A good servant, but a bad master

Artificial intelligence has been slowly developing over the years, until recently it has nearly exploded due to newest advancements. In conversations, it’s even compared to electricity thanks to its upheavals. Some are afraid that AI will take their jobs, but at the same time AI eases our lives greatly. Advancements in AI’s development have intrigued […]

TEKSTI Jere Laitinen

KUVAT Jenna Pakonen

Artificial intelligence has been slowly developing over the years, until recently it has nearly exploded due to newest advancements. In conversations, it’s even compared to electricity thanks to its upheavals. Some are afraid that AI will take their jobs, but at the same time AI eases our lives greatly.

Advancements in AI’s development have intrigued people ever since Alan Turing made his observations on artificial intelligence in the 1950s. Nowadays speaking of AI might arouse visions of independently thinking autonomous robots, which are slowly becoming more common in public services. Although this vision feels distant, recent advancements might make it a reality faster than previously thought. Professor Olli Silvén and professor emeritus Matti Pietikäinen, who have both meritoriously studied and popularised the development of AI, state in their new work Miten tekoäly vaikuttaa elämäämme 2050-luvulla? (How will AI affect our lives in the 2050s? Only in Finnish) that they believe AI to be an assistant of people, not a master.

Today the AI models developed by OpenAI and other AI companies can be applied to the work done by humans, from coding to teaching, information searching, marketing, and creative writing. ChatGPT, which has gained viral success, has actively provoked discussion over the possibilities it has to offer. The possibilities of AI are manifold, but at the same time the concern over its increasing presence in our everyday lives is growing.

In education, the presence and effects of AI have been widely recognized. This autumn the University of Oulu will introduce guidelines regarding AI in education. Despite these common guidelines, the possibilities offered by AI have challenged teachers to examine their course practices in a new light. The guidelines also leave some room for the teachers to assess their course policies in accordance with their own consideration.

The ethicality of profitable AI

ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer), published by the American OpenAI in November 2022, is an AI-based language model that can discuss with its user on an expert level. The user can ask it to write school essays, write the beginning of the user’s own story based on a given topic, open up problems in written code or explain the terms of quantum physics in a simple manner.

The AI in question has existed ever since 2018, after which newer and more intelligent versions of it have been developed. ChatGPT-4, published in March 2023, is the fourth version of the GPT language model and it’s already capable of achieving top scores in exams aimed at humans. As a new feature it can assess images with words and it can be used in different languages, for instance in Finnish.

Thanks to these advancements, ChatGPT has especially provoked discussion regarding the suitability of its use in studies. It’s not easy to tell apart whether an essay has been written by a student or ChatGPT. In Italy the use of ChatGPT has already been banned in March, and according to the supervising authority its use is seen to “expose underage children to completely inappropriate answers when compared with their level of development and awareness.” It’s also debatable whether ChatGPT adheres to EU’s general data protection regulations.

Finnish higher education institutions have also reacted to AI’s presence in the students’ lives. The guidelines introduced in August 2023 by the University of Oulu recognize AI’s inevitable effects on society and the academic world. The guidelines offer guiding principles on how to approach AI from the viewpoint of education.

For instance, the guidelines define that a teacher can decide if using AI is permitted during their certain course. This means that teachers can, within the limits of the guidelines, permit, prohibit, or limit the use of AI depending on what is pedagogically meaningful in relation to the learning objectives. The teacher can utilise AI for instance in the planning of courses, compiling assignments, and assessments. The guidelines emphasise that it’s important to have a shared understanding of what is permitted and prohibited.

OYY, which is responsible for advocating for the students’ rights, has taken part in the preparation of the guidelines. Mikko Hakoniemi, the vice chair of the board of OYY, sums up the guidelines completed in the spring of 2023 with the words transparency and equality. “In a multidisciplinary university, the role of AI will be manifold. Instead of clearly banning or permitting the use of it, the guidelines lead us towards open discussion in courses and towards sharing knowledge of new tools and their possibilities to all members of the community”, says Hakoniemi.

Although utilising AI has awakened opposing views on its ethicality even in Oulu, AI still doesn’t compensate for the students’ own thinking and it cannot graduate from a degree programme on the student’s behalf. The texts generated by AI still need to be checked for factual errors, and AI doesn’t offer any references. The University of Oulu’s guidelines for using AI in studies remind us that students are always responsible for the assignments they turn in, and texts and other creations crafted by AI cannot be presented as the student’s own or as references. The guidelines emphasise that AI doesn’t make up for personal learning, thinking, information processing, and training.

