Student unions, associations, clubs, hobbies, and volunteering

‘Student union’ refers to the Finnish lawful student union of universities, and ‘student association’ refers to any other student association. Within academia, I feel that it is easy to get stuck inside one discipline. Therefore, I try to stay open and engage in a variety of different short-term and long-term volunteering opportunities, even those that are not directly related to my field. I also choose to volunteer alongside my education because I don’t feel that education always sufficiently prepares students for the outside world and the workplace. My volunteering has enabled me to develop skills that my education may not necessarily have been able to. For example, I have pushed myself to become comfortable with and understand the importance of meeting new people, networking, and public speaking through attending multiple local, national, and international events and conferences. Initially, I thought that working part-time in the catering and hospitality sector wouldn’t help me towards my aspiration for a career within a humanitarian organisation. However, through this work I have developed stamina because I have often been required to work long shifts at abnormal hours without breaks, customer service when dealing with difficult situations such as angry or intoxicated customers, and empathy because I have gotten to know my colleagues who are from all different kinds of backgrounds and cultures.

 My experience with student unions, associations, clubs, hobbies, and volunteering in Tampere

 I have been volunteering with various organisations for around 10 years, and since moving to Tampere, I have developed this by volunteering in different fields. I currently am involved in the Student Union of University of Tampere (Tamy) Committee for Development Cooperation. This has involved participating in the organisation of a control point for Tamy’s Downtown Orienteering 2017, in which teams were randomly given containers of different sizes in order to transport water from one point to another in the fastest time, demonstrating inequalities; and organising and promoting our stand at the Aatemarkkinat Idea Fair at UTA. I am currently a member of the development cooperation project planning group involving the Tamy and the Student Union of Tampere University of Technology (TTYY). This was formed because of the previous health, sanitation, and nutrition (particularly for women) project in in the Thar Desert in India coming to an end; as well as Tampere3 (the joining together of three universities in Tampere: Tampere University of Technology (TUT), the University of Tampere (UTA) and Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK). The new project will be in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), and will provide awareness about and facilities addressing ecological, sustainable, and safely-managed sanitation; with an emphasis on the needs of women and girls.

Picture 1.jpgThe Tamy Committee for Development Cooperation and United Nations Women Local Committee of Tampere at the Aatemarkkinat Idea Fair at UTA

I have also previously been involved in the Tamy Committee for Environmental Affairs (for which I edited two videos that provide directions to the university recycling room and allotment), and the Tamy Committee for International Affairs. I consider my subject association to be TIPSY (Tampere International Peace Student’s Yawl, now known as Tampere International Global Society Students), which is a student association at UTA that represents the students of the Master’s Degree Programme in Peace, Mediation, and Conflict Research as well as other international master’s students in the Global Society Framework (Global and Transnational Sociology, Public Choice, Comparative Social Policy). I have been Acting Secretary of TIPSY, which involved taking and distributing board meeting minutes; updating and managing the membership and alumni lists; writing blog posts; and auditing the year 2017 budget.

Picture 2.jpgTIPSY 2016 and 2017 boards

I am currently the Vice Chairman of the United Nations Women Local Committee of Tampere. This role has involved taking meeting minutes; co-organising a picnic with the Tampere United Nations Association, Amnesty International, and Tampere European Youth; co-organising a film and discussion evening on female leadership with Amnesty International and Plan; organising and participating in events, namely an International Women’s Day march; organising and promoting our stand at the Aatemarkkinat Idea Fair at UTA; co-organising a film and discussion evening on the role of women in conflict situations in Arab states with Amnesty International and the Tampere United Nations Association; hosting a social event and get-together at my flat where we shared ideas for a bag design for our local group, made foreign/international food together, and people brought their own dish/ingredients to share; and organising and promoting our stand at the Tamy’s Women Culture Days.

