Preserving Culture Takes Professor Home

Assistant geography professor, Mika Roinila, has always been curious about the Finnish way of life. After all, he was born in Finland, went to graduate school there, speaks the language and has written a manuscript about Finland-Swedes. Additionally, he is the only Finn on Bethel’s campus, and part of a minuscule Finnish population in the area.

He has researched the small, seldom studied Finnish culture since the 1980s when he switched his major from ornithology — the study of birds — to geography, and began writing essays on the Finns in Canada where he went to school.

“There aren’t a lot of people who do research on this subject,” he says of his preservation of the culture. “There are a lot of small minority cultures that people don’t know much about, unless somebody starts writing about them.”

And Roinila’s decades of Finnish exploration and cultural preservation has recently taken him abroad. The Fulbright Foundation awarded Roinila the Fulbright Specialist Grant in U.S. Studies to teach last summer at Finland’s University of Turku, the same school he graduated from 23 years ago. “I was very excited,” he says of the opportunity. “It was a very prestigious award to get.”

This past summer, Roinila taught the two-week course titled Finnish-North Americans: Immigration, Assimilation and Popular Culture to international students at his alma mater.

And, he was able to incorporate the research he’s done on his recent manuscript of Finland-Swedes in Michigan in the course. Roinila wrote the manuscript, which is part of the “Discovering the Peoples of Michigan” series with a graduate student from Northern Michigan University. The manuscript, which further helps to maintain Finnish culture, focuses on the initial immigration of Finland-Swedes in Michigan.

“It discusses their cultural organization, religious affiliation and their language,” Roinila says, adding that some recipes and secondary resources for further study are also included.

Roinila is unsure whether his research will lead him to teach abroad again or write any more books. “I just believe that no matter what I do, God is going to take me places and I’ve been very blessed.”

 

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