“If you let the world change you, you are more prepared to change your world!” - Jennifer Johnson
Updated: Mar 1, 2019
Jennifer Johnson grew up in USA and was always interested in international relations because she wanted to become a diplomat and work in foreign policy. However, on the way while studying abroad she fell in love with the experience of learning in a structured environment and came to believe that: “if you let the world change you, you are more prepared to change your world!”. She changed international relations into international education and in the end the goal for Jen changed from becoming an ambassador to helping students become the ambassadors of the future – And this is what she is currently doing.
Jennifer did get involved in working within international education already while pursuing her master. She got closely connected with India, where Jen helped thousands of students in various ways: teaching English to underprivileged girls, developing a new program with the Indian Institution of Science in Bangalore in collaboration with Brandeis University, and as well directing a social benefit organization aiming to increase the quality of educational opportunities for students in India, helping students to do their bachelor in the USA as they did not have access on their dream schools in India.
As a track record, just to point that the project at the social benefit organization started with zero students and no schools showing interest but went on to meet over 16000 students a year and having meaningful relationships to 35 schools around 7 cities in India. As Jen said doing the interview: “It was my little baby and I grew it and it was awesome”.
Later back in the US Jen started working at the University of Minnesota where she was the assistant program director and managed their student programmes in India, Germany and Spain. It had been her dream job to work at the University of Minnesota since she was 17 and finally her dream came true.
Life goes on and even that one dream was reached, there were new challenges ahead. Jennifer came to live in Finland because of her husband Joel who is currently doing a scientific research as a part of his doctoral programme. It took her 9 months to find a job, which was a horrible and challenging time for Jennifer. The people she met were excited about her accomplishments and believed that Jennifer had something great to offer, but the problem was that they were not the ones who made the decisions of hiring. The ones in charge were not ready to hire an international talent.
She immediately enrolled to an integration program through the unemployment office, which provides Finnish language studies and placement opportunities for internationals. Jennifer could not be placed in the language course before she had been living in Finland for 6 months, so in the meanwhile she started applying for jobs on her own. Her officer at the unemployment office told Jen that their systems are not set up for people that are educated and since Jen has a master’s degree, they did not have a lot to offer for her. When the six months had past and she was finally offered a place at a language course, she had already been networking and worked as a freelancer. She felt closer to getting a job through her own connections, so she politely said no to the placement.
Jen went to a job fair during her waiting time for a placement from the unemployment office. The event was advertised in English, so she went with no hesitation. When she arrived, she saw a sign of Uncle Sam dressed in red, white and blue, pointing and saying ‘I want you to get a job’ in English. She walked in and spoke to every single stall that was presented, and everyone either said that she needed to know Finnish in order to work with them, or the people that were heading the stall didn’t speak any English and could not communicate with her. The experience was all in all very frustrating for her as a foreigner and international talent, having received an invitation to a job fair only to find out that there were absolutely no opportunities for her there.
Today Jennifer is working as the head coach of the Y-Kampus program Growthmakers, which has the goal to train students to lead growth and internationalize companies since less than 10% of Finnish companies are growing.
As noticed, Jennifer has broad experience and perspective over international education and what is the current status of integrating international talents in Finland.
But how has the actual life at work been in Finland and what advises does Jen have for other talents? We will share Jennifer's thoughts on the second part of her interview in a few weeks.