My time with the fair folk: Intercultural experiences in Connected Health

by Guido Giunti MD

All ESRs from the CHESS ITN program are expected to do an intersectoral secondment; that is, spend an extended period of time in another institution of a different sort than their host institution. The idea behind this is that the experience allows the PhD candidate the opportunity to look at their project and career in a different light. Academic types get industry exposure and industrial minds get to see what life in universities is really like. Myself, being among the latter, was very curious about I would find on the other side. And going all the way to Finland, no less.

Having been born and raised in Argentina my knowledge of this land was scarce at best: lots of lakes, land of Nokia, that one episode of the Simpsons and something about Tolkien using the Finnish language as basis for Elvish, I think. I didn’t quite know what to expect but I was interested in seeing how a country with an infrastructure such as Finland dealt with Connected Health. Would there be many digital health startups? How was their relationship with the health system? Were physicians involved or just passive users of technology? And more importantly, were there elves?

As you land, Oulu proudly announces to those who set foot in its airport two important things: it’s the capital of Northern Scandinavia and the home of the Air Guitar World Championships. Things were up to a good start. I spent the following days being introduced to my new colleagues and coworkers.


I became part of the University of Oulu’s INTERACT research unit, attended their weekly meetings and overall integrated into their day to day life. It was fascinating to be engaged in discussions with people from such a diverse background. Social scientists, designers, programmers. I also got the chance to get to know more Vasiliki, Michael and Casandra, the Oulu based CHESS ESRs. During this time I worked side by side with human-computer interaction designers and benefited greatly from Vasiliki’s mastery of User-Centered Design, her expertise and attention to detail were vital.

I had several meetings with representatives of the Oulu Health initiative, a program comprised of stakeholders from academia, the public sector, and the private sector. This program has an ecosystem approach to health that enables the combination of wireless information technologies and life sciences to introduce smart ICT solutions for delivering advanced, personalized, connected health service solutions. It’s incredible what you can accomplish when you tackle health problems from such a scale.

Finnish people have this reputation of being withdrawn and shy. A joke I often heard was: “an introverted Finn looks at his shoes when talking to you; an extroverted Finn looks at yours”. However, I found this not to be the case at all. Finns are warm, open and sincere, even though they themselves might tell you the exact opposite. It was just a bit hard for them to start but when they did, it was something true. And when they smile, it lights up the room – you know it’s genuine and can’t help but smile back, because you are genuinely happy. You’ve shared a joke, a funny story or something else together.

I think the most enjoyable thing about this experience was the change of scenery and pace, as life in a company follows a different rhythm than a university. Spending time in an university environment in addition to my experiences in Salumedia Tecnologias was helpful in understanding where could my career go after CHESS. Also, living in a completely different culture than mine was very enriching on a personal level. I met some wonderful people and developed friendships whose impact I think will be with me for a lifetime. Now, as to whether or not elves exist, I will simply submit what I found while walking in the woods as “Exhibit A”.