When you meet Hagar ElBarbary from Egypt for the first time, you would never guess her thrilling work background. It might be too easy to think that people from other countries coming to Finland and Vaasa to study do not have much to offer or teach us. However, Hagar’s story is a perfect example of how easily we might lose fantastic opportunities if we fail to be open to diversity and to recognise its enormous potential – in working life and in our personal lives.
This story is part of a series brought to you by Vaasa International Talents in cooperation with Vaasa International.
Hagar is a recent Master’s graduate from Åbo Akademi University. She is also an established international media professional with ten years of experience working as a news researcher and field producer for a Japanese television company.
Hagar and her team were stationed at the television’s bureau in Egypt, from where they covered the Middle East and North African region. She travelled extensively and met a lot of people, ranging from ministers and ambassadors to military people and refugees.
The work in the field of news reports on wars, conflicts and revolutions was very stressful, at times dangerous. Hagar always had to be on call, never knowing what was going to happen.
For most of us, it is probably very difficult to imagine what it must be like to witness violence and disaster as part of one’s work and how this affects you. Hagar remembers that the peak was reached in 2015-2016, with the horrors in Iraq and Syria, when she also visited some of the conflict areas:
I had seen patterns repeating themselves in different countries. As a journalist, you need to understand how a conflict arises. Otherwise, you can get crazy if you see these things.
What led Hagar to this profession in the first place was not a journalistic background, as one might think, but her interest in the Japanese language. Remarkably, the headquarters in Tokyo awarded her six times with certificates for her scoops.
Hagar herself is very modest about her achievements. She loved her job because it gave her the opportunity to communicate with people from different backgrounds as well as contribute to the awareness of her audience.
I am passionate about peacebuilding and achieving the sustainable development goals to create inclusive societies without violence, war or any kind of hate. Peace can be achieved, but you have to believe that it can be achieved.
As a result, Hagar eventually decided to move to Finland to pursue a Master’s degree in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research. She highlights that she chose to study in Finland because the country is a role model in this field. “Finland is one of the best countries offering this line of courses,” she says.
Finland is one of the best countries offering this line of courses.
Job matching through Vaasa International Talents
During her studies in Vaasa, Hagar tried in vain to find work. Then, during the last year of her Master’s studies, she got the opportunity to join the Vaasa International Talents programme.
Hagar says that she did not have very high hopes at first, but the experience eventually turned out to be very valuable thanks to the individual support and connections it provided. One important milestone was reached when Hagar through the programme was offered an internship at the City of Vaasa as Project and Marketing trainee.
Despite her lack of Finnish or Swedish language skills, Hagar was able to integrate smoothly into her work environment. “By being so understanding, flexible and pleased to work with people from other countries, my employer made me feel included in the workplace,” Hagar says.
External Relations Officer Susanna Slotte-Kock at the City of Vaasa says that Hagar’s vast previous experience was a great asset, as she could be given quite challenging work tasks from day one.
One of these tasks was to cover the visits of the various ambassadors visiting Vaasa. The work included background research as well as interviews with the ambassadors, which then resulted in news articles.
According to Susanna Slotte-Kock, in order to succeed and develop, the Vaasa region needs to get over the invisible threshold that still exists when it comes to employing people with an international background:
We do not need to be afraid of people who do not speak perfect Finnish or Swedish. In my experience, people who have moved to Finland are survivors and will learn the skills and languages needed if given a fair chance.
During the working days, as well as outside office hours when picking sea buckthorn, Hagar and her supervisor have learnt a lot about each other and their respective cultures. They have discussed topics ranging from why so many Finns are lactose intolerant to women’s rights in Egypt. Susanna Slotte-Kock says that the discussions have given her new a perspective on many things:
Even though Hagar has seen lots of violence, I admire her greatly for having such a positive attitude to life. I have learned so much not only about life in Egypt, but also about the hardship she encountered when arriving in Finland.
Hagar is currently working with another international trainee, Tareque Mahmud from Bangladesh. Together, they are documenting the experiences of international students who have just recently moved to Vaasa.
By learning from Hagar and Tareque as well as from these fresh stories, the City of Vaasa wants to make it much easier for international students arriving here to feel welcomed, settle in and be able to call Vaasa their home.
Susanna Slotte-Kock concludes with some advice to employers:
Be brave and open to differences. Employing international talents is a win-win opportunity that allows you to grow, not only personally, but the entire work community. It is a chance to learn from someone whose experiences are completely different from your own, which in return will broaden your perspectives endlessly.