Picture 3.jpgUnited Nations Women Local Committee of Tampere at the International Women’s Day march in 2017

Picture 4.jpgThe United Nations Women Local Committee of Tampere at Tamy’s Women Culture Days

As Secretary of the United Nations Association of Tampere, I wrote blog posts; chaired the autumn meeting 2017, in which elections for the 2018 board were held; and collected our internationality award at Tamy’s 92nd anniversary celebrations. I helped at a stall asking people to participate in the Finnish Red Cross’ campaign to write pledges against racism during Finland’s anti-racism week. Afterwards, we compiled the main points and displayed them on the notice board in the main building of the UTA. I also helped at a stall collecting second hand items such as mobile phones, laptops, and craft items, for the ‘Apu-Paku’ organisation, which is a development organisation working at the Gambian countryside. The organisation has a school in Pakau Penku village, where the population consists of around 500 inhabitants, and a small farm. All the donations were delivered to Gambia in June 2017.

Picture 5.jpgUnited Nations Association of Tampere 2017 board

Through the Model United Nations Tampere, I participated in a one-day programme that simulated the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and in which we debated ‘UN Human Rights Council – Right to have rights: refugee flows from the Syrian Arab Republic’. I later attended the Finnish Model United Nations 2017 in Helsinki, a four-day programme that simulated the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), and which we debated ‘’Minority rights and Arctic environmental protection’ and ‘Sustainable tourism in the Arctic’. I also participated in the Model European Union Vienna 2017, a four-day programme that simulates the European Parliament, and in which we debated the Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive and the Natural Gas Transmission Regulation. This inspired me to later join the Tampere Debate Society and attend the Helsinki Open 2018 debate tournament.

Picture 6.jpgModel European Union Vienna 2017

UTA Student Ambassadors represent UTA to prospective international students, answer applicants’ questions in various media, and provide an authentic student perspective. Through this opportunity, I have advised prospective students and applicants, particularly during our ‘clinics’ on social media; written articles; participated in both photo and video shoots to be used for marking purposes on the university website and social media; promoted UTA at Twinkle, Finland’s biggest business event focused on international competence and growth; promoted UTA’s international degree programmes at a meeting for exchange students; used the UTA Student Ambassador mobile phone to market UTA through social media; attended a workshop about UTA’s website landing page and social media marketing communication to potential applicants; met UTA’s rector and vice-rectors to discuss internationality; been interviewed for and subsequently appearing in the university news and a local newspaper article; promoted the ambassadorship at the semester Opening Day fair; been interviewed for student experiences; and gave a presentation entitled ‘How to cope with Finland’ for several hundred new students during Orientation Week 2017. Through being a UTA Student Ambassador, I found out about international tutoring. An International Tutor is someone who helps international students to get accustomed to their new study environment and student life at the UTA. Through this, I attended training sessions; spoke about my experience as an international student, and what I think tutors should take into consideration, for around 40 other international tutors at a training session; and gave two 45-minute campus tours for new international students during the Orientation Week 2016. I also volunteered as a Tutor for the ASAP Asylum seekers + Students Assembly Project. ASAP is a cooperation project of the Tamy and the TTYY. The aim of the project is to familiarise asylum seekers and university students with each other and with each other’s cultures.

