The hero behind TAMK’s international social counselling

Mirja Onduso_by Saara Lehtonen

All international students at TAMK know about Ms. Mirja Onduso, coordinator doing social counselling, and have visited her office (room B1-58) at least once.

Nonetheless, have you ever heard about Mirja’s stories? What has she done in the past?

Since 2012, Ms. Mirja has been doing social counselling at TAMK. With approximately 9 years of experience, she has helped numerous international students and has contributed to TAMK’s good reputation among the international student community.

A great number of Vietnamese graduates when reminiscing of their studies, always proudly recommend TAMK. Not only for the high-quality education, but also for how TAMK welcomed them with a helpful and precious ally and friend.

Have you ever wondered how can she understand and welcome international students so carefully and thoughtfully? Let’s see how it all started…

An extraordinary seven-year-old dreamer

In 1968, Mirja was born to a big family in a small village “in the middle of nowhere”(aka Maaninka) in Eastern Finland. Already at an early age, she discovered how much she enjoyed school and studying.

When Mirja was 7 years old, two missionaries visited her school. On that day, she got the chance to discover Africa through their photographs and stories. As a child, she was impressed by the colours of Africa and the people’s cheerful and lively demeanour. Later at home, she reminisced the true happiness in their eyes, and her dream to visit Africa was born.

Experiencing the world as a student

Mirja graduated from high school as an honor student. With the excellent GPA of over 9/10 she had been awarded a full scholarship to a-4-year Bachelor’s Double Degree in Sociology and Fine Arts at St. Lawrence University, USA, during 1987–1991. She was selected because of her excellent grades combined with remarkable athletic achievements in cross-country skiing and the spirit of overcoming difficulties.

As an international student, Mirja was struck by culture shock and she encountered many difficulties when she first moved abroad. Culture shock lasted for approximately six months, and thanks to it, she now has a deep understanding of international students’ reality and needs.

During the third study year, her childhood dream came true! In the spring semester of 1990, she went on a student exchange to Kenya. During her stay, she was hosted by three local families: one in Nairobi, another in the countryside and a third with the Samburu tribe. Besides seeing the happiness on people’s faces, she thoroughly experienced life and culture, which made her desire to stay more vigorous.

Unfortunately, study exchange programmes cannot last forever, and she returned to the USA. After graduating, she went back to Finland and pursued a Master’s Degree in Journalism in the University of Jyväskylä. Still, she could not stop thinking of Africa.

In 1993, her wish once again came true when she travelled to Sierra Leone as a volunteer English teacher. Unfortunately, the rebel war made life difficult. Shortage of food and clean water, as well as epidemics were a frequent occurrence. During her one-year-stay there, she was often heavily sick due to malaria, parasites, and other causes.

Mirja in Sierra Leone 1994

In 1997, her volunteering adventures continued when she did a training in a United Nations office in Switzerland for more than six months. Her final journey to Kenya was in 1998 through United Nations Volunteers. After UNV she worked at the Finnish Embassy in Nairobi until 2001.

Joining the TAMK family

Upon her return to Finland in 2001, Mirja joined TAMK. She started out as a Study Secretary and later moved to the International Office, which was much more suitable for her interests and abilities. In 2012, she changed into Social Counselling and has been particularly popular ever since.

While working in social counselling, Mirja has established quite a number of services for foreign students. For example, TAMK’s storage for keeping and sharing good secondhand clothes, furniture, and kitchenware free of charge for anyone in need. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Mirja has been delivering food and support to international students that need to self-quarantine upon their arrival in Tampere. Read more about it here.

Mirja at the legendary note door in her office at TAMK

Mirja at the legendary note door in her office at TAMK

While interviewing Mirja, I was amazed by her volunteering stories. She had a dream, and she worked towards it. Moreover, she has conveyed her good spirit and actions by helping others.

I reminisce about the times Mirja has helped me with moving to a new flat, furniture delivery and residence permit paperwork, all of which would have otherwise cost me extra money or time. Fate has paved the way for me to study in TAMK and I’m proud to have such an amazing friend like Mirja. In conclusion, I aspire via this blog post to introduce Mirja Onduso to more people, and to show you how cool and awesome she is!

Shout out to Mirja: Kippis! (Cheers!)

 TAMK is the only Finnish University of Applied Sciences that has a full-time staff member doing social counselling with international students. The work includes assisting students with practical matters: housing, permits, health care, Finnish officials, Finnish culture, etc.

Feature image: Saara Lehtonen
Article images: Mirja Onduso’s archive

Yen Tran
About the author: Yen Tran is a Software Engineering student at TAMK from Vietnam. She has a huge interest in IT technologies and backend development. Besides that, she is also an aquarium keeper and explorer.