International love: Getting the International Student Grant and how I ended up in Helsinki to begin with (by Keshia)

Till my undergraduate degree, my knowledge of Finland was very limited. I knew that Helsinki was its capital, it was in Northern Europe and days were short and cold in winter and long and warm in summer. I certainly did not think I would have a chance to experience those short, cold winter days and long, warm summer ones first hand or that I would find myself in circumstances that would expand my awareness of the country I now call home.

So how does a girl from Bangalore, India end up doing a research masters in social psychology in Finland? I would like to think that the stones were set in motion when I made the decision to do my undergraduate degree at the University of York, England. On arriving at my student accommodation in York, one of the first people I came into contact with was a Finnish girl who ended up being one of my closest friends at university. She also introduced me to her brother who I have been in a relationship with for over three years so you can probably guess part of my motivation behind my choice to pursue a master’s at the University of Helsinki. However that wasn’t all. In the course of my undergraduate degree, Finland kept coming up in a lot of my lectures on Social Policy as the ideal country that could teach other countries a thing or two about progressive policies particularly pertaining to maternity leave, childcare, gender equality and free education.

I admit, the prospect of living in a country that was held up as a measuring stick for other countries did appeal to me particularly as gender equality does not really exist in India. Moreover, I have always believed that education should be free as it is a right, not a privilege and the fact that Finland extends this right not just to its own citizens but to international students as well is what really cinched the deal. I applied for the research master’s in social psychology and crossed my fingers. I did not think life could get any better when I got my acceptance email and then I was informed that as an international student, I could apply for a grant that would ease the financial stress of living in Helsinki. I did so right away as receiving such a grant would mean that I would not be such a drain on my parents’ resources who are still help me out financially. Months went by and I did not hear back about the grant so I forgot all about applying for it until I received an email telling me that I had been awarded the funding. I remember my mother’s shock on hearing that not only was my education free, but the university was actually giving me money to study in Helsinki.

grantceremony

The grants were presented to awardees at a formal ceremony in November held at the University main building. I could not believe that out of 122 applicants, I was one of the lucky 46 to have received it. Champagne was popped, hor d’oeuvres were served, a pianist played in the background and inspiring speeches were made, the main message of which was that the university genuinely needs and wants international students, not to boost ratings or add to a token international quota but because international students come with different perspectives and cultural backgrounds that enrich the university both culturally and academically by stimulating innovative research. The awarded students represented 21 different nationalities and I felt genuinely valued as an international student then because prior to that, I had never seen my potential to give something back to the university. In fact, I was almost suspicious that the university wanted to give me so much as I felt I had no way of reciprocating their generosity. It was a nice feeling to know that my ideas, world view and culture had the potential to contribute to the university and I feel more motivated to use this potential. And in my free time, I plan to make the most of the grant by experiencing more of Finland (I’ve heard Lapland is beautiful in autumn).

This piece was written by Keshia Dsilva, a first year REMS student.

No boundaries (by Yen)

I always get extremely moody during this time of the year. It’s February, and in Vietnam people are celebrating Tết (Lunar New Year). And here I am, in Finland, with the snow falling down so passionately. This is my 6th year not celebrating Tết holiday with my family, and needless to say it puts me in a very emotional spot. I miss my mom. I miss my hometown. But it’s half the world away from me now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being in Finland. Despite the fact that I was pretty much lost and disoriented throughout my first month arriving in Helsinki, this city finally gets to me. I’ve soon grown fond of it and of all the friends I’ve met in the REMs program. Such weirdos they are, but I’m sure my life here would just suck without them. And since we all come from different parts of the world, there will always be new things we can teach and learn from each other. I remember putting in the REMs application something like: “I want to study in an international environment,” and now looking around it’s just so clear to me that I’ve gotten what I asked for. I’m in it, always in it. When I went to Sweden last weekend, at one point I was stuffed in a cabin with 10 other people from all around this planet. Someone was trying to count how many nationalities we had there, and I swear I heard John Lennon singing “Imagine” in my head.

