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

 

Lapland: Land of Miracles

My March highlight was a very long trip to the land of dancing auroras, snowy horizons and Sami culture: Lapland! And here is why you should definitely, definitlyyyy visit that magical region.  🙂

Lapland is a region that spreads through three countries, namely Norway, Finland and Sweden. I only visited the Finnish part and took a glimpse on the Norwegian one. However, visiting just a part of it was enough to leave me in an “awe”. Lapland is a real heaven. Beauty can be found wherever and whenever the eyes wonder.  Sceneries of endless forests coated in unpolluted white snow, coupled with beautiful reflections of the dim sunlight or curtains of Northern Lights are enough to make anyone forget about the miseries of the world.

I mean look at this view #nofilter (and not a great camera either)!

If you’re not convinced yet, let me take you on a tour of my trip…then maybe you will consider it very seriously 🙂

My first stop was at Kemi snow castle: a master piece of art that melts down and gets rebuilt every year with a fresh new theme. The castle is an art gallery full of different ice sculptures, this year themed to the 100 anniversary of Finland, of course!


Photo credits: me and Khaled Bouguettoucha

After Kemi, my next stop was in Rovaniemi at, of course, Santa’s Holiday village. Yes, I met the real Santa! Was his beard real…no…keep the secret! And no, I have no photo with him because I would not pay 25 euros for that…but I have some with the Santa statues outside 😀


Photo credit: Sana El Tahhan

Santa’s village was pretty, much like a Disney land full of elves and reindeers and…all what can remind you of Christmas festivities.

I spent my northern vacation at one of the holiday cottages in Saariselkä, a little touristic village in Northern Lapland. The cottages were nice and cozy and had everything I could hope for in a vacation house: a heartwarming fire place, a washing and drying machine, a thoughtfully equipped kitchen with a dish washer and, of course, my favorite: a private sauna built into the bathroom!

My first day, I tried the husky safari in the Northern Lights village. We got our useful instructions from the responsible of the activity, and we could go on a 5Km ride with the beautiful energetic dogs that didn’t allow me to keep my foot away from the brake! Driving the sledge is not as hard as it appears to be, instead it is very enjoyable. The right amount of risk to have some sense of adventure, yet easy enough to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.


Photo credit: Vé De Koninck

We were received by a nice warming fire and hot juice at our comeback in one of the traditional huts and had a Salmon soup lunch afterwards, one of the best soups I tasted to this day. I also had the chance to make another Finnish friend during the ride, and I look forward to my visit to see her again in Helsinki.

The next activity was snowshoeing in Urho Kekkonen national park. That was one hell of a sporty afternoon! Climbing hills covered in deep snow has made my abs hurt for two days, but it was all worth it! The view from the top is amazing, and the struggle to get there was kind of fun to be honest…that’s what the path looks like!

That night, we got to ride the snow mobiles and drive to a deserted area, hunting the Northern Lights. Likely our hunt was fruitful, and the auroras danced for a while above our heads. We also got to see them again when we reached the small hut half the way to sit for some cookies and hot juice (yum! The delight of hot cranberry and blueberry juice after such a cold ride). The northern lights are quite a phenomenon: green curtains being gently rocked on the sky. It is a fascinating view, if not for the dead cold air surrounding. I will not put a picture of that because I couldn’t take any good ones, but I am sure you’re familiar with their fascinating beauty 🙂

The third day was the trip to Bugøynes village, a Finnish Norwegian mix of 200 people living right by the Arctic ocean. The scenery was one of the most beautiful, peaceful clear sky, warm sun and endless snowy horizons with nothing to disturb the calmness of the water in between the hills, absolutely mesmerizing! I also got the chance to take a dip in the Arctic ocean, Finnish style, which was more relaxing than I thought it would be! Fresh fish after and a creamy soup…just perfect!


Photo credit: Abdelbaar Mounadi Idrissi


Photo credit: Michelle Knuffig

The fourth day was skiing day! I must say I wasn’t so enthusiastic about it since I knew how horrible first times are in anything. Also, my skating experience was less than great (I would try it again though). We started on the “learning” track. Fall counter was up to three times in there already…then we moved to the cross-country skiing track that is supposed to be easy and that starts with…a downhill. Needless to say, the fall count got up there too. However, the way back was very pleasant. I could finally relax after falling too many times to care about trying not to, and weirdly enough I fell only once on my way back: at nearly the top of the last uphill to go backwards flat on my tummy to the bottom, and Finnish people were caught between an unstoppable fou rire and wanting to help me in some way. Generally, however, I loved skiing. The slide on the downhill with the beautiful sceneries is worth the pain for sure.

