Opportunities at UTU and CEAS: My Time at the St. Petersburg Summer School and NIAS: Nordic Institute for Asian Studies - UTU Masters
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Opportunities at UTU and CEAS: My Time at the St. Petersburg Summer School and NIAS: Nordic Institute for Asian Studies

27-31 August 2018 and 11-24 February 2019

One of the benefits of participating in my program on East Asian Studies at the University of Turku’s Center for East Asian Studies is the ability to apply for different summer schools, internships, research trips, and seminars abroad. During my time at UTU, I have had the privilege of attending the St. Petersburg Summer School and going to NIAS, the Nordic Institute for Asian Studies, in Copenhagen, Denmark for a two-week thesis writing research scholarship program. Both of these trips abroad have given me insights into furthering my abilities in the field of social sciences and academic research, as well as learning about different aspects of Asian Studies (who knew there was a classical side to Asian studies after only being in the social sciences side for so many years?!).

As a student at CEAS and UTU, I receive so many emails on various opportunities available for current students, from internship announcements to week long seminar trips on Japanese or Korean studies in different countries to thesis writing trips. These emails, though annoying in the vast numbers we receive on a monthly basis, give chances for improving research skills, working in the field, and meeting experts in careers in the field of interest. Keeping an eye for the one that suits you best, though, is a bigger challenge.

In March 2018, I applied for the St. Petersburg Summer School as a way to go abroad without having to spend long extensive periods away like a traditional exchange program. With only two years’ time to graduate from UTU, I did not have time on my side to go to Asia for my exchange, so instead attending a five-day intensive course on Korean studies was the next best option. As luck would have it, 4 others from CEAS got accepted and I traveled there with three of them and met one of our older students at the program after she had been working and living in Stockholm. The memories from this trip will last a lifetime and the valuable experience from the actual course became integral in my understanding of Asian Studies.

Though my knowledge on Korea comes only from years of watching Korean dramas religiously and the expertly taught courses at CEAS, attending an intensive seminar course gave me insight into aspects of Korean Studies I had not studied previously, or thought about for that matter, such as classical literature. Discussions about literature and prose by Yi Ch’ongjun from the late 20th century to discussions on the current political strife among North Korea, Russia and the United States to film analysis on modern conceptualizations on heroes helped once again reaffirm to me that Korean Studies, and Asian Studies for that matter, are all encompassing programs with something for everyone. Personally, classical literature is not for me; I’ll stick with my studies on social sciences, particularly international relations and sociology.

Another amazing opportunity UTU and CEAS have given me is the Nordic Supra Scholarship to NIAS, the Nordic Institute for Asian Studies in Copenhagen, Denmark. This scholarship program, much like the Summer School in St. Petersburg, provided paid transportation and room and board at the Nordisk Kollegium, making it affordable for a penny crunching master’s student, and gave me a shared office at the institute with access to their vast library of resources for thesis writing. Two weeks was plenty of time to immerse myself in my thesis writing and grasp an understanding of what it feels like to be a full-time researcher. The presentation I gave during one of the lunch talks gave me ideas on how to clarify my topic for those who are unfamiliar with Japanese family culture as well as make it concise and less broad as it has been during my writing process. Even with an obscure topic like family ideals in Japan and the impact of stigmas, I was able to discuss in length with the staff at NIAS about potential ways of tackling my research, making it a worthwhile trip.

As a side benefit of my trip, I got to participate in the NIAS-Fudan Center Lunar New Year celebration on 19 February, the same day of my presentation, where I had the best Chinese food I have had the privilege of trying, and free wine 😉 This event gave us a glimpse into photography from the 1980s in China by Danish scholars who went on exchange in China nearly 40 years ago. The presentation gave us a better understanding of how China has developed in recent years and the rapidity of the

Though the purpose of the trip was to write my thesis and gain knowledge from Asia experts, a side benefit I gained was I learned to travel independently in a foreign country. All my friends in Turku were so worried for my sanity and survival at the thought I would be alone for two whole weeks, since everyone knows how much I love being surrounded by others. I had never truly traveled alone (during my fieldwork, I had wonderful friends who joined me on my journey, so I was rarely alone), so being in Copenhagen for the first time with no knowledge of the local language gave me the opportunity to rely solely on myself and learn the ins and outs of solo travel. Though I got lonely at times, since I love to be around people 24/7 (excessive, I know), I got the hang of traveling alone and being independent, so by the time the end of the trip came, I had come to truly appreciate solo travel and I had actually accomplished something I did not know I would be able with my drive to socialize. But I guess I did make a few friends at the dorm, but that does not count in my opinion, since it was just for some breakfasts and dinners that I saw them 😉

The vast number of opportunities to travel abroad during my master’s degree years at UTU have showed me that traveling alone is not for me, but that traveling alone can also teach me the true value of my own independence. But given the chance, I would definitely choose to travel with my fellow CEAS Pandas and friends at UTU.

If you have any questions/comments/concerns about study abroad possibilities or are curious about internships locally or abroad, feel free to send me an email at mimarh@utu.fi and I can let you know about some other opportunities my fellow colleagues have had during their time at UTU!

Milla Heikkinen

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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