Thursday, September 2, 2010

A day of revelations

Today was the first day of the orientation at University of Turku, or UTU.  In the morning our department met with the program's coordinator and got to actually see each other in person for the first time.  We have probably the longest name of any of the Master's programs: European Heritage, Digital Media and the Information Society.  Out of the 13 people accepted, 5 were confirmed, and only 4 were actually present - one student from Ghana accepted the study position and then was never heard from again.  So there we were around the table, our coordinator (whose other job is playing and touring in a doom metal band, amongst other musical and academic projects), our two student tutors, Finnish girls studying art history and French translation, and we brave four souls: myself, another lady from the US who majored in communications and has been working in Finland for a few years as a teacher of business English, a Finnish girl who lived in Pori and was somehow trying to be able to study in Turku and live at home (2 hours north by train) who we met only briefly before she had to catch her train home, and a guy from Austria who also has an interest in digital libraries and Wikimedia.

The program itself was discussed a bit, and some handouts were passed around describing the various courses we'd be taking over the course of our 2 years.  Blatantly lacking, however, were the strict schedules I was used to from my undergrad days: you signed up for courses and then structured your life around said courses.  Here, there were discussions about when to schedule our meetings so that they would not conflict with jobs, other commitments, etc. and whatnot, and I was kind of left feeling like I really was not going to get any kind of schedule, per se.  There are a couple of online courses we'll be handling in October, one of which is being coordinated by a guy in Portugal that no one's heard from in a month.  I get the definite impression that the Austrian and I, at least, were used to more structure in our academic planning.  I'm sure I'll figure out the system here eventually, but right now I'm kind of wondering how I'm supposed to plan anything.  I just mentioned that I wanted to sign up for the Finnish for Foreigners course, which I would do as soon as I heard back from the instructor and found out exactly when it was scheduled.  Then, surprisingly, he wanted us to prepare some sort of statement about our thesis already within the next couple of weeks - I'm hoping it's more of a "vague direction" than a "definite thesis title", but we'll see.  Also, we're all expected to do some exchange work in another university - there were a few to choose from, such as universities in Coimbra, Köln, Salento, and Austria, and by the way: those will happen in the spring.  So apparently I shouldn't quite unpack my bags yet, because in four months I'm going to be spending a semester Somewhere Else.  As interesting as that might be, I am going to miss that chance to work on my Finnish skills!

Speaking of Finnish skills, I emailed the instructor for the Finnish for Foreigners course, and haven't heard a thing yet.  I'm finding that the pace of email is a little slower here than in the states, and that the best course of action is often to just show up at someone's office and get your answer there.  Thus, it's on my schedule for tomorrow.

Anyway, after the department meetup we made our way to the main building, where we sat with the other international Master's students (probably about 75 or so) and saw a series of lectures from various reps of the university departments, such as the student housing office, the health service, the computing service, and one lecture that was basically a primer of Finnish history and culture.  They were pretty informative and I got some good info there.  Then we all were funnelled into the Rehtori's office (basically the dean of the university) for a formal welcome in a room filled with wooden chairs carved with the school's seal and large paintings of Old Guys From Days of Yore.  Then, we were free to go, but since the academic workday seems to end at 3 pm, it was too late to visit any of the offices I needed to talk to.  The Austrian and I got some lunch at a cafeteria instead and I headed to the help desk (which was actually open) to collect my userid and password for the university's network.  One of the nice things I discovered is that once you purchase a key to a computer lab, you can print stuff out to your heart's content (though we were advised in the lecture to try to avoid printing the entire internet).  With enough thinking ahead I may be able to avoid having to purchase a printer at all.

I spent most of the afternoon wandering around town on foot, picking up some postcards to send and finally caving in to my greasy American nature and eating dinner at Hesburger, which is Finland's McDonalds.  "Hes" = Helsinki in short.  Afterwards my department pals and I met up in the evening at one of the tutor's apartments, where there was chatting for several hours around some wines, beers, cheeses, various incarnations of salmiakki (similar to licorice, but salty, and a ubiquitous treat over here), and karjalanpiirakat (Karelian pies) and munavoi (a topping for said pies made from boiled eggs and butter).  We shared our various frustrations and annoyances with the student housing system, the student union registration, the language center, you name it.  It seems that we all need to get our student number, so we'll probably storm the office en masse tomorrow after whatever orientation has in store for us.  Ah, the joy of getting everything set up for the first time!

Well, that about covers the events of the day.  It's late and I'm tired, and tomorrow comes early...


  1. I think you got the basics right. Go pester the coordinator/advisor whenever you can find them, and ask them just what it is they're expecting.

  2. Sounds like a good start for actually getting to meet the people around you, at least. Sorry the scheduling's a little lacksadaisical!