The accountability of using AI is crystallised into equality and following the ethical principles according to the University of Oulu’s guidelines. If AI is used on a certain course, every student must have the same possibilities to do so. In practice this means that assignments cannot demand the use of software that is not free. Ethicality is still based on following good scientific principles and on the same definition of cheating as before. Cheating means any actions the student takes to paint an incorrect picture of their competence.


AI can instead be utilised for instance to form exam questions by teachers. “The teachers can input their ideas on the site, which ChatGPT then turns into polished questions and perhaps gives new viewpoints on the topic. Quite many of the researchers and teachers understand that their questions must be demanding and varied, so that any misconduct cannot happen”, said Susanna Pirttikangas, the research director of the Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at the University of Oulu, in an interview with Yle in January 2023.

It’s particularly because of misconduct that it’s important to create ethical guidelines and supervision mechanisms so that AI isn’t used for vandalism, manipulation or spreading false information. It’s important to be able to recognize information created by an AI. Although AI can answer demanding placement test questions with great success, the factual contents of its creations are still often inaccurate.

“In view of developing education, it’s important to assess AI and both its possibilities and threats analytically and many-sidedly. AI and its methods of application are developing quickly, and it’s good if education keeps up with this development”, describes Elina Niemitalo-Haapola, the programme manager of the Noste development programme. The University of Oulu’s guidelines on AI will be updated as needed, at least once per academic year.

AI in the world of art 

In addition to regular texts, AI can also succeed in creative projects. Based on a given word or premise, AIs are capable of creating stories, poems, stock photos, and even works of art. The creations of AI are also ready within seconds, unlike humans’ creations which generally take up more time.

For instance, regarding art, AI has created new ways of thinking about what art actually is. AIs that create art have become more common especially in 2022, and these AIs include AIs such as DALL-E 2, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion. In the same year at the Colorado State Fair’s annual art competition, for the first time ever, an AI artwork won the award. The art piece in question is called “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial”. This piece of art was made by the artist Jason M. Allen, who faced criticism for winning the award although he had openly announced to have used the Midjourney AI in the creation of his artwork.

In Finland, the University of Tampere has studied the suitability of AI in arts with their UrbanAI Art project. The pieces created in the project were on display at the University of Oulu in March 2023. The AI created a new work of art every couple of seconds by combining features that had been programmed in advance. This way it’s theoretically possible to create a limitless amount of unique images with the materials at hand.

“This art piece raises questions about what art is and what artists are needed for”, said Jussi Lahtinen, the artist of UrbanAI Art project, in an Yle interview in March 2023. 

In relation to the exhibition, it was deemed important to observe how people reacted to art created by AI. The presence of AI and robots in humans’ everyday life often increase anxiety and lessen the feeling of belonging. Art made by AI represents a new trend in the art world and the role of traditional artists, if an artist, or the AI they employ, creates art.

“Artists have always used tools and technologies in their work. Creating art has been collective, and perhaps AI for one deconstructs the myth about artists that there’s only one party creating new things”, said Atte Oksanen, a professor of social psychology, in an interview with Yle in March 2023. Oksanen leads the UrbanAI Art project at the University of Tampere.

Despite its threats, creating art this way can also create new opportunities. AI can be compared with a digital camera which was originally thought to take the jobs of illustrators and drawers because of its ability to capture exact images.

“The main point has always been the idea and the thought of what you as an artist are trying to convey. You use the tools that you have. It’s awesome that artists can use AI that’s capable of learning, because at the best there will be such interactions that feed both the AI and the artist,” said Arja Miller in Yle’s Kulttuuricocktail live show in the autumn of 2022.

In audiovisual productions on social media, the usage of AI is already common for experienced people. Instead of using the everlasting photo directories and their very limited contents, e.g. content creators on YouTube can create more varied, unique, and relevant illustrations than previously to illustrate their videos, enriching the viewing experience. Especially Midjourney seems to be in the favour of content creators in creating visual worlds and images.

Will AI take over future jobs?

Due to its fast and innovative development, AI has arisen questions about the ways it could change today’s society. Especially worrying is whether AI will take jobs traditionally done by humans, and if it will make it difficult to get jobs in different fields. In theory, the need for people would lessen in certain sections if AI took care of similar tasks more efficiently and without using the same amount of time as humans when creating texts and creative works.

AI would have the biggest impact on the jobs of educated experts, such as law firms, according to a study conducted by the universities of the USA. A news article in Helsingin Sanomat mentioned in March 2023 that according to a report by the American Goldman Sachs bank, AI might replace “a quarter of the current jobs in Europe and USA”.

