Part 1. Cultural Shocks: Is the grass always greener?

(Mis)understandings amidst the endeavor of a foreigner adapting to Finnish culture. “Place where you be, do as you see” says a Peruvian saying. It is quite useful to blend into any cultural environment by being aware of the differences, to identify them and replicate them. Better to ride the beast than letting the beast ride […]

(Mis)understandings amidst the endeavor of a foreigner adapting to Finnish culture.

“Place where you be, do as you see” says a Peruvian saying. It is quite useful to blend into any cultural environment by being aware of the differences, to identify them and replicate them. Better to ride the beast than letting the beast ride you, isn’t it? I mean, either you are an international student or a local with international friends, this close contact with someone from a different culture for sure would have some impact on you.

This change is not accidental, neither exempt of conflict. Since we are social beings, we try to mix with the people surrounding us. At the same time, when hitting a new place, we are carrying our bag of beliefs and perceptions. In my own experience, after living in Buenos Aires for some years I went back to Lima with my voice volume a few levels higher, and a more straightforward attitude. If I left Peru being a quiet and reserved person, I came back as a loud and straightforward one.

What is happening to me here in Finland? A mix of everything. First living in Oulu and now married to a Finnish woman, I have Finnish culture in and out of home. And that has created some interesting, funny, or awkward moments. In any case, they helped me to learn more and get a deeper sense of how to behave in the local environment.

Trust above all

Sometimes I tell my wife that to take her to Peru I must train her, to change her trust beliefs. I mean, it has many lovely traditions and people are warm and celebratory, but it also has a problem with respect and trust. And same in most of Latin America. To give you an example, when I was 17, I was robbed two blocks away from home. Concerned, my mom called the police, and then I had this dialogue with a lady police officer:

OFFICER      Did you try to run?

ME                No.

OFFICER      (a little bit surprised) But you tried to knock on someone else’s door?

ME                 (shier) Mmm… no.

(Long and uncomfortable pause)

OFFICER      You need to learn how to defend yourself, young man.

I was embarrassed. Double embarrassed, for letting myself be robbed and for the later reprimand. It was my responsibility to take care of myself, which also included being aware of the potential robbers. Something similar happened in my university. If my belongings were robbed, it was my fault for not watching them. So, I learned how to go around the city, always aware of the surroundings.

With that background, you can imagine now what a big deal it was for me to leave my jacket on the hangers during winter. Yep, leaving them unguarded, in no locker. Free for anyone to take.

It took me almost half a year to gather the confidence to leave it there. It was a cold day, and I could barely focus on class, imagining myself going back home just with my shirt. Walking down back to the green rack, my heart was pounding. When I found it, I felt like a parent picking his child after the first day at the daycare. Joyful and relieved.

Since then, I am more confident about leaving my clothes in the common areas or leaving my backpacks on my seat while going to buy food on the train. However, I still lock my bike. Several posts on Facebook suggest robbers here do not care about money or laptops, but their obsession is those devices with two tires.

The nuances of the system

When I go to the hospital emergency room, I know where I must go just by following the lines on the floor (red, green, yellow, black). I know what percentage to pay for taxes and what my retirement fund is. In need of a bus, I know at what time it is coming.

The system here is planned and effective. So, when I got appendicitis and was taken to the hospital, I thought that everything was settled just by giving them my personal ID. Convinced of this, I had a pleasant stay at the hospital, thinking of how well articulated the system was: just with my ID they were able to contact the insurance company that I put in my migratory application. Success. I left the hospital with this feeling. But unluckily it did not last forever.

It was a day like any other when I received the bill. It was not only for the operation, but also included the penalties for late payment. I was perplexed. I left the hospital with no one telling me anything about a bill. Now I also had to cover extra costs. Why did the nurses not tell me this? I asked this to the people in charge of the bill. “It is not their job”, they replied. And I got perplexed again.

In my previous hometown, although there were abysmal differences between the private and public healthcare system, they both shared something: if you owe them something related to your treatment YOU MUST PAY before leaving. With this background, I was struggling to understand how here everything was so different.

