I chose Finland, but Turku chose me: the story of how I came to UTU - UTU Masters
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I chose Finland, but Turku chose me: the story of how I came to UTU

Why did I choose to come to the University of Turku, Finland?

When asked why I came to Turku, the first thing that pops into my head is “I chose Finland, but Turku chose me,” which in a way makes my coming to Turku and Finland all the sweeter.

My life in a nutshell:

I was born in Klaukkala, Nurmijärvi, Finland and from there moved to Martinlaakso, Vantaa with my mom and sister. At the age of seven, almost eight, my mom moved my sister and I to Lincoln, NE to follow our American step-dad and my life away from Finland began. Those first formative years in Lincoln showed me that though I moved away from Finland at such a young age, Finland had left root within me. As my American identity grew and my Finnish language skills dissipated, it became harder and harder to associate with my Finnishness, making me begin to accept my newly American self, but leaving me wanting to find connections to Finland still.

As university began, I decided that studying abroad would be the best way for me to connect back to my heritage, family and mother tongue. In spring 2014, I began to explore study abroad opportunities in Finland, only to find that there were no programs directly with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but that I could join MAUI-Utrecht, a mid-American exchange network. From programs in Jyväskylä to oulu to Helsinki, I could take my pick of anywhere in Finland, but with finding a university perfect for me, Helsinki came calling with their excellence in political science and intercultural encounters. That December, I was on my way back to the place of my birth, to live with my dad for the first time in 13 years, brush up on the Finnish I had not used in the same amount of time, and find out what was so impressive about the Finnish education system.

The year in Helsinki showed me that finding myself was in getting to know my heritage and understanding what exactly happens when one moves from culture to culture. One pivotal moment for finding my identity during my time in Helsinki came during my first sitsit, or academic dinner party, with CISSI, the organization for international social scientists at the university of Helsinki. One of the founding board members related to my connection to Finland, since he himself had experienced something similar. He told me about the Third Culture Phenomenon, which in short, means that when one moves from Culture A (Finland in my case) to Culture B (Lincoln, NE), a Culture C is instead created that is neither one nor the other, but a combination of both that makes it difficult to understand the individual’s identity without exploring both cultures fully.

Learning about this phenomenon “clicked” for me and I began to understand myself at a level I had never before, and I found out who I was during my time in Helsinki. Only downside was that when I returned to Lincoln, I had to readjust my view, and find ways to balance my two equal homes. Thus, I decided that after the completion of my undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I would continue my education in Finland with a master’s degree.

I decided to apply for three programs in Helsinki and one in Turku during the application cycle in January 2017. The reformatting of the University of Helsinki took away the programs my friends and fellow board members of CISSI were a part of and I myself found of interest, so I was forced to apply for programs that weren’t for me, such as a program in democratic governance and global politics and communications, which if you know me, those programs would not make me happy at all, since politics is something I am not fond of in the least (except in heated debates over a pint of cider). Programs in migration or ethnic integration, like the previous programs that got booted, would have been better suited for me, so it was no surprise that I was not accepted into these ill-fitting programs.

The program in Turku, Master Degree in East Asian Studies (MPAS as it used to be called, now EAST), though, was something I was genuinely interested in and had been for many years, and my motivation was acknowledged by the faculty and staff at CEAS, Centre for East Asian Studies, as I was accepted in April of that year. I cannot say that at first I was too thrilled that I did not get accepted in Helsinki, since all my friends in Finland were there, but I realized that my education would be more fruitful with a program that I would be genuinely interested in and I could potentially go any route in social sciences with my thesis work in the coming years. Turns out, Turku and CEAS were the place I was meant to go to in Finland, and I could not have chosen a better fit for me personally.

What I like the best about being at UTU:

Independence in my education and ability to choose my field of research.

Accessibility of the library resources and the vast amounts of assistance available to me by the university.

The student culture and feeling like an accepted member of my program and peer group.

Innumerable opportunities provided at UTU, such as scholarship opportunities to do fieldwork outside of Finland and access to thesis writing scholarships outside of Finland (such as the Nordic Supra scholarship for thesis writing for Asian Studies students at the University of Copenhagen for two weeks, all room/board and transport paid).

Ability to thrive in an international environment.

Really cheap lunches subsidized for students by KELA.

The university is literally my backyard, since most students live right on or near campus. It takes me only 5-6 minutes to walk to class!

Have any questions or concerns about UTU or studying in Turku? Ask me in the comments, and I will do my best to help!

 

Milla Heikkinen
mimarh@utu.fi

Milla is a 2nd year master's student at the Centre for East Asian Studies in Turku. After immigrating to Nebraska, USA in 2002 from Finland at the ripe age of 7, Milla has spent innumerable years learning about her Finnish heritage and being inspired by the world through learning about cultures and societies. As an undergrad at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she spent a year studying on exchange in Helsinki and after graduating with a BA in Global Studies, moved to Turku in 2017 to pursue her dreams of achieving a Master's in Social Sciences at the University of Turku. In her spare time, she likes to watch Netflix, bake innumerable sweets for her friends and colleagues, and drink an occasional glass, or bottle, of wine with friends over board games.

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