Experts by experience offer support for both employers and international students

20.3.2024Veera IisakkalaNews

According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare, experience-based specialists' work developed in the 21st century, originally starting in the field of civic and organisational activities. Experts by experience improve the functioning of services, increase client orientation, inclusion and understanding, change attitudes, support rehabilitation and act as social influencers.

Douglas Schneider in Drumheller, Kanada.
Douglas Schneider in Drumheller, Kanada.

Schneider's photos from Canada.

Collaboration with experts by experience in social and health care is becoming more common and experience-based knowledge is widely used alongside professional and scientific knowledge. At the Research Center for Human Functioning, one of the experts by experience is Douglas Schneider, a lecturer in physiotherapy. Schneider uses his experience-based knowledge in the “Welcome to Work!” project, launched in spring 2023, which aims to increase the recruitment of non-Finnish-speaking employees by small entrepreneurs in the Satakunta social services sector.

Schneider now lives with his Finnish wife, two teenage children and their three cats near Turku, but he is originally from Edmonton and grew up in rural Canada on his family's farm. Schneider's grandmother often hosted high school exchange students, including Finns, at her home in Canada. One of these Finnish exchange students remained a close friend of Schneider's, and when Schneider wanted to study physiotherapy, this friend told him that the Satakunta University of Applied Sciences offered a degree programme in English. Schneider moved to Finland and graduated as a physiotherapist in 2002. Later Schneider also acquired a master’s degree in Rehabilitation and Physiotherapy and a teacher's pedagogical qualification.

Support and encouragement for international students

However, it was not easy to get a job as a physiotherapist without the necessary knowledge of Finnish. After working abroad and other jobs in Finland, Schneider achieved the necessary level of Finnish language skills through hard training and was able to work as a physiotherapist in Finland. While completing his master’s degree, Schneider ended up talking to a Satakunta University of Applied Sciences teacher, who told him about teaching opportunities at SAMK. Today, Schneider teaches as a full-time lecturer in SAMK's Physiotherapy degree programme. As an expert by experience, Schneider has been involved in the “Welcome to Work!” project, where he supports students going through the same things he did.

– I try to be an example for students of what’s possible and that their dreams are achievable. Whenever possible, I try to support students by giving them realistic information about Finnish culture, what differences they can expect, and how to make Finnish friends and network to find support. I also encourage them and give them tips on living away from home and on learning the language and give advice on what to expect in an interview, Douglas shares.

Helping employers

The "Welcome to work!" multidisciplinary, multicultural and multilingual team (left to right) Maarit Harjanne, Douglas Schneider, Sari Lintukorpi and Marja Tomberg. Photo: Juha Vasama.

Students are not the only ones who benefit from the knowledge of an expert by experience. In “Welcome to Work!” employers can also benefit significantly from Schneider’s expertise.

– I can help represent the students’ and workers’ perspectives in a workplace as I’ve been both. I am fairly familiar with Finnish culture and how it can differ, I know of many of the challenges faced by both sides and of multiple ways they can be overcome. Most of these are straightforward to implement, such as using mixed languages, simple and plain language, acknowledging cultural differences, and giving time for comprehension and expression, Schneider explains.

In the “Welcome to Work!” project, Schneider finds it motivating how he and the project team can help in a very concrete way to fill the ever-growing skills gap in the care sector by developing solutions and training to employ international talent. By drawing on their own experiences, experts by experience can have a positive impact on both students and employers and help build bridges between different cultures.

– I suppose as an expert by experience, I have the advantage of having lived the experience and I can draw upon both theoretical knowledge and experience for a unique and possibly also enriched perspective. I get a more complete picture, Schneider reflects.

This article was written as part of the Research Center's campaign for the national Week Against Racism. You can read more posts related to the campaign on the LinkedIn page of the Research Center for Human Functioning.

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