My Mind & The Serein

BTSB My Mind and Serein Cover

 

in clear skies

i walk under my umbrella

and where my cover cannot reach

the streets are bombed by the mind’s raindrops

 

as i watch the cement under attack

i can hear the seagull’s call,

the seas of mothers strolling through the market,

the whining toddlers asking for ice cream,

 

i scream

and open my eyes to a serene summer’s day

 

BTSB My mind and serein 01Serein is a meteorological phenomenon where there is rain even though the sky is clear. My mind has been serein since I was 14.

I have been forgetting myself in deep waters during a thunderstorm; but I have never been struck by lightning, I have never physically felt the storm that drags down my mood. I have grown internal rainforests out of all the nourishment my raining mind has been giving away through the years of feeling nothing but pain; or more like floating in the pain, not feeling anything but emptiness, and raindrops.

Only this spring, my rainforest cut itself down out of sheer impossibility: it could not live merely off melancholy, it needed a little sun in order to grow ingredients for the average forest. So, my forest tumbled down with drama, and one specific evening, I found myself walking in the middle of a busy street in a specific neighbourhood in Northern Helsinki. After that, I have been trying to heal the wounds the overflow of rain caused to my roots, with different experts of the field. Now, I am finally in the middle of the process of getting a diagnosis.

My rainforest’s probable bipolarity has put me in a number of difficult situations this year. How to tell my boss why I could not handle being all alone at work; how to tell my parents I, a straight A student who is always so calm and collected and full of potential, was seeing a psychiatrist; how to tell my friends why I was acting a little differently than usual. How to tell myself that I had not failed as a student, as a young adult, as a daughter, as a friend, as a human being, even though I had a mental illness?

Mental health is widely and commonly recognized in the western world as a vital part of our overall well-being. Many services are offered to employees, students, parents, anyone; getting help has been made seemingly easy. Today, there is quite a lot of public discussion on mental illnesses, and even public personas are coming out with depression, anxiety, and so on. So why is it still so hard to accept that you yourself are one of the people with a mental health problem?

First of all, getting help is not as simple and quick as it might seem to be. When you are severely challenged by a mental problem, it just might be that your sense of reality is not as clear as it used to be, and that it feels extremely effortful to take even the tiniest step towards helping yourself out of the bad situation. For me, it took a handful of good friends and both of my parents to support me and guide me towards the right path for help; and when the nurses and doctors and health centres and hospitals kept on changing, it took, again, all of my support network to keep my rainforest from sinking to hopelessness. Even then, even when having caring people around me through the numerous appointments, the help did not merely appear and cure me. I, even if lost in a thick fog of roots and leaves and mud and puddles, had to seek for it all by myself, get up in the morning, take the bus to the hospital, take the stairs to the waiting room and sit down in the clichéd psychologist’s armchair, and talk about my childhood, my relationship with my mother, and my mood shifts. These visits would leave me empty and tired and dark, and then I would have to go on with my day as if all was fine.

BTSB My mind and serein 02

Second of all, even though mental health is a popular subject nowadays and certainly not quieted down about, it is still easy to associate mental illness with a certain sense of weakness or failure. It has been estimated that even as many as every fourth person encounters mental health problems throughout their life, but there are no statistics available on how these people deal with going through these difficult times. How do they know when a certain sadness is beyond normal melancholy, how exactly do they reach out for help, to whom is it appropriate to talk about the viruses of the mind?

Why can we still not bring up a mental illness in a discussion without most participants of the conversation being uncomfortable with the topic? Why can we not tell our bosses that the reason we cannot do more than two shifts a week is that our depression takes up all our energy? Why is it acceptable to talk to anyone about injured legs and heart surgeries but not about our bipolar minds?

For almost ten years, and more actively for five months now, I have been in a rainy battle with whatever one would call what I have; depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, or all that, or perhaps just the effects from being a Highly Sensitive Person; there is no knowing for sure. I cannot even say whether I want to have an exact label for what causes my rainforest to keep flooding, but what I now know is that I want help with gaining control over the rainfall, and that getting that help and staying helped is possible – well, only after surviving that tiring initial fight to make someone listen and take you seriously.

So, briefly, my plans for the summer are being put in different boxes to see if I fit the symptoms, having my psychiatrist’s phone number near in case a crisis happens, taking my new mood stabilizers that play with my brain-forest chemistry, and trying my best to get comfortable with having mental health problems and still being an accepted and able person, and still being me. I also hope that one day, when I open my eyes to a rainy day, I could feel rainy, and when I open my eyes to a sunny day, I could feel sunny; and that my rainforest would not be flooded anymore; and that I could tell my boss and friends the real reasons behind my eccentric behaviour and meandering excuses for skipping social activities; and that panic attacks would be equal to asthma attacks in conversation.

Chief Editor’s Note: Biography, Killing Your Darlings

Elizabeth 2

I recently got hooked on a podcast called S-Town. As podcasts go, it’s not at all obscure. It was made by the same people who made Serial, and many of the the big UK and US papers gave it a writeup. The narrative centered around an eccentric denizen of rural Alabama, John B. McLemore. Initially he contacted a journalist, Brian Reed, about a possible murder and coverup conspiracy, and the story starts out as a kind of southern gothic detective jaunt. As the reporter uncovers more, the genre flips multiple times and the focus moves more tightly to McLemore. Ultimately it becomes a biography of this utterly baroque, layered character.

