Life in 18 Square Meters: A Uni Student’s Experience with ADHD During Distance Learning

When we think about educational accessibility, we often consider our own experiences of whether or not we feel fully included in educational activities. The realities of distance learning have made the burden of coping with daily life difficult for university students, but even more so for many with special educational needs.

Otso started his studies in Autumn 2020. He had realistic expectations from the beginning. 

“I knew university studying would be hard. High school was hard, middle school was hard, and I assumed it would only get harder.” 

He made a plan to take it easy for his own sake; pacing himself with his studies, especially now during the pandemic. Otso recognized that it would be challenging. Still, he didn’t anticipate the amount of difficulties he would experience with remote teaching in reality. The lack of routine, fewer lectures, more assignments, next to no face-to-face teaching, no clear schedules, and broken sleep patterns are some of the main struggles of distance learning life for him.

The amount of distractions at home has been the most frustrating part of distance learning for Otso. He describes seeing the sun rise and set from his window. He watches the people drive by in their cars, going somewhere else. 

“With face-to-face learning, there are fewer things to take my attention and distract me.” 

Studying from home without a real-life social context – one person,  a screen, and distractions – makes distance learning particularly challenging. Otso points out that ADHD makes it difficult to read and focus. He thinks this gets overlooked and is often “seen as just a wild little boy’s problem, which it is not.”  

Positive Social Pressure

For Otso, working together with others makes a great deal of difference. “Working in a group gives me a sense of urgency and motivation and mutual accountability – positive social pressure.” He feels that Zoom breakout rooms are something, but the social connection that creates the ‘right sense of pressure’ is just not there. “I remember at the beginning of term when it was easier to meet up with classmates and we’d get together with a few people. I was proud of myself for how much I got done then”, he reflects. 

In addition to doing coursework together, the emotional and social support from classmates is significant: “Our class  has been really great about that. There have been lots of crying emojis on our class Whatsapp group and probably real crying behind them.”

He values the great job his classmates have done in being there for each other and being non-judgemental even in hard times.

So far, Otso has also had positive experiences with university teachers being responsive and flexible during distance learning. However, he proposes that teachers could reduce the workload and offer tasks on a schedule that are less open-ended. 

“Distance learning gives more flexibility, but for me that is a big no.” 

A routine helps Otso remember to take care of himself and manage time effectively. “It really helps keep me focused when there is a specific time to do things: eat, work, move.”

He remembers a seminar at the beginning of the term handling life skills, goal setting, and motivation. Otso thinks that being coached on the importance of these things is not enough if you don’t have a routine to keep the motivation going. In particular, for students beginning their studies and for students with special education needs this is a vital tool that can make all the difference in learning.

“Having a routine in general helps with #adulting too,” he jokes.

Is the University doing enough?

Otso feels that the university has offered some help when he sought it out. He was referred to a psychologist and offered some adaptive learning support.

“I got a paper saying that I had the right to turn in assignments later and was allowed some flexibility by adapted assignment return dates.” 

Still, he doesn’t want to speak for everyone.

“To be honest, I don’t know enough to say whether the university has done its best for special education needs learners in general”. He states that, “being a self- advocate was important in making sure I got help and took it.” There may be students who suffer and do not have the tools or knowledge that they need to be proactive and get help.

Despite Otso having a positive experience in getting support, he describes having feelings of being wrong or weird when struggling with distance learning.  He started his studies this academic year and the combination of being new to the university and not meeting expectations has been a heavy burden to carry. 

“My self-esteem has definitely been affected. I’ve been dealing with depression again because of it. Generally, the distance learning situation has affected my overall physical and mental health.”

Due to the difficulties, Otso is taking the spring semester off and delaying studying until autumn. During his leave he has continued developing his teaching experience by substituting when possible.

Looking forward towards the autumn term he has feelings of optimism and realism. “I hope that everything goes back to normal, but in reality I am feeling that it will be hybrid at best.” 

As the interview comes to an end in Tellus glass box number 4, he says something many remote studiers can relate to. “Thanks for giving me a reason to leave my flat… All of 18 meters squared.”


The student-led education event, Burning Questions 2021, featured a workshop on Special Educational Needs provision during distance learning. Participants offered their recommendations for better practice from the student and teacher perspectives.

The number one recommendation from the student perspective was simply: Ask students what works best for them. 

Continuing the dialogue between students, university teachers, and administration about what works and what doesn’t work will help make distance learning more accessible to all. 

Self-advocacy skills were seen by many participants as vital – even more so during distance learning – and they should be taught. 

Minimizing the cognitive burden of distance learning can be done by aiming to make it as close as possible to face-to-face learning. 

Empathy, differentiation, and more training are some suggestions participants made for teachers/lecturers. 

Time before and after online lecturers for informal discussions can contribute to student well-being and motivation. 

Finally, peer support groups and guidance for making an effective daily routine can make learning more accessible for special education needs learners as well as for all students.


Intercultural teacher education student. Amateur Yogi and professional Humanist. Believes written word is the spice of life. Twitter: @AnnaHeumannKaya

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Studying to go back to normal in autumn – Rector Jouko Niinimäki says teachers will decide

It’s not yet been decided whether studies this autumn will go back to normal or stay remote, says Jouko Niinimäki, the rector of the University of Oulu. The goal, however, is to return to normal.  “We hope and believe that we can get back to normal by autumn. At the moment, we believe that the […]

TEKSTI Iida Putkonen

KUVAT Iida Putkonen

It’s not yet been decided whether studies this autumn will go back to normal or stay remote, says Jouko Niinimäki, the rector of the University of Oulu. The goal, however, is to return to normal. 

“We hope and believe that we can get back to normal by autumn. At the moment, we believe that the corona situation will in any case calm down for summer. It’s safe to assume that all adults will have at least one dose of the vaccine by August.”

Niinimäki says that national or regional exit-plans may restrict the university’s hopes, as they will decide in which order services will return back to normal. The university has announced earlier that it’s preparing to organise courses as contact-teaching from the 1st of August onwards.

According to the rector, the university hasn’t made any exact plans about transferring to contact-teaching nor planned separate guides for teachers.

“No instructions for autumn have been planned, and there won’t be any guides from the university management. Instead, they’ll be decisions made by teachers and students on the field”, Niinimäki comments.

When last autumn contact-teaching was mainly secured for freshmen, this time around the goal is to offer contact-teaching for everyone. The hope is that everyone could start normally, Niinimäki says. However, it’s not purely a return to the old normal.

“During the pandemic, we’ve learned some things both in work and study life that we want to keep. I believe that neither students nor teachers want to return to quite the same daily routine as before the pandemic, but instead some remote work will become permanent.”

According to Niinimäki, remote studies have brought people more freedom and decision-making power about their own schedules. However, it’s not the purpose to get stuck with remote work forever.

“Contact-teaching is extremely important, and the university will continue to keep offering contact-teaching as much as possible. It’s well known even through research that time spent together with the teacher improves learning.”

