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!

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.

Inaugural Interviews: BTSB Talks with SUB President Niko Haussila

Peace and order?

BTSB interviewed Niko Haussila, the newly-elected SUB presidents, on his election, that other election, the direction SUB will take under his rule, and more!

Niko, congratulations on your recent election as President of SUB! What are the feels right now at the start of your presidential 2017?

It still doesn’t feel entirely real yet, since the new board hasn’t gotten properly started yet and we’re still waiting on our first meeting. I feel like I have a decent idea of what I’m expected to do as president, but it’s impossible to know what the next year is really going to be like, so it’s all a big unknown.

Now, you had quite the journey to become elected from among three candidates, one of them the incumbent president. How would you describe the race? Why do you think you managed the feat?

It was a pretty tense race because for the first time that I’ve seen, the candidates were announced in advance instead of declaring at the election meeting. Knowing what you’re up against relieves a bit of the uncertainty, but it definitely also introduced a different kind of nervousness for the run-up. The election process at the meeting was also a lot more structured, with individual interviews of the candidates using previously prepared questions. I don’t always do very well in those situations, so I was pretty worried about that going in.

You could tell that right up until the results were announced, nobody really had any idea how it was going to go, so there was a lot of excitement in the air at the meeting. I did my best to prepare some convincing arguments in advance, and I feel that really helped me to build a case in the interview, relying mostly on my wide experience as a three-year board member and the financial knowhow I’ve gained from my previous work as treasurer.

We have no shame.

One might think that ousting the sitting president signals a measure of discontent in the voters or possibly a divided governing body from the previous term. How would you comment?

I absolutely disagree. Even going into the election, I felt like he might easily win on the strength of his popularity, because everyone agrees he did a fantastic job last year, but at the same time I thought his status as the sitting president might actually be a big handicap for him. There’s been a pretty strong tradition of one-term presidencies at SUB, and that definitely worked in my favor at the election meeting. I can’t comment on where the votes went, but in terms of morale there was never any kind of split in last year’s board, the team spirit has been amazing and I feel like that really showed in our level of activity last year.

Moving on from this election to digress into another, I understand that you have a US-FIN dual-citizenship and would very much like to hear your views on Trump’s looming inauguration.

Well, I don’t want to sound too alarmist, but I feel like now would be an excellent time to start living like every day could be your last. Seriously though, while I do feel like ever since Election Day there’s been barely any breaks in the bad news from across the water, I’m hopeful that we’ll only need to deal with four years of this nonsense, and maybe the long-term damage won’t be quite as devastating as we now fear. That said, I don’t think anyone has a very strong sense of where all of this is going, least of all the man himself. We’ll just have to wait and see.

What kind of an experience was following the US election for you?

Nerve-racking. Unfortunately, and against my better judgment, I can’t help but follow US elections very closely, and this last one was not easy on the spirit. I never really thought Trump would win, but the constant flow of bad news for Hillary was still discouraging to watch. The Wikileaks thing was awful, but following the whole Trump sexual harrassment scandal, I felt like Hillary pretty much had it in the bag.

Then Comey happened, and suddenly everything changed, and for the first time all year I started feeling like there was a real danger Trump might win. I still believed Hillary would probably beat him, and it was a close-run thing, but there you go. I think she basically lost the election over a vague FBI announcement that was missing all the essential information and eventually proved to be nothing at all. Just incredible.

On a lighter note, my sources indicate that you are quite the whiz in kitchen. Could you tell our readers a bit more about this side of yours?

I don’t want to make too much of it, Master Chef I ain’t, but I do like to cook. I enjoy good food a great deal, and I feel like being able to make it at home is one cornerstone of a happy life. I like cooking lots of different types of food and trying out new recipes, anything from Italian to Chinese. Lately I’ve also been getting increasingly into making cocktails.

And what other things are you passionate about on your free time?

I’m very big on movies, and also keeping up with the best new TV series, which are in a kind of golden age lately. I also enjoy both computer and board games, and naturally books.

Let’s talk more about SUB and student life. First of all, what are your plans in general for the SUB-urban community?

I don’t really have any grand, radical vision for SUB, I think the past few years have been great for us and I’d very much like to keep that going. Mostly I’m thinking of focusing on making small procedural improvements here and there and introducing new ideas where they’re called for. It’s difficult to be more specific at this point, we’ll just have to see what the new year brings.

As we know, the university is still going through massive changes in administration, degree structures, and more. How is SUB planning to support its members through these changes? What concrete means do you see organizations having in making things easier for their members, old and new?