Although grateful for such a lovely attention, I felt a little bit bitter because of the misunderstanding. I mean, after receiving an explanation in the integration course about sexual consent and that I could not circumcise my children without the doctor consent, I was expecting something a little more detailed. Especially when there was money involved. Anyway, I paid straight away and began the process with the insurance company. However, some weeks later, there was another bill. And in this case, it came after they took the money from my bank account. This time I was just furious.

By the point I got the bills, I came back from another country after declining a doctorate position offer. What if I would have left Finland and stayed there? The local services would have lost the money. Maybe even got the impression that this guy with a foreigner name did not want to pay it, when in reality I was not even aware of how the system worked and no one explained to me.

After that I make no assumptions. Even if I sound dumb, I always ask all questions to avoid problems. It feels a little bit like back in school, when asking teachers the questions that my friends did not dare to ask to keep looking cool. Since there is enough cool here, I don’t have to worry about that.

Around flexibility

Studying my Bachelor, I used to have a friend who invited me to go for a beer whenever we met. “Now?” was my usual response, and it always preceded her laugh. For her I was a manic who had to plan everything at least a couple of days ahead. And in that sense, I feel that Finland and I had a wonderful relationship.

Do you remember that application that I said I declined? Well, one of the main reasons that led me to make that decision was the lack of planning. I could not get paid, because I did not have the local ID. To obtain it required around two months, but I only received the acceptance letter from the university two weeks before. After having lived in Finland for a couple of years, that was just impossible to bear.

However, during my studies I also unveiled some other aspects that differ from the usual Finnish thorough planning approach. I explain, before coming to Finland, I used to work as a university teacher in Peru. Mostly with experience in profit-oriented organizations, I was required to grade students several times during the semester. More exactly, three to four grades for practical exercises, and two for mid and end-term tests. And the administration assessed me, according to my compliance with the academic calendar. So, if I was late entering the grades, I would get a call from the coordinator to have a “nice chat” about my performance.

After these experiences, I was somehow manic to deliver all my assignments on time. I could eat or sleep later, but it had to be a well done and punctual delivery. So, you can imagine my surprise when hearing a teacher saying:

TEACHER     Just deliver it when you finish it

(Long pause of disbelief)

ME                 What?

TEACHER     Is it not clear?

ME                 So, no deadline?

TEACHER     No, just finish it.

And those words bring pure joy and bliss to my heart. I disliked that course from the bottom of my heart, but now I had until whenever I pleased to complete the final task. Not next week, neither the end of the semester. No, it was just me and my free will to deal with it. Well, kind of, because I still had to finish the university in two years or pay the corresponding fees.

I did not think about that task again until my classmates started to wonder why we did not get the grades yet. Then, I made peace with the course and deal with the assignment. I finished it during the weekend and send it. It was 67 days after the course finished (I just counted them again for the purposes of this article). The next day we all had our grades. I got a 5, but the guilt of delaying everyone else’s grades made me promise never to delay an assignment again.

With this article I do not pretend to make a generalization of the Finnish society, I just share things according to my own experiences during my time here.

When I came here, I thought that Finland was heaven on Earth. Now, I realized that as any other society, it has its pros and cons. Most of my experiences here had been sweet, and the few bitter moments did not alter my perception that this is a really organized country that cares for people. I am now curious to see how Finland would look in a few years, when more and more foreigners settle down on it.

Pablo Santur

Learning specialist in thesis writing mode. Former TV scriptwriter. Foodie. Anime lover. Twitter: @pablodsantur

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Technology: Master or Slave?

“Moustafa, you need a break now. In order to be able to focus, I suggest going for a short walk or a five-minute meditation” says an artificial intelligence (AI) agent to me after continuous work that lasted for a couple of hours. Sounds like science fiction, does it not? Well, it isn’t! This is actually […]

Moustafa, you need a break now. In order to be able to focus, I suggest going for a short walk or a five-minute meditation” says an artificial intelligence (AI) agent to me after continuous work that lasted for a couple of hours. Sounds like science fiction, does it not? Well, it isn’t! This is actually one of the recent applications of AI in well-being that is achieved by using different wearable sensors and Machine Learning (ML) models that learn from these sensors’ readings. AI and Data Science applications nowadays can guide students and employees to take a rest or relieve stress even when they do not feel they need it depending on their brain activity.

