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keskiviikkona 17. helmikuuta 2016

HIFK migrant: Job, housing & support network key to integration

HS Ilta
Helsingin Sanomat
HIFK migrant: Job, housing and support network key to integration
HIFK migrant: Job, housing and support network key to integration
While the government is looking for ways to restrict the number of asylum seekers arriving in Finland, it's also trying to encourage more skilled professional migrants to work here. So how easy is it to integrate in Finland? HIFK ice hockey player Matt Generous talks to David Mac Dougall about his experiences, on HSTV's Newsmakers.

When Matt Generous first arrived in Finland to play ice hockey, his club already had a place for him to live, and he benefited from a built-in social network with other players for Rauma club Lukko.

Speaking on HSTV's English-language current affairs show Newsmakers, Generous says the support helped him fit in quickly to life in Finland, and although his situation isn't the same as arriving asylum seekers, there are some lessons to be learned.

"I think my experience is a little bit different [than the migrants]. I had a job lined up before I came here, the team took care of apartment, car, things like that" says Generous. "So it made the transition to come to Finland quite easy".

While the Finnish government has been exploring ways to limit the number of asylum seekers arriving in the country, like imposing restrictions on family reunifications; it has also been looking at options to encourage more skilled professionals to come to Finland.

Drawing from his own experience, defenseman Generous - now playing for Helsinki club HIFK, his fifth season in Finland's top hockey league - sees ways to help better integrate new arrivals.

"Maybe some type of education programme where you can learn some of the cultural differences, maybe learn a little bit of Finnish, and just be able to navigate your way around the city and have some type of social network, I think that would help with transitioning" he says.

The subject of the migrant crisis has been a topic of conversation among Generous and his HIFK team mates. Generous says they've discussed the conditions that asylum seekers are being housed in. However, the Connecticut native, who was drafted to the NHL by Buffalo Sabres in 2005, recognises mostly the importance of the support network offered to him at Finnish clubs as being vital to his integration.

"For me, I have 25 guys on a team that I can go to every day and be like 'where should I go for lunch, or if I want to do this, or that' and they'll steer me in the right direction" says the 30 year old. "For other immigrants I think it's a little bit different. They don't have that direction and guidance".

Generous come to Finland after several seasons playing in lower-tier US ice hockey leagues, with gruelling travel up and down the country, playing more than 80 games per season. "Playing three games in four days is just really taxing on your body and on your mind" says Generous "so a lot of guys look to make the jump over here to Europe where travel's a lot easier, you can sleep in your bed most nights".

He says he was "pleasantly surprised" by the quality of hockey being played in Finland, after an agent placed him with Rauma. "The thing about Finland is that it's pretty similar style to North America. It's more 'north-south', it's pretty physical hockey".

With changes in the capital city hockey landscape over the last few years, with Jokerit moving to play in the Russia-centric KHL, Generous thinks there are still enough other quality players in Finland that the Liiga is not diluted by Jokerit's absense.

Although HIFK no longer have a cross-town rival in the domestic league, they have a neighbourhood rival in Tapiola-based Espoo Blues, a club beset by recent financial problems. "Hopefully they can bounce back in future years" says Generous. "They have a nice rink there, it's fun to have a team close to us, so hopefully they can figure something out" he adds.

Looking towards his own future, Generous says he's concentrating foremost on helping HIFK win this year's Finnish Championship, with only ten games left to play in the regular season.

And after that? "Play as long as I can really" says Generous. "Obviously the goal is to play in the NHL. That will always be my goal while I'm wearing hockey skates".



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