However, mass lectures for hundreds of students might benefit from being remote in the future as well, the rector thinks. If the teaching is one-sided, there’s not that much of a difference whether teaching happens in the same physical location.

Entrance exams to test things out 

For this spring, teaching will continue remotely, but contact-teaching will be tested with the spring’s entrance examinations. Last spring universities arranged entrance examinations through alternative methods, such as digital exams and acceptance based on grades. The changes of the criteria received critiquing, which Niinimäki agrees with.  

“The critiquing was justifiable, and I agree with it. Because of it, universities have now decided to arrange entrance examinations in person. When you look at the national corona situation, I’m confident that it’s going to be fine.”

Niinimäki emphasises the increased safety measures of the exams and the fact that there’s enough space for each candidate on campus. However, there’s still a problem with examinations being arranged in person: if a candidate is in quarantine, they can’t participate in the exams this year at all. The common guide for universities states that a candidate who’s otherwise ill, in a voluntary quarantine or waiting for test results must also not participate in the exam.

“Due to getting ill, there might be individual injustices. They’re sad things and personal tragedies, but as for corona, you can say that if someone wants to protect themselves from an infection before the exam, all needed means are available.”

This year 20 133 people applied for the University of Oulu, which is over 3000 more applicants than last year. Despite the large number of candidates, rector Niinimäki is positive that the University will get through the examinations safely.

“I hope that people coming to the examinations live so they won’t get an infection before the examination. I trust that things will go well in Oulu, and that an easier time will dawn by autumn.”

In practice an easier time in autumn would mean contact learning for both new and old students and a return to the old normal in August.

Iida Putkonen

Oulun ylioppilaslehden päätoimittaja. Tiedeviestinnän opiskelija ja glögin ympärivuotinen kuluttaja. Etsii revontulia, riippumattoja ja juuri oikeita sanoja.

Lue lisää:

Timi Kärki chosen as OYY’s Project Coordinator, Kati Kantonen as Event Producer and Eetu Leinonen as Community Specialist

Three new employees will start working in the Student Union of the University of Oulu (OYY). The position of Project Coordinator in a project related to welfare tutors and the positions of Event Producer and Community Specialist in the student union were opened earlier this year. The first new employee was selected at the OYY […]

Three new employees will start working in the Student Union of the University of Oulu (OYY). The position of Project Coordinator in a project related to welfare tutors and the positions of Event Producer and Community Specialist in the student union were opened earlier this year.

The first new employee was selected at the OYY board meeting on March 5th. Timi Kärki was elected as the coordinator of the welfare project supported by the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Kärki studies history at the University of Oulu and has previously been a part of OYY’s Student Council. He started working for OYY last week. By the deadline, 15 people applied for the position of Project Coordinator, three of whom were interviewed. The Project Coordinator is scheduled to work until the end of 2022 to promote well-being tutor activities at the University of Oulu.

“It feels weird to jump from a student’s role to an expert’s position all of a sudden. It’s great to get to do meaningful work and strive to improve student well-being on a larger scale than before. I strive for everyone to have the opportunity to find a suitable hobby and also find new friends from hobbies”, Kärki commented to the magazine.

Last Thursday, March 25, OYY’s Board selected a new Event Producer and Community Specialist for the Student Union. In the past, job titles have belonged to one employee, Specialist of Events and Associations. Following the resignation of the previous Specialist of Events and Associations the titles were separated in February 2021.

Kati Kantonen was chosen as the OYY’s Event Producer last Thursday. Kantonen has a Master’s in Education from University of Jyväskylä. Nine people applied for the Event Producer position, three of whom were interviewed. Among other things, the Event Producer is responsible for organizing the opening event of the academic year.

Eetu Leinonen was chosen as the Community Specialist from 11 applicants and four interviewees. Leinonen is studying statistics and the Finnish language at the University of Oulu. He served as Chairman of OYY’s Board 2020 and as a substitute for OYY’s Specialist of Academic Affairs in early 2021. Leinonen began his work as a Community Specialist on Monday, March 29. The role of the Community Specialist is fixed-term and will last until the end of 2022.

“My goal in this work is to be present to students and organizations. In addition, in my work I seek to develop the community spirit of the university and the Student Union and to monitor interests, especially in international matters. I’m enthusiastic at the moment and I hope to be able to start work full steam ahead soon”, Leinonen told the magazine on his first working day.

OYY’s Secretary General Kauko Keskisärkkä says that he is satisfied with the choices.

“The chosen ones represent very different backgrounds: Leinonen, who is more familiar with OYY, Kärki, who is a little familiar with OYY, and Kantonen, who brings a completely new perspective,” says Keskisärkkä.

Iida Putkonen

Oulun ylioppilaslehden päätoimittaja. Tiedeviestinnän opiskelija ja glögin ympärivuotinen kuluttaja. Etsii revontulia, riippumattoja ja juuri oikeita sanoja.

Lue lisää:

The future of international students’ study grants are being decided on Thursday – OYY hopes the issue would be returned to preparation

The Board of the University of Oulu will discuss a reform of the scholarship model for international students at its meeting on Thursday, February 25th. According to the Student Union of the University of Oulu, the new model weakens the position of international students and the preparation of the reform has been undemocratic.

Read this story in Finnish.

“The scholarship model is to be weakened for students from outside the EU and EEA area”, says Olli Joki, Chairman of the Student Union of the University of Oulu Board (OYY).

OYY issued a statement regarding the Oulu University international students’ study grant reform today. The reform is to be decided on at the University Board’s meeting tomorrow, Thursday the 25th.

“The current suggestion weakens international students’ grants significantly and continues to weaken them throughout the strategy term”, the statement says.

The statement doesn’t only concern the weaker funding, it also concerns the decision-making process. OYY’s Board says that the Education Management Group discussed the changes at length but the proposal made to the University Board differs from the discussions.

The Education Management Group is the part of the university administration that decides on the management and development of education. Its task has been to plan the reform of the scholarship model. According to Joki, however, the discussions in the Education Management Group have not been taken into account.

“The University Board is now being presented with a completely different model than what was to be presented on the basis of the discussions. This model is much weaker from a student’s perspective.”

In its statement, OYY demands that the decision-making process be suspended and that the reform of the grant model be prepared more thoroughly. The goal of the statement is that the University Board meeting on Thursday would not approve the models presented to it. OYY also says they are worried because the consequences of the new models have not been estimated. 

“In our opinion, such urgent and careless preparation is not good administrative practice or in line with the values ​​of the University”, Joki says.

Less funding for a student?

Presented to the Board on Thursday are four different options for scholarships.

In the first option, no scholarship is awarded to the student at all.

In the second option, each student pays the fee for their first academic year in full. From the second year onwards, the student has the opportunity to be reimbursed 70 percent of the tuition fee, as long as they have completed the required number of studies and have fared well in their studies. In bachelor’s programs for the third year and for master’s studies, the scholarship is 70 percent per year if the same conditions are met.

In the third option, the student also pays the full tuition fee in the first year. For the second year of study, the grant is 50 percent if the conditions are met. In bachelor’s programs, the scholarship for the third year and master’s years is 50 percent.