On the other hand, according to the same report, the wider implementation of AI and ChatGPT “would increase the annual gross domestic product of the world by seven percent in ten years.” AI would automate certain simple tasks, which would free the workers to work on other, more profitable tasks. However, AI wouldn’t create new jobs according to the report.

It’s not wise to trust AI on completely independent work. It cannot think intelligently, so to speak, so it’s dependent on the restrictions and databases set by humans. For this reason it’s better suited for instance for defining terms and for simplifying difficult terms.

To keep AI from becoming too influential and threatening, for now there are certain means of restriction in use. For example, the sufficient development of supervision mechanisms and charging fees for using ChatGPT have held back the expansion of AI, but these practices are only temporary.

At the moment, the European Human Rights Council and the European Union are preparing their own legislature regarding the usage of AI, and at the centre of it are human rights questions. Anna-Mari Rusanen, a university lecturer and philosopher in Cognitive Science at the University of Helsinki, notes that implementing AI isn’t adaptable to all situations equally. 

“The concern behind the hype is that we will automate everything, and that at the same time we won’t notice we are bringing forth an ideology we don’t actually want”, Rusanen said to Yle in February 2023. 

Rusanen thinks that understanding algorithmic operations is slowly becoming a civic skill. In science the effects of AI are a point of fascination and there are high expectations for it, but at the same time, it’s important to remember its effects as it spreads. It’s still very important to keep the development of AI controlled so that the horrifying pictures painted by the media about self-driving cars and the revolution of robots wouldn’t become realised in a catastrophic and uncontrollable manner.

*The illustrations of this article have been crafted by real human hands.

* Translation: Jenni Isokääntä.

Jere Laitinen

Oulun ylioppilaslehden toimitusharjoittelija. Opiskelutaustaltaan kokenut ainejärjestöaktiivi ja opiskelijavaikuttaja sekä innokas pelaaja ja kokkailija. 

Lue lisää:

“The teacher identity developed beside the researcher identity” — The Coolest Teacher Ever 2022 Jukka-Pekka Ranta highlights the importance of motivation

A lecturer of mineralogy and geology, Jukka-Pekka Ranta, was chosen to be The Coolest Teacher Ever of 2022 by the Student Union of University of Oulu (OYY). Ranta focuses on the role of motivation and interesting education methods in his teaching. Jukka-Pekka Ranta’s badminton games for the evening almost went off the rails when he heard […]

A lecturer of mineralogy and geology, Jukka-Pekka Ranta, was chosen to be The Coolest Teacher Ever of 2022 by the Student Union of University of Oulu (OYY). Ranta focuses on the role of motivation and interesting education methods in his teaching.

Jukka-Pekka Ranta’s badminton games for the evening almost went off the rails when he heard of being chosen as The Coolest Teacher Ever. He was primarily grateful for students’ support which he also has earned previously via geosciences’ student organization as well as the An Apple for a Teacher -event.

“Geology is, all things considered, quite a small field of study in the university, but it is great that students are active on that level”, Ranta thanks.

Ranta’s career to become a researcher and a university lecturer was still hazy before he started his studies. First working as a bartender, he intended to study psychology but ended up studying geology in the end. Ranta started his studies in 2008 and graduated with a Master’s degree in geosciences in 2012.

“Since the first lecture, I realized that this was for me”, Ranta reflects.

After his university studies, Ranta worked in Lapland roughly for a year in ore excavation. Afterwards, he started his work on a doctoral thesis in 2014. Since that point, teaching has been a part of his career. The doctoral thesis was finished in 2018 after which various postdoctoral research work led him to become a university lecturer in 2021.

Even when working on the doctoral thesis, Ranta did not think of himself as a teacher. The teacher identity developed stronger only during the past few years on the university’s pedagogical studies. Ranta thinks that people come to work at the university primarily as a researcher.

“The development of the teacher identity in the university is a bit different compared to basic studies since most people do not work here primarily as a teacher. Teaching is the small print in the job agreement.”

Practicality and students’ responsibility are vital

In teaching, Ranta highlights practicality and student’s own responsibility in how effectively a student learns something.

“New tools and more student-centered teaching and learning have just during the last few years emerged stronger.”

“Teaching is the small print in the job agreement.”

New teaching methods have helped Ranta to become more practical. For instance, digital workspaces, gamification and inspecting rocks via 3D models have provided new perspectives on standard lectures and study diaries. However, their use has to be relevant for learning.

“One must pay attention to not use them just for the sake of their tools. There must be a purpose for using a specific one.”