I am also at the moment taking Merja Polvinen’s course on autobiography, largely because the genre skeeves me out. An autobiography can be tastefully done when a life has been interesting and the writer-subject is outward looking towards some issue, cause, craft, zeitgeist, whatever. But generally, hearing the details of the life of a person I’ve never met feels like being thinly coated in slime. Same goes for biography, with the added problems inherent in one person representing another. Probably this distaste says as much about me as about the writers. I’ve been trying to better understand my aversion and the finer ethical points of writing about a real person’s life. After all, as an amateur journalist, don’t I sometimes partake in the same?

Portraying some real person closely, revealing their deeds, confided speech, foibles – this may be an act of love, but as D.H. says, anatomizing what you love kills it. To know about is intelligent, to know is vampirism at its purest.

Though I reject the library as tomb metaphor, sometimes I do think that we kill in the act of writing. A person, no matter how weak their action or deceptive their speech, possesses a kind of beauty and sympathy when witnessed living. Provided, of course, the witness adjusts her range appropriately. These same traits, fixed in writing, begin to stink of rot. As in so many things, the beauty is in the movement.

Closely rendered (auto)biography is like pinning an irridescent beetle to a board. Certain things just don’t survive being written.

By the end of S-Town, McLemore, initially an elusive and fantastic personality, had collapsed into a squalid list of details. I felt for him, the way I might feel for a taxidermied fox. It’s been a month since I tore through the seven part podcast, and I still sometimes feel the need for a bath on account of this experience.

What is to be written and what is not? An important question for a journalist and indeed for humanists of all stripes. What belongs in the public sphere and what constitutes a violation of a subject’s, dead or living, inner space (not to mention the reader’s)? These aren’t questions that can be answered generally. A quick google search of S-Town reveals convincing arguments for both sides, those who think McLemore should have been left well enough alone and those who think Reed stayed within bounds and even did service to McLemore’s life. It boils down to a matter of personal boundaries and tastes. When adventuring into the (auto)biographical genre, it is easy to suddenly find these boundaries overstepped, but perhaps there is value in that too, reflective and instructive.

Caveat lengthily expressed, I’d be remiss if I didn’t biographize briefly the deeds of one of my predecessors at the helm of BTSB.

I’ve never known a BTSB that wasn’t an active group of dedicated writers who cared as much for quality as for fellowship. This is because Kaisa Leino had been Editor in Chief a few years before I arrived and continued on for my first two years with the ’zine. She took the paper very seriously, and yet was a welcoming and supportive presence for new writers. I’ve heard rumor of ye olde dayes when apparently things were not so. By all accounts, Kaisa holds responsibility for what BTSB is now. As for me, Kaisa’s work on the paper has made my stint as Editor in Chief incredibly easy.

Kaisa received honorary recognition at the SUB 2017 anniversary dinner.

Kaisa received honorary recognition at the SUB 2017 anniversary dinner.

Happily, during SUB’s anniversary dinner this March, Kaisa received due recognition. I was quite pleased, and I know the other BTSB regulars in the audience were as well, to hear her acheivements appreciated and recognized complete with sweet certificate.

It is good to be remembered, to be known about, if not anatomized. So if my congratulations seem general, it is out of profound respect to a person who has shaped a small, but I like to think significant in it’s sphere, ’zine about which I also care deeply.

So please enjoy this small issue! Petteri also navigates the perilous waters of writing about the admired departed with a poem that lovingly satirizes his heroes. Danielle takes us deep into the psyche in the safe vessel of fiction. Elina brings wanderlust home in a personal essay and Missy questions the nature of shame in Finland and the United States. I revise my opinion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Jesper has something to say about people who have something to say about the Simpsons, and Inka admits to being wrong about mornings.

 

Editors in Chief past and present looking damn dapper.

Editors in Chief past and present looking damn dapper.

Forge bravely on – if anatomizing a person is wrong, we can all happily anatomize ideas!

I Was Wrong About…Early Mornings

Photo by Inka Vappula

My friends and family know that early mornings and I have never been in cahoots. In some circles it’s even my unfortunate claim to fame: “Oh, you’re that Inka, the one who threw a punch at someone for trying to wake you up. Yeah, I’ve heard about you”. For the record, it’s been 10 years, it only happened once, and I missed. So put down the sticks people, that horse is mulch by now.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

Grossly exaggerated stories aside, I truly have always hated early mornings. I don’t feel grumpy per se, although I have been told I look like I’m ready to murder, I’m just slow to start—like an old PC. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up naturally with the sunrise. And I’ve always had a strong distaste for those inspirational morning quotes: “the morning is full of possibilities” and all that crap.  The whole day is full of possibilities if you ask me. Silly morning-person propaganda, I thought.

University is a paradise for slow starters, such as myself. During my first semester, I made the mistake of enrolling in a linguistics course, which ran at 8:30 am on Fridays. Mostly I remember having a stiff neck all spring from sleeping sitting up. I rectified the situation by planning my schedule so that I never had to be up and about before noon. Ah, bliss!

However, during the past year, my optimal, late-riser schedule went topsy-turvy. I began a teacher-training program, which meant that most weekdays I had to either be attending classes or teaching them by 8 o’clock. It was my Everest.

