EXPANDING MY HORIZONS

Not so long ago, on 1st of February I arrived in a friendly and snowy Joensuu. From the very begining of my Erasmus exchange mobility, I had complete understanding for coming a bit late. I missed student orientation program but, as soon as I arrived, I met Mrs. Kirsi. She was, and still is, so helpful and kind. She has even organized few meetings which we really enjoyed. Mrs. Kirsi has introduced us to Finnish culture, amenities and food. It is really nice to know that someone cares about how are you settling down and how is everything going for you. I especially enjoyed snow shoe hiking. It was such a nice afternoon walk which ended up with sitting around the fire and having dinner. Later, my friends and I continued gathering in the woods around the fire close to the lake making the food…

Altogether, all of the people working at the UEF were so helpful and I really did not have any problem with registering and finding the information. I was also amused with different teaching system, with very equipped classrooms and communicative teachers. That is the experience which students can only get if they go on an exchange.

Since that I study Biochemistry, the opportunity to work in a research group was indescribable experience! I have learned so much from patient workpeople. Numerous techniques, modern instruments and responsibility to plan my own time and research. As a souvenir I will bring my written reports and pictures from photo shooting that I did for the University website.

All in all, those have been four interesting months. There are many new friends, few trips, beautiful nature and different study methods that I have experienced and that I will keep in my mind. I am going back home with new ideas, going home enriched with new experiences and different perspective of world.

I am looking forward to be Student Tutor to someone who is planning to come in Novi Sad, Serbia, and to do my best as a host for the people that made my stay here so interesting and worth.

Mirjana Mundzic

From Eastern Serbia to the Eastern Finland

It has been four months since we came in Joensuu and we realized that the decision to apply for the student exchange programme was the best thing that was happened to us. We believe that every student who had such an opportunity to participate in this program share the same opinion. Here’s why: Our first encounter with Finland was enchanting. We were met with the whiteness of Finland, the northern lights, and beautiful landscape. Low temperatures were not something new for us because we come from a country that is rich in mountainous areas with very harsh winters. We chose to travel by train so that we could have a better experience. Already during the first meeting with our tutor at the train station, we felt Finnish hospitality and kindness. The entire process of adaptation has progressed quite easily thanks to a very good organization of faculty, professional skills, and kindness of university staff, who is always ready to help.

Foreign people often complain and have difficulty because many consumer products are in the Finnish language, for us, it was not a problem thanks to the Finnish language course. Courses, lectures and interactive methods in which teachers organize lectures were very interesting, especially field work and group work with international students. During field work we had the opportunity to meet new friends, to gain some new knowledge about Finnish culture and customs. Especially, it was interesting to make fire and prepare Finnish food in forestry log cabin, walking on a frozen lake, a tour of the beautiful forest, and snow hiking as part of non-compulsory activities. Our professors from the Technical faculty in Bor had the opportunity to hold a lecture at UEF on some of the courses. During these lectures, they were able to become familiar with the concept of the implementation of teaching methods in Finland.

We visited the production facility John Deer, which is one of the leading companies in the production of equipment for Forestry and where we had the opportunity to meet with their way of doing business. Also, we have in plan to visit one more company that operates in Joensuu – UPM – Kymmene Corporation.

Strong impression on us left Finland architecture which abounds with fairy-tale elements. Joensuu is a perfect place for living and studying. Have a rich cultural and social life and many places that can create unforgettable moments. The kindness of the Finnish nation and a quality education system have created a significant experience. We hope to have the opportunity to visit this magical land again.

Nähdään, moikka!

Jelena Zdravković, Milena Arsić and Momir Popović

The Finland experience – Exchange Maastricht to Kuopio

It was a sunny afternoon somewhere towards the end of august in Amsterdam, being approximately twenty-two degrees and thus quite okay for a Dutch smelling-the-end-of-summer-day. Nonetheless, I found myself wearing my ultra-hot ski-jacket, winter boots and 2 layers of clothes as I entered the airport of Schiphol, holding my backpack firmly to my chest. The content of it: my warmest sweaters and trousers, carefully selected pictures of family and friends, a Lonely Planet that I bought only one day ago and, last but not least, some Vitamin D supplements.