In his courses, Ranta emphasizes his background as a researcher and teacher as an influence on what courses he has enough substance knowledge to organize. While pondering their structure, Ranta especially wonders about the responsibility of the teacher.

“During the courses, I started to think about the responsibility that we teachers have. We train such people that have sufficient skills and expertise in work life.”

Nevertheless, the student’s own responsibility is an especially important aspect that the teacher can influence only by so much. Therefore, Ranta thinks it’s important to get the student excited early about their studies so that their hunger for knowledge stays in Master’s studies and long after that.

“I hope my own inner motivation and excitement also reaches the students. It is especially important to get the basic course students new to geology interested in it.”

Approachability and understandability benefit

The voters described Ranta as an easy person to approach and understand and for having great expertise. Ranta recalls his own studies when he felt tense to approach a professor’s or a teacher’s office.

Ranta thinks that his flexibility in courses is a reason for being seen as easy to understand. For example, he may spend some time revising basics if the students have forgotten something essential. Additionally, listening to the students and utilizing various education styles play an important part.

In addition to other researchers, Ranta has also embraced several traits from his own teachers and tutors in his teaching. Each of them have left their mark on Ranta.

“In my courses, I often exhibit similar traits, expressions or maneuvers from my old teachers which is amusing to notice.”

Regarding his expertise, Ranta deliberates whether he can evaluate it alone on a larger scale. He thinks that people in professional work often encounter an impostor syndrome: the difficulty to realize one’s own achievements to be fully earned. Despite this, Ranta’s motivation and passion differentiate him with his studying methods to be a unique teacher.

“The courses where one sees a lightbulb lit above the students’ heads are the best.”

Students’ realization rewards the most

The courses that combine practicality and theory are Ranta’s favourites. He mentions an example, Petrology, in which students explore the characteristics of stones and their formation processes on a macro- and microlevel. In these types of courses, Ranta finds the students’ realization of the discussed topic to provide the best feeling.

“The courses where one sees a lightbulb lit above the students’ heads are the best.”

Ranta faces many kinds of students in his courses. Some students are more motivated than others. Even in difficult cases, he strives to motivate the students’ course work via his own excitement. An important point is to find the core idea and to reflect the course work on geology and as training for the real world.

In the future, Ranta wants to continue his current work in the academic world as a researcher and a teacher as well as to develop his own substance knowledge in mineralogy and ore geology.

“Regarding the education and the development of geosciences, there is still a lot to be done.”

Who?

  • Jukka-Pekka Ranta
  • University lecturer since 2021
  • Responsible for Oulu Mining School’s degree programme 2019-2022
  • Doctor of Philosophy 2018

What?

  • The Coolest Teacher Ever 2022 was awarded in Annos 63 annual celebration 25.2.2023
  • Any student at the University of Oulu was able to suggest any university teacher in any educational field to receive the award for The Coolest Teacher Ever.
  • Selection criteria included the ability to inspire, professionality, being easy to understand, explanation of course goals, paying attention to students’ needs, flexibility and a versatile use of grading methods
  • The award was given for the seventh time. Previously the award was given to Elina Niemitalo-Haapola, Katja Sutela, Vesa-Matti Pohjanen, Oliver Jarde, Matti Niemelä and Matti Kangaspuoskari
  • The decision was done by the board of the Student Union of University of Oulu on 26.1.2023

Jere Laitinen

Oulun ylioppilaslehden toimitusharjoittelija. Opiskelutaustaltaan kokenut ainejärjestöaktiivi ja opiskelijavaikuttaja sekä innokas pelaaja ja kokkailija. 

Lue lisää:

OYY’s new community specialist Viljami Viinikka wants to unify the university community

Student Union of University of Oulu (OYY)  selected Viljami Viinikka as their new community specialist. During his two-year long post Viinikka hopes to be a specialist for the entire university community. Viljami Viinikka, 25, started as OYY’s community specialist in the beginning of 2023. However, Viinikka is not a tenderfoot at the OYY office. He […]

TEKSTI Tuuli Heikura

KUVAT Tuuli Heikura

Student Union of University of Oulu (OYY)  selected Viljami Viinikka as their new community specialist. During his two-year long post Viinikka hopes to be a specialist for the entire university community.

Viljami Viinikka, 25, started as OYY’s community specialist in the beginning of 2023. However, Viinikka is not a tenderfoot at the OYY office. He acted as vice president in OYY’s board during 2022 and was in charge of the community sector. “Work environment and assignments were quite familiar already, which aided in orientation”, Viinikka mentions. “Last year as the previous community specialist Eetu Leinonen’s journeyman he accustomed me to many tasks, but still the transition gets confusing from time to time”, he adds.