The fourth option is for exceptional cases. It grants scholarships every year and the percentage stays the same throughout your studies.

Compared to the current models the proposed change affects the amount of funding and also when a student is eligible for funding. The current models allow grants from the first study year unlike the new models being proposed.

With current scholarship models, a student can receive either a 50 percent scholarship, a 75 percent scholarship, or a full scholarship. In each current model, the scholarship continues through the studies if the student completes 60 credits during the year. The change proposed in the reform would therefore be big, especially for the first year students.

“An individual student in particular cannot be sure if they will receive a scholarship for their entire study period. The new grant system also limits applicants to those from only a good socio-economic background, which may limit the number of good applicants”, Joki says.

The current tuition fees are around 10,000 euros depending on the subject. With the current scholarship model, at best a student pays nothing for their tuition and at maximum they pay 5,000 euros per academic year.

In the models proposed to the University Board, the student will have to pay the entire 10,000 euros for their first year. After this, depending on the model, they pay either 5,000 euros or 3,000 euros per academic year. For example, a three-year bachelor’s degree currently costs from zero to 15,000 euros and. Based on the proposed model it would cost at least 16,000 euros.

Of the proposed models, the most advantageous for the student corresponds to the most expensive option of the current model. On top of that the student will in any case have to pay the full amount of 10,000 euros for their first year. Taken as a whole, the new proposals increase the tuition fees for individual students.

The goal is to delay the decision

“I don’t understand what motivates this change. It is going well now, so why change this system? One of the pillars of Finland’s education system is free and quality education for all, this step by the university weakens it”, Vivek Manjunatha Swamy of the OYY Board says. 

“Changing the scholarship system limits the opportunities for international students. It is no longer a single question of whether they are academically qualified, but of their financial situation too.”

The number of scholarships has decreased since 2018. The model now being prepared would further reduce the scholarship received by the student. The University justifies reforming the model by cutting red tape and developing education.

“One significant thing that will change is that the number of grant recipients will be reduced. This was not discussed at all in the Education Management Group”, Eetu Leinonen, OYY’s Specialist of Academic Affairs says. “Our intention is that no decision be made.”

OYY would also like to see broader perspectives and the consideration of the students themselves in making the decision. Manjunatha Swamy hopes that international students will be asked for feedback on this matter before making this huge decision. Joki also emphasizes that international students have other options than Oulu.

“Although this does not affect the lives of current international students, one should ask why international students chose Oulu. Did the available grant affect their decision?” Joki ponders.

The decision on the new scholarship model will be made at the university board meeting on Thursday, February 25th. It remains to be seen whether OYY will be able to delay the decision-making or return the matter to preparation, as hoped in their statement.

Iida Putkonen

Oulun ylioppilaslehden päätoimittaja. Tiedeviestinnän opiskelija ja glögin ympärivuotinen kuluttaja. Etsii revontulia, riippumattoja ja juuri oikeita sanoja.

Lue lisää:

Failures, excitement and hope of contact learning – OYY’s new board wants to be on campus to help students

The Student union of the University of Oulu got a new board of members as the year changed. In January the board has just been assigned their roles.

Lue tarina suomeksi.

Students, exchange students and corona freshmen have felt the situation of the world: you can’t come to campus or meet friends and teaching is reliant on online platforms. As the situation stays the same, there is a real danger of separating from the community – that is, the student union OYY as well.

This year there were more applicants to the board than in previous years and based on the board’s answers, part of that is the pandemic. On the student union’s board this year are both an international student and a freshman from the pandemic year who both want to experience the university community as their own.

For the first time in a while there will be familiar faces on the board as well as Tia Rahkila continues from the last year. Also last year’s student council’s vice chair Salla Karhunen has found her way onto the board.

The student union of the university of Oulu for the year 2021 decided their responsibilities in their meeting on the 14th of January. We interviewed the new board on why they applied and how it feels to be there.

The chair of the board and all members answered the same questions. Read their answers below.

Why did you apply to be on the board?
What kind of history do you have as a student influencer?
What kind of image do you have of OYY before your year in the board?
What do you hope to achieve on the board in 2021?
Are you excited about a specific thing in this upcoming year? Does something make you nervous?
How are you going to fit the board into your life, are you going to keep studying? How will you take care of your wellbeing?
What kind of student union do you want to leave behind?
What would you want to say to your fellow students?

Olli Joki, 23, fourth year business student
Chair of the Board, responsible for ownership, external stakeholder activities and finances

“I have been working with OYY in the student council since my freshman year. This year I felt like I still have more to give to OYY. At this stage of my studies I also have time to be on the Board.

I started in the Student Council in 2017 and worked as TeTa’s group leader. On top of that I’ve been a halloped in the business school and actively participated in Finanssi ry’s activities as well as with The Finnish Business School Graduates.

My view of the Student Union has been quite different from an average student since I’ve been involved from the start of my studies. I recognize that the student union doesn’t reach our students well enough. That’s also a reason why I’ve sought out working on the board: for OYY to be more accessible and available and people would relate to the student union more. That’s what we’ll be working towards together.

My view has also been critical through working in the council. I’ve been examining different functions critically, even those rooted in the law like mandatory membership.

Our goal as an organization is to move forward and get closer to students and student organizations. The goal is to succeed in projects and lobbying. I also hope that we can fail and learn from that and keep going regardless.
Personally as the chair I want to help my board members grow as experts and lobbyists and also grow myself.

I’m especially excited about working with everyone. We have a good group of people with different backgrounds and areas of expertise. I’m a little frightened about how long the corona situation will last and when we can meet in person with the board.

As the chair of the board I’m committed to working full time so I won’t be studying much on the side. The current situation with remote teaching makes it so that some courses are easy to complete, so I might take a course during spring. I do however think it’s important to find time for myself to relax and recover.

I want to leave behind a student union that’s more open, more communal, braver and more influential. First and foremost a kind of student union that everyone would like to belong to.

I’d like to cheer everyone on in these difficult times. We will make it through together! On top of that I want to encourage everyone to take part in OYY for example in the student council election in autumn. Remember to also use your vote during the municipal elections so we can get students voices heard on that level too.”’

Salla Karhunen, 25, third year early childhood education student
first vice chair, responsible for projects, events and finances

“I’m interested in the student union’s work. I have a desire to develop and to learn more. In the student union I get valuable experience for the future.

Since I was a freshman I’ve been in Lastarit ry and am still there. In my second year I jumped into the student council and also was the vice chair there last year.

After getting into the student council the activities have been clear. It’s hard to say, because I’ve known about the student union through people close to me.

It would be quite an achievement if we together could influence people so that we get lots of candidates for the student council elections and get the voting percentage up as well as get people to apply for positions in OYY.

We have a good group of people. I look forward to getting to know everyone and working together.

I’ve aimed to leave weekends and vacations for relaxing. I have studies as well, I’m writing my bachelor’s thesis and also have an internship coming up. My attitude is that there’s no panic, everything will come in its own time. If I don’t have time for my thesis, then I’ll do it after summer.

