Jari Vilen Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Finland and the Global 
    Economy: Conversation with Jari Vilen, Minister for Foreign Trade, Finland, 
    January 23, 2003 by Harry Kreisler

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Welcome to Berkeley.

Thank you much.

Tell us a little about your background. Where were you born and raised?

Actually, I'm one of those very northern Finns. And, currently, I'm the northernmost minister of government, because I come from Lapland. I was raised in a very small industrial town, about 25,000 people living there. I finished my high school there and continued my studies a little bit further south in a university. From that university, after finishing my masters degree, I studied to go to Europe to see the wider world and learn new things. I went to Ireland, first; studied a year in Trinity College in Dublin. I decided to continue when I found the European Union, and the challenges of the European Union. I went to Brussels to the Brussels Free University.

Talking about an earlier period in your life, how do you think your parents shaped your thinking about the world?

They gave me the courage and the boost to go and explore possibilities and opportunities. We still are a very close family. I have only one brother, and we basically phone each other every day. Every single day there's at least some kind of message, just even a text message or something like that. But they gave me the courage to go away and explore my possibilities, stretch my wings. They said, "Whatever happens, you're always welcome to come back home." It seems to be so that they gave this possibility to both of their sons. Also, my little brother decided to go and explore the world in his way. He joined the United Nations for quite a long time. He's been serving in the UN forces in Macedonia and the Golan Heights in Syria.

Now, this "explore the world" motif, is this something that was also present in your village culture, or was it primarily your parents?

No, I think it's mostly my parents, because we're a very close family, and our family reads a lot, studies a lot, discusses a lot about the world. Maybe something to mention is that I was raised very close to the Swedish border. My hometown is only about twenty minutes away from Sweden. So to go to a border, into another country, to another language, to another culture was a normal thing. You did that maybe once a week. So that was another big step to go in the world and look at something else. I think it started in school when we studied geography. I was reading the map and different countries. I can remember that I was flying in my mind in other countries and trying to calculate how many hours it takes to fly from my hometown to New York.

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