Out with the old, in with the new

Phew, what a year. And that’s an understatement. It’s time to wrap up the term of the 2020 board, and welcome the 2021 board. I hope you’re all doing okay despite all this – I know many had their exchange years cut short or had to rush back home to be with their family. Or couldn’t go home at all. I truly hope this year will treat us all better, and that CISSI’s board and other student organisations get to organise all the fun events that the we couldn’t last year due to the pandemic. But most importantly, I hope you and your loved ones will stay safe and healthy.

Despite the pandemic, a lot happened during our term. We got to invent new ways to gather safely, and to have fun online. We indeed had some amazing events outdoors (such as the hike at Luukki, and the event at Vanhakapunginkoski and Lammassaari). We even managed to have a bit of a party outside at the beginning of the Autumn term! Some of you may know this already, but CISSI also become an official subject organisation last year, which was a big step and achievement for us (thanks to the board of 2019 for laying the foundation for this). Special thanks to our first-ever student advocate Axelle!

Thank you, board and deputies of 2020. You were amazing, and I am happy I got to work with you all! I would also like to thank everyone who attended our events, joined CISSI, followed us on social media, or were involved with CISSI in any way.


CISSI’s chair of 2020

Thank you 2019!

2019 is almost over now, and even if everyday student life doesn’t change a lot, in the wonderful world of the student organizations the beginning of spring semester is a big deal. It’s time to wrap up the “term” of our 2019 board, and let others continue with organizing for the social sciences internationals.

Looking back to the year is one of those weird time warps, where it both seems we just got started yesterday and time just flew by but also like January 2019 was ages ago as so much has happened within the last 12 months. Funnily enough, that’s exactly how I felt after my Erasmus a few years back. Must be something about internationality?

I’m proud to look back and see a successful year for the internationals and internationally minded: our main goals for the year were to provide a gateway for international students into the Finnish student culture and give Finnish students an opportunity to get to know the internationals by organizing, among other things, awesome Kuppala parties, Sitsit and excursions. The second big goal was to establish CISSI more strongly as a proper Valtsika organization, and we did that by arranging CISSI’s first ever Annual Ball to better connect with staff, alumni and fellow student organizations. Also, the required steps to establish CISSI as a subject organization in early 2020 have been taken.

Finally, I want to thank everybody involved with CISSI in 2019: our core board members who were in this from the very beginning; our deputy members who more often than not put the most hours in to make sure our events ran as smoothly as possible; the unofficial hangaround board members whose help was invaluable in expected and unexpected ways; the student actives and CISSI alumni who were there to guide us whenever their help was needed the most and my co-chair and secretary Olli, a skilled student active, great friend and a person who could be trusted to get things done. 

Last thanks belong to the people we did this for: our members and the whole international community of Valtsika. Thank you, and see you again soon.

8 things to do to feel like a local in Helsinki

Hi to all newcomers! I’m Maryna, an ex-exchange student from Ukraine, and I have been so nostalgic lately that I even decided to write this article. I studied in Helsinki last semester and it was literally the best time of my life with the loveliest people, studies and activities! I’m sure you already know that a lot of great things are waiting for you – otherwise you would not be here now. But I know what a culture shock it all might be for you, so in this article I will try to help you make your Finnish experience more Finnish.

1. Go to the Helsinki museum

Yes, it may seem weird that such a touristic place is the first in your local bucket list. But still, knowing the history makes you feel the city and understand it better. Exhibitions are very interactive so you’ll have all the opportunities to fully immerse yourself into the Finnish capital’s history and fall in love with this city!

2. One cappuccino, please!

Finns are world leaders in drinking coffee (according to different sources it’s 10-12 kg of coffee per person yearly – how about that?). So if you want to feel merged with locals, get ready to find your favorite spots. Of course you already know about Regatta and Robert’s coffee. However, there are places that are left unspoken but still worth visiting even more than others – so go exploring! My personal advice is Kahvila Siili – this will be your absolute favorite if you like to sit in cozy yard surrounded by nature and sip a cup of good coffee.

3. Go to saunas naked

Well, um.. there is nothing to explain here – nudity is an essential part of Finnish sauna culture. But yeah, you can skip this one.

4. Study in the libraries

Perhaps you are already used to do that. But there are reasons to keep on doing it in Helsinki. First of all, city libraries are modern and cozy at the same time. It’s a great choice if you like feeling comfy but still productive while studying. If you like silence (you’re right where you belong) I don’t recommend Oodi – it’s gorgeous but only suitable if you like some background noise: there are always a lot of tourists, families with kids and people who come there not to study. By the way, about that – this library is equipped with a lot of stuff: from musical instruments and PlayStations to 3D-printers. So you’ll always have something to do there!