You could have guessed it by now: I was standing at the beginning of my Erasmus semester, land of destination, FINLAND!

A couple months back I decided to do my Minor in Biomedical Sciences in this beautiful, but relatively undiscovered part of Scandinavia, at the University of Eastern Finland, or UEF. I remember navigating through UEF’s website for the first time and stumbling on their headliner: ‘University of Eastern Finland: In the middle of (k)nowhere!’. Serving as background of the website were some pictures of mirror-looking lakes, stunning landscapes with countless-tree-containing forests, more lakes and more trees. It was therefore not wrongly placed that the campus I wound end up, was defined by the UEF as their ‘Lakeside Campus’, located in Finland’s beautiful lake district, Kuopio.

So back towards the end of August, as I arrived at the campus in Kuopio and feeling like a total newbie, knowing or recognizing nobody or nothing around me. I would be living in my new home with approximately 100 fellow Erasmus students in a street with a name that none of us could pronounce accurately during our first weeks as finish residents (Juontotie. Red).We were housed in buildings that looked like the architect had known at forehand who the inhabitants would be, containing only the most basic equipment one needs to feel as close to home for four months. However, perfect for us ‘temporary tenants’ and reliable looking to help achieve our one and only goal:

To survive the finish winter.

Soon after the semester had started, I applied as a member at ESN KISA and at the Student Union (although it was brought as if compulsory). At the end, I think it really helped in meeting so many people in such a short period of time. I believe that during the first days as an Erasmus student, you should just try to get in touch with as many people around you as possible. Go to social events and to the introduction activities, ignoring their sometimes ‘lame-looking’ names. For me, it made me feel at home very soon and showed me that ultimately, everyone left their hometowns with the same purpose: To make new friends, to get to know Finland and other cultures and most of all, to get the most out of their Erasmus period as possible.

During my Minor in Kuopio, I followed courses at the Faculty of Public Health and Nutrition, being a part of the School of Medicine in Kuopio. I participated in courses like ‘Public Health in Humanitarian Crises’, ‘Infectious Disease Epidemiology’ and ‘Culture, Health and Illness’. The content of the courses was sometimes overlapping, but that was of no problem, since Public Health as a science is very interdisciplinary and I could therefore acquire knowledge within these different subfields. As a third year Biomedical Sciences student, I found it very interesting to learn so much about a total different field within life sciences as a whole. Studying Public Health made me realize that there are so many forces influencing ‘health’ and ‘disease’ which should always be taken into account when performing good (biomedical) research. I now realize that my time in Finland gave me more insight in what I want to accomplish with my study and in which direction I would want to go with my Masters.

Off course, the times I will remember the most of my stay in Finland are all the travelling I did with both my new Erasmus-friends as with people visiting from back home. From the St. Petersburg and Lapland trips organized by ESN to the weekends away visiting National Parks and making camp fires in the middle of the forests. From discovering the southern parts of Finland by car heading from cottage to cottage to spending way too much money on delicious finish mega healthy food in Helsinki, Tampere and Turku. As I saw more from Finland, its country side, cities and its neighboring countries, it truly felt like I got transformed into a Scandinavian resident. And, as my time in Finland passed, I felt more and more comfortable with the finish way of living. I recall just arriving in Finland and being blown away by both the magnitude of the country and the calmness of the people. Everything was so silent here! Finish cities have this perfectly organized infrastructure and give you a feeling of inner rest as soon as you arrive. I fully embraced this calm ambiance and realized how tensed I had been during the last months of my study in the Netherlands.

