Finnish education system has a worldwide reputation for high quality.

"Therefore, I decided to apply for a place Finland, although many people said that it is cold here."

Confusions could not be avoided either

Although starting school was easy, not quite everything was effortless.

"We were a close international group of people, but it was difficult to learn to know Finnish people. I decided to participate in everything possible. I started to play rugby and even went to church events, although I’m not religious."

"In one evening do, I met a Finn who called me his brother, but the following day, he did not even say hello. It was confusing, although we became good friends later."

Still, Shpendi wants to avoid making generalisations. We are often prisoners of our generalisations, although it would be better to learn to know the new cultures without prejudices.

"Everyone should make their own conclusions. Without fixed assumptions, you may discover entirely new sides in the culture."

Promoting internationality became a career

"Internationality has become so important to me that I want to promote it for work, too,” Shpendi says.

Currently, he is responsible for internationality and mobility in the European Students’ Union ESU. The organisation itself is a paragon of internationality: the colleagues are from the UK, Iceland, Slovenia, Kosovo - really from across Europe.

"Entering student politics was just a joke in the beginning when I stood for election as a candidate of the local student association."

But jokes can also become reality, and I became interested in politics. At the beginning of this year, Shpendi started as a board member of Samok, which represents Finnish students of universities of applied sciences, and later in the spring, he already stood for election for its European umbrella organisation ESU.

"When I started my career, I was the only the foreigner and my colleagues had to translate documents into English. I really felt that there was a demand for the promotion of internationality."

In Shpendi’s opinion, internationality should not mean just that we are mobile and move from one country to another. It should be accessible to everyone - including within the borders of the country.

"Internationality opens doors and builds bridges between people. Internationality and cultural interaction do not take anything away from anyone but give us the opportunity to learn from each other."

Future still unknown

Although ongoing projects may still keep Shpendi in Finland even after his forthcoming graduation, he also wants to see the world.

“I’m especially interested in Japan, but quite honestly, the future is still quite unknown.”

"It may also be that I return to Kosovo one day. Although Kosovo is currently a developing country, it is on its way towards a more democratic and fairer society. I want to be involved in building a better future there.

Text: Eini Nyman

Photo: Samuli Siirala

Photo: Samuli Siirala For Gramoz Shpendi, internationality has long been a lifestyle. Now he also promotes it through student policy and declares: "Internationality does not take away anything from anyone. On the contrary, it opens doors."

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