Finland, the Northern country with 187,888 lakes and a blonde, blue-eyed Ambassador to Thailand.
Finland is Europe’s most heavily forested country; it’s a “forest giant”. The country offers the best of nature’s treasures – lakes, forests, the Nordic Light and much, much more.
Photographer Daniel Herron and I went early morning to visit the Ambassador H.E. Mrs Satu Suikkari-Kleven at the Finnish Embassy on Wireless Road.This woman is the Nordic woman personified. She has blonde hair, blue eyes and a bright smile.
H.E. Mrs Satu has been Finland’s Ambassador to Thailand for a year now. She is a very warm person, easy to talk to and she’s genuine interested in what you have to say. She came from Helsinki to Bangkok and has settled in nicely to her new position.
We could talk for hours about Finnish design, (think about Marimekko and Ittala to mention two well-known brands). The design starts out from simple ideas and natural materials, Finnish Sauna, (a Finn can’t live without a sauna). The age-old sauna customs have scarcely altered at all, even though many town houses have an electric stove instead of the traditional wood-fire one). As Mrs Satu is a busy woman,with a busy programme, we decided to concentrate and start talking about Finnish education. Finland is one of the world’s top countries when it comes to education. Its motto is: Free, equal, quality education for all!
What makes Finnish education so special and successful I ask. “Well, we use to say that less is more” Mrs Satu explains. We do not overload our students with too many facts. We are trying to get the best out of every student and we give students the opportunity to become highly educated, irrespective of where they live or what is their background. Our teachers are extremely well educated and even after having passed a teacher exam; we offer them continuous andmore advanced studies, to keep them up dated throughout their careers. Education is in fact a life long journey.
“We do not overload our students, especially the young students with too long hours. It is important to have joy in learning”
There are several great universities in Finland e.g. the University of Helsinki, which was established in 1640 (Finland at that time belonged to Sweden) and the University of Turku. Another famous university located in Oulu, specialised in technical topics and also the Aalto University offering a combination of economy, art and technology studies. To be exact, Finland has a total of 14 universities and 25 universities of applied science, which prepare students for tasks requiring higher vocational skills. 40% of the age group of 30-34 year old has earned a higher education degree.
Most Finnish people know at least two or more languages. It’s obligatory in the schools to take Swedish classes and therefore everybody in Finland knows, to some extent, how to speak Swedish. Finland belonged to Sweden from 1249 until 1809. H.E. Mrs Satu speaks fluent Swedish, but was brought up with Finnish at home.
Finland is a democracy and has a President; right now, it’s Mr Sauli Niinistö. The president has a 6-year term in office and can be reelected for one more term. Finland is one of the world’s most stable countries. This is a very special year for the Finns, as Finland is celebrating 100 years of independence.
Let me give you a little more insight to H.E. Ambassador Satu. She was born and brought up in Helsinki, capital of Finland. She went to a school that concentrated on music. At an early age, she decided to get a profession, and decided on diplomacy. She worked 2 years for the UN refugee agency in Geneva and was briefly posted in Afghanistan and Pakistan (August 1997 until February 1998). She has also worked in New York at the Finnish Mission to the UN.
Thailand is her first destination as an Ambassador. She is married and has a 9-year-old daughter Ida, who goes to NIST School. Asked about her husband, she immediately smiles and tells us “he is just wonderful, he is helping our daughter with everything, as well as assisting me in my job. He is a businessman and also a photographer and plans to start working here in Bangkok in the near future as well.”
I keep on asking all the usual questions like, how does your average day looks like. Are you an early bird or more a night owl? “Well, I’m more of a night owl she admits. I start in the morning to read and check emails; I read both Finnish and Thai daily papers. I enjoy a well-balanced breakfast before going to the office. My days are the same as for other Ambassadors, meetings, various events, paperwork etc. It’s extremely interesting and busy.” How about hobbies, exercise I was curious to know, “Well, I admire my colleagues who start their days with an early run in the parks but I haven’t managed that yet. I find exercise important and once had a private trainer and at that time I was in a very good physical condition.” I can tell, she’s in a real good condition today too, with or without a trainer, she is always on the run …
When she is off duty, she prefers to spend time with her family. As she is responsible for Cambodia as well as Thailand, she travels frequently to Phnom Penh, at least every second month. She is fascinated by the culture and traditions the neighbouring countries and Thailand offer. I asked if she sees any similarities between Thailand and Finland and she points out that both Thailand and Finland have very big neighbours, Thailand is close to both China and India and Finland to Russia. We also have some similarities when it comes to ancient art and traditions she explains.
She has seen many parts of Thailand and likes Chiang Mai in the north very much and also Kao Yai. “We will of course, explore much more of Thailand before we have to leave (in 2-3 years) and soon we will visit Krabi”. I used to travel frequently to Myanmar, before we opened an Embassy there. It’s a very interesting and beautiful place she says. She sees both Myanmar and Cambodia facing difficult times now, a very sad situation. Asia is a fascinating continent and I would love to see more of it, she tells me. Where would you like your next destination to be if you could choose? “Oh, I would very much like to stay in Asia, but if not possible, I would rather be in a country close to home. My parents live in Finland and I go home to see them and friends as much as possible, so I’m happy that Finnair has such a good flight connection,” she says with a smile. I am also happy flying with Finnair. They also have excellent connections with Sweden and offer a very good service and comfort, I added.
I also had to ask if she has time to socialise with her countrymen. “Yes of course, I try to engage myself as much as possible. I am often taking part in events by the Thai/Finnish Chamber of Commerce and not long ago, a group of Finnish women started FINWA (Finnish Women’s Association) and they have already met with the IWC (International Women’s Club) exchanging ideas and experiences. We, as most other Embassies, are also inviting our countrymen to celebrate Independence Day.”
Can I tell you about an idea that FINWA is trying to introduce to Thailand Mrs Satu asks me. She tells me that in Finland, when you expect a baby, you receive a so-called “Baby Box” from the government, as a gift. These comprise of a pack of diapers, a baby bottle, comforter and many more items that a baby needs and the box can also become converted into a bed. The members in FINWA are bringing this idea to Thailand and collect items to put in boxes and donate to the less privileged women and their babies here in Thailand. I think they are doing a wonderful job.
What is your goal, what is most important for you to achieve during your time as an Ambassador to Thailand?For H.E. Mrs Satu, one of the most important things is to strengthen the bonds between Finland and Thailand, to open doors for the Finnish companies and of course, support the Thai people in their efforts to strengthen the education system. Education is the way out of poverty and I hope, all Thai children will be given possibility to study and reacha higher degree.
We have some Thai students in Finland and we also send students to Thailand. We have designed teacher education programmes for our Thai partners and we frequently send professors to Thailand to assist the domestic group of teachers as well as students. Many students then do a follow up in Finland.
Daniel, who had been a silent participant and very interested listener, ended with asking “Why would a tourist like to go and visit Finland, what is unique about this northern country?”
Easy question to answer Mrs Satu quickly said “first of all; the nature, the clean air, the great architecture, the sauna and much, much more”. She also told us that Helsinki has become such a cool, trendy city. “A year ago, a big swimming pool was built in the city of Helsinki and on the sea, where people can swim all year round. Isn’t that a fun and fantastic idea”, she asked us.What can we say, it sounds like a very tempting destination so let’s go …. Finland next!
We said farewell to Mrs Satu who rushed to another floor in the same building to take part in a meeting with the EU Ambassadors. Thank you H.E. Mrs Satu Suikkari-Kleven for an educational and nice meeting at your modern and tastefully designed office.