Are you a Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, or Messenger user? Were you affected by the 6 hours when all these apps were down? Have you ever thought about how social media can control our lives subconsciously? Being a student nowadays, we are almost always part of the Internet world. Most of the time we are connected to at least one online application whether attending lectures in Microsoft Teams, submitting homework using Google Docs, listening to music via Spotify, watching series via Netflix on our laptops, or scrolling through Facebook or Instagram feed.

In fact, and according to a Pew Research Center study, around 30% of experts voted that the always-connected life will be harmful to teens and families through the next decade. Meanwhile, 47% of the experts disagreed. They believe that this would serve the people’s well-being and a small percentage of experts believe that there would not be a noticeable difference. According to the same research, experts have concerns regarding the challenges the digital world and technology would result into such as the lack of analytical skills, losing the ability to focus for a relatively long time, and lack of general creativity towards generating solutions given that people will be always influenced by what they see and interact with in addition to the increase in stress, anxiety, and depression.

The more technology evolves the more hopes and fear arise. How we use technology controls the direction!

According to the Global happiness and well-being policy report published in 2019 by the Global Happiness Council, well-being has a clear correlation with the employees’ productivity and retention and as a result the whole working environment. With the help of technology, most of the companies and educational institutions were able to transform into remote work overnight. As much as that was beneficial on many different levels, it also helped in vanishing the line between the work and life balance. According to CNET news, and as of May 2021, there was a 2000% increase in weekend Zoom meetings and a 700% increase in weekday evenings’ meetings on the platform since February 2021. In addition, huge spikes in email usage between midnight and 3 AM were reported by the privacy app maker, SurfShark.

Other concerns were also regarding the direction the big tech giants are adopting based on scientific experiments on dopamine. They work on producing different products that activate this chemical in human bodies which makes the customers stick to these products subconsciously such as video games for teenagers. Other studies conducted by the UCLA brain mapping center, stated that certain brain regions of teenagers are highly triggered by the likes they receive on social media which is one of the most important reasons for social media addiction.

Technology can also have a positive impact on well-being in different areas and domains. In healthcare, for instance, wearable sensor devices and fitness trackers can help and save many patients by helping healthcare professionals monitor their patients on a daily basis preventing health problems way before they occur due to the different sensor readings and metrics.

In education, Natural Language Processing (NLP), which is one of the biggest areas under the umbrella of AI, can be used to customize classes to students based on their understanding levels and progress. The ridiculous routine of administrative matters can be solved and tackled using AI which can result in freeing more time for teachers and professors to interact with students directly.

In the job search journey, which has become an essential part of everyone’s life nowadays, technology and AI-based tools made great progress in matchmaking talents with the right opportunities for them. Recent studies proved that well-being and job security have a clear positive correlation.

Being an AI student and working as a data scientist, I can say confidently that there are a tremendous number of applications of AI and data science that can revolutionize the well-being world but it is all about who will have the right to use these applications, how they will use them and for what purposes. Having access to this amount of data and powerful applications can be tricky and lead to disasters in the wrong hands. On the other hand, maximizing the benefits of the digital world without being controlled by it will be one of the most important challenges that we need to accept, understand and work on a concrete solution for.

“Technology itself is not going to do anything if we are not empathetic. First, we need to understand the needs we are trying to address. And then technology can be in service of those needs.”

—Juliana Nunes, global head of HR, Enterprise Technology, Johnson & Johnson

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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The deranged, the distressed, and the detrimental – The stigma of the severely mentally ill is still strong

Petteri Pietikäinen, who has researched the history of madness for over 20 years, has always been interested in the fate of utopists, anarchists and other outcasts. How has our attitude towards madness changed over time?  “[…] And so the unfortunate sufferer is shackled to a corner or kept in the dark, being fed from a […]

Petteri Pietikäinen, who has researched the history of madness for over 20 years, has always been interested in the fate of utopists, anarchists and other outcasts. How has our attitude towards madness changed over time? 

