Expat Life felt honoured to sit down with H.E. Mr. Jyri Järviaho the Ambassador of Finland to Thailand and Cambodia find out more about his roots, his mission and his objectives whilst in post in SE Asia.
How long have you been the Ambassador to Thailand?
Since 1st of September 2020 as Ambassador-Designate and since December 6th as Ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia.
Did you arrive to Thailand from home, or were you posted somewhere else before?
I arrived to Thailand from Helsinki, where I worked for the last five years at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs as a Director in Human Resources. I have also served in Finnish Embassies in Belgrade in Serbia and Riga in Latvia and in the Finnish Permanent Mission in Geneva in Switzerland.
Where were you born and brought up?
I was born and brought up in a small village called Vimpeli in Western Finland. I later studied in Eastern Finland, University of Joensuu and lived and worked in Helsinki.
At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat?
I have been interested in global affairs since I was a little boy. Being a diplomat was never in my thoughts until I joined a study abroad programme as part of my studies at the University of Joensuu. I studied political science at Newcastle in the UK and later international relations in Denver, Colorado in the USA. These issues fascinated me and guided me to a training programme at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Do you have other diplomats in your family?
There are no diplomats in my family. My parents were officials at the local government and in a local bank.
How do view Thailand today? Have you encountered any obstacles since you arrived?
Thailand is a wonderful country with a colourful culture and people. We have received a very warm welcome to Thailand. Of course I still have so much to learn about the country, it’s culture and its people.
I arrived to Thailand with my wife after a two week state quarantine at a ASQ hotel. Obviously the Covid-19 pandemic is causing travel restrictions and many connections with family and friends can only be done virtually for the moment. Hopefully, next year we could have a possibility to welcome our family and friends physically to Thailand.
Coming from the Northern Hemisphere where the average temperature is 5C, of course the climate and especially the heat in Thailand is something that I need to adjust and get used to.
Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?
I think people’s lives are somewhat similar in many countries. People grow up, go to school, they work, love, have their desires, hopes and dreams. In general people’s lives have much more similarities than differences.
One special thing we have in common is that in both countries people take their shoes off when going in to houses or people’s home.
Do you have children? What age and where do they go to school?
We have one son. He is already 31 years of age and has a family in Helsinki. Our grandson was born last April so my wife and I are proud grandparents.
How do you look upon your work here? What does an average day look like?
Each day varies a lot with what is going on in Thailand and across the world. I usually go to the office in the morning, meet up with Embassy colleagues and teams and receive briefings from Helsinki. Almost every day I have meetings with Thai partners, other Ambassadors or members of the international community or Finnish businesses.
I also take part in many meetings, seminars or conferences, of which many now are online. Usually every week there are some evening functions to attend, meetings with officials, business partners, colleagues or other international contacts as well.
It is very important to build up networks and relations with the Thai government and partners, the business community, academics and civil society in Thailand. At the same time I present Finland every day in many different ways, so I will need good knowledge and contacts in Finland as well.
As with every Ambassador, I am sure that you have some goals you really would like to fulfil before you leave Thailand. May I ask what they are?
I would be very happy if Finland became a partner for Thailand in the circular economy and education sector development.
Have you had the opportunity to travel around Thailand yet?
Not as much as I would have liked but I have been in Phuket, Khao Yai and Chon Buri, and we are planning to go soon to Koh Samui and Chiang Mai. We look forward to seeing more of this beautiful country.
May I ask if you have a favourite destination in Thailand yet?
All the places that we have been are very nice, including Bangkok which is a very interesting and colourful place! Far too soon for me to choose my favourite place yet.
When you have a day off, what do you do? Do you have any special hobbies?
I love to do exercise in my spare time, in the gym, to swim, or to go running in Lumpini Park. I also love music and I am trying to play and learn more on the guitar. When time allows it I want to travel extensively in Thailand and get to know the different places, cultures and regions.
How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?
Before Covid there were some 2,000 Finns living more or less permanently in Thailand. Many returned to Finland because of the COVID situation. Currently we only have a few hundred left. I think some people are slowly returning when travel restrictions ease. Many Scandinavians escape the harsh Northern hemisphere winter and come to Thailand for up to six months of the year and I am sure that they will return once the world gets a grip of the Covid pandemic.
Tourism from Finland picked up slowly from 1970s onward. Good flight connections by Finnair enlarged and encouraged that possibility. In fact, Bangkok was Finnair’s first destination in Asia, with the first service in 1976. Lately Thailand has been a desired destination for some 150,000 Finnish tourists annually. Especially during the winter months, Finns love to come for the sunny Thailand beaches and resorts. Also the Thai culture, friendly people and the delicious food make the place very special and attractive for Finns.
Do your country and Thailand have any exchange programmes for students today?
Every year, there are Thai students that go to study in Finnish universities within the framework of the European Erasmus+ programme and or other similar exchange schemes.
There are very good English taught Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree programmes in several higher education institutions in Finland. Today there are actually over 400 such programmes available. All universities have scholarship opportunities for international students. We hope Finland will receive more degree students from Thailand in the future to as more Thais venture abroad to seek education opportunities.
If you could choose your next destination, where would you like to go?
Oh far too soon to even think about that – I am now very happy in Thailand. I will think of next destination when the time comes.
Is there any memory from Thailand that you’d like to share with us, an awkward situation, a fun moment etc.?
I tried to go to a seminar by taxi after a heavy rainstorm in Bangkok. We ended up moving few hundred metres in an hour. The seminar continued nicely without me. That was a good lesson for me to learn about the basics of Bangkok traffic.
Do you regularly meet up with your community?
I try to be present and reach out for the Finnish communities. For instance, we have regular meetings with organisations like Thai-Finnish Chamber of Commerce. I have participated in their events and we have had some very productive meetings. I have visited and met with several Finnish companies in Thailand, like Nokia, Huhtamaki, Fiskars, Kone, Valmet, etc.
One interesting visit was to Arkki School, which is a Finnish concept school for skills and creative education for children and youth. My wife and I also participated in the Most Beautiful Christmas Songs event organised by FELM, the international agency of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland. I am planning to visit different regions in Thailand and meet the local Finnish communities.
What do you believe is your most important task as Ambassador?
In general, to work in expanding further the relations between Finland and Thailand and with this in mind there are many sectors and aspects I will work on.
In order to serve my government effectively, I will need good to expand and grow good contacts and networks in Thailand and Finland. It will be most important to work on cultivating and building relations with all counterparts.
However, an Ambassador also leads the Embassy staff, and it is very important to get all staff motivated and moving to the same direction. Anything we accomplish is always a team effort by all colleagues in the Embassy. I am very lucky to have a very strong Embassy team working in various issues.
What else would you like the expat community to know about your efforts?
I think after the Covid crisis, our economies need incentives to recover. This will be our chance to steer our economies and societies towards green recovery and sustainable living. Shifting our societies towards more sustainable development paths is long overdue. The crisis created by Covid-19 could serve as a catalyst for new and more sustainable living.
We have to deal with issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, debris and pollution in our land, sea and air. I believe technology will help us. Investing in new green technologies, clean transport systems and energy production, circular economy solutions, smart green cities and sustainable agriculture and forestry, will be the way forward. Through green investments we will boost jobs and growth, the resilience of societies and health of the environment. In addition, investing in green solutions will be and is already profitable.
One thing we should remember while borrowing funds for recovery, we take them from future generations. Whilst future generations will have to pay our debts, the least we can do is to leave a decent planet for them to live on.
Thank you for your time Ambassador we hope that you and your wife have a happy and successful post in Thailand.