Our studies coordinators have and will be working hard to keep abreast of the changes that will affect our members, and guide our fellow English students through whatever transition process emerges. That said, there’s only so much we can do as a student organization. Some of our members are working with the staff to try to guide things in the right direction, but for the most part all we can do is wait for edicts on high and then try to figure out a response.

SUB has been fairly successful in promoting activities other than parties in the past few years with increased focus on, for example, sports, study groups, and working life orientation. What are the next steps on this front?

Just to keep it rolling first and foremost, and if we can do that, then build on the progress we’ve made. All of our various sectors have been doing a great job lately, and I absolutely want to keep that momentum and encourage each new board member to show initiative and use their creativity in the new year. Express yourselves!

As has been customary since times of yore, we went and photoshopped your likeness onto a blockbuster movie poster. Now, if you’re being completely honest, wouldn’t the Empire do a great job at providing peace and order for our SUB-galaxy? Or are you just one of those pesky rebels, a rogue one?

Don’t take this as a reflection of my politics, but I must admit that I’ve always had a bit of an affinity for the Empire. What can I say? They have cooler outfits and music, and it doesn’t get much cooler than Darth Vader.

Thank you so much Niko for these comments. We wish you a prosperous reign of no terror or tyranny whatsoever!

No promises.

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.

Inaugural Interviews: Sampsa Granström, SUB President

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Since times immemorial, BTSB has interviewed presidents of SUB and photoshopped their faces onto movie posters. This is that story.

Sampsa, congratulations on your election to the high halls of SUB! How would you describe your first months in this hallowed post?sampsa

There’s a saying that’s purported to be an old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” The times are definitely interesting in many ways and quite a few challenges have already risen, but we’re on top of things and I honestly don’t think there’s anything we couldn’t handle with the people we have on the board. But “busy” is a pretty damn accurate summation if you need just one word.

You started university at a somewhat more mature age than most. Do you think that affects your style of studying or the way you do stuff in SUB?

Such a nice way of saying I’m as old as the hills. I don’t think it has too much of an effect. I recognize that my studying skills aren’t quite as good as many others’ as I did have quite a long break from studying actively. As for the way I do stuff in SUB? I’d say I’m maybe a little more patient than some would be, and I have a tendency to think a little bigger than people around me, but I’m not sure if that’s age or just my personality and this stupid blind belief that if we do things together we can achieve pretty much anything.

I understand you’ve kept busy with a lot of things, producing the 2016 Humanistispeksi, for instance. Projects like that obviously take some time and commitment. How are you planning to devote enough time for the SUB presidency?

I’d say the 2016 Humanistispeksi was pretty much the greatest thing I’ve achieved so far in my life and saying it took “some time and commitment” is such an understatement. It took over almost everything for a while and left a bit of a hangover now that it’s over.  At the moment I’m definitely putting SUB way up my priority list.

Are you cutting down on your extra-curriculars now that the speksi run is over?

I do feel that my positions in the university collegium and the institute council of the Department of Modern Languages (phew that’s a mouthful) only give me more insight into what we at SUB should and could do as an organization when it comes to the big picture. Also, while my style is very hands on, I trust my board members to be able to handle things without me constantly butting in (but I probably will a bit anyway, sorry guys).

Last year, I put then-president Caitlin on the spot on SUB’s stance toward political decisions affecting students. Since then, the decisions have gotten even worse. How do you see SUB’s role in particular and subject organizations’ role in general in fighting the kinds of unprecedented cuts that higher education is facing on several fronts? Do you think it’s in flux?

While SUB is not a political organization as such and we are a very diverse group of people, I do think that we can all agree that the cuts we are facing are ridiculously severe and will affect all our lives in a negative way and I do think that we need to take a more vocal stance on these issues. It does seem like everything is in flux. Right now we are facing huge changes in the university’s organization, in the faculty system, even in our degree structure, and the cuts we are facing aren’t helping in any of this.

What do you think could be done?

Of course things might change when the government changes, but things lost aren’t easily recovered so we have to be more active. As students our means are limited, but at the very least we can attend rallies in numbers and make noise. I have to admit that I’ve never been very politically active so I’m not sure of the different ways that we could make our voices heard, but I am finding out, and I hope that the government hears our roar.

I’d like to hear a little more on the topic, since I do think that times like these would call for even drastic measures from student organizations. How are you planning to advance concrete resistance against decisions that directly affect your members, current and future?