[…] And so the unfortunate sufferer is shackled to a corner or kept in the dark, being fed from a small hole in the wall. There they shall live in their loneliness day and night, in the most miserable condition, hungry and thirsty, sweating in hot weather and then shivering with cold, in the dirt, among parasites. They shall listen to insults and face contempt.”

“Treating the insane” (fin. Mielenvikaisen hoidosta), Savo newspaper, 7/1889

This was the fate of some mentally ill patients back when institutional care was not yet common in Finland. Usually the mentally ill were sold as paupers or they were moved from home to home as lepers – worst case scenario, the mentally infirm were isolated and cuffed. 

The excerpt is from Professor of History of Sciences and Ideas at the University of Oulu, Petteri Pietikäinen’s work titled Kipeät sielut: hulluuden historia Suomessa (trans. “Unwell souls: history of madness in Finland”). “Unwell souls” sheds light on the history of mental health in Finland from the 1850s to the 1960s. The work is a sequel to Pietikäinen’s earlier book Hulluuden historia (trans. History of madness), published in 2013. 

The semantic shift of hullu: who does it apply to?

In the 1800s, hullu (trans. mad) was still a general term for the mentally ill. 

However, the word hullu has always carried other meanings in the Finnish language. According to Pietikäinen, for example, Juhani Aho’s work contains several mentions of the word in both adjective and noun form (i. e. hullu and hulluus). However, Aho refers to the foolishness and unpredictability of people’s actions, not to mentally ill individuals, for example in the statement “Mad is he, who splurges his money on girls” (from the short story Kello, Ensimmäiset novellit, 1883)

According to the dictionary of the Institute for Languages of Finland, another definition of hullu is “wickedly awesome, funny” in contemporary Finnish. This is the definition that, for example, the title Hullut päivät (trans. “crazy days”) carries, referring to the prices of Stockmann’s 5-day long sale.

As modern psychiatry developed in Central Europe in the 19th century, the term hullu was replaced with different diagnoses. Ever since antiquity, madness had been divided into three varieties: mania, melancholy, and frenzy. As the definition transformed into a medical mental illness during the century, the amount of diagnoses multiplied and new illnesses, such as neurosyphilis, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder were identified. Nowadays, the terms mental health patient and mentally ill are used (The Finnish Blue Ribbon). 

So, should the word crazy then be used when talking about the mentally ill? Pietikäinen emphasises that it is not appropriate, unless the mental health patient decides to call themselves crazy, as for example, author and theatre director Juha Hurme has done.

“Juha Hurme is civilised for knowing the original definition of the term hullu

From closed psychiatric hospitals to outpatient care with the aid of psychopharmaceutical drugs

As the focal point of psychiatry shifted from Europe to the United States in the 20th century, psychopharmaceutical drugs to treat mental disorders were developed. Especially the introduction of chlorpromazine in the United States in 1955 caused a significant turn in psychiatry. 

Before the invention of psychopharmaceutical drugs in the 1950s, symptoms of mental health disorders, such as suffering from hallucinations and delirium, would be visible in patients as such. Patients could only be offered, for example, sleep-inducing drugs and narcotics such as chloral hydrate (sometimes referred to as knockout drops) and derivatives of opium, which were not very effective. Nowadays the mentally ill receive medication early on in their sickness, thus relieving their symptoms. 

Researchers have estimated the introduction of psychopharmaceutical drugs to have led to the reduction of psychiatric beds. For example in the United States, the number of psychiatric beds has decreased to a tenth in 50 years. Whereas in the 19th century psychiatric institutions were often the final station for the mentally ill, few spend their whole lives in psychiatric hospitals in the 21st century. 

According to Pietikäinen, the prescription of strong medication is justified because it enables shorter treatment periods as opposed to longer treatment, which is more costly to society. However, medications do not cure mental illnesses, and they should only be used short-term alongside therapy and social support. 

“Of course psychopharmaceutical drugs help, and it is good that we have them, but the systems should not be built to rely on them”, Pietikäinen states. 