Looking back, I think this first feeling is one of the reasons I felt in love with Scandinavia the moment I got off the plane. I think I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunity of this amazing experience and will always think back with a smile on my Finland experience. Now, fully adjusted to Dutch life again with all its tensed people and hectic cities, I hope I will keep this Scandinavian love with me as long as I walk on this globe, hoping I will soon return to this beautiful part of it..

Winne van Woerden

Holidays are not always happy days…

Preface

As an anatomist-morphologist, during my everyday research, I often become inspired by the unique and characteristic colors and shapes of microscopic structures and I have been dealing with photography – as a bobby, mainly nature photography – for more than a decades. I believe that fastidious nature photography does not merely require (and for me, this is indeed not a prerequisite) state-of-the-art technique (images show below taken with SMART phone); what it really requires is much patience to inspire shapes, compositions, lights and shadows that albeit may have been seen by others, yet have not been analyzed in detail. The title of my present blog is “ With the power of images… “. Images shown below were transient moments at Bükk, Hungary extended by the camera of my Samsung phone, when I visited my parents. The dramatic effect of well-chosen moments after a blizzard swept may give rise to novel feelings and thoughts even in you about the catastrophe has happened in in Central Europe including Hungary, as well.

 

With the power of images…

In the middle of last week, a blizzard swept around by nearly 80 km/h northerly winds also hit the region of Hungary’s northern mountain range (map). As a result of this huge mid-April!! snowfall that had not been seen for decades, gales tore up tree trunks by the roots, and made many of the public roads and forest paths impassable, blocked access to settlements for days. Living in our digital reality, you have certainly encountered a lot of news reports and images from day to day here in Finland, and been flooded with information in relation to the disaster situation in Central Europe, but might not in the Bükk Mountains, but apart from the local inhabitants and participants of rescue operations there have been just of few of us who have experienced the physical reality of storm damage, and felt that the catastrophe sights of the Bükk Mountains burnt into our memories forever.

For a few days, the enormous amount of wood knocked to the ground had a drastic influence on the lives of the residents of the settlements concerned, because due to the frequent interruption of telephone communication they were barred from the external world, why the lack of water and electricity supply made their everyday existence extremely difficult. While after 72 hours of forced isolation Hollóstető, Bükkszentkereszt and Répáshuta have become accessible – though with difficulties – again, power generators have been installed to resume electricity and water supply, but in the areas under nature conservation the dramatic disappearance of forest areas can never be fully recovered. With the presented pictures, I have the intention to be one of the first to show images of this destruction to you on these pages of UEF.

On the other hand, the photos also reflect the professional and careful work performed in joint effort by the inexhaustible “wood cutters” of the disaster management authority and the local inhabitants, as from early dawn until late in the evening, and even at night we could hear the clamour of machines as they were chopping up, towing the immense tree trunks that had fell on the asphalt strips. As an outcome of their exemplary, coordinated and perseverant work, these tree trunks threatening lives and carrying the risk of accidents could be removed, the blockaded roads were partly opened, and a kind of normal life returned to the barricaded small settlements of the Bükk region. Consequently, on the somewhat cleared forest roads, under navigation provided by the police, with my family I could leave the area stricken by the disaster last weekend, and return to Kuopio, UEF, to my place of work here.

Finally, the sight of the fate of the forest brought Albert Wass’ thoughts to my mind: “Why are you so helpless then, to start your life all over again?” You may agree that while the enormous damage caused to the forest, forest management and individuals is undoubted, and in many of us it can potentially evoke the notion of “destruction”, but over time some of the countless trees that fell – in certain phases of rotting – will have an extremely important role in shaping biodiversity.