At the end of the day, libraries are full of good literature and good people. The person who is telling you this started a conversation with a stranger in Kaisa-talo in February – and you know what? I went to her family cabin for the mid-summer holiday! What I want to say is that you may start a good friendship that will last longer than just a semester. I should admit though, talking to to Finnish people in a random place isn’t particularly “normal” behavior locally, but you can always be sure that shy Finns will excuse an international student breaking their private space a little bit – they are usually very curious about foreigners’ impressions of their motherland. And who knows – maybe you’ll fulfil all your friendship goals together!

5. Opi suomea Learn Finnish

Is the only way you practice Finnish saying “kiitos” to the cashier? Well, the country will never feel like home if you don’t know the language. Even though it’s impossible to become an advanced Finnish speaker during one semester (text me in half a year if you did, I’ll travel to your country and shake your hand), it still helps to get a hang of the culture + it’s always good to understand what others are talking about around you. Personally I attended one of the Language Center’s Finnish classes: homework was practically-oriented and classwork was actually useful and super fun! But if you don’t want to go that deep, I have a task for you: go to a new coffee shop this week (you remember the 2nd paragraph, right?), write down phrases you will need while ordering a drink, and practice them!

Note: it’s better to choose the most distant coffee shop so you’ll never ever see that barista again. Just in case.

6. Enjoy the snow

Because you have no other choice. It will follow you all the time wherever you go, even if it’s the laundry room in the building in front of you – so appreciate its support! In all seriousness, there is no bad weather – there is only a wrong attitude. No matter if you like it or not, Finnish winters are definitely something that makes this country special – so chill and make this experience a cool one! (yes, that’s me trying to be funny) And of course take advantage of Finnish silence – where else can you hear how snowflakes fall on your head?

7. Explore sisu

Sisu is a Finnish word that describes determination and courage, the ability to go through hard times even when you feel like you already reached your breaking point. The tough climate made Finnish culture full of tests of one’s limits – does ice diving mean something to you? You can start with something easier – for example, go hiking even if it’s damn freezing. There are a lot of national parks, right? A lot of people appreciate Finnish nature but only strong and brave ones do that in its coldest. It might be not the most comfortable time of the year to climb the slippery slopes that seem like they are trying to kill you, but as my Finnish friend said: don’t take it personally. And trust me – it’s worth it!

And of course, as an exchange student you’ll have a lot of cases where you’ll test your stamina as never before. Homesickness, new cultures, difficult classes in foreign language, making new friends and saying good-bye to them when you are as close as possible – all these take guts. But that is the most beautiful thing about being abroad – you develop and broaden your comfort zone so one day you feel you are comfortable with everything. Of course, that day won’t come easily: it takes a lot of time, many adventures and a good amount of sisu.

8. ..and explore CISSI!

And of course, such an experience as the one you’re going through at the moment is all about people. People who help you to adapt, people who experience the same struggles as you do, people who are ready to teach you new life lessons and take those from you – all these people are the biggest treasure you can find in Helsinki right now. And one of the reasons I joined CISSI half a year ago and strongly recommend you doing this is the fact that all these people are gathered here – in the organization whose blog you are reading. It is of immeasurable value not to just be a guest at events but actually to participate in organizing them – to be a part of a big international community that is based on the same values as yours. So if you want to make new friends and sometimes work with them, have fun and improve your professional skills and leave your own tiny mark in the host country – come on Election Day on September 19th (and say hello to the Board for me!)

Well, I think that’s it! Even though I really wanted this to be a top 10 list, I’m sure that in a semester (or two) you’ll be able to complete it with your own tips, memories and inside jokes. I wish you the best time in the North, and remember: this isn’t all about Finland – it’s more about yourself ❤️

Goodbye Spring, Goodbye Friends!

First days of June have already passed and even the summer heat has found its way to Helsinki. I think it might finally be the time to face reality: the spring semester is over.

For all the CISSI people, board and members alike, that reality is bittersweet. Many are going home, everybody has to say goodbyes to some great friends and only some will be back in Helsinki for the next semester.

Friendships formed with exchange students, no matter if you’re one yourself or not, are something very special in many ways. These friendships seem to be full of positive energy, always surprising and fun. How great is it to get to know people coming from all over the world, share experiences, ideas and stories? To get to hang out with positive, sociable people who are having the times of their lives? And then, after a semester or two, those people are gone. Just like that, scattered around the globe. And things will never be the same again. That’s exactly what makes the goodbyes so sad and emotional. But that’s by no means the end of the friendships: staying in touch even over the oceans is easier than ever, and there’s only a few things in life sweeter than a long-awaited reunion. A true optimist might even go as far as to say, that those reunions will happen sooner than you ever expected.