It’s a social engineering skill: from crazy people to proper citizens

The definition of madness studied by Pietikäinen shall not be limited to people who have got a contemporary psychiatric diagnosis, but shall include all those deviants that society has shut out at some point.

Pietikäinen calls this (mis)treatment of individuals who deviate from the norm social engineering. The concept refers to socio-political planning, which aims to change the behaviour of a certain group of people in a desired way. The focal point of it has gradually shifted from prison management to child protective services, education and health care. The concept gained its prominence through philosopher of science Karl Popper’s work titled The Open Society and its Enemies (1945), and it has mostly been employed in Swedish study of history in the 20th century, especially in discussion about social design and in creating “the people’s home” (swe. folkhemmet); a political concept which played a significant role in the Swedish welfare state in the 20th century. 

Political adaptation should always be investigated in its context. A hundred years ago, Finnish society designers had very different ideas as to what a proper citizen was like than contemporary social engineers do. The idea of moulding citizens to fit societal needs is still prevalent. 

“The expectations of a proper citizen are imposed on students also by pushing you to graduate as soon as possible and enter the working life”, Pietikäinen points out. Utilitarianism is still prevalent: good taxpayers are desired.”. 

According to Pietikäinen, the most important difference between former and present times is that instead of using discipline, the mentally ill aim to be helped using rather gentle means, such as social support and therapy. 

Discussion nowadays is more accepting, but the severely ill remain invisible

Another clear difference is that mental health issues are nowadays discussed more openly. “If one uses social media at all, they will encounter discussions about mental health.” However, few talk openly about severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. In the media, severe mental health issues are usually only mentioned in contexts of criminal sentences, which further reinforces the stigma. 

“It is different to talk about issues that will pass and ease off than to talk about being in some way chained by that illness forever”, Pietikäinen says. 

Pietikäinen finds one reason for this to be the fact that people have an easier time understanding minor mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Each one of us has some sort of personal experience of these. It is difficult to treat people with severe mental illnesses naturally, not having any understanding of their disorders. 

“I don’t know what it’s like being severely mentally ill, either – it is such a distant concept.”

On the other hand, experiences shared on social media often bring out the heroic and survival stories:  people have recovered from depression or some other mental illness and enthuse over how they survived their illnesses, and what it taught them. The idea of the “proper citizen” is visible even behind this narrative. Can only the already-recovered mental health patients fit into modern society?

Improving the connection between the healthy and the ill – could we learn from the past?

Even before the invention of psychopharmaceutical drugs, we aimed to develop alternative treatments for institutional care – some of which could be used as an inspiration even today. A good example would be the family care, invented in a hospital in the village of Nikkilä, Sipoo in the early 20th century, which gained popularity especially in the time between the wars. Nowadays, the term family care refers to children in foster care being placed in a new family. 

In family care,  a patient would live in a farmhouse near the hospital and participate in the housework. The patient would be a part of the family’s everyday life just like the other family members, but the family would receive a subsidy from the government. 

Although family care never became widespread in all of Finland, it has been proven to have had a positive impact on relieving prejudices. According to research, it seems as though people had a more open attitude toward mental health patients in municipalities where family care was practised.

“If family care was, for example, newly adopted somewhere where there had been a mental hospital for, let’s say, 10 years, people in those areas would have more prejudices against the mentally ill and fear them”, Pietikäinen clarifies. “It has been a big help as people have had the chance to see that mentally ill people are not scary or strange.”

The attitude toward mental health issues has changed during different time periods, and the severely mentally ill have by turns been feared, isolated, medicated and listened to. For example in the medieval times, hearing sounds was not necessarily deemed strange, but it was believed that people experiencing auditory hallucinations had a connection to God. 

According to Pietikäinen, mental health problems are part of humanity and life – the line between healthy and ill is eventually quite fine. The surprising misfortunes and setbacks of life can lead to depression and anxiety. On the other hand, it has been indicated that in a state of sensory deprivation, a human becomes delirious, anxious, and begins hallucinating in a few hours.

“The mentally ill are, after all, pretty much the same as us so-called normal people. We also have our episodes at times – and there is nothing mysterious about it, nor is there a reason to fear it.”