 

 

Welcome To Finland

First of all, I have to admit that I knew no more of Finland than it was a country of lakes, there was Lapland, from where Santa Claus came, then Kalevala, Alvar Aalto, Sibelius, Merimekko and obviously NOKIA – and probably polar light can be added, which is said to be sent to the Earth by the spirits of the dead according to the local legends. Well, if someone wants to become acquainted with this country in more details, and hit the road without becoming deterred by the short, freezing cold days and long, gloomy nights, Finland is probably one of the perfect destinations even during winter. In addition to the features mentioned above, one can experience the feeling of the genuine, untouched wilderness for the pacification of the mind: Lapland in the north and the central part of Finland, i.e. the region of thousands of lakes, or the islands of South Finland with a multitude of picturesque faces enchanting visitors in the winter. This is the youngest northern country, which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence this year, and is becoming broadly known for its gradually growing “intellectual import” in addition to her natural endowments. Hundreds of internationally recognized researchers arrive at the universities of Finland from all corners of the world for shorter and longer study periods. I have also been given the opportunity to conduct research here at University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio campus, and experience the Scandinavian lifestyle with my loved family. Probably, owing to the conscious educational policy, which has been consistently followed for decades now, by today the country has found its national identity, and in spite of the sometimes arctic environment and the limited resources she has been able to create a high standard of living and welfare society from the 1990s for her population. By presenting my own photos, I want to give an insight to the honourable readers into a novel and very interesting facet of this lifestyle. Namely, just recently the first world ice arts championships have been staged in a cave system originally designed for underground cross-country skiing (Vesileppis) at the small town of Leppävirt (see on the map) of some 17 thousand inhabitants. The international professional jury selected 12 of all the projects submitted from all over the world, and requested the artists associated with these best creations – including a Hungarian pair of creators – and eventually coming to the town to physically realize their works. The ice-carving masters were cutting, chiseling and sometimes even scraping the amorphous ice in an area covering three football fields on two different floors, 20 meters under the ground, defying the permanent, controlled temperature of –5 °C, for nearly a week to eventually bring their marvelous creations into life. While the ice sculpture of the Hungarian pair was not awarded, they also added to the unforgettable experience that the thousands of visitors could have. If you want to see some other creations, just visit this website: www.icecave.fi

Szabolcs Felszeghy DDS, Phd (Habil)

UEF, Institute of Dentistry / Biomedicine

 

 

Joensuu through the eyes of a Moroccan

 

Coming to Joensuu was one of the best changes I had in my life. As a nature lover, I found here what I had been missing for a long time; the lakes, the river, the trees everywhere. Joensuu was such a contrast with our busy Moroccan cities where concrete left no space for green that the only thing I could do was to admire and enjoy. For a human being used to warmth and hot weather, seeing -13 degrees on a weather board was scary yet refreshing; however, on windy days, I wished I had another layer of skin. Nevertheless, on other days and despite the cold, walks through the forest in sunny days were enough to take my breath away; the whiteness of snow embracing the roots of each tree and reflecting sunlight onto my eyes was enough to clear my thoughts.

In Joensuu, the simplicity and peacefulness of nature only complements the goodness of the people. People with whom I have shared some of the most amazing events in my life; I went fire camping in the wilderness with Juri Pesonen (thank you Juri) and snowshoeing with other international students through the forest and on the frozen lake thanks to Kirsi Karjalainen, who also thought of bringing Moroccan sausages for us to enjoy over fire!

The opportunity of coming to UEF as an exchange student was not only a chance to meet people from all over the world, but also to enjoy other activities such as the International Dinner and the International Music Evening with ESN Joensuu, and most importantly, to experience and profit from a different educational system. In the end, I can only say that I wish I can come back another time and have the chance to go through this experience all over again.

Kawtar Ennaji

An abundance of first times

No, not the first times you are thinking of! Yeah, I just assumed what you would be thinking of while reading that title (which I agonized over choosing), but I’m talking about a whole set of first times that would be insignificant to most. I believe in treasuring each and every moment, feeling and landscape, and that is why my list of first times is endless.

