Meet our Alumna! Sarah Stephan works with research and hands-on project management in the area of gender equality


Name: Sarah Stephan
Study field: Public International Law
Graduation year: 2008
Employer and position: The Åland Islands Peace Institute, researcher & project manager

Hi Sarah, how did you end up in Finland?

I first came to Finland as an exchange student in 2006/07 due to the Faculty of Law’s excellent English-language curriculum in international law. I then decided to pursue even my LL.M. studies at the faculty.

What encouraged me most to continue my studies in Helsinki was the open and encouraging attitude of my teachers, who at all times took my research interests seriously and provided me with excellent supervision and spot-on feedback. I enjoy deliberative environments and liked about my studies in Helsinki that a lot of the teaching is interactive and aimed at encouraging reflection.

What is your profession at the moment and have you worked somewhere else before that?

After graduation I quite quickly took on my current position at the Åland Islands Peace Institute. I am a researcher working on questions related to autonomy and multilevel governance. I am also a leader for an empowerment project in co-operation with a partner organisation in Azerbaijan. I like the changes and challenges of working with both research and hands-on project management in the area of gender equality. I have been involved in numerous projects and like to work in changing and flexible environments and with new questions while being able to pursue my research interests.

Your work sounds really interesting. How did the studies support your employability aspect?

For me holding a law degree from the University of Helsinki has been a merit that has proven beneficial, first and foremost because of the skills that I have acquired and that have benefited me (an my employer) in my research work. I also did an internship at an international tribunal. While that was also a rich learning experience I did not feel at home in international criminal law, an experience that helped me to focus on what I want to do most.

I started studying Finnish at the Helsinki Summer University and continued later at the University, my Finnish has remained rather rudimentary however. I have instead opted for learning Swedish, Finland’s other official language and have attained working proficiency in Swedish, which is of course a great benefit for me living mainly in a Swedish-speaking environment.

When looking back, how did the Faculty of Law provide you with support, advice and guidance?

The Faculty of Law has excellent services for foreign students, staring from international contact persons to tutor groups to excellent supervision and support by lecturers and professors. Everything is small-scale and contacts are direct and friendly which makes it very easy to quickly feel at home at the Faculty of Law.

Are there any concrete benefits or disadvantages you gained from your international background in your study and/or work life?

Working in international law presupposes a certain ability to change perspective and engage with students and scholars around the world. The University of Helsinki has opened up many such perspectives for me and I made wonderful lasting contacts during my studies. The benefits are profound and it has shaped me as a person and a professional in more than one way.

Thank you for an interview. What kind of plans do you have for the future?

I will pursue part-time graduate studies at Åbo Akademi University from the autumn while continuing my projects at the Åland Islands Peace Institute. I am also planning to become more engaged as a voluntary mediator, I like that Finland actively promotes alternative conflict resolution mechanisms on all level of society, starting in schools but also within its criminal justice system.