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Marjut Vehkanen

Marjut Helena Vehkanen
Born February 2, 1947, Kuopio

PhD 2015 (public defence of thesis 24 October 2015), University of Helsinki (Finnish language)
Doctoral dissertation Kieliopista kommunikaatioon. Suomi toisena ja vieraana kielenä -oppikirjat vuosina 1866–1953 (‘From grammar to communication. Textbooks for Finnish as a second and foreign language in the years 1866–1953’)
Master of Arts 1973, University of Tampere (Finnish Language, Finnish History)

Studies in Germany and Hungary:
Goethe University Frankfurt, 1971–73
Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest 1975–77
Secretary General 2007–15, CIMO, Unit for Finnish Culture and Language

Editor in chief of the newspaper Aikuisten yliopisto 2000-07
Planner, project manager, training manager and deputy director 1994–2007, University of Helsinki, Vantaa Institute for Continuing Education (Luxembourg, European Parliament 1995, language training for translators; EU Commission training for interpreters 1997–98, 2004–05; continuing education for teachers of Finnish as a second language, 1994–2002)
Teacher of Finnish as a second language 1991–94, University of Helsinki Language Centre
Director and teacher of Helsinki Finnish language and culture summer courses, and teacher of a Finnish as a second language summer course for Nordic teachers and public officials 1990–96, Ministry for Education
Lecturer in Finnish Language and culture 1983–87, Moscow State University
Comprehensive and upper-secondary school teacher in Finland 1979–83
Foreign affairs Secretary 1973–74, OAJ (Trade Union of Education in Finland)

Awards and honours:
OJA Bronze Medal with silver sprig, 1996
OJA Bronze Medal, 1995
Honorary member of Suomi toisena kielenä -opettajat ry (‘Association of teachers of Finnish as a second language’) 2015

Positions of responsibility:
Board member 1993-96, chairman 1993–96, Ulkomaanlehtoriyhdistys ry (‘Association of foreign lecturers’).
Deputy board member 1993–1996, Yliopistolehtoriliitto ry (‘Union of University Lecturers’)
Deputy member of the Higher Education Council of the Trade Union of Education in Finland (OAJ) 1998–2004
Board member 1998–2004, Parent Council of the Finnish Russian School
Member of the Board of Directors 1999–2004, Finnish-Russian School
Deputy board member of the Finnish Institute in the Middle East 2004–15
President 2013–25, past president 2015–16, Inner Wheel Finland

Photo: Sasa Tkalcan
Written by Marjut Vehkanen (Kaija Hartikainen, ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

Career Climax

Chance probably had a hand in my next appointment. I probably would not have left the interesting work I was doing at the University if the position of Secretary General of CIMO’s Unit for Finnish Language and Culture had not opened up. I wavered for a long time, after all I was statistically “too old” to apply for such work. But encouraged by several supportive friends I applied, and I was hired from a pool of over 30 applicants (among those I beat to the job was a younger male professor, that was quite something!).

Now I had an earmarked budget to support the Finnish language. My network included 200 teachers of Finnish language and culture in foreign universities (around 100 universities in 30 countries), the staff of the departments offering Finnish language education at those universities, thousands of students, Finnish embassies, institutes, and the Nordic and the Finno-Ugric cooperative networks.

Working as the General Secretary of CIMO’s Unit for Finnish Language and Culture was like the climax to a long and winding career. I was once again allowed to defend Finnish as a so called small language, see how talented, starry-eyed students from different countries completed hundreds of master’s and bachelor’s theses on our language and culture all around the world, as well as excellent doctoral dissertations on Finnish language, literature and culture. In addition to this, students who have learned Finnish make competent translations of Finnish literature and thus make our way of thinking and our inner feelings known in different languages.

Evaluating the University of Washington in Seattle for CIMO in 2010. CIMO’s Unit for Finnish Language and Culture organises teaching in 10 universities in the United States. The University of Washington is the only one that has a lecturer sent by CIMO. The other American universities have local teachers. Pictured front and left the lecturer sent by CIMO, Aija Elg, Jyrki Nummi, Marjut Vehkanen and graduate student/teacher Evan Wright. Photo from the home archive of Marjut Vehkanen.

During these eight busy years as the General Secretary, our work was evaluated and found to be effective, and we could build further on the results of this evaluation. During these years our language and culture was also marketed in places like India and Japan.

There have also been many anniversaries related to Finnish language and culture. CIMO’s Unit of Finnish Language and Culture had its 20th anniversary in 2009, and the Beijing Foreign Studies University celebrated ten years of Finnish Studies, and they have already had 48 Finnish-Chinese BA graduates with another 16 on the way. The University of Cologne had its 10th anniversary of Finnish Studies, while our language has been taught at the University of Minnesota for 20 years. The University of Greifswald has celebrated their highly successful 90-year history of teaching Finnish. New educational centres have been established in places like Paris, the United States and Ukraine, and a professor of literature has been sent to the University of Warsaw, and much, much more.

It has been an amazing feeling to have been completely involved in all of this—at times I have felt like a travel guide!

Marjut Vehkanen together with the President of Iceland, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, in 2009. Photo from the home archive of Marjut Vehkanen.

The most important thing, however, has been seeing how seriously the study of our language is taken around the world today, how special talents can be found when you least expect them and in the most surprising places. If anyone deserves to be considered torchbearers of Finnish culture, it is these students and their teachers, for they are the ones who are making Finland known now and in the future in the best possible ways. Supporting, improving and keeping track of teachers of Finnish language and culture who are working in difficult circumstances, as well as encouraging students to reach new heights in their studies, have been the best experiences of my career.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2014. Marjut Vehkanen giving the opening speech. Listening on the left of the stage is Professor Marko Pantermöller and next to him the writer and translator Stefan Moster. Photo: Kari Vehkanen


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