Field Trip to Finland


This Easter saw our first international field trip to Finland, with an intrepid group of second year students. Our goal was to further investigate ideas introduced in the first year about the relationship between society, everyday psychology, and a country’s disciplinary Psychology. We chose Finland because of its distinctive social history and because of the success of its social model. Apart from learning about the nature of psychology, we hoped to learn something also about how societies can work.

We had a six day trip, with four full days in Helsinki. We learnt about the social history of Finland through museum visits, including the museum of the University of Helsinki and the National Museum of Finland. Learning about how important student activism was in creating the idea of Finnish identity was an eye opener, as was hearing family history of the social divisions around the time of the civil war, even to the extent of different sides shopping in different supermarkets. The Finnish regard for knowledge and expertise is evident in the number of academics who have been President; the importance of practical knowledge to inform change is reflected in the use of the term “Age of Utility” to describe what the British call “The Enlightenment”.

We learnt specifically about the history of Finnish psychology from colleagues at the University of Helsinki. We heard about the unique development path of Finnish psychology, and the influences of German, Russian and American traditions. Again the Finnish respect for education was evident, and the role of expertise, including psychology, in policy making. Unlike in the UK there are two distinct psychological approaches reflected at Helsinki: a social psychology that is more focussed on everyday action, and a more medicalised psychology that more closely reflects the dominant Anglo-American model.

Having learnt the theory, we wanted to see what the Finnish public thought. We collected data on public attitudes to psychology amongst Finnish people, to compare to similar data collected from British people. We found that Finnish respondents had a more positive view of social sciences in general than British respondents, reflecting what we’d learnt about the importance of society and the importance of knowledge in Finnish culture.

Most importantly, we spent time mingling and visiting, getting a feel for Finnish culture and character. The daytimes were for educational activities, but evenings spent socialising were equally rewarding.

Everyone enjoyed the visit, and got real insights into Finland and different ideas of the person and of society. Visiting not as a tourist but as an active investigator of the human condition gave an extra dimension to the trip.

Why Finland?

Finland celebrated its one hundred year anniversary as an independent country in 2017. Until the early 1800s it was ruled by Sweden, who installed a Swedish speaking elite. From 1809 it was ruled as a Grand Duchy within the Russian empire, but with a considerable degree of autonomy. This time saw a growth of Finnish culture, increased recognition of the Finnish language in the arts and education, and the development of a Finnish community identity. In the early 1900s, with autonomy being curtailed and turmoil in Russia leading to revolution, demands for independence increased, leading to a declaration of independence in 1917. Following a period of bitter civil war and war with Russia Finland entered the 1950s as a poor, largely agricultural nation, but active social policy has led to modern Finland being technologically advanced, economically strong, and topping league tables for happiness and educational outcomes. There is increasing interest in the Finnish way of doing things; we were interested in how this social organisation reflects the social history and everyday psychology of the Finnish people.

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An uncharacteristically late thaw this year, but the weather was beautiful all week. The gang are all wrapped up warm, and ready to explore Helsinki.

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Lots of history to Finland, and some really good museums to learn about it.

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The famous baby box. Finns are justly proud of this simple but effective intervention to address disadvantage. A tangible symbol of the Finnish commitment to the wellbeing of all, from the earliest age.

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Learning about Finnish psychology with our kind colleagues at Helsinki University’s social psychology group. Some great insights into Finnish character, and the role and status of education in Finnish culture.

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A quick pose for the camera. Many thanks again to Klaus, Jukka and Mia for hosting us so warmly and sharing their expertise.

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When in Finland do as the Finns do: sitting on the steps of the Lutheran cathedral at senate square.

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The University sits off the square, so during breaks many students hang out on the steps. Drinking in the atmosphere was an important part of the trip.

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Time to collect some data, just need to find some locals first. I don’t think we’ll find any down there…

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That’s more like it!

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Perhaps the most unusual, and certainly the most scenic, place I’ve given a tutorial.

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