Picture 7.jpg
UTA Student Ambassadors 2017

Through being a UTA Student Ambassador, I also discovered the Business Tampere network. My role as a Business Tampere Ambassador has involved being part of an Ambassador network that enhances Tampere’s internationality; attending three networking events; supporting and developing new ideas; giving a presentation about the work of the Tampere Ambassador network during the official nomination of the Student Ambassadors of South-West Finland at Turku town hall; writing articles; proofreading four business texts; attending a lunch with the Mayor of Tampere Anna-Kaisa Ikonen at the town hall for the recognition of the most active ambassadors and the announcement of the ambassador of the year; attending the Moomin Museum Grand Opening Gala Concert; appearing in the Ambassador handbook; participating in an action and assisting groups workshop (Action groups are in charge of planning and executing ambassador activities in 2017, and are available for the monthly meetings, participating in the activities of the group, and completing the mission of the group. Members of assisting groups can help with research, contacts, content, ideas and organising the events.); visiting Mediapolis Tampere (where we saw the studio of the television show Uusi Päivä, and we were in the audience of the live Nenäpäivä (Red Nose Day) urheilu (sports) show); visiting a fingerprint identification local business called Deltabit; presenting the network to visiting entrepreneur Kajal Sanghrajka; attending a breakfast tour around Crazy Town community for entrepreneurs; and presenting the network to Marion Collinson, a British travel blogger who won the Talent Tampere blog post contest.

Picture 8.jpg
In the audience of the live Nenäpäivä (Red Nose Day) urheilu (sports) show at Mediapolis Tampere

I became a Nordic Talent Ambassador through the Business Tampere Ambassador network. This involves being at the forefront of the Nordic professional scene; sharing my story to improve the perception of Nordics as a force in the global industry and thereby enhancing my long-term career opportunities; being acknowledged and recognised for my achievements as a leading talent in the Nordics; being one of international professional talents who are not from the Nordics, but currently are living and working in the Nordics; joining a community of regional business leaders to shape the talent attraction and retention in my new local home away from home; being part of a unique collaborative platform amongst four Nordic regions from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden; and attending the Nordic Place Branding Conference 2018 and follow-up Nordic Talent Ambassador seminar in Copenhagen.

Picture 9.jpgNordic Talent Ambassador seminar in Copenhagen

I was a Team Member of the “Creating UX with Study Advisory” Demola project. Demola projects are something different compared to a normal university course. It can be described as an intersection between a normal study course and practical training that gives students independence in innovation and exploration. Demola does not provide lectures or ready-made educational content but rather the opportunity to work in a team, empower group members, take actions and responsibilities, gather experiences from innovation, co-create in a real business environment, and work within a multidisciplinary and international team. One team consists of students from different universities. Study Advisory is an online platform to help its users think about different study opportunities globally. The need for marketing and student recruitment online has been increasing among universities during past years. We envisioned ways in which Study Advisory could be more attractive for students, and engage and interact with website users. I kept notes and wrote blog posts about our progress. This lead to my position as a Content Writer for a start-up called MeletiApp, which supports students’ integration to become part of the student and university community by ensuring them a smooth start for their studies and required attention along the way based on a cooperative tutoring concept developed in Finland. It’s a bridge builder between international talents and companies looking to go international or strengthen a previously foothold in certain market areas. It’s offering recruitment and staffing service for companies looking for part-time and project-based employees from international students. My role involved website content creation (values, mission, and vision) and proofreading.

Picture 10.jpg“Creating UX with Study Advisory” Demola project

  • I have also volunteered as a participant for research studies, experiments, and interviews. It’s interesting for me to see what other students are researching and be able to contribute to their research.
  • As an Erasmus in Schools School Visitor, I have spent 11 hours visiting Finnish primary, secondary and sixth form schools talking to students about England and English; answering their questions in order to share my experiences, encourage their engagement with learning English; and learning more about the Finnish culture and schooling system.
  • In order to practice my Finnish, I participated in the ‘I read to you’ campaign (minä luen sinulle –kampanja), part of the Finnish 100-year independence celebration in which immigrants studying the Finnish language read simple texts to the elderly or people with learning disabilities.
  • ONE Youth Ambassadors are a team of volunteers who promote ONE’s campaigns across Europe. We lobbied decision makers, raised the profile of ONE’s campaigns in the media, and encouraged the public to sign ONE’s petitions through online activity and local events. I met with two Finnish Members of Parliament (MPs) to talk about ONE’s ‘Poverty is Sexist’ campaign.
  • After being a mentee in the Talent Tampere Mentoring Programme 2016-2017, which is an annual mentoring programme for international talents and experienced professionals in Tampere, I presented my experiences as a mentee at the following year’s mentees’ orientation for the Talent Tampere Mentoring Programme 2017-2018.
  • As an amateur photographer, my photos appeared in the ‘Finland Through International Photographers’ Lens’ exhibition organised by a cafe called ‘Coffee or Tea’ in 2016 in Tampere, and in an exhibition that showed various viewpoints of Finland of photographers from different cultures organised by the TTYY’s TT-kamerat in 2016.
  • ‘Unite the Armies’ is a campaign by ‘Vihreä Elämänsuojelun Liitto ry’ (‘The Green Association for the Protection of Life’) for a new global role for the military. Assistance should also be used to defend us against gradual disasters, in addition to the current commonly accepted assistance in the areas affected by sudden disasters. I volunteered by distributing posters and proofreading emails.

