Shaidul Kazi talks cultural intelligence and making integration work

Shaidul Kazi talks cultural intelligence and making integration work

Shaidul Kazi in the middle, surrounded by his international students.
Shaidul Kazi in the middle, surrounded by his international students.

"Finland cannot escape globalisation; creating a culture of engagement between its citizens and immigrants is imperative."

2017 marks a significant milestone in Finland's history as the country celebrates 100 years of independence. Regarding globalisation, Finland seems more and more eager to put down barriers, invest in its strengths: education, research and technology, and embrace trading on a larger scale. How is this translated into integration and the flux of people interested in what the country has to offer? Shaidul Kazi, Multicultural Intelligence Expert and Senior Lecturer (International Business) at Tampere University of Applied Sciences, might have just found the right answers.

Originally from Bangladesh, Shaidul arrived in Finland in 1991, with the intention of studying Administrative Science at the University of Tampere. He already possessed a Bachelor's degree in Public Administration from the University of Dhaka, but the curiosity concerning Finland surfaced while studying about the political and social system in Scandinavia.

– The plan was to come to Finland, get my Master's degree and PhD, then go back to Bangladesh and take a government position. So many things have changed in the meantime, but it was and still is a wonderful decision to be here, no doubt about it, Shaidul recalls.

The challenges Shaidul faced more than 20 years ago as an international student in Finland have changed tremendously compared to what an Asian student would have to meet nowadays. Back then, there were not so many courses available in English, and a student had to collect and study plenty of paperback books to attend an exam. With the breakthrough of technology, the structure of studies became easier to use and more globally orientated. Despite all improvements Finnish education developed throughout the years, two cultural aspects continue to present difficulties to every foreign student: the language and the weather.

A man with a sharp mind and determination, Shaidul was not going to let these two affect his pathway to a successful career in higher education. So he approached his new living environment with a curious mindset and taking the initiative.

– I've been practising different kinds of sports since childhood, and that continued from day one of my arrival to Finland. Sports make me happier and help me cope better with the darkness of Finnish winters. To keep mentally fit, a person should have physical activities like aerobics, cycling, jogging and many others included in his daily schedule.

Learning Finnish came as a result of watching television news, reading newspapers and joining language courses. Alongside, an increased interest in studying culture, with Finnish culture, in particular, emerged and Shaidul wrote about it in his PhD thesis, "Managerial Decision-Making Behaviour and Impact of Culture. Experience from three countries: India, Bangladesh and Finland". The thesis was completed during his years of teaching International Business related courses at TAMK.

Integration goes both ways

By taking a deep dive into the navigable waters of integration, Shaidul argues it is not a one-way process.

– You cannot integrate into your host home without the help of the host. Integration has many directions, and there are many courses on Finnish culture supported by the European Union. Immigrants should participate in their host culture without losing their identity, while Finns ought to help them on all accounts. Both parties should integrate and benefit from multiculturalism.

Not only he strongly advises his students to learn and use Finnish whenever they have the occasion, but he understood along the years that it is an untold expectation coming from the elder generations.

– Young Finns speak English very well and are more open to interacting with foreigners. Harmonious multiculturalism can be achieved by creating engaging opportunities between people coming to Finland and the ones already living here. Every municipality should arrange events or social gatherings where people can meet and exchange ideas. There are many Finns open to interaction, but there is also a huge number which is not. However, Finland cannot escape globalisation. That's why creating a culture of engagement between its citizens and immigrants is imperative.

Does that leave us assuming the foreigner should be the one to break the ice? It may seem a plausible suggestion.

– In most cases, I take the first step in approaching a Finn. But I'm not sure if everyone can do the same since there's the risk of being rejected. I still tell foreigners to do it, no matter the outcome. Finns are more factual and reactive. They will talk if there is a subject to say. You need a mutual interest for the conversation to develop naturally.

A competitive spirit thriving in a cooperative society

Underneath the calming presence and a well-mannered attitude, lies a competitive spirit who discovered the key to living a wealthy, balanced life is not given by a high status, but merely by exploration of the human nature.

– I come from a competitive society which means I'm used to competition and tangible progress. It's something I miss about Bangladesh. Finland is not a status orientated country. You have to think more quality of life than quantity of money here. It's not always about competing and climbing the ladder.

Having an economically fair society is one of Finland's unique features, considering a level of 100 per cent fairness is not possible anywhere in this world. One cannot get too rich here due to the high taxation, but one can feel very safe knowing his basic needs are taking care of.

– The income tax can be so high when making a lot of money, that it wouldn't encourage you to become greedy and destroy your personal life, Shaidul explains.

Resources are distributed through progressing taxation, which means public tax revenue covers study benefit, housing and child support, public healthcare and essential public services. Another unique and important feature the country has in a world where feminism gets louder with each day is gender equality. If we take a short detour in the history of Finland, we will learn that in 1906, the country's national assembly became the first parliament in the world to adopt full gender equality. In 2000, Tarja Halonen was the first woman to be elected as the 11th president of Finland, and she served two terms in that role.

While listening to Shaidul sharing his knowledge on Finnish culture with so much enthusiasm in his voice, one cannot help thinking how curiosity can lead you in a new environment.

– What I always tell people is that cultural intelligence cannot be learnt by joining a course. You get curious and engaged, and find out more and more.

Finnish education gives skills to cope in life

With a remarkable career in higher education spanning over 17 years, Shaidul reveals another exciting mission.

– Bangladesh is growing fast and needs well-qualified graduates to take over and maintain the economy properly. And Finnish education is excellent; it does not only give one the necessary skills in a workplace but also to manage his community and personal life. Carita Prokki, the Director of TAMK's Global Education, and I are working on bringing more Bengali students to Finland and equip them with useful skills, so that they could go back home and contribute to the society there. Our goal is to develop a greater cooperation between the Bangladeshi education system and the Finnish one.

There is a genuine belief that only the strong-willed and gifted with sisu (Finnish concept and cultural construct standing for extraordinary determination and resilience in the face of extreme adversity) are the ones to succeed in Finland. Up to this very moment, Shaidul's hard work and a strong commitment to his goals have spoken for themselves. His inspiring journey far from being complete is passed on to his students in a simple, yet superb quote:

 – We live in a world where we cannot succeed by keeping ourselves closed. A flower is not beautiful until it blooms. Only when it blooms, we can see the real beauty of a flower. Open yourself to the world so people can see your beauty.

Text: Andruta Ilie
Photo: Tiina Suvanto


Shaidul Kazi

  • Shaidul is specialised in Cultural Intelligence, Multicultural Competence, Cross-Cultural Management and Communication, HRM, Entrepreneurship, Organizational Change/ Development, International Business and Asian Studies.
  • Along with teaching International Business, Shaidul is also coaching and closely supervising his students.
  • Shaidul is highly interested in writing articles and columns on social-cultural and business related topics and considering publishing a book. So far, his more than 30 works have been published by Bangladeshi newspapers and in Finland by Aamulehti, Turun Sanomat and Helsingin Sanomat.
  • Shaidul's hobbies include reading, planting trees and practising yoga.
Published 01.08.2017