Then the last day was more relaxed. I tried my first Finnish spa in Holiday Club at Saariselkä. And what better way there is than to end a trip with a spa session? The sauna relieved my cramping muscles. I tried the sleeping sauna as well, and it made me not want to leave it. I was pretty shocked at the temperature of the jacuzzi though. It was plain cold, only a little warmer than the pool itself. However, the slide and water stream offered nice moments.

All in all, this was, hands down, my best trip: very rich, very entertaining and very different from anything I have done before. Our guides tried to make it special to each of us too, which is greatly appreciated: they learned our names, made a conversation with everyone personally, offered a personalized service depending on the needs and preferences of each one, and tried their best to be funny and diverting. I came back not only with great memories and experiences, but with a lot of reflection on myself and my life, so I can safely qualify the trip as enlightening.


Photo credit: Nicky

Have I convinced you yet? 😉

 

Soukaina Chrifi Alaoui

Old dog learning new tricks

So your postdoctoral research is over – years ago, and you feel that you still want to learn new directions to your research. Well, longish research visits do not have to be past life – it might be time to a new visit to foreign university! That was just what happened to me. I decided to get new skills in chemical ecology, and decided to get it from the University of California Berkeley, just a side of San Francisco. Fulbright Finland has just perfect grant option for this kind of trips: Fulbright Finland grant for research collaboration. The funding is aimed for visits from one week to three months. For me five weeks was possible, and luckily, I got the grant.


Picture: Golden Gate Bridge and a non-random traveller.


Picture: There is always time for antspotting!


Picture: Visiting Alcatraz garden.

Now, my visit is almost over, only a few days remaining, and it is time to turn my thoughts towards UEF again. The visit has been a success; I got new collaborators and met colleagues. Of course, I had some leisure time too, San Francisco and nearby areas offered many interesting locations. I am very grateful to Fulbright Finland and the people from UC Berkeley for this successful visit. UEF, I am coming back with a bunch of new skills.

Jouni Sorvari

A proper winter

One of the worst things during my childhood was the disappointment over mild and wet winters. Living and growing up in Serbia, I had the opportunity to sometimes experience days with heavy snow, but they were not as good as the ones from the early-December Coca Cola commercials. Learning that my application was accepted and that I will spend my next semester as a student of University of Eastern Finland, I was really happy to prove to myself that true winters do exist. And Finland did not disappoint me. The very first seconds I spent here were an argument good enough: exiting the airport door, every person I saw that night, including me, exhaled the shivering “WHUUH!” . . . and those were our first words here. I had the honor my first day in Finland to be a shiny -27o C one. Arriving in Joensuu from Helsinki, I wanted to take pictures of everything, but the low temperature drained my phone battery. It bothered me for a while, but it showed me that the walks to the University can be much more interesting if you just enjoy a nice sunny day, not with your head buried in your phone.

And the thing is, snow and ice look amazing on Joensuu. A simple walk through the forest and over the frozen lake can leave you speechless. One of my most beautiful experiences was actually getting lost in the forest at night…in the middle of the town, and I’m not even joking.

There is a widespread image about Finns being asocial and introvert, and I’d say this is a half-truth. In one hand, some of the most hospitable and energetic people I met here are actually locals. I have already been invited to numerous house parties even though I didn’t know the hosts, and even an offer to play in a band. On the other hand, there really is a good number of introvert Finns, but if you spend some time with them, you can find out that there is a warm friendly personality beneath that heavy jacket and grumpy face.

Shout-out to Joni the Tutor!

Do stay tuned…

Nenad Radivojevic

Research ethics in practice during fieldwork and in research collaboration

Last autumn, I had the pleasure of doing fieldwork among lawyers in Montreal during my 3.5 months-long research visit at Teluq/University of Quebec. I went there as a postdoctoral researcher working on a grant so I used my own equipment (i.e. computer, mobile phone, recorder). While this research visit was a wonderful experience both professionally and personally, it was then when I fully realized how much responsibility in terms of the security of the research data and equipment I carry when working abroad and particularly when doing a fieldwork in a foreign country. This involves for example file encryption, protection of data connections, administration of access rights, processing and handling of confidential information as well as archiving and destroying of documents. I was encouraged by my colleagues to share some of my experiences as the issue might be relevant for other researchers who are planning a mobility period.