Open and visible in a positive light.

Live fully – everything will work out.”

Ida-Maria Juntunen, 21, first year business student
Member of the board, responsible for elections and campus development

“I wanted to get involved in my first year to have as much time as possible to affect things for a longer period of time. I’ve always been interested in organization work so it felt natural to jump right in.

In upper secondary school I was on the student board of Oulun lyseo. I’m also on the board of the Youth of the National Coalition Party in Oulu.

There isn’t much I can say as a freshman. I know that some friends applied to be on the student council last time around and I followed that on the side. My own experience of OYY is mostly paying the membership fee.

In my own sector my goal is to better students’ lives through the municipal elections. I hope that we can get OYY’s goals heard there. Personally my goal is to learn as much as possible now that everything is still new.

I’m excited and a little nervous about there being so many new things to take in. It’s a little scary. I’m excitedly waiting for contact learning in the autumn, since I haven’t had a chance to experience that yet.

My studies are going on normally. My aim is to schedule studies and OYY things so that they will go side-by-side. I hope to keep work on the weekdays and leave weekends with as much free time as possible. My way to relax is to have a half hour break even on weekdays to have lunch with a friend or something. That already does wonders for my day, not to have “work mode” on all the time.

I would hope that it would be more easily approachable for all students and that from the start it would feel like OYY is a community for all of us. As a new student I’ve seen that not much is known about OYY except for the membership fee and that the activities feel distant. I’d hope that this was a shared thing for all of us.

I want to say take care of yourselves and each other.”’

Jukka Turunen, 25, fourth year teacher student
member of the board, responsible for student organizations

“I’ve been in different organizations for a few years. Each year the university and OYY have gotten more familiar and close to me. This year was the best time to apply to be in on the action.

I started as a tutor and in OLO ry in my second year, which I’m still a part of. I’m also a vice member of the university collegium and a local member of SOOL, the Teacher Student Union of Finland.

A certain feeling of distance, especially when I wasn’t involved in student organizations. Now I feel like OYY became a lot closer to our entire organization during the pandemic by helping and informing us. Maybe a student has to approach OYY too much and not the other way around.

I want to go out of my comfort zone and work on a good life for even more students. Regarding my sector I also aim to secure communality offered by student organizations even during the pandemic.

I look forward to the entire year, whether it’s studies or the student union.

I have thought about it, being involved in organizations and other things. I can make it with good scheduling and openness to everyone. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to honestly take time off to keep being efficient instead of just using up time. My studies are also progressing normally but I’ll avoid studying during the weekends.

More approachable, accessible and visible.

You can survive anything when you do it together.”

Emma Hulkkonen, 24, third year logopedics student
Second vice chair of the board, responsible for academic affairs, continuous activities and finances

“I have two reasons: a desire to develop myself and an interest in affecting the environment I’m in. OYY is a logical environment to affect things in my everyday life while I study.

In my freshman year I was in my own subject’s student organization Communica ry as well as the umbrella guild. I’m also in the student council as a deputy and group leader as well as a halloped. I also acted as the advocacy section’s chair last year.

It’s hard to think about how OYY seemed to me earlier since I’ve been involved for so long. I do know that to many students it seems distant. I remember in my freshman year I got OYY and the University’s people mixed up.

For me the most important thing is that the advocacy sector would be accessible. I’d like for people to know who to ask for help in each matter and be brave enough to seek out that help. The second thing related to that sector is that we would get more applicants for hallopeds and students would know who hallopeds are.

Overall I’m super excited for the upcoming year. This year there’s a lot to look forward to and lots of nice things going on. I’m waiting anxiously to get to know the new people who I get to spend the rest of the year with better.
Right now I’m most nervous about having so many things to take in. I do know that it’s a good learning experience and I’ll make it through, even though there are things I don’t know yet.

I’m studying. I’ve tried to limit my scheduled program to studies and the board and I’ve taken everything else out of the equation. A calendar is my best friend and I get by listening to my body that tells me when I need to rest. The best way to relax for me is sports.

An active student union that is a visible part of students’ lives. One that has sustainable action in every area.

I’d like to tell students that they can come talk to us if they have thoughts or concerns. We will gladly talk and babble with students.”

Vivek Manjunatha Swamy, 27, Environmental engineering master’s student
Member of the board, responsible for international affairs

“In my first year I thought I’m just getting to know the University and the people around here. The second year was the perfect time to get involved and learn more about academic affairs.

During my bachelor’s I was the branch representative for mechanical engineering so I have some experience being the go-to communication guy between the students and the University. When it comes to Oulu, this is my first experience.

As an international student the Student Union is “pay the fee and forget about it”. That’s what I did in the beginning. I think the corona situation brought everything into perspective. We looked towards OYY for help and followed what the Student Union was doing for us. Since last year my view has changed, I feel more involved in this Student Union. There’s a feeling that it’s about us international students as well, we are a part of OYY.

International affairs is a topic that has three parts. It not only involves international students here, there’s also Finnish students trying to go on an exchange as well as the quality of studies for international students. When it comes to Finnish outgoing students, they are overlooked in a sense and we could do more for them. International students also don’t know their rights and opportunities here and I’d like to take a more informative approach when it comes to that.

The exciting part is working with my colleagues here, there’s a lot we can accomplish working together. Everyone here is more experienced than me knows a lot about the workings of OYY. I am interested in learning with them. The scary part is bringing back contact learning especially how it will affect international students. I hope that I can handle that well when the time comes.

Since I’m in my second year, most of my studies are completed. The only thing remaining is my thesis and a few courses so I have time for all this OYY stuff.

I think it’s important to set a good example and good groundwork for the future boards as well. When it comes to them looking back on what we did, it has to be an example of how things should progress.

I would like to do my job to the best of my abilities and bring some change.”

Tia Rahkila, 24, fourth year business student
Member of the board, responsible for communications

“I wanted to bring continuity to OYY and get to develop things further, since the work isn’t done in a year. I feel like I still have more to learn and I have more to give to OYY.

I was on the board of OYY last year. This year I’m also working for Nordic Economics Students’ Union NESU Finland and as a halloped. In the last years I was also involved in Finanssi ry.

I’ve been involved in OYY for a few years now, but luckily I also remember how it felt in my first years of university. OYY was really distant and far from many students, me included in my freshman year and second year. OYY doesn’t have visibility to all students and students don’t know what we do.

I want to undo the overly complicated organization that affects the distance. I think last year we did a good job in bringing the student union closer to students.
Regarding my own sector, I want to keep up the good work from last year and put effort into outgoing communication. I also want to bring continuity to last year’s good practices transferring over to this year. Personally I want to develop my weaker points.

I look forward to seeing everyone physically together. I also look forward to getting to learn new things and do communications. I hope I’ll also complete my bachelor’s studies and that remote studies won’t go on for too long.

My studies will continue on the side and I’m also involved in other organizations. Luckily everything fits together pretty well: I can use what I learn in everything I do. I take care of myself by scheduling things. I learned last year that working 24/7 or even 18 hours a day isn’t ok. I relax by going on a run and by talking to my friends about everything.

