Meet our Alumnus! “I would generally describe my studies in the RRE program as rewarding”

danielName: Danny Eastman
Study field: Religious Roots of Europe Master’s programme
Graduation year: 2013
Employer and position: PhD Student at Yale University

How did you end up in Finland and studying in the programme?

I came to Finland from South Korea, where I had been living for a couple years after finishing my undergraduate degree in history in the US. I wanted to continue my education, but I wasn’t yet ready to return to the US or to enroll in a very narrowly defined program.  I decided on the RRE program in Helsinki because of the wide breadth of coverage offered by the program, the chance to travel in Europe, and the obvious benefit of Finland’s universal free education policy.

You have studied ancient religious history in the RRE programme. What motivated you to apply to that programme and how would you describe your studies?

I saw RRE as a logical progression from my undergraduate studies, which focused on the ancient Mediterranean (I did a minor in classics as an undergraduate).  I would generally describe my studies in the RRE program as rewarding.  It’s a cliché that you get out of your studies what you put into them, but true nonetheless.

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

I’m now once again a graduate student. I did, however, work as an English teacher for a year after completing the RRE course.

How did the studies support your employability aspect?

I can’t speak for employability in a professional sense, but certainly the RRE program was a necessary and very helpful step in my education. The University of Helsinki, and also the other Nordic universities in the RRE program, offer a great array of resources; many of the professors with whom you will take courses are well-known figures in their respective fields, which helps a lot if you decide to apply to PhD programs after you graduate.

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

RRE is somewhat of a unique case, since it is a program that is shared between six Nordic universities.  While you do have the option to take courses at your host university outside of the designated RRE courses, you will probably take most of your courses within RRE, which means that you will have quite a few “distance courses” that are conducted online and meet in person for about a week sometime during the semester (this involves traveling to the host university of a given course). This is great if you are an independent, self-starter learner, but not so great if you crave constant in-person interaction in your courses. To answer your question, though, the University of Helsinki is really supportive of its students, and makes a special effort to reach out to international students. The array of services for international students expands every year. And the option to take local courses (again, for free) is also great. When I was a student in RRE, I took German courses at the language center and also audited a course on C.S. Lewis.

Are there any concrete benefits or disadvantages you gained from your international background?

As an international student in Finland, I met a whole lot of other international students and friends, many of whom I still keep in touch with today. The RRE program in particular is very international in that the students come from all over the world. I had classmates from every continent. Finding common ground could sometimes be a challenge, but it could also be stimulating in ways that you wouldn’t find in a more homogenous learning environment.

What kind of plans do you have for the future? Any good advice for the readers?

My future plans involve academia. For those with similar aspirations, I would advise that you work hard (especially on languages), and try to cultivate good relationships with as many of your professors as possible. And if you end up coming to Finland, make sure you try ice swimming and sauna. 🙂