As I already said I’m not sure of the measures that we could take, but I will look into things. A good old fashioned letter campaign might be nice, because being buried under a mountain of paper grabs your attention more than an email or a petition no matter how many names it has. I do somewhat fear that too drastic measures might alienate some of our members and have an adverse effect on our organization so open and transparent communication with the whole organization would be the key to forming any resistance. As we are only 541 strong, co-operating with other student organizations would also seem to be the way to go to reach a critical mass.

Any comments you’d like to convey to the government on the latest plans to wreck the Finnish student allowance system?

Most things that come to mind are probably best left in my mind. Just short-sighted, stupid, and silly. The whole government somehow reminds me of the upper class twit of the year sketch by Monty Python:

Moving on to less political issues, what’s the direction you see yourself taking SUB during your term? I’ve gathered that at least you have a very dedicated and versatile group in the board, what do you guys have in mind?

We’re going to keep the momentum that my predecessor put in motion and diversify our activities even more. We’re also doing a lot co-operation with other organizations and putting more energy towards promoting our members interests. I’m also personally interested in bringing the faculty and the students closer to each other as I think that especially with everything going on it would help all of us to communicate more freely about how we are dealing with all the changes.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for SUB in the near future?

Biggest challenges will probably come from all the changes that are in motion at the university, but it’s hard to pinpoint what it will be. I do know that we are going to be able to handle it because of the people I have with me on the board and as members of SUB.

How about greatest opportunity or strength?

This actually comes from the same source as the challenges. All the changes that are shifting and swirling around us are still malleable. If we remain vigilant and grab the opportunities from this turmoil, I believe we can actually make something good out of all this negative around us.

Now, we here at BTSB indeed went ahead and ‘shopped your face onto a poster of Leo DiCaprio’s Oscar-buster film The Revenant. What are the lessons we should take home from Leo’s crawl into a dead horse if we think of the student life context?

First thing that comes to mind is that you can learn a lot from Empire Strikes Back. Second is that no matter how dark and dreary things might seem it is possible to survive, and when we do, we need to find ways to make sure that no other student has to crawl into a carcass, because it’s damn disgusting, or at least not crawl in there alone.

Would you characterize yourself more as raw liver-eater or trout-biter?

Tough one, I love sushi, but I did eat raw liver sometimes as a kid. Hmmm. Probably trout-biter, but I’d spend an inordinate amount of time on ripping it open so I could avoid the skin.

Finally, if you’d give a single piece of advice to our readers about anything related to life at the university, what would it be?

Don’t forget the people, that’s where the knowledge you came to learn here comes from and that’s where it grows. I think that’s a thing some people tend to forget here while they just focus on passing the exams.

Thank you very much for you time, Sampsa! We wish you a glorious reign at the helm of the S-U-Boat!

Humanistispeksi 2016 Review: Seeing the Forest for the Trees

The Logo ©Juho Kajava

Some faculty speksis, or academic improv-musicals, enjoy cult statuses and their productions have no problems getting audience or commercial visibility. Humanistispeksi, or the annual Faculty of Art’s speksi, is however only a newbie in this field. This is the sixth Humanistispeksi in history and BTSB would not miss it for the world especially as over a dozen SUBbers and BTSB people were involved in the production.

One thing Humanistispeksi – Metsä (Forest) cannot be praised enough for is the social media visibility before the show. From the beginning, it had a sense of professionalism that, along with its historical location at Kansallisteatteri, set expectations extremely high for the show.

The high expectations also pose a problem for reviewing the show: Speksis are in their very essence amateur theatre, but it would be intelligently dishonest to critique a production of this scale, with 130 people participating in the production, as an amateur production. Comparing it to professional theatre would be unfair as well, but simply taking it as yet another high-school musical does not seem right either. But balancing acts aside, from the furry-approved animal costumes to the hair and make-up work, this year’s speksi felt very professional.

The Logo ©Juho Kajava

The Logo ©Juho Kajava

Humanistispeksi, despite suffering some technical kinks in the beginning, managed to make the audience forget they were watching a non-pro production and made some real theatre magic happen. I felt the audience actually started to care about the main characters’ fates and lives, which can be quite rare for any piece of theatre.