It’s a difficult question, because I’d like for it to be everything positive. More communal for all members but also encouraging development and critical thinking.

For me openness and being close to others has helped. Keep the closeness even now. I’d like to stress openness to the university as well, it goes both ways, as well as positive communication.

Sara Al Husaini, 28, fourth year English student
Member of the board, responsible for social affairs and tutor trainings

“I had a desire to affect my own school and learning environment and develop it for all of us. OYY is a great place to get to know new people and learn.

In upper secondary school I was the chair of the student union and I’ve also acted as an Erasmus+ ambassador.

OYY is quite distant. In the beginning I didn’t really get what it’s purpose is, I just paid the membership fee. Communication has helped, for example messages through Tuudo have been visible.

I want to create a better environment and bring the student union closer. Even to us who are actively taking part, OYY has been pretty invisible in the beginning. I want to think about how to make it more visible and get students involved more actively.

I’m excited about having new tasks and on the other hand nervous about how it will go. I also wonder how we’ll be able to hold events and see students physically. I’m nervous about how I’ll hold up if spring continues like this, but hopefully we’ll get to work physically together in autumn

I will continue to study and will also do an internship. Olli and I have agreed how we’ll conduct things if I can’t make the meetings. We’re pretty flexible and a good team.

I want to leave behind a more equal and more just student union that’s also more visible.

I know things are hard now, but we can make it and get over this.”

Iida Putkonen

Oulun ylioppilaslehden päätoimittaja. Tiedeviestinnän opiskelija ja glögin ympärivuotinen kuluttaja. Etsii revontulia, riippumattoja ja juuri oikeita sanoja.

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The University of Oulu is investing in international students – new career guidance service and events this year

The University of Oulu has decided to improve its Career Counseling and Employability Services by creating a new position specializing in foreign talent. Two of the reasons for this new service are an increasing number of overseas students enrolled in the degree programs and the new public trend Finland of tapping into international talent already located in the country.

At the beginning of the academic year 2020–2021, the University of Oulu extended its Career Counseling and Employability Services. More specialized support for international students will be provided by Angela Suorsa. She is  the new International Student Career Guidance & Employability Designer at the University of Oulu. 

As a result, there are now two Career Services Specialists at our University. The first is Outi Tolonen, who will focus on local students. The second is Angela Suorsa, who will be offering career guidance for international students and researchers and support in their post-graduation job hunt. 

In practice, the new service aims to offer students with international background guidance tailored to their specific needs. The service helps with job seeking, job marketing, integrating into working life, supporting thesis and traineeship placement opportunities finding. 

This year’s timetable is already booked with some exciting events, like the new Oulu at your service event this week.

What are the particular attributes of international talents, and what are some of the challenges they face?

According to Angela, job hunting is different for international students compared to local students.

“Although their international background could be used as a strength in their application, many fail to present their competencies in the application documents properly.” 

For example, a common mistake made by international talent is that when mentioning their work experience from abroad, they fail to offer a clear picture of the company and the work tasks. 

Finnish employers can evaluate the job seeker’s experience from the same country because they are familiar with the education, the expected skills, the working conditions, the legislation, and the requirements. However, it is challenging for local employers to know everything about education systems around the world. They might also not be familiar with the companies in the international arena where students have gained their working experience. As a result, it is more challenging to relate to them and their background. 

“Therefore, the employers do not find an answer to the question: What can he do for my company and me? Nor can they answer the question: Do I need him?”

Nevertheless, cultural differences in job hunting and work mentality play a role as well. While a lengthy CV is considered an advantage in some countries, the Finnish employer won’t read one longer than 1–2 pages. The Finnish custom of addressing superiors by their first name might feel extremely impolite for people who worked in companies with a strict addressing etiquette. 

“Two years are not enough”

Since the international Master’s level programs last two years, a significant challenge identified by Angela is that students usually do not have enough time to properly educate themselves about the local job market and create a strong professional and personal network.

“When applying for a Master’s Degree, international students already have a more precise idea of what career path they would like to follow. They might also have some work experience. Still, they might have different values and weaker networks, which means they need additional support upon graduation, compared to the local students.”

For the future, Angela would like to see supportive programs developed in close collaboration with the city of Oulu and the regional employment office (Te-toimisto). Such programs could connect the international students directly to the local working market and even help establish contact with the employers on behalf of the students during and after graduation. 

Also, more emphasis on the sense of belonging of the international student is needed in the future. The feeling of being valued and worthy will encourage them to be more active in creating their career path and taking part in events designed to help them.

What opportunities does Oulu have to offer to its international talent? 

According to Finnish law, the municipalities, like the City of Oulu, are responsible for developing an integration plan for refugees and immigrants. This usually means offering language courses and basic education. 

However, as Angela points out, there is a risk that the highly skilled immigrants and university graduates fall outside of the municipality’s integration programs and the free support services that come with them.

As a result, they are not eligible to receive services such as one-year-long intensive Finnish language courses, employability guidance, familiarization with the health care system, or assistance with the paperwork related to other practical dimensions of day to day life in the community.

This can be perceived as a discouraging factor by international talent because they lack the Finnish language skills that would allow them to access more services, as well as an overall understanding of the Finnish systems and society upon graduation. 

Oulu at your service (20.01.2021)

The University of Oulu’s Academic Affairs and Counselling Services are organizing an event. The event is being held together with the municipality on the 20th of January at 14.00. Oulu at your service aims to improve the visibility of the services that the City of Oulu has to offer to international talent.

Oulu at your service is an online event for all international students, researchers, alumni, employees, and their families. 

During the event, you will have the opportunity to find out more about the municipality’s public transport and library services, daycares and schools, Finnish language courses, well-being, health, leisure, and entrepreneurship name a few – basically, all the essential information for a newcomer to Oulu. 

You can ask specific questions in the chat and get answers from experts in different fields during the webinar. You can also send your questions in advance to and get your questions answered during the event. You can find the detailed program here and the registration form here.

Anca M. Catana

Education student, theater enthusiast, nature lover. Curious, spontaneous and ambitious, open for new challenges.

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From hybrid to fully online, Löyly hopes to inspire students in job hunting

Employment event Löyly will be held fully online this year. In its fourth year the event includes familiar keynotes and workshops focusing on how to find a job in Oulu even in a pandemic.

January has rolled around again. At the University of Oulu, that means it’s almost time for Löyly. Many people have yet to return from their holiday break, but the organizers of the event are already busy preparing. One of them is Katariina Sarja

“I don’t think we ever considered cancelling the event. Instead we decided to move to an online environment pretty early on”, she says. 

Löyly is an employment event aimed especially at international degree students. In short: its aim is to help students find a job in Oulu. This year the corona pandemic has changed plans, but the event is going to be held again, for the fourth time this year.

“Löyly has been a hybrid event even in previous years. That is, we’ve streamed some of the program to Youtube and Facebook. As the corona pandemic hasn’t let up, we’ve moved completely online for this year”, Sarja explains. 