In the beginning it was a twisted form of torture, I’m not going to lie. Even with a dangerously high coffee dosage, I felt—and probably looked like—the living dead, dragging my cumbrous feet from point A to point B, dazed and unaware of my surroundings. And I was constantly finding myself in the toilet, due to the unlawful amounts of coffee I was consuming. Torture, I tell you! I was miserable and much more adamant in my hatred of early mornings than I’d ever been.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

As the year has progressed, however, strange things have begun to happen. First, my body stopped resisting the new rhythm of life, and then my attitude began to shift as well. I’ve come to relish the way my senses are attuned to the morning and the routines I’ve adopted: the softness of woolen socks as I slip them on and tiptoe downstairs to make coffee; the familiar drip and gurgle accompanied by the rich aroma of a fresh brew as it falls in the pot; dark winter mornings, eating breakfast in the candlelight; or in the spring, watching the sun put on a splendid color display as it climbs lazily across the horizon.

The stillness, the serenity.

I’m a long way from becoming the person who jumps straight out of bed into running shoes. I doubt I’ll ever be that person. But I will admit: I was wrong about early mornings. They are okay–dare I say–even enjoyable, as long as they contain coffee and solitude.

On (The Importance Of) Housekeeping

A rare photo of my place. Bookshelves not pictured. My grandmother, who was over for Christmas, described it as "strangely neat".
Photo by Petteri Konkola
"A photo of my bed without the covers. I’ve had a conversation with a uni friend regarding the use of bed covers: while I agree that they are mostly useless, they do produce a pleasing aesthetic effect." Photo by Petteri Konkola

“A photo of my bed without the covers. I’ve had a conversation with a uni friend regarding the use of bed covers: while I agree that they are mostly useless, they do produce a pleasing aesthetic effect.”
Photo by Petteri Konkola

Cleanliness is next to godliness is an ancient aphorism I suddenly bumped into whilst minding my own business on the magical world of the Internet. It prompted me to question the very nature of housekeeping, which until recent times has seemed to me a package of chores one simply has to deal with. Still, since my social life has greatly been revitalised by the fabled uni experience, I’ve come to see all sorts of households over these past few years – and the states of those households have varied quite considerably. And I wonder, why do I find myself surprised by this?

I grew up with two brothers, both of whom can be said to have subscribed to an unquestionably messy way of life in their youth. I cannot state with honesty that I was any better – I certainly never had any aspirations to become a godly, or even a cleanly person. As a child, I distinctively remember complaining to my mother about having to perform a weekly cleaning of the room I shared with my dear brother.

The stove. He is a formidable ally in daily life, but requires regular cleaning. Photo by Petteri Konkola

The stove. He is a formidable ally in daily life, but requires regular cleaning.
Photo by Petteri Konkola

Well, the complaining was of no use. Her trump-card for overruling any argument I ever made was expressing the possibility of the President of Finland coming over for a sudden visit. It would be far too embarrassing to present the household in that current state for the head of state, so cleaning was absolutely necessary, she reasoned. To a child this made perfect sense, although, at times, I must’ve questioned the validity of her rhetoric.

Like most every other boy, my brother and I eventually discovered the seemingly flawless strategy of relocating various objects that lay on the floor under our beds. Out of sight, out of mind – right? Alas, our mother, ever-vigilant, always made sure to check beneath the beds, rendering our genius stratagem obsolete. Eventually, we got a large wooden trunk from our father as a gift; with the trunk came a certain household truce. Unneeded belongings swiftly found their way into the trunk – and lo, the floor beneath the beds could be vacuumed once again! The actual purpose of said trunk still remains unknown to me, to this very day – in any case: thanks, dad.

As time goes by, boys become men. However, their habits do not always change. My brothers never grew unaccustomed to their gleeful neglect towards maintaining order. As teenagers, we used to joke about the second law of thermodynamics applying to housekeeping; in view of this, cleaning became redundant. Still, after moving out, I feel as though housekeeping suddenly became a way for me to express myself.

The bucket. Sometimes, he is your best friend. Photo by Petteri Konkola

The bucket. Sometimes, he is your best friend.
Photo by Petteri Konkola

Moving out and starting studies at the university was a game changer in many ways. I no longer had to do things just because someone else told me to or expected them of me; the world was finally my oyster. Well, the flat, anyway: a whole new world of possibilities, contained in just some fifty five square metres.

But like ever-so-often, with the opportunities came the responsibilities – while I was out on a night of heavy drinking with new-found friends, the flat collected dust. As I crawled home, I neglected the dishes, the laundry, and the general disorder. And all of these things had the audacity to remain there when I woke up! Even worse, sometimes they seemed more disorderly than the night before! Yet, I have to admit: this was no conspiracy against me, but the comeuppance I deserved.

And so, just like that, housekeeping became something I had to allot time to – just like any other activity. However, with all the deadlines and stress modern university education provides to a student of English, housekeeping also became a convenient way to take my mind off of things. Somewhat unexpectedly, I gained insight into this during a session of Literature Tutorial. Our wonderful instructor, Nely Keinänen, offhandedly asked the class whether we felt an urge to take care of household chores before taking on any writing process. Whilst the question was seemingly nonchalant, I raised my hand, to my amazement, along with most of the class. This is when the realisation hit me: these people all face, more or less, the same experience I do in housekeeping; yet, few students seem to pay it the respect or attention it is due to.

How can we accomplish this, then? Those of you who have had the (dis)pleasure of ever having me visit your home must surely have noticed that I have a tendency to praise an orderly household or any cool decorative objects housed therein. I, personally, rarely admit any visitors to my flat, but those that have visited have likewise commented on the tidiness – I firmly believe these are not just empty words of politeness, but genuine gestures of good-will; as such, they must warm the hearts of the recipients.