Research ethics during fieldwork

In my own fieldwork, the issue of handling of confidential information and research data, file encryption and protection of data connections became particularly relevant. Firstly, the fieldwork involved interviewing some people who knew each other and who sometimes recommended each other to me for an interview (i.e. snowball sampling). While the interviewees can contact each other to discuss the interview, I had to be particularly careful not to confirm or deny the interviewees’ inquiries whether I have met their colleagues. Otherwise, I would violate the issue of confidentiality. Secondly, as almost all my interviews were face-to-face interviews, the fieldwork involved from me the frequent travels around the city. During these travels, the interview recordings had to be well protected. In practice, it meant that as soon as an interview was over, I had to hurry back to my office to transfer the interview recording from a recorder to the computer where it was encrypted and backed up. Thirdly, each time after the interview recording was transferred to the computer, I needed to delete the interview recording and to overwrite it with random data to prevent the recovery of the original data (i.e. interview recording). Fourthly, I needed to make sure that the data at my computer is well protected in case of losing a computer. Thus, I have kept the data in an encrypted file container, which is password protected. This way, the data have been firstly protected by the encryption of the whole disc and additionally the data have been protected by the second password that opens the encrypted container on my hard disc in which I keep the interview data. Finally, when working, I paid attention to the protection of data connections and thus I either avoided the usage of not trusted Internet connections (e.g. in cafes, hotels, Airbnb, airports) or I used VPN.

Research ethics in research collaboration

Research ethics is also relevant issue when we think about research collaboration, specifically with researchers from other disciplines. During my research visit, I had a pleasure to meet the researchers from a range of disciplines who are studying the legal profession in Canada, which is a very popular research subject there. During those meetings, we discussed the opportunities for future collaboration such as, for example, joint publications and sharing of research data. During some of those discussions our different views on research ethics became salient. For example, I was asked to share my data with another researcher who was interested in my study and in interviewing lawyers. In exchange, s/he offered me a possibility to have more interviews conducted by her/his student and have my interviews transcribed by her/his student(s). Yet, as a researcher working on a grant (at that time) I promised to my Canadian informants in the informed consent form and during the interviews that no-one else but me will have access to the interview recordings (besides possibly a transcriber with whom the proper agreement on confidentiality will be made) as well as to the interview transcriptions before they are fully anonymized. For some interviewees, this information played a crucial role in their consent to the participation in the study. The full anonymization of interviews involves cleaning of interviews from all the information that can lead to the identification of the interviewees. This may include (1) name, email address, address, nationality, ethnicity, age (2) name of the workplace and employment history, (3) family status and information on family members, (4) educational background, and (5) any other pieces of information that need to be encrypted and stored separately from the transcriptions of the interviews. Depending on the research, the deletion of personal data can sometimes not be enough to protect the interviewees’ identity. Interviews may contain some information that may indirectly lead to the identification of interviewees and thus, the interview data must be handled in a very careful manner. This is also why, I could not take a risk to let any Canadian law student to transcribe the interviews with Montreal lawyers as due to sharing of the same cultural and professional context, they could be able to identify the interviewees more easily than anyone else outside of the Canadian legal field. It would have been also against of my promise made to my Canadian interviewees in the informed consent form and during interviews to make the interview data available to my Canadian colleague during duration of my project. Such form of data sharing was not included in the planning of research and thus, the interviewees were not informed about it when they agreed to participate in the study. Yet, when my project is completed, the research data may be considered for storage for example in the Finnish Social Science Data Archive FSD for a long-term preservation and further use.

Finally, during my research visit and fieldwork, I learned that it is not only important to know and to apply the principles of research ethics in practice, but also to be able to explain them in an understandable way to the research subjects and potential collaborators. Yet, despite of our (researchers) assurance of ethical research practice, the interviewees may still deny the participation or the recording of the interview, which we need to respect and be prepared for. We also need to be able to resist collaboration requests that may violate the ethical promises we made to our research subjects.

Marta Choroszewicz
Postdoctoral researcher in sociology
Department of Social Sciences, Joensuu Campus.