As someone who came by almost two weeks after the official start of the semester, I must admit it was pretty hectic putting everything into order, getting a grasp of the situation, late-registering for the courses, buying furniture and dealing with a cold weather. Well, most would laugh at 0°C being considered cold weather but hey, you can’t blame a Moroccan for experiencing a temperature shock away from the 15°C they left back home!

Slowly afterwards, I finally came to enjoy Finland through Joensuu, its winter, landscapes, people, the laid-back yet motivating and efficient educational system and all the events that go in between. I took my time admiring every nook and cranny, including aspects as trivial as separate roads for bicycles and satisfyingly coordinated traffic lights. I also got to enjoy long safe walks in the snow even at late times at night and in deserted places such as lakes.

As such, coming to Finland I experienced my first time traveling outside the country, getting on a plane, having my own room, freezing from cold, making foreign friends, doing activities in the snow, taking both my hands off the handle while sprinting on my bike through the streets, using English for so long, clubbing, enjoying peaceful night bus rides and much, much more.

For more to come! (hopefully seeing Northern Lights this late in the season by some kind of miracle)

Abir Hassani

A return to Finland

I really appreciate the SAT project giving me the opportunity to return Finland, the fairytale country in my heart.

In this land, I enjoyed the magic power from the great nature. The sun seems never fully set in cool and comfortable summer, while winter comes, thick snow gleams white and the sun seems never raise. What impressed me most was sauna in the Finnish summer cottage, it was really special and could purify both body and mind.

In Finland, environmental protection deeply roots in national consciousness, and I learned a lot when I was there. I also visited many museums which helped me understand Finnish history and culture better. What’s more, I met a number of new friends there and have built deep relationship with some of them.

In this meaningful academic trip, I spent most time on miRNA related research by applying bioinformatics approaches at Prof. Garry Wong ‘s lab in the Department of Health Sciences, University of Eastern Finland. Besides, I attended GEF4 summer school (Special emphasis epigenetics and bioinformatics) and learned many advanced and useful related technologies. What’s more, I was very pleased to attend one lab member’s graduation ceremony which was an unforgettably cozy party.

Six months flied, after finishing this program, I was back China but still maintaining cooperation with Professor Wong. Maybe all this is the fate, currently I am working as a post-doctoral in Professor Wong’s team in Macau.

Thank you SAT and UEF, you open the window to the world for me.

Chen Liang

 

Personal growth through new experiences and diverse ways of learning

I received a unique opportunity to do master studies at Burapha University in Thailand for six months, under the Erasmus Mundus Swap and Transfer project (SAT), which became a life-changing experience for me. During my student exchange, I concluded minor studies from a new academic discipline, which gave me a chance to learn new methodologies and therefore significantly expand my own academic understanding. I also received new wonderful friends and gained many educating experiences, just by openly observing all the new things that were suddenly around me.

We tend to focus on the measurable hard skills that one gains during international mobility, but I would say that the invisible soft skills that one learns are equally – or even more important, than the amount of completed credit points. These soft skills can include achieving a better cultural awareness and tolerance towards new things, understanding various kinds of cross-cultural communication styles and for example endurance in achieving what you wish.  Beforehand I could not imagine how difficult it could be to for example buy a fresh, delicious mango or pineapple from a fruit seller, when you do not have a common language. However, people are people everywhere and by taking a bit of time, we can interact with each other, wherever we are. At the end, I learned the names of the fruits in Thai from the fruit seller, and I also learned how to peel and cut the fruit in a correct way. Another example of every-day learning is how I learned to count numbers, when I attended a gym class: the instructor constantly kept on counting numbers in Thai and just by passively listening to them while doing sports, I learned to count. This also taught me the correct pronunciation, which is very important, as Thai language has tones and one needs to pronounce every syllable with the right tone – otherwise you might say something totally different than what you meant. These are examples of just a couple of things, that I learned outside official academic scopes. Then comes all the new manners and body language, the various levels of politeness in communication and many, many other things. These skills of reading cultural codes and adjusting to changing situations are a very good asset in professional life.