No boundaries.

However, just so you know, there’s also the downside of having only social scientist friends. They just never shut up about social sciences! I don’t think we have ever carried a conversation without mentioning a little bit of sociology and a little bit of psychology in it. Being a typical girl (and by the way, the fact that I’m saying this can lead me to another conversation about gender stereotypes), sometimes I just want girl talks. But it never happened to me here, not even once. We may talk about guys and then somehow it will shift to gender roles, inequality and whatnots. I think it’s true that once you’ve become a social scientist, you just can’t go back to being normal. There would always be things for you to be depressed about, concerned about, and hopeful about. The world to you is no different from a roller-coaster ride now.

I think I’m getting ahead of myself again.

To be honest, I have no clear agenda when writing this blog post. Emma booked me for February because she knew how depressed I would be during Tết (and she was right). But I don’t think nostalgia is the only thing in my head right now. Right at this moment, I’m actually happy. I’m happy that I flew to Finland after all. There are tons of things about the program that disappoint me, but there are also things that make me feel blessed and grateful. It’s a balance equation for now, though I must admit that my disappointment has to do with too much expectation from my part.

I graduated last year in May in California, USA. At that point I was accepted by 4 master programs: one in New York, one in Belgium and two in Finland. My initial decision was Belgium. I was so sure I’d be going to Leuven that I spent the whole summer taking French lessons. But then the visa paperwork for Belgium got all messy and they required some paper that took months to get, and in the blink of a moment I just made up my mind – “forget it, I’m going to Helsinki.” Everything went smoothly after that, and I got my residence permit just 6 weeks after. Totally meant to be.

But, you know, the thing about choice is that once you have too many of them, you may always look back and wonder if that’s the best choice you’ve made. That’s what happened to me during the whole first period studying in Helsinki. I wasn’t happy with how the program was structured. I was used to studying with tons of options for courses to choose from, as opposed to what I have here at the university, where most of the courses have only one specific lecture time. And if you cannot take that one class this study period, you may have to wait until the next academic year to do so. I think this problem persists only because these courses are taught entirely in English, and let’s not forget that this is Finland. There will always be more class options for you if you speak Finnish fluently, and until then, there are only a handful of classes you can take.

I wasn’t happy at first. And I was pretty annoyed when I had to take a couple of courses that I believe are quite pointless to my education at that moment. I think there will be a group of students that find those courses useful, but with a background in research and 5 years studying everything in English, I found those required courses a bit redundant to what I’ve already learned. There is also this thing – book exam – that I’m sure pretty much none of us would enjoy. Lucky me though, I’m a sociology major, so I don’t really have to take any book exam to graduate (as of now). But imagine yourself being stuck in a room for four hours trying to answer a bunch of questions about what you’ve read in two or three textbooks. At this point in my life when I already got my Bachelor Degree, I really want those exams to be a thing of the past. Needless to say, I was quite amazed that these book exams still exist on this level, and some are compulsory for certain majors.

Still, right now, I’m loving it here.

I have this professor in my old university who always gives me sound advice about graduate school. When I started applying for different graduate programs, she told me to take into consideration the environment just as much as the program itself. And she was right. I’m not exactly thrilled about REMS so far, but I’m very very happy with the university and Helsinki in general. And this alone makes me want to stay in Finland, and helps me become much more patient with the program. I’ve learned to lower my expectation, and when the third study period begins, everything starts to change, at least for me. I’ve found the courses I have this semester much more engaging, and many times I’m touched by the dedication of the instructors. I also have awesome nerdy friends (that I already mentioned above) who can discuss pretty much everything with me. I’m learning from them just as much as learning from these classes.