After this first half a year as CISSI chair, I want to thank everybody for making all the work and even the rare moments of slight stress absolutely worth it. It has been a pleasure to get to know so many awesome people throughout the semester. Thank you CISSI Board 2019, thank you all Valtsika organizations we already got to work with and finally, thank you all who participated the CISSI events. You are what made this so special.



End of 2018

2018 was a brilliant year for CISSI – new branding, refreshed partnerships, and most importantly a plethora of outstanding, open international and internationally minded degree and exchange students participating in our events and on our board. It cannot be expressed well how truly thankful I have been to our shared university community over this past year, for without it being the Chair of a meaningful organisation like this would not have been possible.

Being chair of CISSI was not easy, but little in life that is of great value is. What is was, was truly enjoyable. Through all the sitsit planning, document producing, people coordinating, and the ‘sporting’ achievements I can honestly and genuinely say that this is an experience I would recommend to anyone. Thanks to all who supported me and the team.

Next year CISSI turns five, and although I am now experiencing new adventures, the new team has all my best wishes and support. I am sure even bigger things are ahead. I would recommend to all – current and new – to get involved with all University life has to offer, but especially CISSI in 2019.

Kiitos, tack, thank you and diolch yn fawr iawn.

Thanksgiving Reflection

Care Kehn

Each year an estimated 276 million Americans gather with friends and loved ones on the fourth Thursday of November and celebrate Thanksgiving. They roast turkeys and pumpkins, bake pies and casseroles, and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the National Football League on television.

These traditions date back to 1621, when the Dutch settlers of the Plymouth Colony, in modern-day Massachusetts, celebrated the harvest festival for three days with their Native American neighbors. History tells us that when the first settlers came to the American colonies, they did not know how to appropriately store food for the harsh winter. The indigenous people not only taught them farming practices, but ultimately, saved the colonists from starvation. It’s important to note here, that this generosity and goodwill was not repaid in kind. Thanksgiving is celebrated by most indigenous Americans as a National Day of Mourning for their lost land and peoples at the hands of the United States’ government. In no way do I wish to detract from the turbulent origins of Thanksgiving, but I will spend this reflection focusing on the place that this holiday occupies in the minds of most Americans today as it is indicative of our national ethos, even when those gloss over the most difficult moments in our history.

Now, these traditions even extend globally. While Canadians have had their own official Thanksgiving holiday in mid-October since 1957, ‘Britsgiving’ is a relatively recent phenomenon. With no connection to the America historical tradition, one in six Britons celebrate Thanksgiving at the same time as the Americans. So, we must pause and ask ourselves, in a world overcome by increased social distance and technology, why does this holiday, a day where we pause for connection and gratitude, become even more attractive? How is the simplicity of this day becoming an even more globalized phenomenon?

I believe that the popularity of Thanksgiving stems not from a mere moment of simple gratitude, but a true recognition of how much humans need each other to thrive rather than just survive. Moving to Helsinki as an American was difficult. I struggled with the language, the bureaucracy, and the Finnish things I had never encountered before—like sauna etiquette and electron bank cards. Yet at the same time, my frustrations and questions were always met (and often anticipated) by my Finnish friends, who have treated me to more patience and understanding than I deserve. From helping me find American marshmallows to make familiar holiday recipes to gifting me bicycle seat covers, I am very thankful indeed for the reminder that I cannot do this life alone—and I do not need to.

Erik Erikson, a German-American development psychologist, captured it best when he said, “Life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence. We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.”

Whether or not you officially celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, I urge you to take some time at the beginning of this holiday season to reflect on not just what you are grateful for, but who you are grateful for. Let the support system in your life know how thankful you are for them and consider what you can offer to those around you. Be willingly interdependent and restore a little faith in the whole of humanity.

Happy Thanksgiving from CISSI!

Making an impact 

Melina Heckel

Hey everyone, my name is Melina and I’m one of the international students on the board of CISSI. Coming to a new country all by yourself is a challenge that drags you out of your comfort zone. Even though I had been to Helsinki before, it was very different to experience the city from a resident’s (and student’s) perspective. Which tram goes where, how does the university system work, where is the closest supermarket and why are there gambling automats in its entrance hall? And the most important question: How do I get to know new people?  

The first time that I got in touch with CISSI was the first weekend before the actual orientation week even started. Since CISSI tries to integrate the international students into the Finnish (and very extrodinary) student community, they took a bunch of international students to a fresher adventure of the social science faculty which is usually only attended by Finns. That afternoon on Suomenlinna (a small island) was full of games, alcohol and laughter. And I did get to know a lot of people that day. 