The room of a friend of mine. He is kind enough to let me crash his floor at times, and also granted me permission to take this photo for the article. I wouldn’t have. Photo by Petteri Konkola

The room of a friend of mine. He is kind enough to let me crash his floor at times, and also granted me permission to take this photo for the article. I wouldn’t have.
Photo by Petteri Konkola

My fellow students and human beings, it is imperative that you pay attention to your surroundings and do not feel prohibited by any social code to make such pleasant remarks, embarrassing as they might seem. Men in particular seem to have difficulties in doing so: whenever I visit a male friend for an evening of casual beer-gulping, the state of the household is rarely discussed. Of course, if your fellow student’s flat is in disarray, it might be a difficult task to find something positive to say about it. Also, let us not forget that there are arguments to be made for healthy messiness, too.

To continue on the topic of disarray, I have conversed with a student friend of mine who lives in a flat arranged to him by the great HOAS. I’ve known this particular friend for some year and a half now, and only once (he ardently claims otherwise – I do not believe him) has he cleaned his apartment. I find it truly baffling.

A rare photo of my place. Bookshelves not pictured. My grandmother, who was over for Christmas, described it as "strangely neat". Photo by Petteri Konkola

A rare photo of my place. Bookshelves not pictured. My grandmother, who was over for Christmas, described it as “strangely neat”.
Photo by Petteri Konkola

One time after a night of drinking, with me sleeping over, I engaged him in a conversation about the plight of his place. I questioned whether he felt that his living situation, due to it being a HOAS flat, felt temporary, therefore leading to his neglect of what I deem proper housekeeping. I cannot recall his exact answer – to paraphrase, he must’ve bitten his thumb at me.

Still, I wish he’d clean up the pad, even if the President isn’t coming around any time soon.

The Life And Times Of The Big Wheel

230H

So you’re a pretty well-to-do university with big dreams and a few feathers in your cap to show for it. You’ve had a good run, but frankly speaking you’re getting on a bit. A little shy of 400 years, you start questioning your life choices. Maybe it’s time to freshen things up? You’ve heard good things about this new idea they had in Italy a couple of years back, apparently terribly in vogue right now. You think you’re no worse than the next university, but it’s been a while since you’ve had a good, rousing education reform. So you decide to pursue the higher education equivalent of a mid-life crisis motorcycle, but instead of a Harley you opt for the Big Wheel.

Some details in that origin story may be a tad embellished, but the truth isn’t all that far away. In 2015 the university kickstarted the Big Wheel education reform with the idea of finally adhering to the guidelines agreed upon during the Bologna Process, a continent-spanning project of unified European higher education that has been in the works since 1999’s Bologna declaration. Ministers from 29 countries, Finland included, signed the declaration to ensure easily comparable degrees across Europe, as well as making sure the undergraduate and graduate degrees remain distinct from each other.

In the 16 years since the declaration the goals had been reached to varying levels in different institutions. The University of Tampere took an early lead by starting their own reform in 2010, and the final product has been generally well received, much to the relief of the Big Wheel leadership in our alma mater. No doubt all eyes will soon be on Helsinki as the rest of the universities wait with bated breath to see whether Tampere’s preliminary success was nothing more than a fluke.

What the University of Helsinki soon noticed is that not all reforms are made equal. Some faculties faced little change, and the more medically oriented ones pretty much got to keep their structures intact with only some minor tweaking. Some others had a lot more work ahead of them, including the faculties of Arts and Social Sciences. Each and every one of them, however, dropped the idea of major or minor subjects altogether, and instead espoused the Bologna-approved terminology of discipline-specific or optional studies.

Going into the reform, the Faculty of Arts found itself in a bit of a pickle with the sheer number of different fields represented, clocking in at a whopping 50 main subjects, with the number of students admitted per year ranging from 5 to 78 between different disciplines. Additional hurdles were placed by the unbridgeable difference between such diverse topics as linguistics, cultural studies, history, philosophy and theatre research, to name a few. The different approaches and methodological foci proved a daunting task, but the result we have now seems to induce the least groans in the general populace.

The resulting structure is 6 Bachelor’s degree programmes and 16 Master’s degree programmes, the latter group including 4 English-language programmes to boot. The Bachelor’s programmes are in the fields of Philosophy, History, Art Studies, Cultural Studies, Languages and Literatures of Finland, as well as the future home of English Philology, Languages. Each programme is run by their respective steering groups, which include a director, staff members and two student members. The steering group and the student members have been involved in planning the gritty details of the reform since the beginning and will, after the new programmes are in place, provide oversight and planning for the then-functional programmes.

The developmental process itself has been filled with a sense of rush and uncertainty, and the crushing government cuts have certainly had their part in adding to the chaotic nature of the planning stage. Information flow both vertically and horizontally has been questionable at times, and staff members generally seem to be at the brink of exhaustion over a complicated reform, the work on which has not been considered in their work plans. This coupled with other changes, such as the new student services and the termination of departments as an organisational structure seems to promise a whole lot of relief once the Big Wheel is finally done and operational.

The actual changes brought on by the reform are varying and hard to pin down in a generalizing manner. Certain fields see little change and carry on as if they were still in the old subject system, others find their programme’s joint studies taking over much of their first year. Most courses or modules will grant credits in numbers divisible by five (e.g. common module credit amounts being 15, 20 or 30), and the size of the grad thesis sees a small decrease in credits. Pedagogical studies will be moved exclusively to the Master’s degree phase, and depending on prior circumstances, working life studies may see an increase in emphasis and relevance.