Through UTA’s email lists I have also discovered many opportunities. For example, I participated in the Amnesty International Nordic Youth Conference 2017 in Oslo, an annual event for 50 youth Nordic Amnesty International activists from Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands that consists of a four-day programme consisting of human rights activism and interesting lectures and workshops. Through this, I became part of and helped to build Amnesty’s youth community; learned about Amnesty International’s campaigns; met human rights defenders and extraordinary and exciting young people from all the Nordic countries who challenge authorities; learned how I myself can challenge those in power; contributed to the conference through skillshares and workshops; took part in a public action at the end of the conference; and wrote a blog post that was translated into Finnish.

Picture 11.jpgAmnesty International Nordic Youth Conference 2017 in Oslo

I was also accepted as the representative of the United Kingdom in the 6th Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) Rectors’ Conference and Students’ Forum (ARC6) in Singapore. ARC has been a multi-stakeholder dialogue platform for university leaders, business representatives, policy makers, and students to discuss higher education issues and shape the education landscape in Asia-Europe. ARC addressed the topic of “Future Universities and Graduate: Quality Education Beyond the Horizon” and gathered over 200 representatives from academia, governments, business and industry, students and youth associations as well as NGOs and IGOs.

Picture 12.jpg6th Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) Rectors’ Conference and Students’ Forum (ARC6) in Singapore

Student unions and associations

At the beginning of 2019, UTA, TUT, and TAMK will merge and form a new university community. At the same time, the Tamy and the TTYY will integrate to form one big student union. The new student union does not have an official name yet. The new student union will be the second largest in the country with about 18,000 members. The first representative election for the new student union will be organised in September 2018. The current student unions have also collected the wishes and opinions that the members of the student unions have regarding the new student union. The data collected from surveys will be utilised in planning the new student union. The results of the surveys will affect the way the new student union operates. It seems that the student union really values the opinions of students, for example through frequently distributing such surveys.

My most memorable experience with my student union was being a candidate in the 2015 Student Union Representative Elections. I first got involved with Tamy and its activities when I was a candidate in the 2015 Student Union Representative Elections. At first, I felt discouraged because I felt that my potential for participating was hindered by me not knowing much Finnish then. For example, the Representative Elections Panel was advertised in both Finnish and English, and someone promised me that a translator would be present, but in the end, there was no translator and everything was in Finnish. However, this situation seems to have improved, as an English Panel was provided during the 2017 Representative Elections. Initially, I thought that Tamy was claiming to include international students on paper but not providing practical initiatives to do so. However, I now understand that this is perhaps due to a lack of demand and resources. Since I started my Master’s degree in 2015, it seems that maybe more international students are participating in the student union and its activities. However, I’m not interested in running as a candidate for the representative elections of the student union in September 2018 due to my previous negative experience, and my desire to graduate before then! I also feel that I need information about the student union’s (potential) initiatives and groups that address internationality, as well and social and environmental responsibility, in the student union’s elections in order to find them interesting enough to run as a candidate.