Being educated is not just about going to school and taking notes. It’s a way of living, I think. And Helsinki is one of the best environments to stay educated, in my opinion. You can tell from the way globalization and history blend into each other in the way the city looks, and from the fact that most Finns speak fluent English. Everything about this place just makes you yearn to keep on learning, and keepon  exploring the world to be amazed at how much it has to offer you.

Also, the whole rumor about Finnish people being cold and unfriendly is quite nonsensical. At least, based on what I’ve experienced so far, I have the sweetest Finnish friends here (or maybe I’m one of the few lucky ones?). I didn’t have a social life when I was living in California, but now I do. There are many nights I take a bus or a train home with my dearest Finnish siskoni here and I feel so belong, despite the fact that we’ve only known each other for 6 months.

And I remember telling her, one night, that I’m loving this place a little bit more everyday. It’s not perfect, and it’s not flawless, but I’ve learned to love its own flaws. Those flaws make it even more real and somehow, closer to your heart

Sorry, I’m talking too much, as usual. If you’re still following at this point, you probably still have a lot of interest for this REMS program. Come over here then, I’m sure Helsinki has more to offer you than you might think. And for those of you who decide that you do not want this program after all, move forward with what you believe is best for you. If it’s meant to be, it is. Just don’t look back. You never know what’s best for you until you hit the end of the road.

As for me, despite how much I’ve complained about the program so far, I know I’m meant to be here. And I’m happy that Helsinki happens to me.

Hopefully some of you will feel the same way!

Best of luck,

Yên Mai

Why REMS? A 1st year student perspective

Winter is coming – and as we start to accumulate more and more layers of clothing, the application period for the REMS programme is about to open! I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I started the process of my return to Finland. As I look back on my first few months in the REMS programme, I cannot help but feel that it’s been far longer than a few months: the amount of work already behind me, the close friendships already formed, and my first University of Helsinki student experiences (like “sitsit”, i.e. academic dinners) now in the past, the university already feels like a second home.

By now, you’re probably already wondering who this slightly nostalgic commentator is, and why on Earth I am just talking about myself. On the basis of what you’ve already read, you can probably tell that I’m one of the new REMS students who got accepted into the programme this year. Coincidently, I’ve also just been elected as the student representative for the 1st year REMS students, and therefore find it to be my obligation to share my experience with you, both in terms of what it’s like, and how I got here. I hope this post will open up the “world of REMS” to both potential applicants, as well as my fellow REMS students, as well as give an idea of what the people in this programme are like. This is my experience – therefore, it should be fitting that you know a bit more about me.

First of all, my name is Emma Pulkkinen, and I am for the purpose of this post Finnish – except, that I’m not your typical Finn. After spending a year in the United States with my family at the tender age of 5, we returned to Finland so that I could commence my schooling over here. However, I did not complete my basic education in Finnish – since my return from the US, I’ve attended one international school after the other here in Finland, allowing me to become basically bilingual. It is probably thanks to this international education that it became self-evident that I continue my studies abroad; therefore, after graduating from the local International Baccalaureate high school, I left for Ireland (the reasons for “why Ireland?” are still unclear to me, so don’t ask). And after 4 years of studying for my Bachelor’s degree, three of which were spent at Trinity College Dublin, and one of which was spent at the University of Melbourne in Australia, I was a graduate (or well, I’ll receive the degree parchment next Monday).

So what next? I knew getting a Master’s degree was pretty much a ‘must’ if I ever wanted to work in Finland; in addition, I actually enjoyed studying, and wanted to learn more about the field of sociology, my current major. So how did I come across the REMS programme? After countless hours spent researching scholarships and Master’s degree programmes, I narrowed it down to two countries and two universities: the University of Helsinki in Finland, and Lund University in Sweden.

But why? After several years spent abroad, I thought it was time to come closer to home; in addition, coming from a relatively humble background, I couldn’t afford to pay for my Master’s degree. I also knew that if I ever did want to work in Finland, having a more Nordic perspective, if not a Finnish one, would be valuable. Sweden had the added advantage that I could brush up on my Swedish skills – something I hadn’t done since I left Finland.