Since then I’ve attended many CISSI events, first as an international student, later also as a deputy board member. The great thing about CISSI is not only that you are able to meet people from many cultural backgrounds with different mindsets, but also that you can actually create the events that you would like to attend. I have received great support from the other board members when I proposed my own ideas. The latest event that was initiated by me was a book swap in Kuppala (the coziest clubroom you can imagine). Every person could bring old books and exchange them with other people, or just sit down and chat or eat cake that was provided by us. This was an excellent opportunity to get new reading inspiration on a low budget or just come together and have a good time. 

It has been so much fun to be able to work with other people who are so determined to make an impact that you become more motivated and are willing to put a lot of effort into projects yourself. I wanted to make the most of my exchange since I only have one semester here (which is only 4 months). And through joining CISSI, I really managed to make an impact and have a lot of fun at the same time.

Planning a visit to the U.S Embassy in Finland

Vera Djakonoff

Hi everyone! I’m Vera Djakonoff, a board member of CISSI. I was originally drawn into CISSI because it’s doing something extremely valuable: representing international students and making sure they have fun time here (despite the climate) as well as encouraging integration between Finnish and international students.

During one of our meetings we discussed the fact that among international students there is interest in learning more about politics in Finland yet few actual learning opportunities. We figured the best way to get close to politics in action would be to organize an excursion somewhere politics in action happen. We decided to collaborate with VOO ry and organize a joint excursion (the more the merrier). My friend Ella Vähäniitty and I started the process by reaching out to various organizations we thought CISSI and VOO members would find interesting. We were really excited when none other than The U.S. Embassy in Finland got back to us. We were met with big enthusiasm when announcing where our excursion will take place in. We are so sorry to those who really wanted to come but weren’t able to make it among the first 30 people to sign up. Unfortunately, the amount of people we could bring along was limited.

Planning the excursion is the tricky part, getting there is easy. Ella and I got to the embassy early just in case, since neither of us had visited or seen the actual embassy building before. The architecture of the 1940s building was American yet somehow it didn’t seem out of place. During it’s nearly 100 years in Finland, the U.S. embassy has established its place in Helsinki.

When in embassy we were greeted by friendly interns and Political and Economic officer Harald Olsen. He held an interesting and, in many ways, an eye-opening presentation on the relationship between the U.S and Finland on areas such as trade and security. We also learned more about the function of the embassy as well as the recent midterm elections. Our problem-solving skills were put to the test as well: we were divided into groups to discuss the future foreign policy issues affecting Finland and the United States. From behalf of CISSI and VOO we would like to thank the kind people of the U.S Embassy in Finland for having us and being such good hosts. It was an unique learning opportunity and a chance for us to get a glimpse of what goes on inside the embassy. I personally had a blast organizing this excursion and would like to thank all of you who came along.


Inbetween cultures

Daniel Placeres Miranda

Hello, everyone! I’m Daniel Placeres Miranda and I’m honored to be CISSI’s deputy for the semester. Contrary to what most of you might think seeing my last name, I represent the international-minded part of CISSI, not actually international. Growing up in a Russian-Cuban family in Finland I never really restricted myself to my nationality. I feel at home mostly surrounded by people from all over the world that share the same passion for companionship regardless of borders. Having said that, I feel like CISSI’s agenda in bridging the gap between Finnish and international students and enriching both sides at the University of Helsinki is something I can totally vouch for. I’m glad to have my first organization experience at CISSI. But enough about me, let’s delve into the activities of mine from the past month, shall we?

My introduction to CISSI is a hazy one. We were just finishing another day of orientation with the freshman class and the last stop for it was the students’ very own pub, Thirsty Scholar. Pink flyers passing around everywhere and English speech is all I could hear in the backyard. It didn’t help that my friend Vera, who is also in CISSI now (Hi Vera!), dragged me towards the source of all of this. That is where I met Cal and Regina, the Chair and Treasurer of CISSI, and the rest is history.

Since then I’ve got to meet a lot of great people . Valtsika’s very own basement, Kuppala, has become like a second home for me, participating in events there ranging from all kinds of parties to movie nights. Highly recommend going out to these sorts of nights for exchange students since that’s where Finns are at their most approachable. I also helped with organizing a “No Cup Party” with the lovely people at Konstruktio. Really wish more exchange students had gone there but that’s the price you have to pay for throwing a party on monday, I guess! Academic table party or in Finnish “sitsit” has also been quite an experience and I believe a highlight of Finnish exchange for many.

All in all, it has been fun. Stay tuned for more good things in the weeks to come!