Founded in 1861, the University of Washington (UW) is one of the oldest state-supported institutions of higher education on the West Coast of the United States, and one of the preeminent research universities in the world.  In 2010 the Times Higher Education Rankings placed the UW in the 23rd place among the world’s universities, 17th in the United States and the 4th amongst the public universities in the US.

The UW is widely known in the United States for its strong language programs, with over 60 different languages offered on a regular basis, and many international “area-studies” programs. Yet, it may surprise some that Finnish has been taught on the Seattle campus for over twenty years. Finnish-language instruction and courses on Finland in English are offered as a part of the Scandinavian Studies Department curriculum. Over the years the program has expanded from occasional language teaching to systematic instruction on three levels, graduate-level study and research, and active research by the facultyThe UW and the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center For International Mobility (CIMO) jointly fund the lectureship.

Associate professor Andrew Nestingen has held his position since 2001. The beginning of the academic year is usually a busy and exciting time. ”First of all, we organized a summer course in Finnish this past summer. Thanks to high student demand we were able to secure funding for intensive second year Finnish taught over the summer quarter,” professor Nestingen said. “Five students got together daily with their teacher Jenni Salmi and are now a year ahead in their language study. We also welcomed a visiting Fulbright student from Finland in September, Anna Peltomäki. She is teaching first year Finnish and taking classes to fulfil her own degree requirements at the University of Tampere. As much as this is an excellent professional opportunity for the visiting graduate student, it is also an irreplaceable experience for the students in beginning Finnish. The visiting graduate students add a nice breath of Finnish air, both culturally and linguistically,” Nestingen also said. “Naturally, we also have our own students here in Seattle as well as UW students who are spending a year abroad in Finland.

Faculty have published books about the national epic Kalevala, Finnish folklore, cinema and literature. Professor Nestingen teaches and writes on Finnish popular culture and has recently completed a book on Aki Kaurismäki. ”Aki Kaurismäki has many contradictory sides. The contrasts have interested audiences. He and his films integrate a compelling mix of art, bohemianism, nostalgia, and Finnishness.”

Professor Nestingen and lecturer Elg celebrating the graduating students in 2011. Two out of the program’s eleven major students have already graduated and two more will graduate at the end of 2011.

 In addition to the professorship, there is a visiting lectureship position in Finnish, currently held by Ms. Aija Elg who was hired from Finland in 2009.

“I teach second and third year Finnish, function as the departmental Teaching Assistant Coordinator and lecture in English about Finland-related topics,” says Ms. Elg about a typical quarter.

“In addition to that, fundraising and outreach is a big part of the faculty’s job. This year we received a major donation of $100,000 thus doubling the program endowed funds, and that has obviously been a major step in securing the program and helping it become ever more successful, “ Ms. Elg says with delight.

A major donation and a chance for more

This spring a generous donor, Mr. Eero Tetri, made an endowed gift of $100,000 to support the teaching of the Finnish language at the University doubling the endowed funds supporting the program.  While the program has become a success, the finances of the University of Washington have become more and more stretched due to rapidly decreasing state funding.  More and more of the cost of the program must come out of the endowed funds, and not out of operating funds. 

In addition to his significant gift, Mr. Tetri promised to match donations made by others by the end of 2011, as well as pledges made for 2012, up to $50,000. 

“To me, it is the most beautiful language in the world.  I do not want it ever to disappear.  I want it to continue to delight people, in Finland and in Seattle,” Mr. Tetri says of his love for the Finnish language.

Mr. Eero Tetri delivers a gift of $100,000 to the Finnish Studies Endowment, represented by College of Arts and Sciences Development Officer Molly Purrington. Mr. Tetri has committed to match all gifts and pledges to the Finnish program during 2011, up to a total of $50,000.

Making its mark

The Finnish program enrols 20-30 students in language instruction annually. Department faculty teach some three hundred students about Finland in cultural courses taught in English.  Three doctoral students have completed PhD. degrees including research on Finnish literature, cinema and folklore since 2000. In 2009, Finnish became a major. Students choose to major in Finnish in order to explore their ethnic heritage, to gain a competitive edge, or as for linguistics students, to fill a requirement, to mention some of the motivating factors reported by the students. The program has already had eleven majors enrolled, and two students have already graduated with a Finnish major.

The activities of the program’s students, supporters, and faculty have made a significant contribution to the knowledge of Finnish culture in the US.  A good example is a Finnish Studies graduate Lola Rogers who has become a well-known translator of Finnish literature into English.  Her credits include the English translation of Sofi Oksanen’s 2008 best-seller Purge (Puhdistus in Finnish), the graphic novel The Sands of Sarasvati, based on Risto Isomäki’s novel of the same name, as well as an upcoming translation of Riikka Pulkkinen’s True (Totta).

Please visit the Scandinavian Studies website or friend us on Facebook to find out more about the program. If you would like to make a donation please go to the Scandinavian Studies page  at and click on Support on the left hand side corner.


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