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In a recent study by the University of Turku, it was found that among immigrant youths in Finland, a strong sense of identity is more closely tied to their local neighborhoods than to Finnish nationality. The study, led by Assistant Professor of Sociology Elina Kilpi-Jakonen, delves into the sense of belonging, opportunities for influence, education, transition to work life, and independence of these youths. One of the key findings is that immigrant youths do not reach the same educational levels, face more challenges in employment,

and leave their parental homes later than their Finnish peers.

Kilpi-Jakonen emphasizes the importance of supporting young people's sense of belonging and participation to strengthen their ties to society. Multiculturally diverse neighborhoods play a crucial role in this process. These areas, where the majority population does not dictate the norm, offer immigrant youths a safe space to develop their identities and engage in leisure or student council activities. However, it's essential that these youths also connect with the broader society, as highlighted by Anuleena Kimanen, a university lecturer involved in the project.

To address these challenges, the research team has provided five recommendations for schools and other entities working with youths. Schools are encouraged to cultivate a culture that improves young people’s opportunities to influence their surroundings. Discussions around Finnish identity should be inclusive, non-discriminatory, and engaging, without positioning it against immigrant backgrounds. Recognizing the family background and community of an immigrant youth as a positive resource is also crucial. Moreover, there's a need to support these youths in their educational and occupational transitions, including the possibility of returning to education. Schools should also acknowledge the value of diverse identities, ensuring that all students feel a sense of belonging and inclusion.

The study further notes that ethnic and linguistic diversity in ethnically diverse schools can facilitate a sense of belonging. Students in such schools feel accepted regardless of their ethnic or linguistic background. However, the acceptance of diversity is not universal; issues such as gender diversity can still lead to feelings of exclusion.

The project involved comprehensive analysis of nationwide registry data, group interviews in Finnish schools, and discussions with school leaders from Finland and the UK. It also included interviews with youths in culturally diverse areas about their leisure activities. Conducted by the INVEST Research Center and flagship in collaboration between the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi, the study underscores the significance of culturally diverse environments in nurturing a sense of belonging among immigrant youths.

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