"Forget nostalgia – life is now and from this day forward", Ambassador Metso encouraged Slovenian gymnasium students as he visited three different schools in May: Gimnazija Bežigrad and Gimnazija Šentvid in Ljubljana, and Gimnazija Franca Miklosica in Ljutomer, Eastern Slovenia.
Visits in Šentvid and Ljutomer were a part of the project "Europe to Schools", implemented by the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the purpose of which is to awaken young people to reflect on current issues. This time the topic given was climate change, but in all three schools the Ambassador wished also to ask about the issues that the students themselves are the most concerned of.
The first visit was to Bežigrad. Dozens of youngsters arrived to the large auditorium, excitedly babbling. The babble ended and the faces got a bit more serious as the former student and a current radio journalist Anja Hlača Ferjančič started a conversation with, in her own words, her favorite diplomat, Ambassador Metso. On that day, the Ice Hockey World Championship tournament was still a current topic: just a few days earlier Finland had won Slovenia 4–0. A conversation about scoring and results began. "I don't like scoring", noted the Ambassador. "Dialogue and the courage to express oneself are much more important things."
In Bežigrad, questions were raised especially over the success of the Finnish school system. According to the Ambassador, the dialogue between home and school is in the center. Mutual trust is built when all are on the same page. In addition, in Finland it is allowed to be a little bit crazy in other people's eyes, and some sort of craziness also creates uniqueness. According to the students, in Slovenia only the arts subjects enable some sort of a self-fulfillment. Otherwise, instead of supporting the development of students' characters and personalities, schools are mainly placing greater emphasis on getting good grades – or, as one young man put it, they are following a particular kind of "neo-liberal logic". Grades, however, also have their positive side: according to the Ambassador, they are helping to follow one's personal development, which is important throughout life.
However, even the Finnish school system is not perfect. Discussion and argumentation knowledge are the kind of skills which in the Finnish schools are not emphasized enough but which, according to the Ambassador, are very important for us Finns to learn. No system offers everything, which is why it is so important for the young people to take their fate into their own hands.
Even this generation of young Slovenians is familiar with the Nokia mobile phones. According to the Ambassador, Nokia started a whole new IT culture from which Finns have learned a lot – not only in IT skills but also in boldness that was required also with the decision to sell its mobile phone business. Nokia realized that if some parts of the company do not work, they have to be sold. According to the Ambassador, the four seasons in Finland help to understand how short life really is, and how the right time actually is always right now. If the temperature would be +30 degrees all the time, one would easily get stuck in a rut. One has to know how to take risks – they simply need to be calculated, not irrational.
The Slovenian youngsters really challenged the Ambassador. Questions were asked for instance about the Patria trial, fighting side by side with Nazi Germany, depression and alcoholism, and Finland's relations with Russia and NATO. According to the Ambassador, Finland's past has certainly affected the construction of the national identity, but northerners tend to pull themselves together and move on. That is why Finns won't dwell on the past.
The Ambassador encouraged also the Slovenian students to give up the nostalgic way of thinking. In Ljutomer and Šentvid some students mentioned how many people believe that things were much better and life was way simpler in "the good old days". The Ambassador, however, stressed how one should not get stuck in nostalgia, but be aware of what is already there. Today, information flows fast, people have more possibilities, and for instance very important issues on human rights have been brought into daylight. The previous generation might have got things too easily, and thus people today might get too comfortable without realizing that only one's own hard work creates progress.
For instance climate change, environmental problems, terrorism, child labor, modern slavery, corruption and increasing surveillance are issues the Slovenian youngsters are worrying about, but they are also concerned of their own future perspectives and the current unemployment situation. There is a big amount of university students in Slovenia, and not every graduate immediately finds a job. The Ambassador mentioned the importance of vocational knowledge and practical skills that enable the implementation of one's skills into something concrete. Like in Finland, also in Slovenia universities of applied sciences should be offered as an alternative to pure academic studies.
After all of the three visits the Ambassador was very pleased to see how bright and conscious of a generation is growing up in Slovenia – the future of the country is in good hands. To be able to witness this generation of Slovenians to achieve even more courage is something that the Ambassador is going to miss, when he soon returns to Finland. Encounters with the students have been "tops", because the Ambassador himself has also learned a lot from them.
Another thing the Ambassador is going to miss is the Slovenian mentality. It has great similarities with the Finnish one, as in both cultures people warm up quite slowly and are shy in the beginning, but once the conversation partner's trust is achieved, one gets to hear their real story and realizes, how genuine of a person one has encountered.
The visit of the Ambassador left its mark on the Slovenian students. In one of the schools a young man came at the end of the visit to ask how he could save the world. "It is important for everyone to find their own thing which they enjoy doing. Like this, a lot of great things can be achieved", the Ambassador encouraged.
Text: Johanna Eskelinen, trainee