Fresh specialist instantly got off the deep end of work when he was assigned two major events both taking place in the first month of his employment. 

The Student Union educates its societies’ active members in Active Clubs February 1st and 2nd. Since the community specialist acts as a link between OYY and societies, organizing the Active Clubs is his responsibility. 

The second event, Löyly, targets the other significant stakeholder group on community specialist’s job description – international students. Löyly is a working life event held 25th and 26th of January aimed primarily towards international degree students, but open for everyone. The aim of the event is to offer practical guidance and tips in seeking a job in the Oulu area, and to provide information about Finnish working life. Another aim is to bring together employers in Oulu and international degree students. The event is fully in English. The program consists of keynote-speeches, workshops, panel discussions and cv-photography. OYY organizes Löyly in collaboration with OSAKO.

Viinikka ended up as community specialist after a deliberation of his own strengths. “Reasons for applying were quite the same as why I ended up applying to study chemistry back in the day: I considered how I could help people and what were my personal strengths. Naturally, societies and advocacy work are close to my heart as well.”

Societies really are familiar to Viinikka. Since moving to Oulu from Lumijoki to study chemistry in the summer of 2017, Viinikka has been a familiar sight not only in his subject organizations’ board presidiums but also in recreational associations’ boards. “Recretional associations luckily have a good footing in Oulu University, you can really witness the communality spirit here.”

Easy to approach yet easily approaching

Viinikka portrays himself as a project-person who enjoys learning new skills. “Continuous development is fun and so are new skills”. When he’s not playing karelian gorodki (kyykkä), he might be doing crafts or exploring new recipes in the kitchen. He tells a story about a time he made appleless apple pie. Reportedly people eating it had a really hard time believing it really didn’t contain any apples, so much it tasted like a real apple pie. “Baking links up with my interest in chemistry”, he says. 

Viinikka also plays the accordion, and sometimes visits to play for albums for various projects. “Recently, I was even asked to go sing for one!”, he laughs. 

Community specialist meets various, colorful people in his line of duty. Viinikka hopes to be the whole university community’s community specialist. For student organizations, a community specialist is a pillar, someone to ask guidance from and seek positive reinforcement. “I’m here to tell that very few things are the end of the world”. 

Community specialist’s job description is divided roughly into two sectors: societies and international affairs. Social work demands for an easy to approach -kind of person, and exactly that Viinikka hopes for himself to be. Not only wishes he to be easy to approach, but has already instigated an ‘easily approaching’ -method for conducting business. “During my brief career I’ve already managed to personally walk straight to a guild room to solve one organization’s problem. I don’t know if previous society specialists have been so forward in their actions”, he laughs. 

As one of the biggest challenges in the University community, Viinikka mentions the divide between international and other students. “The integration of international students to the rest of the student community is an on-going challenge that we must work on”. Especially Covid-19 put a set back to this work, according to Viinikka, and now extra attention must be paid to it. 

As greetings Viinikka urges students to go to exchange. “It is a fine opportunity that vexatiously few students exploit”.

WHO’S THIS?

NAME Viljami Viinikka

AGE 25

STUDIES Chemistry

FROM Lumijoki

Tuuli Heikura

Oulun ylioppilaslehden päätoimittaja ja kauppatieteiden maisteri, joka nauttii syväluotaavista ilmiöjutuista, kuluttaa lenkkipolkuja kahden koiransa kanssa ja haaveilee mankelin omistamisesta.

Lue lisää:

Moving North – Part 2. Borrowed Miles and Lush Hills

Rishikesh Raut went on a journey to the essence of Finnish state of mind: Riding his bike towards the Northern Finland, exposing himself to the elements of the nature as well as its tough love. This is Rishikesh’s journal of his six days on the road. Day 4, Part 1: The Many Routes to Soil […]

TEKSTI Rishikesh Raut

KUVAT Rishikesh Raut

Rishikesh Raut went on a journey to the essence of Finnish state of mind: Riding his bike towards the Northern Finland, exposing himself to the elements of the nature as well as its tough love. This is Rishikesh’s journal of his six days on the road.

Day 4, Part 1: The Many Routes to Soil

As I was now riding towards Ylitornio the road began snaking through lush little hills. Like sleep sneaks in on a classroom-under-performer who has just started studying, Lapland pulled me in its lap without clear notice. The roads contributed to their act; they equally climbed and dropped, over and over. In retrospect, they climbed more.       

I was thanking and cursing their architects on an hourly basis, for the 40 km/h downhill blurs and the 8 kilometre per hour uphill battles. In retrospect, I mostly thanked.

