Young people's life in the sparsely populated periphery of Finland
(In Finnish: Reunamerkintöjä Hylkysyrjästä – Nuorten elämänraameja ja tulevaisuudenkuvia harvaanasutulla maaseudulla)
Päivi Armila, Terhi Halonen & Mari Käyhkö
The information sought through youth research has traditionally dealt mainly with groups of young people, communities, relationships and contemporary phenomena in youth culture. This has led researchers to areas which have an abundance of young people and where groups are easily established, remain together and maintain close mutual contact. The authors of this work, however, have chosen to depart from this conventional approach. The aim of the work entitled Reunamerkintöjä Hylkysyrjästä (‘Notes from the margins: Hylkysyrjä village’) is to examine and understand what it is to be a young person in places that are geographically and socially far removed from shared meeting points such as schools, organised activities and friends. This type of living environment was constructed for the purposes of the study as a methodological type, a village named Hylkysyrjä (‘abandoned fringe’). Despite its name it is not simply a wretched landscape – or mindscape – forsaken by everyone.
The empirical material in the book’s articles has been gathered from small villages in Eastern Finland that are situated far from municipal population centres. The book is composed of sections that depict the life cycle and historical development of Hylkysyrjä and research articles analysing the daily lives and future plans of young people living there today, based on listening to the views of young people and the adults advising them. Added to the mix are some more general views focusing on youth experiences in remote districts and research in this field.
The history of Hylkysyrjä is a tale of growth and decline, with a storyline focusing first on a carefully calculated regional policy designed to enliven village communities and then the systematic shutdown of this approach. When it was once a vigorous community, the village had a lot of young people, access to schools close to home, active organised activities and a clear future outlook. Structural changes in society then led the prosperity and vitality of Hylkysyrjä to falter and fade, and the twenty-first century now sees a situation where the village has only one young person, with a hundred-kilometre trip to school and no opportunity to engage with friends other than at school, on the journey to and from it and over the internet. After the completion of compulsory education, these circumstances typically encourage early independence in young people and an ability to cope with the education or training that is demanded by society, in a provincial centre far from home. Coping is not always a foregone conclusion, and this can be an issue that the young people themselves and professionals working with them have to wrestle with.
Living in Hylkysyrjä village is challenging, but it can also bring a lot of positives to the life of a young person: a life isolated by distance heightens the importance of the home and its surroundings, the family, grandparents and relatives, as emotional and tangible sources of support. The role of family is also very significant when putting together plans for the future: it will feel safer to leave home to study in a place where an uncle, aunt or big sister lives. When they reach their early teenage years at school, the young people of the village know that they will have to leave Hylkysyrjä. But there will always be one who plans to return – even to the same place where a parent was born or where grandparents once lived.
Keywords: Eastern Finland, regional development, inequality, remote villages, young people, education and training, daily life, future