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