Katariina Sarja works as OYY’s Specialist of Events and Associations. Alongside OYY, Student Union of the University of Oulu, are OSAKO (Student Union of Oulu University of Applied Sciences), Talent Hub Oulu and BusinessOulu. 

Sarja is organizing Löyly for the third year in a row on the 14th of January. She hopes that despite the pandemic students will find their way to the event once again.

“The event is aimed at international students but I sincerely hope everyone who is interested will participate, it doesn’t matter if you’re not an international student.” 

The same event, just online

Apart from helping students find jobs, the aim of the event is also to let businesses in Oulu know about the potential that international students hold. In previous years this was done by holding a job fair with local businesses. This year that’s not possible, but the key parts that make Löyly what it is remain unchanged.

“The constant in Löyly is the core of the program: keynotes and workshops. These weren’t all too hard to move to an online platform”, Sarja says.

This year the event focuses on different aspects of employment, especially during the pandemic. How to make connections and network amidst a pandemic and how to make an impressive video CV are some of the questions the event will answer. In total the one-day-event includes 3 keynotes from different speakers and 2 workshops.

Despite months of preparation, there are still unanswered questions in holding an event online. One of them is the amount of participants compared to previous years.

“I have no idea how many people we can expect this year. There’s a chance that people from outside of Oulu will also participate online, but at the same time this academic year we have fewer international students than usual, so less participants from Oulu”, Sarja ponders.

Instead of fancy stages and lights, the keynotes will be held from the speakers’ own computer screens. Still, there are also upsides to organizing an event virtually.

“We are free of the shackles of physical events, for example having to be in a certain place at the right time, having to come to the campus physically. It will be interesting to see how it goes on the day”, Sarja says.

Inspiring every student

Sarja hopes that the event will go smoothly, but also that the atmosphere will be equally inspiring online. 

“I hope that people will have room to compare their own employment stories to Löyly’s program somehow.”

The event will be held next week, on the 14th of January. Sign-up is still open and the organizers hope to reach as many people as possible. 

“The start of the year is a good time for anyone to broaden their skills and think about their future work. There is no need to know anything beforehand, you can just show up”, Sarja says.

An online-only event is a first for Löyly, but the organizers think that the future will hold even more online features. Their vision is to continue with a hybrid of online and offline parts but to also strengthen their online presence. The future is largely unknown, but hopes are high.

“I hope that every single international degree student will know about Löyly in the future, that they will know where to go and possess all the skills taught at the event”, Sarja concludes. 

Löyly 2021 employment event is organized by the Student Union of the University of Oulu (OYY) and Student Union of Oulu University of Applied Sciences (OSAKO) together with Business Oulu. The event takes place online and consists of workshops and keynote speeches. You can find the sign-up form and the program on the Löyly website.

Iida Putkonen

Oulun ylioppilaslehden päätoimittaja. Tiedeviestinnän opiskelija ja glögin ympärivuotinen kuluttaja. Etsii revontulia, riippumattoja ja juuri oikeita sanoja.

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Love at a distance – overcoming long distance in a relationship

How is it to love someone at a distance? What is needed to overcome such a challenging situation? Based on his and 4 other students' experiences, Pablo Santur explores strategies for survival in a long distance relationship.

And the prince and the princess lived happily ever after. If you have ever been in a relationship, you know how false that cliché ending is. As in life, romantic relationships are full of ups, downs, and twists. In fact, is that complexity what promotes the building of trust in a relationship. In that sense, one of the most difficult challenges for trust between two lovers is distance – to sustain the bond while being apart. 

I have experienced it firsthand during my second year of studies. I met my now fiancée a couple of weeks before going to Spain. Regardless of the distance, we kept texting. Then, (neither she nor I remember when) this turned into phone and video calls. When reunited, we briefly spent some weeks together before she had to fly to Italy for her six-month Erasmus exchange. And then, until our long-awaited reunion we kept in touch by creating shared rituals, made agreements, and talked (a lot). 

Like me, many other students have dealt with similar situations. In some cases, even with longer distances and times to cover. Trying to understand this experience more deeply, I gathered a group of friends to talk about it. Coming from three different continents, it was interesting to notice some common features, as well as important differences. Because of the sensitivity of the topic, two of them preferred to remain anonymous, so I changed their names and added an asterisk next to them. 

Becoming aware of the absences 

Being away from your loved one implies to be deprived of many simple but important gestures. Since in my relationship we could not spend a lot of time together at the beginning, when apart we had no memories to connect. So, there were countless moments when looking at each other’s video was not enough. Despite the loving words and expressions, we both were wishing those caresses and kisses expressing our deepest emotions. Because of distance we had to rely on words to express our feelings. And that was quite difficult. 

Although Maria was in a relationship for many years before stepping into a long-distance relation, it was also difficult for her to get used to the new situation. 

“At the beginning I felt miserable. The physical contact is the most challenging part that I could not overcome. Being away I did not get to see my person day after day, I did not get to wake up next to him and a hug is not a given anymore.” 

Knowing how important a master degree was for her, Maria’s boyfriend fully supported her. “We always discussed the sacrifices we had to make for this to happen. Thus, it was just a tad easier to continue working hard for my goal.” 

With time, the impact of initial caresses and kisses decreases. However, at distance the absence of such details opens our eyes to their relevance. They give us certainty of being cared for, loved, and respected. Sometimes when facing difficulties, these details can help us to regain balance and keep going forward. In their absence, difficult times become more challenging. This is what happened to Roman. 

“When things in the relationship didn’t go well, I thought that taking this step would mean breaking up. There was even a time when we were both considering this.” 

The fact that Roman and his girlfriend were away from each other before he came to Oulu turned out to be an important asset, when it was his turn to leave the Netherlands. 

“My girlfriend did a half year exchange in Canada. It was difficult talking about her daily life because I only had a fantasy and vague description to picture her life. Insecurities and jealousy can take over you when dealing with many unknowns.” 

With that previous experience, they decided to come together to Oulu when Roman moved here. Like this, she was able to have a clear picture of his friends and environment. Also, they created another memory that proved to be useful for the difficult times ahead. “When we are not happy, I also imagine myself with someone else, someone who is close by. Then I can quickly remind myself of our beautiful love story and never act upon these feelings, but they do come around sometimes.” 

Jealousy & certainty 

A big surprise for me while being away from my love was to realize how our relationship became a dichotomy: together and away. When being together, my day flowed between different activities in which my girlfriend participated in one or more. On the other hand, when separated she was no longer present in my regular activities. Instead, every day I lived a sequence of activities that suddenly stopped when I read her texts or listened to her voice. 

Although these surprises were nice, they were also an evidence of her absence. As Roman mentioned before, ignoring the details of the other person’s life gives space for treacherous jealousy to arise. Even if you never ask or comment to your partner about it, the thoughts are still there. And if you don’t control them, they eat you. In that sense, both me and the students interviewed agreed that a main concern when being at a distance was having constant communication with our partners. 