Current students will be able to finish up their studies in the old system until 31 July 2020, but can opt in to the new programmes if they so wish at any time. While the university and staff are obligated to offer courses in the old system until 2020, there is uncertainty on how exactly that can be done with the limited resources at hand. A likely result is a growing dependence on book exams for those in the old system. As the incoming students will mostly only need to be offered basic courses in their first year, there is a good chance that older students more advanced in their studies may see business as usual for a while, but that can hardly be depended upon. Current first year students are certainly recommended to switch to the new system if possible, because their lives will most likely be easier for it.

English philology will be located squarely in the Bachelor’s Programme in Languages, taking in 78 out of the programme’s 250 total yearly students. There it finds company in our old friends from the Department of Languages, as well as new acquaintances in fields as varying as Chinese, modern Greek, Somali, and the recently joined Phonetics and Cognitive Studies. Possible exit routes to a Master’s degree include the programmes of English, Linguistics in a Digital Age, and Translation. The first two of these are available by default to all English students, while other Master’s programmes require separate application or specific study modules taken while in the Bachelor’s programme.

The joint studies in the programme will consist largely of general linguistics and language technology, and will generally be done during the first year. While several courses will be likely to keep their content similar to before, the change to 5 cr courses will introduce some tricky details. A stellar example is that of the literature courses Brit lits I-II and Am lit, which are currently worth a total of 9 cr. In the future, both Brit lits will be combined into one 5 cr course, and Am lit will broaden its scope and be a part of a world lit course, also for 5 credits. In general, a lot of wiggling around will have to be done in order to get each course’s content and work hours to match across board, and current first year students may find themselves in trouble when the second part of their 3 cr course is not offered quite the way they’re used to.

All in all, this massive reform is an exhausting project to get going, but once rolling along it has a chance of offering new options for collaboration and pooling together disciplines and people in a way that promises something fresh. It brings with it some bad, some good, and a whole lot of confusing, but the final tally should be on the side of the positive. If that’s not how it looks, or you conversely think it’s the best thing ever, feel free to contact any applicable student representative and let them know about it. They’ll be happy to help make this reform the one you want to live under. Of course, fast forward twenty years, and the university is probably yet again getting to grips with a sweeping reform with grand goals, but at least most of us will have graduated by then.

From Benin, With Love

Beach at Grand-Popo
Photo by Caitlin Barán

Plenty of students experience internships and living abroad during their studies. Most of them just don’t experience these two simultaneously and in as an exotic and different environment as does Caitlin Barán, who is currently doing her a five-month internship at Villa Karo in Benin, West Africa. Villa Karo is a Finnish-African cultural center and artist residence located in the picturesque little seaside village of Grand-Popo. Barán ended up interning there by applying for traineeship through the CIMO traineeship program last fall. Talking with her, it is evident that her time in Benin has been a profound experience for her.

Marketplace at Comé Photo by Caitlin Barán

Marketplace at Comé
Photo by Caitlin Barán

“The culture here is very different, but it’s not too difficult to adjust to. Obviously, I’m always a bit of an outsider here, but I’ve gotten somewhat used to it. “

For Barán, the biggest cultural difference has been how much people care about others. She feels that the people in Benin are so much more interested in each other, and so much kinder than what she is used to in Finland, where, she admits, it often feels like people simply don’t care about others’ daily concerns such as flus, stressful life situations or funny everyday occurrences.

“Here, it’s just really different. Strangers greet each other on the street and always stop to ask how you are doing or how your day went. Every morning my neighbor asks me if I slept well and every day when I return from work she will ask me how my day went. One day, she was offended, because I had gone out of the house to do something without sharing my plans with her first, and she was worried about me. It’s just a whole another level of caring and it has also changed me as a person.”

When it comes down to it, however, Barán says that people are interested in the same things in everyday life as at back home, even though so many things in Benin are different. Beninese people want to read, eat a good meal, follow a football cup on TV, travel, attend concerts, and get time off work to go visit their families, just like in Finland.

“They just often have another kind of attitude towards life, and while there are so many people who have practically nothing, it seems to me that they are so much happier here than us in Finland who have everything, and still want more and more all the time.”

Baràn’s work days at Villa Karo vary quite a lot, sometimes involving staying in the library for the entire day, organizing books and talking to people – mainly children from the village, who come by to look at the books – while sometimes doing tours around the cultural center and its museums for all of the tourists that come to visit the place. She does other things too, and says it really depends so much on so many different factors.

“My most important task, however, is translating and interpreting back and forth from French to Finnish, and sometimes also English.”

French is an official language in Benin, and the locals in Grand-Popo speak it, though it is not their first language as they also speak the local language of Mina.

“The French is slightly different at times, as there are some words and idioms that I am not used to, having learnt my French in France. At first I was really confused when returning from work people would ask me: “Tu as fait un peu?”, meaning: “Have you done a bit?”. I was like, “a bit of what?”, until I finally googled it and found out that it’s just a way of saying “were you at work?”. It’s just a direct translation into French from an idiom in the local language.”

Barán spends her free time mostly with her friends, either driving out to nearby villages or cities to explore, or just hanging out in Grand-Popo.

“Last weekend we drove out to a village called Comé and had lunch in a little restaurant. Then we drove to a city called Possotomé to go swimming. It was a really hot day, so it was just wonderful to float in the pool and have a cold drink afterwards!”

