The Final Frontier’s Fishy Festival

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

For many, Alaska is synonymous with rough conditions and impenetrable nature, and when thinking about Alaska, our mind wanders to the guy from Into the Wild falling into a gushing river and Don Rosa’s Scrooge McDuck staring at the white topped Yukon Mountains during the Klondike Gold Rush. People who travel to Alaska are often thought to be crazy athletes, and/or passionate fly fishers. It comes as a surprise for many that during the summer time, the Kenai Peninsula is pretty easily accessible from Finland and it offers one-of-a-kind cultural experiences, full of that Alaskan craziness and humor that is exclusive to this great state.

One unique Alaskan happening is definitely Salmonfest, an annual festival dedicated to protecting the wild sockeye salmon. Describing the festival’s atmosphere is difficult with just adjectives – a tiny narrative from when I visited the festival works better.

Picture this, it’s a warm Saturday – well, Alaskan warm, so not too hot. On a low stage painted with huge pictures of red and green salmons, there’s an artist with shoulder length locks, steel guitar, and a melancholy yet hopeful rock sound. There are women with Janis Joplin hair hula hooping in front of the stage accompanied by dancing kids whose hair is colored with spray-on blue and purple.

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

Between concerts – Salmonfest, 2014

The festival area is full of both exotic food trucks, with spreads that would make Flow festival jealous, and little booths of local people making you cheese toasts and lemonade. From the merch booths, you can find the raddest tie-dyed t-shirts, but also a lot of crafts made by the local artists. The area is full of young people in groups, families, and old couples who’re enjoying the music on folding chairs. In between American and Alaskan artists, there’re talks about the importance of protecting the wild salmon.

Salmonfest, in addition to being a fun event for everybody, is one of the most upfront adversary parties of the famous Pebble mine discussion. Most cars, coffee houses, restaurants, hotels, and shops I saw during my trips to Alaska had a red and white sticker opposing the Pebble mine. Salmonfest takes it a step further with their t-shirts, beer koozies, and tents that offer information about the mine and its ecological effects.

If you do decide to take on the Kenai Peninsula and Salmonfest, it’s easiest to fly to Anchorage, rent a car from the airport, and drive to Ninilchik. The drive takes approximately four hours, but since the roads are tiny and there’s plenty to see, and places to sleep during the drive, you might want to take your time. Salmonfest is an annual event, so if your travel plans and budget is set for this summer, it’ll be there next year as well. From Salmonfest, you can continue your road trip to gorgeous Homer, the cultural hometown of Kenai full of restaurants and galleries. Another great Kenai road trip destination after Salmonfest is the town of Seward. Seward is home to Alaska SeaLife Center, a combination of research facility and aquarium, and the port of call for many day cruise ships that can take you killer whale and glacier watching.

While traveling from Europe to the US has become pretty common vacation option, Alaska is still, in many ways, the Final Frontier for tourists. This might be due to the fact that there are no direct flights to Anchorage from many countries, and Alaska’s tourism industry is mainly focused in getting American people to the giant cruise ships that sail to Alaska. In spite of this, Kenai Peninsula is very welcoming for visitors, since the hard winters mean that businesses must meet their annual financial goals during the summer months. Alaska is a wonderful option for travelers who wish to experience local things, not spoiled by the tourist industry.

Alaska and its people remind me of Finland in many ways – they’re quiet, love nature, and go a little crazy during the summer time. Salmonfest lies in the heart of wilderness on the Kenai Peninsula, ready to surprise even the most experienced travelers.

Student Alzheimer’s

From opintotuki.fi

I’m going to sound like a broken record, but for the hard-of-hearing that’s probably what it takes to get through. So let me start reminding.

Last March, Finnish students joined forces in Helsinki to demonstrate against student allowance cuts planned by the Finnish government. MPs from all coalition parties and minister Arhinmäki, in charge of the student allowance system, came out on a cold spring day to the laureled steps of the Parliament House and guaranteed that no cuts to student allowances would happen when this government is in session.

SYL, the National Union of University Students in Finland, went on to thank the government and especially minister Arhinmäki for his concern for the students. We at BTSB had a few reservations.

Then came summer.

Then it went and the government sat down to discuss its budget and reached a bunch of conclusions in late August – conveniently just before students returned to their academies of higher learning.

At that time, when no-one was really looking, the government decided on the following decisions w/r/t studies and student allowances:

The number of allowance months will be reduced from 60 to 55, starting from August, 2014.

The government will reconsider the +2-years rule that has so far guaranteed the right to study two years past optimal graduation times in higher education.

University funding from the government is currently based on the number of graduates and that of students completing more than 55 credits each year. The latter factor will weigh more in the future, encouraging academic institutions to push students towards faster graduation.

I’ll remind you again, dear reader.

They promised not to touch the student allowance system.

SYL issued a statement condemning the moves, while HYY, the Student Union of the University of Helsinki, merely summarized the government decisions (although, it helped write this article, thank you). Ylioppilaslehti did next to nothing to report or comment.

No demonstrations, a weird lack of blog-posts, no rousing messages on mailing-lists.

Did we, like, forget the kind words that we heard in March? Did we accept that this is just the way it is, we’ll get screwed no matter what, our demonstrations are just petty gestures about which no-one gives a shit? Did we graduate and stopped caring or were we freshmen who just got in and didn’t know that we should care?

I think we got a bad case of student Alzheimer’s. The predictable nature of the government’s betrayal (that’s what I’m calling it), the seeming inevitability of cuts and sanctions and this-probably-won’t-apply-to-me nihilism had us, as a student body, shrug our shoulders and move on like nothing happened.

Someone will say that this was no biggie, that it could have been worse.

Duh, I reply. But these decisions stand as the first steps of an agenda designed to end free higher education in Finland and move us back to the dark ages of our parent’s youth when there was nothing but loan to get you through studies. That would save a tanker-load of cash on the short term. And that seems to be the only term Finnish governments, elected for four short years at a time, can think of.

According to SYL, the student allowance law has been changed 2,5 times each year after it came to effect in 1992. The major changes of 2011 have not even been evaluated and already we stride forth into new exciting territories of financial instability for students across the country. Maybe it’s time we start shaking all this dementia and stop voting these guys into the Parliament?