Both Maria and Roman talked daily with their partners. This was also the case of Sahan, who talked with his girlfriend in Sri Lanka even twice or more times per day. Unlike the other cases, Nguyen* only talked to his girlfriend twice or three times per week. Besides the different time zones, it was also difficult for him to talk to her because she was doing a lot of paperwork to apply for a master degree in Canada. 

“We decided to preserve our space. So, we agreed on specific days and times to talk. That was our moment”.

Although these talks did not shorten the distance between us and our lovers, they proved to be useful to preserve a sense of constant presence of our beloved ones in our lives. This helps to preserve the peace of mind for those who stayed, because of the feelings aroused by not being able to discover that new environment next to their loves. Most of the interviewees thought about that as a must from the beginning. But for Nguyen that was not the case. “We did not plan that much in advance. So, when she was applying to the Master and we were not talking, I sent her photos of some of my activities but I never felt kind of pushed to keep her posted on a daily basis.” 

For me and the other it was the opposite. When thinking about that, I think my girlfriend and I kind of played a guerrilla war in which we sought to surprise the other. I used to send her good morning videos for her to see when awakening, while she used to surprise me with loving messages. For Maria it was meaningful to exchange funny memes or videos to make each other laugh. On their side, Roman and his girlfriend found a way to share their passion for music. “We have a shared playlist on Spotify that we listen to. It’s very cool to hear a song that you know resonates with the other person, while you are away.” 

The issue of proximity 

Surprising and sharing is nice when you are in good terms with your partner. But it is impossible to have a relationship without disagreements. And they will occur because of your individualities. For me, when these crises occur (in plural, there is not only one) they always lead to a decision: Do I accept this? Do I continue with this relationship? Although it may be something difficult to deal with, all the other sides of your connection with your beloved one compensates and therefore smooths the acceptance process. 

In distance, this changes. You no longer have walks to the park, movie nights or their warmth next to you at night. There is nothing but memories and the moments you share through the flat, distant, cold screens of your phone or computer (could you imagine how it was in times without a phone? OMG). Because of the context, the relationship becomes fragile, and you don’t want to jeopardize it. In consequence, when I found something that I did not like, I never addressed it directly, but kept it in mind until we could have the time to talk about it in person. 

A way to solve this was to agree on periodical visits. In this sense, I did the same as Roman and Maria. In words of Roman: “I knew I didn’t want two years of long distance. My program allows me to do an internship and write my thesis abroad. From the beginning onwards I kept in mind that I will do these in the Netherlands. I also made sure that we were only away from each other max. 3 to 4 months.” This was easy because in all our cases, we were within Europe. But for Sahan and Nguyen it became a more difficult task to overcome. 

Sahan, for example, started his relationship when deciding to come to Oulu to complete his Master studies. Unable to visit his love often, the daily phone talks were a way to reassure the certainty of his relationship and keep the promise of getting married alive. Luckily, after becoming a doctorate student, he traveled back to Sri Lanka early this year, turning the promise into reality. “Our wedding and her coming to Finland with me are a long and big dream that we planned together. And now it is true.” 

On the contrary, for Nguyen distance became a burden because of the lack of certainty about the future. He came to Oulu thinking of going back to Vietnam, but then his parents suggested that he find a job and stay here. This collided with his girlfriend-plans, eventually creating a situation impossible to overcome. “To join her Master, she had to borrow 20 thousand dollars from the bank and her family. That is a lot of money. When she arrived to Canada, she became more focused on finding a job and producing money. Not having common shared plans made our relationship get derailed. We had several breakups until the definitive one came up”. 

Thinking in hindsight 

Someone once told me that goodbyes are beautiful because they contain the hope of the next encounter. In that sense, although long-distance relationships are challenging and difficult, they also give us an opportunity to grow and discover new insights of ourselves and our partners. 

Although a long-distance relationship may not succeed, it is always an opportunity to deepen ourselves. Despite the unexpected outcome for Nguyen, he still values his previous relationship. “I would not be here if it wasn’t for her. When I was not sure about coming, she told my mom I was accepted with a full tuition scholarship and asked her to persuade me to accept the offer. Now I got a job that I truly enjoy, I am helping my parents and I thank her for that”. 

Likewise, this experience helped Roman gain a deeper understanding of himself and his partner. “We created a very strong emotional bond, crossing the boundaries of countries and seas. If communicating is all you have, you truly develop the most open and genuine bond possible. I definitely think it has improved our relationship in ways I couldn’t predict. I have become more open, learned a lot about love and the extent to which it can carry you and persevering even when things aren’t the best.” 

For Maria and Sahan*, loving at distance brought insights about how others impact their lives. As Sahan* says: “After a deep thinking and realization, I knew what was important in life and what was not. If someone prays for you, you definitely feel hope and support.” Similarly, Maria values some things more now. “This experience has made me realize the importance of togetherness. Also, that support is a major factor of my success so far. I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing now without knowing that I have people that have my back, show me their love and want me to succeed.” 

For me, after another romantic relationship at distance I became convinced that determination is a decisive factor. It could be long-distance, a pandemic, or a disease. Difficulties are always present in relationships and life. But whatever it is, if both you and your partner are brave and open, you will be able to learn. Even from failures. I realized now how wrong I was of taking things for granted. The ways we found to rely and trust on each other, helped us also to overcome many challenges. And we know there are still many coming ahead. In any case, either with a caress, a discussion, or with silence, we will always find a way to say to each other: I love you.

Pablo Santur

Learning specialist in thesis writing mode. Former TV scriptwriter. Foodie. Anime lover. Twitter: @pablodsantur

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Passion for research – What it’s it like to study a PhD

Mathilde van der Berg arrived from the Netherlands in October 2018. After 16 months of exploring the process of reindeer domestication, she shares her experiences as a doctorate student.

TEKSTI Pablo Santur

KUVAT Pablo Santur

Mathilde van der Berg came to the University of Oulu to become a PhD student in archaeology in 2018.

When did you first want to become a PhD student?

I never wanted to. Actually I am still surprised I have become a PhD student.

But then there was this announcement of an open position going around in the zooarchaeology circles of the internet. It said something like: “we are looking for new methods and interpretations for approaching reindeer domestication”, and well, during my studies people already called me the ‘reindeer girl’ (laughs). So, all the pieces of my interests came together in this position and I applied.

What are your daily activities as a researcher?

That depends on the stage of my research. Last year I have measured a lot of bones for data collection.

I also went to the field with my project. We went to a reindeer farm and I interviewed several Sami reindeer herders.

I have given some lectures and have also been to conferences. Right now I am reading a lot of anthropological and historical literature about reindeer breeding, which I find super interesting. Some days are really mild, and others can be hectic.

Are there differences or similarities between a PhD and your previous studies?

The main difference is that I know where I am going now. I have some deadlines that I set together with my supervisor, and I am executing my research as planned.

There aren’t many courses that I am taking at the moment, compared to being a Bachelor or Master’s student.

During my degree years of studying archaeology in the Netherlands, the classes were really small and my classmates were my friends. Here you have to find friends yourself.

