On the Way at Me & MyCity – immigrant youths in a miniature society

Me & MyCity offers immigrant youths a safe way to familiarise themselves with working life and the ground rules of Finnish society

Exceptionally, Me & MyCity Helsinki-Vantaa is open on Saturday 2 December, and a steady hum of conversation permeates the hallways of Me & MyCity. Plan International Suomi and Me & MyCity have teamed up to organise a joint event at Me & MyCity Helsinki-Vantaa.

Plan’s Matkalla (On the Way) project aims to support young people who have moved to Finland towards the end of their compulsory school age in improving their life skills and their integration into Finnish society and working life. That is why the project also includes a day at Me & MyCity. The youths participating in the Matkalla project are aged 15–17 years and have lived in Finland for one to three years at the start of the project.

Language barriers are no obstacle in a supportive physical learning environment

The employees of the Me &MyCity café are busy serving coffee to customers. Next, the employees will enjoy some free time. Although it might be difficult to find a common language, the young peoples’ faces are lit up with enthusiasm.

“First we’ll go to the bank to check the account balance,” the employees say. In their free time, the youths can act as consumers and spend the wages they earned at Me & MyCity.

The day starts with the signing of an employment contract and looking over a tax card, among other things. In a physical learning environment, the focus is on functional learning, which means that limited languages skills are no obstacle to participation. In the bank, writing a customer’s name right sometimes poses a challenge, but it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is to try.

“The Matkalla project emphasises working life skills. This day is all about giving the youths the chance to experience how Finnish society actually works and how they should act in working life. When they apply for a summer job, for example, they will remember in which order to sign an employment contract and take their tax card to the employer,” says Lotta Jäättelä, the planner of the Matkalla project.

Experiencing success and practicing day-to-day situations are key

“We simplified the Me & MyCity day script quite a bit to put the focus on day-to-day situations. Today we ran businesses that are familiar to youths, such as a store, a café and a bank and fetched bus travel cards from HSL. Successes encourage young people to be active and autonomous in their own lives as well. We truly hope that our co-operation will continue,” say Lotta Jäättelä and Me & MyCity Helsinki-Vantaa’s Regional Manager Sari Honkavaara.

It is quite common for the mentors and visitors to reflect on new ways to utilise Me & MyCity. Me & MyCity is a scaled-down society governed by the ground rules of Finnish society and business and trade. Anyone would benefit from the learning concept. For this reason, Me & MyCity is an excellent learning environment also for immigrant youths. With the whole day’s script written, it is easy for them to take on a new role and complete the tasks given to them.  The concept allows for mistakes and encourages entrepreneurship. If something goes wrong during the first work shift, things are already much easier during the third one.

Me & MyCity is a pedagogically high-quality and thoroughly planned environment in which each task has a learning objective. Even though the learning environment was not designed to be an amusement park, having fun is not off limits. Me & MyCity offers the chance to enjoy learning and working.

The day is wrapped up with a summary of what they have learned. Learning the working life basics, such as good manners, organisational skills and a customer service attitude are often brought up in the discussions.

“The best about this day has been everything,” comments one of the youths participating in the event.

The project is part of a venture financed by the Finnish Innovation Fund and the day was implemented with the help of the City of Helsinki’s Education Department.