When my classmates began to receive confirmations about their exchange studies in foreign universities, I got a different type of international invitation. I was offered a change of landscape: six months in Afghanistan, far away from Finland and civil life.
Time to reflect on my career plans
I had my share of peacekeeping experience already back in 2017, when I served under the UN flag in the Middle East, as my first deployment. Yet this time the operation would take place in a country where the general security situation was far more unstable, and the overall atmosphere restless. After pondering for a couple of days, I answered in the affirmative to the invite. Next I started to reorganize my life, getting ready to take up the challenge.
Soon after the training and packing period, I found myself heading to the airport. My only criterion for leaving Finland was that the trip should not mess up my studies. I got the green light from Haaga-Helia, since my adventure to another reality took place right after I finished my basic studies.
Taking this trip showed me that sometimes it is good to take a step back from your everyday life and studies. This helps you see everything in a new light. A little time away from the busy student life gives you time to consider and plan your future. Some university students find depth to their studies through student exchange programs, while others would just like to take a little time to consider their choice of specialization. Both are valid excuses to “fill out the forms”.
An International Marketer benefits from understanding foreign cultures
A total lack of social media and no sign of busy civil life gave me time to make up my mind that I wanted to specialize in creative planning and content production. At first, I felt that serving as a soldier meant I was putting my future marketing career on hold. I was afraid that the trip would postpone my graduation and complicate my orientation to studying.
At some point, however, I understood the concept of thinking outside the box, a familiar saying in the creative field. I learned to focus on the essential, live in the moment and most of all to understand different kinds of cultures. I accrued a wide understanding of the life of the locals and what they value in their lives.
The ultimate idea of marketing is to learn how to sell products and services to all kinds of people, while understanding their cultural needs. For example, one would not promote a product to a vlogging teenager from Finland in the same way they would to a village elder from Afghanistan.
Cultural differences in the business environment
From my point of view, the biggest difference between Afghanistan and Finland had to do with the way in which people live as part of their community. In Afghanistan, many of the opinions, values, and norms have been passed on by previous generations. There is also a huge difference between the level of education in these countries, as Afghanistan has a literacy rate of only 13%. In business transactions, family relationships and various win-win situations play a bigger role in Afghanistan than in Finland.
There is not much street advertising in the northern parts of Afghanistan. Of course, they advertise mobile phone subscriptions in the same way we do in Finland, but for they do not advertise, for example, clothes or clothing brands at all. Many of the local women wear burkhas, for either family or religious reasons. Mainly all the advertising is targeted at the male population, since men are the head of the household and in charge of making decisions.
An eye-opening international experience
Approaching the point of returning home, I started looking at courses to attend in the spring. I am very grateful to all the teachers at Haaga-Helia, who made it easy for me to return to student life. After a break of half a year, I am now pretty sure that studying marketing is the right direction for me.
In my opinion, one great example of successful marketing is the slogan used in the flyers where Finnish Defense Forces advertise their peacekeeping operations: “Experience that money cannot buy.”
Text and picture: Eero Löytökorpi