In the middle of nowhere or right in the middle of the world?

When it comes to internationalisation, I wonder if we here in eastern Finland wave the white flag too easily. We are located on the periphery, or at least that's what we keep telling ourselves and what we are told over and over again.

I come from the field of photonics and for us, Jena in Germany is one of Europe’s leading photonics centres. It’s the birthplace of Carl Zeiss AG and Schott AG, founded by Ernst Abbe, Carl Zeiss and Otto Schott in 1864 and 1884 respectively.

When a Japanese client comes from Tokyo to Jena, the journey takes at least 18 hours with one stopover to get to Berlin, followed by a train trip that again involves a stopover. But what if the client were to come to Kuopio or Joensuu? The travel time from Narita Airport to the centre of our campus cities can be up to five hours shorter.

In the US, the leading photonics centres include Tucson in Arizona and Rochester in New York. The flight time to Tucson from Los Angeles is one and a half hours, and from New York a bit over seven hours with one stopover. And vice versa for Rochester. The flight time from Helsinki to Kuopio and Joensuu is one hour. You can also spend seven hours on a train from New York to Rochester, whereas Joensuu and Kuopio can be reached by train from Helsinki is slightly over four hours. All the main European industrial centres are within six hours from both Kuopio and Joensuu.

A high-tech company in Goes in the Netherlands is suffering from a similar inferiority complex: they say and they are told that they are located in the middle of nowhere. However, Goes can be reached from Brussels Airport in just over one hour, and a train from Amsterdam will take a client there in two hours.

Distances are relative – they are in our heads. Phones, email and video conferencing are making the world we live in increasingly small, and the same is true for our global markets.

So here's my message to export companies in Kuopio and Joensuu: the University of Eastern Finland is located right in the middle of the global world. Good luck with going international!

Jyrki Saarinen

Professor of Photonics Applications and Commercialisation