Additionally, during the previous three academic years, I’ve gained 62 credits by spending around 10 hours per week participating in 17 Finnish courses. Therefore, I feel more accepted when I at least try to speak Finnish, even though it isn’t perfect. Unfortunately, not all international students are able to extend their studies in order to participate in language courses, especially not exchange students. I recognise the inclusion of international students as a problematic aspect in my current student union. I would develop the student union in general and its activities by organising activities and events that both Finns and international students can attend together, rather than segregating them. For example, the student union could cooperate with ESN FINT (UTA’s local section of Erasmus Student Network), which has organised several ‘International Speed Friending’ events that help Finns and internationals to get to know each other. Unfortunately, many international students may be encouraged to participate in many activities except those organised by ESN FINT.

I would describe the university’s student culture as having too much focus on alcohol and old traditions that international students struggle to relate to, which can lead to them becoming disregarded. However, I have had many opportunities here that I didn’t have as much whilst studying my country or origin, for example participating in associations and activities related to my Master’s degree in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research, as well as my interests in social and environmental responsibility. In the future, the new student union could better take into account the diversity of the members and the different student groups (such as adult students, international students, or students with family) in the services provided by considering the language, time of day, and nature (such as serving alcohol) of events, and whether these events make any assumptions, reinforce any stereotypes, or exclude certain students (such as regarding gender, sexuality, dating, and socioeconomic background). I think the new student union could organise more alcohol-free events or events not as focused on alcohol, which are missing from the current set of events. The focus could be shifted because we are educated people who don’t all have that much money, and who don’t all enjoy drinking alcohol. I think this relates to the new student union’s role in organising 1st of May/Vappu/Wappu student events. I would develop Vappu/Wappu (1st of May) student events by providing fun and active alternatives to drinking alcohol. I think events that unite students from different fields and even enable interaction with local groups outside the university would contribute to creating common culture for the new student union. I think diversity and inclusion are values that the student events should promote.

Fears and worries that I have concerning the integration of the student unions and the forming of the new student union is that its size might make it difficult to ensure that all students are represented. I think that often, the smaller the community, the easier it is to manage. However, the merger could provide a very useful opportunity to share resources and unite students from different fields. The new student union can respond to my fears by ensuring that international students are represented, although not necessarily through their own committee, as this may reinforce segregation. I think that the student union’s communication is through email and social media is already very effective, and I hope that this continues in the new student union’s communication. The new student union could support the activities of student associations and clubs by especially trying to communicate with international student associations and clubs, reminding Finnish student associations and clubs to consider international students, and discouraging segregation between Finnish and international students. Whilst I don’t often read Tamy’s student newspaper Aviisi, my wishes regarding the student newspaper and suggestion for improving it is including more articles in English. I also definitely think that the student union should communicate about events organised by other student associations at the university. In my experience, many student associations struggle with low levels of participation and membership.

The new student union of Tampere could differentiate from other student unions through improving internationality; as well as maintaining its current strong points of active participation in community, developmental, and environmental initiatives. Taking a stand on societal issues on an international scale is a duty that I think the student union has. Nowadays, many issues such as development cooperation are existent in many countries, and could be addressed by Finland. Additionally, through the development of technology, it’s becoming increasingly easier to address societal issues on an international scale. I think that social and environmental responsibility is important in the advocacy and supervision of interests in the new student union in its lawful educational mission (preparing students for an active, cognizant, and critical citizenship). Additionally, I would like to see the social and environmental responsibility fields represented in the new student union’s cooperation with companies, and receive information or benefits from such companies in the student union’s communication. I think internationality is a value that should guide the new student union’s activities. I expect the new student union to make further progress in including international students. The merge and subsequent formation of a new university community will provide an unprecedented opportunity to start again and make long-awaited necessary changes. I also hope that the student union ensures the continuance of Finnish as a foreign language courses available to international students.

                                                                                                                               Lauren Stevens

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