Horses giving mixed signals.
Somewhere in the woods, enroute to Ylitornio.

Google Earth guided me through an unpaved path through a forest, as I stopped once to speak with uninterested horses and then to wet the weeds with personalized minerals. The little gamble had paid off as I avoided the extra miles. For an hour or so, I rode through the trafficless road’s median – as one does when they own a highway. 
 
After a million pedal rotations and 30 odd kilometres, signage showed I was approaching the Arctic Circle. This was the stuff of my geography lectures as a kid. As a grown up kid, I read about Mike Horn, the maverick explorer who circumnavigated 20 000 kilometers worth of this circle. And now I was going to touch it.

It is my suspicion that the Earth doesn’t care much for human ambitions. Mike Horn, Bill Gates, and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari will all taste the same to the soil that will devour them. 

So I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t see red ribbons and scissors, as I biked through the forehead of our world.

Day 4, Part 2: Borrowed Miles

He was on the other side of the road. He crossed and overtook. Thereon, he raced me for a few kilometers as I neared my day’s quota of 100. We spoke no words with the other biker; the language of competition was enough.

During these six days of living by the E8 highway, I got addicted to letting strangers take charge of my bike. Motorbikes, cyclists, walkers – whether it was a thumbs up, a wave, a nod, a smile, a greeting. They had their own distance ratings. If only briefly, these exchanges with fellow beings were like a balm for the mind as the physique grinded. 

When a lone traveller traveling waterless through a desert has the liberty of sipping water only once every five hours, he will drink differently. He will swallow it instantly, but in that little instant when it is moving throatwards, he will know the quality, the essence of it. 

For hours on end, I would not see anyone, assuming all passing cars were passengerless. So even though I exclusively romanced the wilderness, whenever my eyes met another human, I bathed in the oasis of that fleeting connection, and let them ride my bike for me. 

At the Arctic Circle, close to Pello.
Day 5, Part 1: Opening Negotiations

I have a love-hate relationship with sleep. It’s like having a permanent toxic friend. She’s a pain, but I need her.

Some nights I don’t want her at all. I want to skip all the time I’m supposed to spend with her; being alive is just so much fun. And other days I want her for all-time. For reasons unknown to me, I want to be in her embrace until she has no more dreams to show. On those days, mornings become afternoons, and into evenings, after I have forced her further, she shoves me away, and leaves me to deal with the chunk of life I just missed. That’s what had happened on the first night out in Simo, when I had slept until 5pm, 14 or so hours. 

Every day after that was different. I planned to wake up at 8 in the morning, so I did. I wanted to do that and this, so I did. With no effort.  

But on this day, starting from Pello, the ride had begun with exertion. The sun concealed the little city with fat clouds, and the extravagant ball overloaded with flaming red could only penetrate a beggarly gray into the landscape. Its failure to show itself meant that mortal souls – especially those indulging in unreasonable unsheltered endeavours – would make music using teeth. So, I began bargaining.

Day 5, Part 2: Something Changes
“There’s no way we are doing a 100 today. No way. You’re cold and hungry. You didn’t finish your breakfast; you were impatient to get going. As you are riding on low fuel, the granola oats soaked protein powdered milk isn’t letting the oaty bits get to you through the bottle’s mouth. 
"Let’s just do 80. It seems right. 100 is a reach, it takes something extra.” 
“Okay... we’ll do 80 then.” 

When I had biked 15 kilometres from Pello, I was going to do 85 more. I remember reaching the crest of a bridge which stomached a railway line, (underly/overly) when the deal was struck. Like two egoistic men racing each other to an elevator button at-once – two thoughts arose. 

“Nice view, would be nicer – We are doing 100 – to see a train pass by.” 

A switch had flicked.

Day 5, Part 3: Eroded Possibilities

Exploring new corners on my bike, I thought about how much of my life is governed by my brain. The bastard has its own mind. By a mere whim, on mere impulses, it decides what I can and cannot do. The difference between possible and impossible is decided by which side the brain flicks the switch. 

If a mathematician was to solve the equation of a man’s life up to a certain point, of course, he can foretell what the man is going to do next based on the variables of his past experiences. But until such a boring technology is born it is safe to assume that the flicking of the mind switch can be manipulated. 

Our minds are masters of negotiation when dealing with ourselves. Whenever you negotiate with someone, you always aim for the highest value – by gains or savings. But when your mind negotiates with you, it always aims to lose value; unless you consciously push for higher value. 

“100 km sounds hard. Let’s do 80 km instead.” 
“This sounds hard. Let’s do only that instead.”
“Starting today is hard. Let’s do tomorrow instead.” 

