Pekka Lintu: Best Country in the World

Recently, Finland was ranked as the best country in the world by American Newsweek magazine. That is good news! Still, based on my almost five-year experience in the US, I would say that knowledge about Finland is not as well spread as we would wish. For many Americans, Finland is still a distant, somewhat exotic Northern country.

Yet, the facts Americans do know about Finland are very positive ones. The image of our country has a long history: Finland is known as the country that paid back its debt to the United States after the First World War, as well as a country that rose to defend itself with determination and perseverance, Finnish sisu during the Winter War. Today, Finland is increasingly known for its successful education system, economic competitiveness, expertise in building peace, beautiful architecture and functional design. We are recognized for our pure nature, environmental values and clean technology: the Embassy of Finland wants to be known as the first Green Embassy in the United States that has received the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certificate from the US Green Building Council. Finland has skilled ice hockey players and talented artists here in the US. We are generally considered as a highly industrialized, innovative Nordic country that has a broad welfare system. All these aspects create “a story” of Finland that as the Ambassador, I am very proud to tell to Americans.

However, this story is an evolving one. Finland needs to adapt to global challenges. We need new innovation to remain at the top in international comparisons. One answer has been the creation of the Aalto University by merging three existing universities: the Helsinki School of Technology, the University of Art and Design Helsinki, and the Helsinki School of Economics. By crossing traditional discipline boundaries, true innovations become possible.

Aalto University seeks to become one of the world’s leading universities in its own specialized disciplines. The creation of this new university has evoked interest here in the US, and I am very hopeful to see new transatlantic cooperation around it. US students and researchers will certainly be interested in the opportunities Aalto University offers. One excellent possibility for them is the creation of the Fulbright–Aalto Distinguished Chair program that sends American Scholars to lecture and conduct research at Aalto University.

To remain competitive, Finland definitely needs an international exchange of ideas. The ASLA-Fulbright program is an ideal opportunity for this. For over 60 years, it has enabled transatlantic exchange: over 3,500 Finns have been able to study and conduct research at some of the best US universities and more than 1,500 American grantees have visited Finland.  

From my perspective, the long-term benefits of this kind of international exchange are tremendous. In addition to the new ideas, scientific knowledge and understanding these students and researchers bring back to their home countries, they become “ambassadors” for the countries they have visited.  When I meet US students and researchers who have visited Finland, I repeatedly see pure excitement. What is a better way to tell the success story of Finland here in the US than with the help of these alumni? The facts that people here in the US already know about Finland come alive when backed up with real-life experiences from our country, told by Americans themselves.

I would like to wish the ASLA-Fulbright program success in the future. Thanks to your efforts, the story of Finland has found many keen new storytellers here in the United States.

H.E. Pekka Lintu
Ambassador of Finland to the United States

Published in the Fulbright Center News 2/2010