Barán also does her laundry by hand and finds that it is such a pleasure to help the kids in her house by doing all the laundry with them on Sunday mornings. She is surprised at how well and quickly she was accepted into the community. In her house next door to her apartment there lives two sisters, the 2- and 5-year-old children of the younger one of them, and the teenage daughters of two of their other sisters. In addition, there is also her landlord who normally lives in the city of Cotonou, but stays with them during the weekends. Along with the people, inhabitants of the house also include three cats, the youngest one of which, Pekka, is only 2,5 months old.

Barán in front of her neighbor's restaurant La Légende Photo: Caitlin Barán

Barán in front of her neighbor’s restaurant La Légende
Photo: Caitlin Barán

“I’m so happy with my little community here, our house is simply the best place to live and my neighbors are the funniest and kindest people ever. And they just took me in, like that! They have a little boutique and a restaurant, and we always have so much fun there, listening to music and talking about stuff.”

She shares a little anecdote about the local people and their love of Lipton tea, which demonstrates the relaxed Beninese way of life.

“People drink a lot of Lipton tea here, and you can buy it pretty much anywhere. I went to buy some from a little store, because I wanted to drink it at work. The lady at the shop gave me a tiny box of Lipton teabags that had been opened and over half of them were missing. I am obviously getting used to the Grand-Popo way of life, because instead of complaining and wanting an unopened box, I just asked if I could get the opened box for half the price. I got my tea and everyone was happy!”

Despite enjoying her time in Benin, Barán misses her family and her cats back at home in Finland. In addition, she confesses to missing some of the normal, everyday things, such as going to a grocery store to buy things to eat and cooking them at home.

“Here there are no grocery stores like in Finland, and cooking is a lot of work and takes a lot of time.”

She also misses certain foods. In Benin, she tells, her diet consists of mainly bread, rice, couscous, spaghetti, canned food and the occasional fruit, because fresh vegetables, for example, are harder to come by. Additionally, she misses doing a lot of sports easily, as in Finland she is accustomed to doing something everyday, for example going to the gym, going jogging, or attending a dance class.

“Here the easiest option is waking up practically in the middle of the night when it’s not too hot to go jogging, and it’s sometimes a bit tiring.”

When Barán returns home, she says she will miss above all the great friends she has made in Benin, as well as the way people interact with each other, greeting, smiling, and shaking each others’ hands. According to her, people are also a lot more outspoken in Benin, and will not hesitate to tell others how they feel. She says she will miss the children as well, and how they are not told to be quiet in situations where they could just as well enjoy themselves and be kids.

“I love children! Here, they are around wherever you go, and if a child cries, people will not scowl and sigh in annoyance, but instead they will help and try to comfort the child.”

Benin has changed Barán. She has learnt to be more patient, as sometimes the Internet connection, for example, will be down for a week. Calling the repair man is an option, but he will possibly come that day, or the next week, or maybe not at all. Sometimes there will be no electricity for three days, and it just has to be dealt with. She also cites being forced to relax as another important lesson Benin has taught.

“In Finland for years and years I have been working constantly, often two jobs at a time, while simultaneously completing as many study credits as possible. I always need to be doing something. Here, sometimes there is simply nothing to do, and it has been a valuable lesson to learn. I have been forced to sit down, grab a good book, and relax, relax, relax.”

Beach at Grand-Popo Photo by Caitlin Barán

Beach at Grand-Popo
Photo by Caitlin Barán

The Horror of New Beginnings: Confessions of an Introvert

Night sky

Imagine the horror of beginning when at the start-up market of new life situations there is never a role in your size available.

You are not the funny or the sporty one. Your forte is definitely not small talk. You don’t have a fabulous fashion sense that would instantly make you friends. Clubs and activities your new school offers don’t interest you. You aren’t nerdy enough to be the one everybody comes to in order to hear the correct answers to homework assignments. You are – well, who exactly are you?

You are the introvert. How unfortunate for you, I must say, as it means that your every-day life is inevitably more complicated than that of those who have received the gift of extraversion in birth. You are strangely aware of yourself as well as of everybody else around you almost every minute of your days. You noticed that cold glance some blonde girl – who is approximately 4,567 times more beautiful than you, by the way – threw over to your general direction just now. You feel the current angle of your eyebrows’ arch and question whether it might look a bit too confused, too happy or maybe too uninterested to people around you. You get a headache from being ashamed of that little mystery stain on your left shoe – where did that come from anyway? You realize as if it was being shouted at you that your tone had an accidental slight hostility to it when you said hello to some new acquaintance. You try your best at small talk but your stomach is quietly burning when you hear yourself go on about the price of your asthma medication… And when you

finally

get

home—

familiar fists hit hard, repeatedly, until you are convinced all over again that you should have listened to those words you scribbled in your black, black notebook in the summer of 2007. I mean, who else would know what you deserve than you.

You, at the moment of beginning something new, you know how to straighten your spine smiling, lick your lips moving and curl your hair shining Gossip Girl and Friends up to a kilometre. You are a great actor, actually, that is whilst you are able to come back home every evening, close your door and curtains and breathe for the first time in a day. After a couple of weeks, however, you start lacking energy and so you close your door for the whole weekend. Then maybe for three days. Your flatmates don’t come knocking at the door the whole time as they are used to you spending hermit days.

The worst part is that your pain is not visible. Anyone can see that you’re quite shy even though you can make convincing efforts from time to time. Actually, it isn’t always shyness that is the problem, it is your introverted personality. But, hell, you just spent a year abroad alone, giving presentations and leading group activities in a foreign language in front of thousands of foreign faces. Nothing should be wrong with you then. You are very well able to do wonderful things in your life and you are even keen on trying to develop yourself and thus make your life in this society easier.