Like expert negotiators do, the mind, armed with logic and science, tells us why the aimed value must be decreased. Whether to accept it, is a choice we get to make. If you accept the deal, no one will notice. No one cares. It’s like an Ocean eroding a beach, one sand speck at a time – separating it from Earth’s embrace for its ulterior motives. No one will care except the sand specks who dreamed of sunbathing.

So, knowing its nature, the Mind’s, is it possible to never negotiate?

Day 5, Part 4: Obvious Welcomings

As I swerved into the trail leading to lake Tapojarvi, the land smelled foreign. As every land always is, for its always changing, only too slowly for our unperceptive eyes. But with its sparse civilization and boundless woods, this land was more foreign.

Towards the end of every day, as I neared the target distance, the air would invisibly inject me with a serum of anxiety, using a syringe of anticipation.

These feelings arose due to the complete lack of assurance. “Soon I will rest”. And it meant putting faith in the graciousness of a major river, or an unnamed lake, as it would give me space to lie for the night. 

Before the customary dip into a gracious lake.

Men of the Sahara Desert, if forced at gunpoint to sleep and dream a fantasy of a homeland littered with a certain life-giving liquid, would perhaps imagine a typical Finnish landscape. So, finding a gracious water body in Lapland was always a game of promising odds. 

I was led by an unpaved trail through a jungle, and as I showed myself to the lake, a flock of swans or ducks or messengers of someone who wanted to say, “you can sleep here” flew off from before me, leaving for me, a little of their vast silver-grey kingdom of water, a little of their dew-laden soil and a little of their woodland’s breath…

Rishikesh Raut

Rishikesh captured his biking journey towards Nothern Finland in Autumn 2021. Now, he shares his thoughts.

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An unforgettable studying experience in Finland doesn’t guarantee a career here

Pursuing a higher degree in Finland is indeed an attractive and promising prospect for foreign talent. Why wouldn’t it be? The Finnish education system isn’t one of the best for nothing. This plays a major factor leading many students to also consider a career in their respective fields in Finland. Speaking of personal experience, as […]

Pursuing a higher degree in Finland is indeed an attractive and promising prospect for foreign talent. Why wouldn’t it be? The Finnish education system isn’t one of the best for nothing. This plays a major factor leading many students to also consider a career in their respective fields in Finland.

Speaking of personal experience, as I have studied both in my home country and in Finland, the difference is quite noticeable. In many countries, the students are forced to memorize a massive amount of information, and then take exams based on their ability to recall that information. They could get good grades, but if you ask whether they learned anything, it probably wouldn’t be much.

That’s not the case in Finland. During my studies here, I’ve never felt any kind of pressure from teachers. They have always been supportive and flexible. They’ve also made sure to design the assignments in a way that the student would actually learn from them, rather than rotely memorizing.

The exams were never a verbatim copy of what the teachers taught in the classroom. I think their purpose was to ensure that the students were paying attention. Even if you failed, you would get a second and third chance to make it right, which kind of takes a load off the students’ mind.

I think it is great that the system was designed to give second chances since you can never really know why a student performed badly in an exam. Another positive aspect is that second chances aren’t just in exams, but in the courses overall. During one of the courses I took, I remember being just a few points away from the next grade. To help with that, I negotiated with the teacher to do some additional work to get those points.

Some courses offered alternatives for passing them, like writing an assignment or taking an exam. In the case of a student not doing well in an assignment, they can choose to take the exams, and vice versa. Such alternatives can be found listed in the University of Oulu’s Policies for the Recognition of Learning, for example. So, to those of you who are studying in Finland at the moment, you’ve come to the right place.

However, if you’re seeking a career here after that, I would advise you to think again and do your research.

Many of the foreign students coming to Finland want to stay here and pursue a career. But how useful is it to bring foreign talent here? Foreign employment has been promoted widely through frequent career fairs and workshops, but nonetheless, a lot of the talent goes to waste.

I know many people, myself included, who graduated here, but are unable to secure employment with their Finnish degrees for one reason or another. The most common example of such reasons is the “insufficient language skills”. As a person who speaks Finnish well enough, I don’t think that’s a good reason.

In many cases, we are rejected for no apparent reason, or are simply “ghosted” by the employers. We never get invited to interviews, and we always get the standard rejection message “Thank you for your application. We have received many great applications, but you were not selected this time”. Because of that, we lost the motivation to seek meaningful careers, and by that I mean careers corresponding to our education and acquired skills through that.