The song selection was mostly good and some of the songs, such as the Queen, Dream Theater, and Apulanta covers, were magnificent. Also, the casting was spot on this year, and some actors deserve special acclaim, such as Hannu Hästbacka as the Seagull, Sonja Palmu as the Owl and Henrikki Pöntinen as Elias. However the star of the show is without a doubt Helena Lahtinen who plays Näkki. Her deep, Adele-like singing voice and her proud yet tender facade won the audience over right from the start.

What sets “our” speksi apart from other faculties’ speksis is the spontaneous, not rehearsed Omstart! -calls and I think all students in the humanities should be very proud of this. The improv skills of actors have amazed me from the very first Humanistispeksi on. Wednesday’s performance had some golden improv moments, but suffered from the flip side of the non-rehearsed omstarts: crappy hecklers. I mean, come on. The fact that you have the permission to yell in the middle of a theatre performance doesn’t mean you should do it all the frigging time. The idea of an “omstart” is to make people laugh and make the piece funnier, not to delay its story to the point where it’s only making you laugh. But the actors pulled through with grace and like I said, some of the omstarts were excellent, such as the role changes between two characters, the more sensual striking-in-the-head with a rifle butt, and, of course, the second rounds of the songs.

The main problem in this Humanistispeksi can be spotted already in the subheading (Free translation: “Help your enemy. Accept your fears. Break your world.”) – It is too long and too complex. There are wonderful elements, but the production suffers from the classic syndrome of not killing your darlings. Each of the wonderful animal characters deserve their own short animation movies, but giving every single character (over 20) their own spot in the show was simply too much. The play lasted over three hours and was thus painstakingly long. Add to that the extra applause rolls in the end that clearly belong to the final night, not the second, and you had exhausted audience members who started to really just want to get out and go home.

The transitions from one scene to the next needed work as well. I think that if this wasn’t a speksi, the slow and often quiet endings of scenes would have worked better, but now they felt stiff.

For the most part, Metsä followed the old fashioned tracks of classic American musicals. I was then surprised that several songs that came back to back were tremendously similar to each other, such as “Valon voitto” and “Metsäämme jää”. It was a shame that some of the more impressive songs, such as “Ikihonka” felt buried under other songs. The same happened with the dance numbers, there were simply too many and the ones that were great had the danger of being buried alive by the numbers. Also. What is up with those dancer costumes? Come on. They would have deserved something more designed and special.

Despite some of the negative aspects mentioned here, Metsä was an ensemble the audience enjoyed tremendously. Some final touches and more importantly the painful process of deleting scenes and songs would have improved it, but the joy that you could read from the student actors’ faces made up for it. The love for theatre was tangible in Humanistispeksi.

I also want to applaud the brave, Tom of Finland-styled, love story. Although my old, mean Master of Arts companion did point out that an allegoric reading of the play suggests that homosexuality cannot exist in the realm of reality, within family and home, but has to exist in a fairy tale world. However, it can also be stated that the play suggests that homosexuality is a natural fact and its “spirit” is accepted to the company of age-old animal spirits, to the realm of holiness and purity. Elias+Aleksi Fanfic on demand.

Photo of the Cast. ©Susan Heikkinen

Photo of the Cast. ©Susan Heikkinen

Live from the BTSB Checkpoint: Fashion!

Team America Presents "The Queen of England"

On September 8th, 2015, BTSB had the honor to host a checkpoint during SUB’s fuksiaiset event. From a hat, each team had to randomly draw a costume theme that they then had about 7 minutes to build from scratch using just newspapers, tape, and rubber bands. BTSB’s representatives at the checkpoint, Jesper Simola and Eveliina Kammonen, were blown away by the sheer brilliance of each of these costumes. We honestly could not have been more proud of the amazing costumes designed by the freshmen, and now we get to share them all with you.

Team America Presents "The Queen of England"

All Hail “The Queen of England!” Representing Team America…

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Feelin’ Lucky, Punk? – Team Canada’s Police Officer

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It’s a-me! Mario! From-a Team England!

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“I’M BATMAN!” – Team Ireland

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Vatch Out! – Team Wales/Transylvania

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PIKA PIKA! Team Scotland’s Pikachu

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Under the sea! Under the sea! Ariel from Team Australia

Last, but not least, one of our featured checkpoint “dinosaurs,” shows us that us golden oldies have still got it!

Former President Anna Kamula Looking Fabulous as Always

Former President Anna Kamula Looking Fabulous as Always

Special thanks to dinosaurs Anna Kamula, Salla Nuutinen, and Kerttu Kaikkonen, for helping BTSB out at the checkpoint. And a well-deserved kudos to each and every freshmen we saw!