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Fulbright Scholar

White nights, dark winters: Life in Finland with a Fulbright Scholar

Professor of Marketing Brian R. Chabowski has spent the past 10 months in Finland as a Fulbright Scholar. Here, he shares thoughts on the personal growth and professional enrichment of that experience. 

man indoors wearing glasses, a light blue open collar shirt and a black blazer
Brian R. Chabowski at the University of Vaasa

The concept of long summer days and deep winter nights was not foreign to me prior to coming to Finland, a country well-known for its focus on social, environmental and economic sustainability. After I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, I lived in Lithuania and Estonia for three-and-a-half years and became quite accustomed to these drastic changes of natural lighting. Still, as a participant in a partnership between the Fulbright Finland Foundation and the University of Vaasa, having the opportunity as a Fulbright Scholar to live and work in the town of Vaasa with my family for close to a year is a unique personal and professional privilege. 

Everyday efficiency 

Many of the personal experiences that make this rewarding relate to everyday life. For instance, it took about three days to become accustomed to our younger daughter traveling to and from school on a local city bus. As we noticed each of those first days, there were no other parents on the bus and the children her age and younger knew how to get to school. With a population of 60,000, Vaasa is a perfect size and setting for our daily activities and safe enough for youngsters to go to and from school.  

man outdoors in the snow wearing a face mask in front of a stone column with the words Arctic Circle
Brian R. Chabowski at the Arctic Circle

Another personal facet relates to how garbage and recycling are treated. There is no other way to describe it, but the process resembles an art form. For garbage, we separate our trash into burnables, plastics, cartons, aluminum, glass and biowaste! In fact, we have specific canisters/bags in our apartment for each garbage type to bring to the central disposal shed for our building.  

A final aspect focuses on our Christmas trip to Turku, the oldest city in Finland. We left on Christmas Eve in the midst of a snowstorm and, as we were travelling to our connection city, the train ahead of ours had a mechanical failure and could only move very slowly. Once it stopped, the other train’s passengers transferred to ours. At this point, we knew we were going to miss our connection. However, the conductor assured us that accommodations would be made to get us to Turku. When we got off the train, we were immediately escorted to a waiting bus with the other travelers going to our destination. The transition was efficient and seamless, providing a case in which a government-owned company acknowledges an unexpected mishap and rectifies the complication caused in a responsible and timely manner. 

Research energy 

The professional aspects of my time in Finland have been equally successful. The projects I have been interested in pursuing relate to international social ventures; marketing channel sustainability; emergent and sustainable small-and-medium enterprise energy source development; and competitiveness, digital entrepreneurship and sustainability. In fact, Finland is an ideal place for studying these four topics.  

single story reddish colored building the roof of which is entirely covered with solar panels
The University of Vaasa is participating in the DigiDecarbon research project, which focuses on citizen-based energy communities and the businesses that can serve them.

First, concerning international social ventures, I have been fortunate to participate on a research team seeking a grant to focus on the processes companies undertake to transfer profitable socially-focused knowledge, skills and capabilities to emerging and developing countries. Finland is an outstanding country for examining this topic because the government is working on, for example, an initiative to start a company of 1,000 disabled citizens that indicates a commitment to social programs on a national level. This provides a glimpse into the fundamental thinking of equity in Finnish society and shows its suitability for this subject.  

In terms of marketing channel sustainability, Finland has an ambitious goal to eliminate all waste by 2050. Currently, only 1% of waste reaches landfills, while the rest is either recycled or used for heating, thus indicating the impact of concerted environmental efforts on consumer and business activity. My research with colleagues here has revealed that supply chain collaboration is critical in using strategic focus for successful sustainability performance.  

Relating to sustainable small-and-medium enterprise energy source development, there are many initiatives at the University of Vaasa and in the general Vaasa area exploring new approaches to energy transitions. This reflects a nation-wide trend: Currently, 52% of energy in Finland comes from renewable sources – 45% of which is hydropower and 23% is wind.  

Finally, emphasizing competitiveness, digital entrepreneurship and sustainability, Finland is one of the most digitized countries in the world. For instance, personal identification for many government and commercial services can be done easily with one secure authentication process. The result is an infrastructure that encourages small business development and innovation. In fact, as these topics are examined by professors at the university, this competitive and sustainable context provides an ideal opportunity to measure how well such digitized firms improve in comparison to those from other countries. 

Nothing short of extraordinary 

man standing outdoors in a large paved plaza in front of a huge white church
Brian R. Chabowski at Helsinki Cathedral

My time at the University of Vaasa has been nothing short of extraordinary. While I have had ample time to witness and study the multifaceted aspects of sustainability in practice as a part of my daily life, the professional relationships I have developed while here have provided invaluable experiences, produced published articles, facilitated unique friendships and initiated new research directions for the future. I have had superb interactions with undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students while, for instance, presenting a lesson or teaching a complete course.  

Overall, this has been a year thoroughly well spent. There is even a part of me that wishes this investment in both my family and my career could be endless. However, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Still, if I had the opportunity to do this again, I would seize it so I could live out a “sequel experience.” Taken further, I recommend you give Finland a try, as well!

Brian R. Chabowski, Ph.D., is a Professor of Marketing in the Collins College of Business. His main areas of research interest are marketing strategy, sustainability, international business and the interdisciplinary application of marketing.