We had to settle for menial jobs like cleaning, paper delivery, and food delivery, just to live day by day and meet our financial obligations. I honestly see no sustainability here in terms of ensuring that these foreign job seekers get to contribute to the Finnish job market in their respective fields.

A master’s thesis written by Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi from Lahti University of Applied Sciences talked specifically about unemployed immigrant graduates from Finnish higher institutions. In his work, he indicated that 58% of the participants in his surveys said that they haven’t met their career expectations in Finland. Furthermore, the study showed that 56% disagree on the fact that the job market is welcoming for internationals, and 28% strongly disagree.

Onwutalobi also highlighted a very critical point, which was in regards to the factors that helped in securing employment in Finland. A very small percentage were able to land jobs through applying or through career services (7% and 11%, respectively), while a total of 77% got their jobs through networking or personal reference. Employers say they are open to foreign employment, but are they? If a foreign student can’t even land an internship with these employers, or simply an interview, how can they land a job?

A very important question needs to be asked; are international jobseekers not needed, or not wanted?

We unfortunately have heard of true stories regarding discrimination and injustice experienced by people with not just one, but two or three degrees and a proficiency in many languages, including Finnish. This leads many to believe that the latter is to be true: international job seekers are not wanted. Of course, there are some success stories by people who have made it, but that does not mean that the issue is nonexistent.

If highly educated foreigners involuntarily see a need to deliver food and newspapers, rather than working in their respective fields, then there is a major issue. Many individuals, Finnish people and foreigners alike, have highlighted this issue on a plethora of social media platforms, most notably on the employment-oriented LinkedIn. Hence, the issue’s existence is being acknowledged widely. However, has it been addressed sufficiently? Has there been extensive efforts to alleviate this issue?

We have yet to be proven wrong, but I sure hope we do.

Moaadh Benkherouf

A master's student in Northern Tourism at the University of Lapland, with a background in Environmental and Civil Engineering.

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Part 2. Cultural Shocks: Is the grass always greener?

One of the most common challenges for anyone moving to a new country is adapting to the new culture, traditions, and habits while retaining their identity at the same time. Being an international student coming from an Arabic country outside of Europe, I had a lot of thoughts regarding my identity moving to Finland for […]

TEKSTI Moustafa Khairi

KUVAT Maiju Putkonen

One of the most common challenges for anyone moving to a new country is adapting to the new culture, traditions, and habits while retaining their identity at the same time. Being an international student coming from an Arabic country outside of Europe, I had a lot of thoughts regarding my identity moving to Finland for studying for a master’s degree. Based on my personal experience, I can say it is quite challenging to retain your identity but it is doable, and at the end of the day, it is a choice!

It is hard because of many different reasons that make the two countries almost completely different. Differences starting from for instance the core beliefs to even the food, making a living in a foreign country, not an easy job. On the other hand, no one can force you to do anything that you do not believe in. You have the freedom to choose whatever you want to do without being judged, which also makes it a tough responsibility.

I could write a lot about the different traditions and habits I have experienced living a year in Finland, but I would like to focus more on the Finnish people. Unlike the stereotype, most of the Finns, from my point of view, are friendly but you just need to start the conversation. I have been involved in quite many student associations and communities and have always felt appreciated being just present. Sometimes, I am the only international person in a room of more than 20 people and all of them just switch to English to keep me engaged with them while they do not actually need or have to do that. A few are even fine with struggling to speak their non-native language for the same purpose mentioned.

In supermarkets, for instance, people welcome you with a heartwarming smile, not only when you enter the place but also when you are done and leaving. In buses, it is kind of a tradition to wave to the bus driver thanking him/her for the ride before you get off the bus, and at the same time, he/she waves back and yes, this happens with almost every single passenger!

Most of the people are willing to help whenever they are asked and sometimes they even take initiative. Through my early weeks in Finland, I was waiting for my train at the railway station at it’s expected track and it was almost 4 minutes before the scheduled leaving time and it had not arrived yet. Then, people started leaving the track slowly and I was not sure what was happening. Before heading to someone to ask, three guys standing on the opposite track noticed that I did not start moving as well and most probably I did not understand the Finnish instructions. They reached out explaining that the train changed its track due to a storm that happened and it is going to arrive at a different track and in addition, they offered to guide me to the new track due to the time limitation.

Being appreciated and welcomed, most of the time, is one of the best feelings I experienced living in Finland.


Moustafa Khairi

A Machine Learning thesis worker at Nokia and a Computer Science master's student at the University of Oulu. Also, I am the Founder and Lead of Google DSC in Oulu, Slush group lead, and next president of AIESEC in Oulu.

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