V
isiting Farm Chokchai to learn about agro-tourism in Thailand.

Finland and Thailand are very different, sometimes even opposite of each other in many aspects: climate, religion and spirituality, the development level of the society and cultural ways of behavior, such as individuality/collectivism and hierarchies linked to that. By being observant for these and not sticking into one’s own standards, the mobility gave me new perspectives in seeing how complex various matters are. It also helped me to look at my own country and its problems from an outsider point of view – and therefore to understand the societal problems better. I also started to wight my personal values and ethics in a new way. I learned to pay more attention to how integrity, sustainability and transparency support the implementation of many good values, and how only by doing so we can make the world a more just and stable place for us all. This does not mean that we need to set only one standard on how to do something but we also need to better respect the standards and perspectives of others – if they are implemented in a sustainable and ethical way.


University  orietation trip to central Thailand

In addition to learning some of the deeper aspects of international mobility and cooperation, I also personally experienced several things, that I will definitely remember for the rest of my life. These moments include:

  • Participating in university rice planting competition.
  • Waking up every morning, when the neighbour’s rooster starts the morning concert.
  • Running by the beach during monsoon season, when the pouring rain and mighty thunder starts.
  • Eating so spicy food that it makes you cry and you do not know if you will survive alive.
  • Sharing dinner and laughing together with your new warm-hearted friends and student peers.


Traditional Thai dance show next to the rice fields before the rice planting competition starts.

If you are hesitating whether to participate in an international mobility or not, I warmly recommend you to map the different options and if there is even a slightly interesting opportunity, take the leap and go for it! You might experience a huge cultural shock, but afterwards you will notice how much you grew personally.


Thumbs up for international cooperation from a Finn, a Bangladeshi and a Cambodian

Ilkka Häyrinen

 

 

A time with microplastic, daphnia and winter in Finland

My name is Napaporn Leadprathom (Meaw). I come from Burapha University Thailand, the small tropical country in Asia. I got post doc research scholarship from Erasmus Mundus action 2 (SWAP and Transfer project) to do the research about microplastic in freshwater ecosystem for 6 months. I’m interested in microplastic because it’s a pollutant with emerging concern and there are many gaps in research about microplastic. I have done many surveys on microplastic in Thai coastal area, but in here I focus on microplastic testing with aquatic animal in laboratory.

I lived in University of Eastern Finland Joensuu Campus from Dec 2015-May 2016. During that time, I tried to feed daphnia with fiber microplastic and observe the uptake and depuration behavior of daphnia. In Aquatic Ecotoxicology lab, it is very easy to do the test with daphnia, because the facility is well preparation. So that it is very convenient to do the thing as I plan, even if I did not have an experience with daphnia before.


I and my colleagues from Aquatic Ecotoxicology lab in University of Eastern Finland Joensuu Campus

I also have an opportunity to work together with Spectromics research group in UEF, because we try to develop the technique for observation microplastic inside daphnia. I am very happy to have chance to discuss and share the ideas with the other researchers in our lab group and Spectromics research group. That’s very challenging for me.


Daphnia magna and microplastics

By the way, because I arrived Finland in winter, I had been asked a lot that “why I come to Finland in winter time?” Actually I did not think about it before I came. Anyway, after one week past I just realized that why everyone asked me. Snow and ice is such normal things in Finland winter and rarely sunshine at that time. It’s very exciting experience for people from tropical country like me. The winter in Finland is longer and colder than in my imagination. That’s why I always ask everyone in the lab “Is it normal weather in Finland?” and now I know that’s normal, after I passed through nearly 4 months of Finnish winter. Even whether in winter make some difficulty of life, but I think that’s worth to get experience like that. I think if I did not stay in Finland at the winter time, I may not see and understand the real Finland. So if someone ask me what the best period to visit Finland, I will recommend winter. Do you agree with me?


Snow in Joensuu

 

Napaporn Leadprathom