But why the REMS programme, and not one of the other social science programmes? After discussing it with my professors back in Trinity, they highly recommended a Research Master’s, or at least something more practical – in such a programme, I would be more likely to learn practical skills one could use in employment, and I would also have a good background for doing a PhD if I so wished.

But then came the dilemma: two programmes, and I was accepted into both of them. Finland, or Sweden? The choice was not as clear as you might think – I still sometimes think whether I made the right choice or not, but after my first few months I can definitely say it was not the wrong decision to make. For once, I am close to my family and feel closer to my Finnish identity than when I first came back; but I’m also learning practical skills, new perspectives, and making new international and Finnish friends (as most of my “old” Finnish friends left the country like I did). Though the academic transition from Bachelor’s to Master’s feels difficult from time to time, especially coming from a more school-based system like that in Ireland, to one where independent learning is valued like in Finland, I still feel that this programme is putting me in the right track – whether I want to work or continue my studies after graduating. Courses such as Reflexive Interviewing, Globalisation in Place, Ethnographic Methods, and Classical Social Theory have really opened up my mind to new ways of thinking, ways which I hope to use when doing my Master’s thesis.

On a final note, one piece of advice: don’t worry about your thesis yet! I didn’t even write a Bachelor’s thesis, and I still got into the programme! All you need to demonstrate is dedication and interest; and just a potential topic for your thesis. When I wrote my application, I was not 100% confident that the topic I presented would be the one I would continue with if I was accepted. Surprisingly enough, it is – but the perspective and knowledge I have now is already far more advanced than when I first came up with it.

Good luck with your applications! Should you want any more information about the programme, feel free to comment below.

All the best,

Your 1st year REMS representative, Emma Pulkkinen

First weeks in Helsinki as an international student (by Amiirah)

They say time zooms past when you’re having fun. I’d say it is also true when you’re a new international student, not only adjusting to life in a new country but also adjusting back to student life after almost 3 years of not studying…

Today is already Day 50 of my being in Helsinki.

Some days, as I’m striding purposefully to my destination – hands in my pockets, head down and unsmiling (like a stereotypical Finn?) – I feel like I’ve been here for years.

Most days though, it seems like just yesterday I was suffocating in the tropical Singapore heat, and now here I am living the student life in chilly Helsinki. The people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made here have been nothing but warm and friendly though.

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From summer to glove weather in 50 days

I generally try to do a bit of research before doing anything. (I am a REMS student after all… 😉 ) But it seems like I’ve missed out on quite a bit due to websites not providing these information, and also because a number of websites are still all in Finnish and Google Translate can only do so much…

So here are some of the things which I didn’t find any information on and wished I had known before coming to Finland. It would have definitely made my first few weeks here less frustrating and much more enjoyable.

  1. You need a Finnish identity number for *everything.
    *Everything referring to all the essentials you need as a student: a bank account, travel card, student card…

    The identity number provided on your certificate of attendance from the university (for the University of Helsinki at least, not sure about other universities in Finland) is not the official number. To get the official number, you need to personally register at your local maistraatti. Be prepared to wait up to 4 weeks to get this number if you registered with everyone else during orientation week.

  2. You need a Finnish ID for a lot of things.
    This is separate from your Finnish personal identity number. That official looking residence permit card you got from the Finnish embassy in your home country? It’s not a valid form of ID in Finland. (Can someone please explain the rationale behind this?!)

    To get this Finnish ID, you need to personally go to a police station and apply for an identity card for foreigners.

  3. Opening a bank account can be a hassle.
    Firstly, you need a Finnish identity number to open a bank account. If you want to have internet banking services, you’d also need a Finnish ID. (See points #1 and #2.)In addition, if you’re from outside the EU, you need documents proving you’re a good client from your home bank in order to open a bank account in Finland. Because of the waiting times involved to get the Finnish identity number and ID, it’s best to bring enough cash to last at least for your first month in Finland. If you have a bank card without any foreign transaction fees, that will now be your best friend.