These efforts bear fruit for some time. Then comes the occasional afternoon when you stop in the middle of a poem and realize once again that this is never going to be over. You will have to make efforts for the rest of your life and you will ever be able to reach the flow of normal living only once in a while. Even if you did so well at the beginning of this school year, you, who began university in a new city all by yourself and who wasn’t even nervous when you sat down in a classroom for the first time. Your face didn’t smell of fear, you did not have migraine that morning and you spoke to a hundred humans. You did such a good job. You didn’t have to eat alone in the canteen. Victory. Then you smoothly found your way from the library to a new building and a classroom full of expecting eyes – you kept on sipping your coffee and smiled to yourself as you were completely calm. Victory.

What happened next? It is a blur, you can’t get a grip of it, because at some point people became friends and were tagged on Instagram but you… Well, you had found a new, even better wine than that last Syrah you so very much enjoyed. You did still find friendly faces to talk to during lectures, so all was fine…? Then came the freshmen events, however, and you shivered a little when you read on the internet that you had to form groups beforehand in order to participate. After all, you ended up talking with a girl who had added you on Facebook and you joined their group. Victory.

A little later, you were smiling at your books – this is what you like to do, isn’t it! But then, you felt this emptiness in your lungs. You took one, two doses of Ventoline. You poured yourself a little glass of red. You lighted a vanilla-scented candle and tried to remember what makes you relax. You wrote a few lines, oh how great you felt, and you were again with your very own self.

The next day, you were having coffee with some faces you could just match with names and their favourite foods. You kept trying to come up with a reasonable excuse to leave early. It had only been 17 minutes. Why did those people go on about some films you have never seen, celebrities you don’t recognize, events you’re not interested in, cats instead of dogs? Why were you actually doing this ‘hanging out’, even though you felt like a whale in a non-maritime beauty contest? You felt forced as you always do, your life is only 15 percent of what you actually want to do. You cannot see the point of all this suppressing socializing. You are constantly in a role you don’t know the lines for and are not able to relate to. Why were you still in this coffee shop where you couldn’t even breathe?

To wrap up this story of your most recent new beginning: I tip my hat to you, fellow introvert, for now, after some two months of university, I believe you have solved your identity crisis. You have found your little place in the oh-so-chatty community. You have also accepted that you cannot always remain in your holy hermit home and that if you just keep on making efforts, it will all become a little easier after a while. So, congratulations, you have made some progress and you are wholly capable of enjoying this new chapter in your life as greatly as anyone else – even those who have got outgoing nature in their DNA. In spite of your occasional development, those moments, days, years of feeling different, insufficient and lost in the middle of pointless chit-chat – I will have to be frank with you, they will probably never cease to exist.

Night skyYour daily challenge is not a deadly disease but it is a personality type that is underrepresented and not nearly enough appreciated in today’s society and media. You can only hope there is a change coming. Maybe one day it will be totally okay to stay in on a Saturday night to read Pride and Prejudice for the fourth time. Maybe one day you will not have to feel guilty for wanting to escape parties after the first 15 minutes. Maybe one day you will be able to forget about excuses. Maybe one day you can tell your friends, without feeling weird, that you are actually going to stay home to write instead of going out with them. Maybe one day you can accept your way of living as an option that you have chosen because it suits you the best, not as a burden that has chosen you as its victim. Maybe one day it will be enough just to be you.

Until then, have a Happy Halloween.

Meet the Freshmen

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Fall at the university is wonderful. The beginning of new courses, trees on the Metsätalo courtyard shimmering with coppery colors, and most of all, excited freshmen running around and wreaking havoc. But who are these newcomers and what are they up to? BTSB interviewed four of them.

 

Illustration by Kaisa Leino (c)

Illustration by Kaisa Leino (c)

Axel Meyer, 18, comes from Helsinki and has enjoyed his time at the university so far.

What made you choose to study English at the University of Helsinki?
Though I might have less of a humanist background than most people here, I’ve always had it as an option for building a possible teacher’s career. It became a reality when I found out I wasn’t accepted to the Class Teacher Program at the University of Helsinki, which was my first choice. I wouldn’t want to try getting there again now that I’m here, of course!

Did you take some time off school before starting at the university or did you come directly from high school?
I wanted to keep my study routine firm so I took no time off in between. Now I’ve just got to figure out when to slot in military service and all that stuff.

How have you liked being here thus far?
I’ve enjoyed my time here for sure. I’d say this is the right place for me with interesting lectures, fun leisure activities, and nice studying friends. The tutors have been great, too.

Have you had a chance to check out any parties or SUB events?
I’ve attended all but one or two of them so far, I think. They’ve been lots of fun!

Which minor subjects are interesting to you?
I was actually thinking about Philosophy at first, but I’ll probably end up taking Swedish in some form. It’s my mother tongue, after all, plus it’s a good combination for someone interested in becoming a teacher.

Which area of English philology do you find interesting now?
I’m a big fan of Ernest Hemingway and William Shakespeare, so naturally the literature courses appeal to me. However, I can’t put my finger on anything that wouldn’t have been at least a bit interesting to this point.

What do you plan to do in the future?
Well, I do plan to become a teacher someday as I think it would be a suitable job for me. If that doesn’t turn out too good, I guess I’ll just use my English degree to create memes or whatever. I hope to permanently move to Canada one day too. That would be pretty cool, eh?