What I really like is that I now meet people that are interested in what I am doing, while in my Bachelor and my Master I felt that nobody really cared about  that. Similarities are that I am still reading a lot of literature, and hanging around bones a lot (laughs).

Is there any particular moment of your PhD that you feel proud of?

After I give a presentation at a conference or in a seminar, I feel relieved but also happy. Afterwards, people sometimes come to me and they can ask some very interesting questions or they tell me about their research and how it is related to mine. Since other people are interested in the same things, I feel that what I do is relevant.

What about challenges?

For me, I am a total insomniac. Some days, I can not be as productive as I would like to be, because I feel like a zombie. If you have sleeping problems your cognitive abilities actually go down quite a bit. This is the major challenge for me in my life and also for my research.

How about the funding?

Luckily my salary is paid from the Domestication on Action project led by Anna-Kaisa Salmi.

But I have heard about struggles with finding funding a lot. Actually some of my PhD friends have to look for funding themselves and they are really busy with this funding issue. A huge amount of their time goes into it rather than actually researching, and often they are very stressed about it.

How was the process of building up your research identity?

I think that process is still ongoing. Maybe the most important thing for me is deciding for myself what to consider for my research, though of course together with my supervisor. You can take several approaches to the same topic or issue, and when I’m defining my own path I feel independent. I also have to look into and decide which journals to publish in or conferences to attend.

Where do you see yourself after finishing your PhD?

I would really like to become a postdoctoral researcher in arctic anthropology or in reindeer domestication. But my deepest dream is actually to go on anthropological fieldwork.

I want to live with a reindeer herding Sami group or reindeer herders in Mongolia for a year, just to see how they live and think. Maybe I could compare their practices and write about it. In short, do anthropological fieldwork and connect it with the research I am doing now.

Pablo Santur

Learning specialist in thesis writing mode. Former TV scriptwriter. Foodie. Anime lover. Twitter: @pablodsantur

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Is there magic left in the world?

Logic rules the world. We no longer fear trolls or deities nor do we rely on spirits for inner peace. Is there magic left in the modern world, Anca M. Catana wonders.

Remember the movie Fight Club (1999)? If not, you can take a break, watch it and return to reading after.

Isn’t it somehow intriguing that your everyday, average individual would engage in such a “barbarian” activity, without any notable advantage? Sure, they were mostly men, but take another break and go watch Million Dollar Baby (2004).

The point is, we see it in sports, we see it in the arts, we see it in religions: people gather together to witness or take part in a short intense event, which moves a little bit of something within them.

Some 2400 years ago, in an attempt to explain what happens with the spectator while watching an ancient tragedy, Aristotle (tip: he was Greek), came up with a name for the phenomenon: catharsis, cleansing and purification of emotions.

Aristotle’s catharsis has always been connected to the idea of purification of emotions through arts, particularly the performing arts.

What the explanation fails to remember is that the theater witnessed by Aristotle didn’t limit itself to an artistic representation.

Instead, the Greek gods and goddesses were alive and well in the ancient tragedy. They had their own entrance in the scene purely for themselves and were always making the characters accountable for their actions, adding a religious or spiritual dimension to the whole catharsis concept.

Cleansing of gods

Back to the future and why you are reading about a two and a half millennia old word in a student magazine: as old as it is, catharsis couldn’t be more actual. Let me explain.

In our contemporary world, God/s, goddesses, demigods, not even witches, elves or trolls are walking among us anymore – nor do they send angry messages.

Smart beings as we are, we studied, understood and categorized everything. We know today that thunderstorms are not caused by Thor’s hammer but by the electrical charge of clouds, the world has been created rather by the Big Bang than the vomit of Mbombo, the Death worm from the Gobi desert is probably just a type of amphisbaenia, and a great flood is more likely to be the result of climate change than of divine wrath.

Not long ago, I was watching Nicholas Christakis’ TED talk The hidden influence of social networks, in which he explains his break-through discovery on how the social network of an individual affects surprising aspects of his or her life. These included their chances of getting divorced or obese.

It occured to me at that moment, that there is a worrisome paradox: we know so much about what surrounds us, but so little about ourselves as individuals and especially as communities.

Modern day catharsis

In our secularized society religious or spiritual laws and rituals are seen as naive, even dangerous if taken to fanaticism. The main reason being that they can’t be objectively verified, take horoscopes for example, so they fall in a category of pseudoscience.

Them not being objectively verifiable makes them prone to manipulation and re-interpretation which can lead to fraud or disastrous events, like the Jonestown Mass Suicide, where in 1978, over 900 people were manipulated into taking their own lives.

On the other hand, purging any non-rationality from our daily lives has left many feeling empty. We tend to blame mental health issues, depression and suicidal thoughts on financial problems, stress, substance abuse, but could they not also be attributed to a lack of magic in our lives, a lack of mystery or spirituality?

Could it be why the world of dragons and face-changing people of Game of Thrones became such a phenomenon? Is the unknown and unintelligible “a must” in our lives that also makes us vulnerable?

Our day to day existence becomes somewhat sisyphic when it lacks meaningful experiences and encounters. Like a Shyamalan movie, everything seems to be following its order, but the somewhat eerie atmosphere hints at something being off.

If magic and spirituality are the missing elements, how can we bring the unexplained back into our lives? Through art, through meditation, through forming our own rituals? And where is the limit: can they become dangerous? When can we become susceptible to being deceived and manipulated by some who, for example, figured that there is fat money to make out of our non-material needs?

Money for nothing

I am probably not the only one assaulted on social media by ads for products promising balance, gratefulness, love, peace, humbleness – for a small fee of course.

No matter how appealing the photoshopped landscapes are or how marvelous the shut-eyed ladies look in their fitted yoga pants in these ads, I can’t help myself from stopping and wondering about the absurdity of it all.

The current ads remind me of the medieval practice of selling indulgences: a bit of money is all that it takes to save your soul and sanity.

Remember the catharsis phenomenon from the beginning of this text that required people to actually get together and live an event as a community? Well, fear no more, as in our contemporary world you need to meet no one, talk to no one, go to no crowded or chaotic gatherings.

You can enjoy the benefits, free your mind and liberate your spirit while isolating yourself in your living room with buds in your ears, listening for the 100th time to the same monotone voice praising you for taking time off to “take care of yourself” – for a small fee.

Lost inner peace

Where is the limit, then? When are we having our mind and soul cared for and when are we having them exploited? To whom should we trust the most sensitive parts of ourselves: the stranger or the one close to us? The professional or the loving one?

And talking about professionals, where does professionalism start and where does it end? Nevertheless, why do we seem to crave the inexplicable only to try to explain it afterwards?

I wish I had at least some of the answers for these questions in order to be able to write a nice and comforting conclusion, but that’s no easy task.

As a result I invite you to think about all the magic present in your life, reflect on whether you would need more of it and most importantly, where and with whom could you find it.

Anca M. Catana

Education student, theater enthusiast, nature lover. Curious, spontaneous and ambitious, open for new challenges.

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