Accomodation Problems for Helsinki’s Foreign Students
The number of exchange students to Finland has grown exponentially in the last few years and the University of Helsinki is anxious to develop these programs even further in the name of ‘internationalization’. At the same time that the university has tried to improve the situation of its foreign exchange students, the students that are in Helsinki for the long haul have been overlooked. Foreign students that have enrolled in the University to earn a degree or do post-graduate work are left with fewer resources and are forced to manage their own affairs.
Robert Ramberg, Foreign Student Advisor at the University, feels that one of the biggest problems confronting foreign degree students is housing. “They get the same treatment from the Helsinki Area Student Housing Foundation (Hoas) as the Finns do.”
This fall, the waiting list at Hoas averaged 10-12 weeks. Ramberg is concerned about the first impression that many new students from abroad will have as a result of this. “It could be quite a crisis really, coming from a completely different culture and having to stay in a hostel or something. Some students can’t even start their studies on time,” he tells. Ramberg feels that EU membership has blatantly divided the international students into A and B classes. Last year, 700 students were studying towards a degree at the University of Helsinki and 400 international students came to the university on student exchange programs.
Who Killed Politics in Finland?
Politics is dead in this country and three suspects have been called in for questioning: politicians, international capitalists and the media. Risto Uimonen is editor of the leading newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. “A false concept of the Robin Hood politician developed during the 70s and 80s, times of great economic growth. A good politician took money from the wealthy and gave it to the poor.” He feels that politicians have created a debt that cripples any opportunity for change today. Uimonen craves to make Finland’s ‘half-socialist’ society well again with big cutbacks and privatization of state ownership. He calls for brave politicians that aren’t afraid to make big changes.
Osmo Soininvaara is a Green party parliamentarian. “The suggestions offered by Uimonen are no good. This is vulgar liberalism that says that as soon as government participates in economic issues, things go down the tubes.” Ben Zyskowicz has represented the Conservative Coalition party since 1979. He claims that politicians aren’t afraid to make decisions, they simply try to take into account the opinions of their constituents. “My experience is that cuts are okay with individuals as long as losses don’t affect them personally. When your own benefits are cut, any talk of savings ends,” he says.
Suspect #2 is the the hardest to hold accountable. International capitalists move capital at will. If Finland were to become a bad place to invest, dollars would go elsewhere. Interest rates would rise and stocks would lose value. “The tyranny of circumstances is the dominant force today,” wrote essayist Eero Silvasti last August. “Good politics is just adjusting and reacting to the problems as they come along.” Soinninvaara feels that it is too easy to blame world markets for all of our problems, “500 000 jobs have been lost in Finland, but only 50 000 or so have gone abroad. The rest been replaced by technology.” The Finnish media is suspect because it keeps the citizens apathetic and subordinate. Seija Ridell of the Tampere University has studied television news broadcasts in Finland. Ridell says that reporters in Finland don’t have the drive or ambition to make their news critical or complex. “It is ridiculous to claim that people are indifferent if they haven’t ever felt that something concerned them directly. Only after they have been given the opportunity to react can we pass judgement on their passivity,” says Ridell.
Oulu native Markku Heikkilä is the one of authors of recent mediareview Journalismia! Journalismia?. He understands that reporters in Finland work within a small circle. “It is easy to identify with people you work with all the time. The result is an affinity between the media and public figures that inadvertently leads to convergent views.”
Student Exchange – Luck Of the Draw
Study abroad experiences are a leap into the unknown. The gap between expectations and reality may be too large for some to handle. A student from Tampere left for Paris. He pictured long dinners with leftist intellectuals about feminism and philosophy a la Foucault, de Beauvoir, Hugo and Voltaire. He set off for the Paris II University, an institution with a high standard. As the new school year began, a group called the Union Droit distributed racist fliers in the vestibule. It seemed there was one slight problem at Pantheon-Assas, some students were fascists. Later, during a presentation of leftist literature arranged to offset the right-wing element in the university, skinheads threw tear gas bombs into the crowd.
Finnish universities are in a big hurry to ‘internationalize’. At the University of Helsinki, 535 exchange programs were agreed upon under the Sokrates plan for 1998-99 and 60 others exist independently. The University does not research or rate the exchange programs – the only testers of the programs are the students themselves. The University of Tampere has a feedback folder for returning exchange students to offer some words of advice to others. No such equivalent exists in Helsinki, but the Helsinki Student Union’s International Affairs Division Secretary Anikó Lehtinen is collecting reports on student exchanges and the International Division is considering a web feedback sheet and archive. An attempt by the International Division to have individual departments draw up their own exchange agreements next year will hopefully eliminate excess and faulty programs from the list for the time being. Page 6.
Finnish Rock Gets Back To Its Roots
Finnish rock music was on the cutting edge in the 80s, and no subject was too sacred for comment. Musicians were concerned with paying off Ethiopian debts and trying to keep the yuppie culture at bay. Soon the 90s arrived and groups like CMX, Värttinä, and Amorphis looked back into Finnish history for their musical inspiration. The Finnish national epic, Kalevala, has been a reoccuring theme in contemporary Finnish music and folk music from that period has been incorporated into several styles.
Pohjannaula, ‘Northern Star’, is the latest example of a Finnish nostalgia band with a down-to-earth image. Juha Menna, the band’s drummer, explains, “Eight young boys out of ten are excited about the future: police cars and sci-fi stuff. One isn’t interested in anything and one is fascinated with the past, choosing a bow and arrow over a laser gun. Our band is full of those kinds of guys. The producer of their debut album is A.W.Yrjänä, whose work with other artists has focused on adapting elements from traditional Finnish folk.
Pohjannaula plays at Tavastia on October 29 and Vanha on November 18.
A Dream Called A Job
The fear of becoming unemployed hovers over the head of every university graduate. Terhi Tiitinen of the Kluuvi employment office has seen both ends of the employment spectrum, “In 1994 the situation still seemed hopeless, but about a year ago there were suddenly jobs popping up everywhere.” She doesn’t foresee a return to the 80s, though, when everyone found work easily. 6 500 university graduates are actively looking for work at the Kluuvi office, 3 000 of whom are unemployed. Numbers are falling quickly as more jobs are found.
Academic Advisor Teija Hoppe believes that the situation is very unstable. “These days you wouldn’t dare to predict what employment will be like five years down the line, you aren’t even sure about the coming year.” Although she doesn’t see any black clouds on the horizon, Hoppe stresses that “it is clear that the traditional understanding of a career track is no longer relevant.” Tiitinen offers some advice on how to get your foot in the door early. “Begin orienting yourself to worklife already at the beginning of your studies. It is good to practice the techniques of the job search as much as possible.”
by Pamela Kaskinen