Any greetings you’d like to send older students and other freshmen?
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”

 

Illustration by Kaisa Leino (c)

Illustration by Kaisa Leino (c)

Mira Pohjanrinne, 19, comes from Karigasniemi.

 

Where are you originally from?
From this little village called Karigasniemi, but I usually just say that I’m from Utsjoki since I went to upper secondary school there and, well, it’s basically the same: cold and far, far away.

Are you living in Helsinki now? How has it been to live in Helsinki (if you haven’t done so before)
I am. It’s been fun! I was already really familiar with Helsinki when I moved here, since many of my friends live here and I’ve visited the city a lot. What surprised me the most was actually that that a place that is as different from Utsjoki as possible can feel like a home so soon.

How about studies?
It’s been interesting. It’s fun to use English every day, and the teachers are really nice. So far there hasn’t really been anything that wasn’t in the entrance exam books, but I’m sure it’ll get harder soon enough. All the fellow freshmen seem nice too!

What made you choose to study English at the University of Helsinki?
Well, like I said, I was already very familiar with Helsinki. It’s also really easy to visit Utsjoki from here, because I can fly straight to Ivalo or Rovaniemi. I also wanted to live somewhere where students have something to do, and Helsinki has really active student organizations among other things. And yeah, I kind of like really wanted to get as far away from Utsjoki as possible.

Have you had a chance to check out any parties or SUB events?
Well I’ve been to a few of PPO’s parties and SUB’s orientation week and Fuksiaiset.

Which minor subjects are interesting to you?
I’m going to become the coolest teacher ever, so pedagogical studies and maybe Swedish? I kind of want to study Asian studies as well, especially Japanese.

Which area of English philology do you find interesting now?
You’re asking this way too soon.

Any greetings you’d like to send older students and other freshmen?
Thanks to our lovely tutors who made sure we knew what to do and where to go! And thanks to everyone who made Fuksiaiset happen! And for the freshmen: I’d really like to get to know as many of you as possible.

 

Illustration by Kaisa Leino (c)

Illustration by Kaisa Leino (c)

Venla Siikaniemi, 19, is half Finnish, half German student from Helsinki.

 

How have your studies have been so far?
I have really been enjoying them so far. Although the lecture format is new to me, I’ve quickly gotten used to it and learned to stay focused for the whole 1,5 hours. The homework assignments aren’t that difficult either, but they tend to be time consuming.

What made you choose to study English at the University of Helsinki?
I’ve always been interested in languages, because I am bilingual myself. English happens to be the language we get to hear the most. It is presented to us through movies, music, tv-series and social media. I fell in love with the language many years ago, and the technical side of language studying – meaning phonetics etc. – has also started intriguing me lately.

Did you take some time off school before starting at the university or did you come directly from high school?
I came directly from the German high school of Helsinki. Although I did do a mini “gap year” during June, as I went on an epic Interrail adventure with my best friend.

How have you liked being here thus far?
I couldn’t be happier about my choice to come here. I’m so glad I get to study the language I love in the city that I love and with people that I’m beginning to love too.

Have you had a chance to check out any parties or SUB events?
Yes, many actually. We were partying through the whole orientation week of course, but also after that I’ve attended things like “fuksiaiset”, “sub goes hiking” and other fun events.

Which area of English philology do you find interesting now?
The spoken English lecture and small groups are my favorites at the moment.

Are you interested in doctoral studies?
I’m not sure yet. We’ll have to see about that.

What do you plan to do in the future?
I want to become a multilingual teacher in a Finnish or German high school.

Any greetings you’d like to send older students and other freshmen?
It has been great to get to know new people here and I hope we will all continue to be social and open towards new students and generally all the people we come across during our lives, let’s make a positive difference at least in our own environments.

 

Illustration by Kaisa Leino (c)

Illustration by Kaisa Leino (c)

Samuel Onatsu, almost 19, from Kerava.

 

Are you living in Helsinki now? How has it been to live in Helsinki (if you haven’t done so before)?
Yes, I actually just moved in last Friday and it’s been quite crazy. I have an amazing view of the city and the sea, I love it. Helsinki is not unfamiliar to me, but it’s been quite strange living by myself. There’s no one to talk to! And all the work work work work work.

What made you choose to study English at the University of Helsinki?
English has always been my strong suit if not my strongest suit. I love the language and I needed some place to belong. What pulled me in was the study of literature, drama and poetry.

Was the entrance exam hard?
I wouldn’t say so. If you studied hard, which I did, it was quite easy. There were some challenging parts, but that was mostly on the translation side, which I did not have enough time to spend on.

How have you liked being here thus far?
The student life is an exciting new chapter, maybe just the fresh start that I needed. There’s so much to learn, many new people to meet and too much going on at the same time. It’s a lot to deal with, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

Have you had a chance to check out any parties or SUB events?
As much as I’ve been able to. Love it. More parties, please!

Which minor subjects are interesting to you?
I’ve been thinking about TV and Film studies, maybe theatre studies, because what I really want to do is acting and film-making. Oh, maybe even some kind of literature. That would be amazing.

What do you plan to do in the future?
Hard to say, but as much as I can. More theatre, more writing, more arts in general. I aspire to be an actor one day, that’s my plan.

Any greetings you’d like to send older students and other freshmen?
Be spontaneous, be courageous. I think university is the best place to embrace who you truly are. Here you will find your people inevitably.