Guest Blog: What it’s like to take up a new job in Finland

CA is in demand in many University departments, but scattered far and wide. Here’s the account of one early career researcher, Fabio Ferraz de Almeida, who has made the huge move from Brazil to Finland. Fabio had done his PhD in the UK with Loughborough’s DARG, so it wasn’t a completely unfamiliar move; but Jyväskylä is not the same as the East Midlands…

Fabio Ferraz de Almeida

What would you do if you noticed the pedestrian traffic lights turning red just before you started crossing a street? In Brazil and the UK, and in many other parts of the world, I assume, people would cross the street as long as they saw none vehicle coming. In Finland, however, this is not the case. I would say that one of the best ways for ‘doing being Finnish’ is to wait patiently for the red lights to turn green before crossing a street, regardless of whether any vehicles were in sight.

As well as constituting a law-abiding society, a feature that becomes even more salient in times of a global pandemic, Finland is also well known for being fairly egalitarian. Among other typical illustrations as their public health and education systems, and their income distribution, I can also add a more mundane observation: in Jyväskylä, the city where I live and work, university ID cards have no reference to their owner being a professor, a lecturer, a postdoc researcher, or any other academic rank. Although students have ID cards that explicitly identify their status, these distinctions seem less about hierarchy and more about how much each one has to pay for their meals in the university restaurants, as a colleague suggested.

Having chosen to move to a country where I do not speak the native language, I did feel concerned at first. Fortunately, several public and private companies in Finland offer services in English. Also, most university emails arrive with an English translation at the bottom, easing my working life enormously until I manage to enroll in a Finnish course. To my surprise, however, it is very common to hear Finns – especially outside academia – apologizing for not having a good command of English, even though I find extremely easy to communicate with them.

Discourse and interaction studies at the University of Jyväskylä

Finland’s successful strategy to slow down and prevent the spread of coronavirus during the early months of the pandemic, particularly in Jyväskylä, meant that first-year lectures were offered face-to-face and some of us were still able to work from campus until a couple of weeks ago. Since then, though, the university has strongly recommended that most work would have to return to take place remotely

The campus in the autumn

As I found out during my initial months working in Jyväskylä, the university here has developed as one of the main centres for language and discourse studies in Finland. Shortly after my first week here, I was invited to participate in the Discourse Hub, a multidisciplinary and supportive space for presenting, discussing and debating on ongoing research as well as key literature on discourse studies, particularly critical discourse studies, linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics. 

The Discourse Hub is coordinated by Sari Pietikäinen and Sigurd D’hondt, who are responsible for organising fortnightly meetings. The first half of each meeting is allocated for presenting and discussing our work in-progress, e.g. research plan, article outline, a section of a publication, example of an analysis, data session, discussion around key concepts, etc. The second half is dedicated to discussions on how to push forward critical connections and interactions with different fields of critical research on language, especially with linguistic anthropology and critical discourse studies, which often involves having invited speakers who have tackled these issues on their work. This semester, for example, we had contributions from Lindsay Bell (Western University), Jonas Bens (Freie Universität Berlin) and Monica Heller (University of Toronto).

… and in the winter

After several years of training as a conversation analyst at Loughborough University, I believe I am still recalibrating my participation in non-EMCA scholarly discussions, and trying to find a way through which I can not only learn from but also contribute to these debates on language and society, regardless the type of data or the methodology employed for analysing it.

Language and law in the International Criminal Court

The necessity for self-adjustment became particularly visible for me as began working in our research project: “Negotiating International Criminal Law: A courtroom ethnography of trial performance at the International Criminal Court”. Among other things, our project aims to elucidate how the different actors (judges, lawyers, witnesses etc.) behaviorally navigate tensions surrounding an emergent form of global and multicultural adjudication while they interact with one another at the courtroom.

Even though the ICC portrays itself as an extremely open institution and makes a large set of data widely available in their website, most of these materials consists of official written transcripts, produced as to turn court hearings into evidence, e.g. witnesses’ testimonies. Despite the terrific job done by “court pianists”, working primarily with written transcripts has undoubtedly created limitations for our analysis, at least from an EMCA point of view. To balance that, the good news is that whereas we cannot examine direct and cross-examination in their full detail, it is possible to analyse video data from the opening speeches and closing arguments made by lawyers.

Our research team, led by Sigurd D’hondt, is formed of four scholars, each of us with different education backgrounds and multiple academic interests, which means that we examine data from different angles. This is especially salient when as we conduct our data sessions, our observations sometimes differ considerably. As a consequence of a multidisciplinary line-up, we have to make a constant effort to translate our insights and ideas and make them more intelligible for each other. As we start presenting our work, the main challenge though will be to conciliate these multiple interests and analytical mentalities in a way that the outcome is not only methodological compatible but also comprehensible for the audience.

In any case, challenges and obstacles are there for us to overcome. For academics, it is not only a matter of moving to a new country, but also adapting and finding a way for contributing to our new working environment and to different research fields. The key point here, in my view at least, is to remain open and flexible, even if this sometimes means to wait patiently until the ‘red little man’ turns green and we can finally cross the street.