    Take note that there are exceptionally high fees involved in depositing overseas bank drafts (paper form), so if you have the option to transfer money online, that’s usually a cheaper method to transfer money from your home bank to your Finnish account.

  4. Taking money out from that new bank account can be a hassle.
    You need to pay a small monthly fee for your new Finnish bank card and internet banking access if you have them. For this reason, you need to have regular monthly deposits into your account. That can be quite difficult to do when you’re an unemployed student, so what you can do is to do it the old-school way and be like the pensioners – queue up at the bank to get money out when you need it.

Despite all these administrative and bureaucratic annoyances, the other positive aspects of Finland have made my experience thus far really positive.

It is refreshing to have such a diverse group of people in the REMS program, and the seniors have been really helpful in easing us into student life. I had a lovely time during the REMS welcome picnic organised by the seniors – surrounded by beautiful greenery, with an awesome panoramic view of the sea, and even better company.

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REMS Welcome Picnic in Kaivopuisto

I’ve also found Helsinki to be a quaint little city. I’m lucky enough to live right in the city area and every place which I’d ever need to go to is easily accessible on foot. Helsinki’s transport system was also recently ranked as the best in Europe for the 4th time, so I know I can rely on that once winter rolls around and it gets too cold for me to stay outdoors for longer than 10 minutes…

Or perhaps I would be more like the Finns by then and have a higher tolerance for the cold – what with their winter ice swimming and rolling in the snow… Ask me again in a couple of months. :-p

Amiirah

 

 

May Carnival!

Aside

Every year in 16th of May, the Faculty of Social Sciences celebrates its traditional May Carnival! This year’s carnival was amazing because of the beautiful sunshine and the friendly environment. The exhibitions, speeches, music, art, sports and the chances for networking with people  from the same faculty were all intriguing. We were very relaxed in the sunshine and enjoyed the champagne provided by the faculty!

Here are some impressions from the Carnival!

(The International Greeting: International scholars were giving a talk about ” How does it feel like to work and study in Finland)

(People were playing games under the sun)

( Would you like to have some champagne? )

(Exhibitions about different subjects in the Faculty of Social Sciences)

University of Helsinki often organizes events for university staffs and students. Many events are great opportunities to learn about Finland education. You can always check the information from the university websites as well as just join the Facebook group. If you are a student from Social Sciences Faculty, this Carnival is definitely a nice event you shouldn’t miss. Hope to see you all next year at the Carnival!

 

 

Welcome to the REMS blog!

No matter if you are a REMS student, a potential REMS student, or anyone else who is interested in the REMS programme, welcome to our new REMS blog. We will share valuable information about REMS study, student life, academic and possible career information here!

Everybody in the REMS programme is welcome to write posts for this blog. Possible topics are the programme itself, the courses you recommend, student life, funny activity you experience here, or life in Helsinki in general! We appreciate your ideas and great ideas worth spreading!

Here is the easy guide about how to post your “great piece” here ! As we would like to have regular posts in this blog (every 1-2 months), a Doodle page has been created where you can sign up for the particular month in which you would like to write an entry. The link can be found here:

http://doodle.com/ixhfczg95xuwnbqb

Please note that with the sign-up, you commit yourself to write a post for that particular month. So just check the month for which you will really write a post (not all months where it would be possible for you to write something). We know that this is not how Doodle is generally used, but why not adapt it to our own needs? 🙂
After you have written your post, please send it to Brenda and Corinne (yiting.liu@helsinki.fi and corinne.isler@helsinki.fi) and we will then post it to the blog.

This blog will be a platfrom for everyone in and everyone interested in the REMS programme! The blog now is at the starting point and all of your interests surely will make it better!

Brenda and Corinne