Frida Ahonen

Suomen kielen ensimmäisen vuoden opiskelija, joka on valmistunut valtiotieteiden kandidaatiksi ranskalaisesta Sciences Po Pariisin yliopistosta.

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Before getting the job

The path to get a job is full of ups and downs. It is not an easy task, especially when facing unemployment in a different country, and lacking a professional network. This is a short story of my journey to get my first full time position in Finland, and what I learned along the way. […]

The path to get a job is full of ups and downs. It is not an easy task, especially when facing unemployment in a different country, and lacking a professional network. This is a short story of my journey to get my first full time position in Finland, and what I learned along the way.

Maybe you, like me, have heard tons of stories about what a struggle is to find a job in Finland (even more in COVID times). Anger, frustration, and fear are some of the many emotions I remember when talking with people who had already gone through that path. I did not want the same, so I did my best during my study years to pave my way to a job, as smoothly as possible.

When finishing my studies everything was ready. Or I thought it was. But in the end, as often in life, a sequence of unexpected events put me in the situation I was more scared of. Back then I had to face the upcoming ending of my residence permit with no job and just enough savings for some months. A foreigner job-seeker with a strong determination, which was tested several times in my pursue of a full-time job to make a living in Finland.


I came to Finland with the sole goal of finishing my degree within my two-year scholarship. The idea of staying here came after meeting my (now) wife. We agreed that this cozy Nordic country was more convenient for our future plans. Hence, I had to carefully prospect my next steps. If coming here took me a couple of years of planning, to get a job without a network and knowing the language was not going to be an easy task. Anyway, I was happy to face it.

After living here a while, I realized that regarding humanities, which is my field, Finnish was a huge obstacle to get a job. Also, although I have a reasonable previous working experience, since my mother tongue is not English, I was in disadvantage to native speakers when applying to job positions asking for “native or almost native English language skills”. I mean, I am proficient, but I make mistakes every now and then.

Therefore, I considered as the most suitable option, to apply for a doctorate position. I enjoyed doing research, I had previous teaching experience so it seemed like a good option. But to get the study rights to a doctorate position and to get a paid position are different things. A job does not just fall from heaven. So, I went back to planning stage, prospecting different research groups in Finland and also nearby countries, just in case.

Luckily, after writing many mails, research plans and motivation letters, I got a paid doctorate position. It was not in Finland but close enough to have a reasonable long-distance relationship of visiting my beloved once or twice monthly. Also, it was aligned to my previous line of inquiry. I was happy, and for a moment I felt in heaven. Little did I know, it hasn’t all been said yet.

So, I declined the offer and came back knowing my plans for the next four years were crashed.


After arranging all the papers, saying goodbye to my friends, making plans with my partner, and stressing over COVID travel, I arrived at the new city. Then everything started to crumble.

I knew that part of my income would come from the government, but I ignored that it was a grant that in some cases was denied. Even doctorate students who got it, did not get the money until they got the local residence permit. But the tricky thing was that the process takes two months, and I got the acceptance letter barely 15 days in advance. The cherry of the cake? My boss and my coordinator told me different things when asking them about it.

All those incidents were red flags for me. I have worked in organizations with similar problems before, and I have to say my experience was not good, to say the least. A piece of advice: if you detect them, stay and contribute to fix them or leave immediately. Also, after living in Finland for a couple of years I realized that at the bottom of my heart I love order and clarity. So, I declined the offer and came back knowing my plans for the next four years were crashed.

This time I had not chance to do some prep-work or plan. After deducting the travel expenses and money spent on preparation for a 4-year stay, I had enough savings for some months. The clock was ticking, and I had to start looking for a job straight away.


Back in Oulu, I knew my next step was to register as an unemployed job-seeker in TE-Toimisto, which is the Finnish employment agency. However, this was not an easy move to make. From my perspective, asking for help to get a job from an institution meant to me not being able to find it by myself. I felt kind of defeated. And while attending the language course, one thought was still echoing in my head: what if you don’t get a job?

Before I finished the university, I met several people who struggled professionally here. It was not easy to listen to them and witness their frustration. All of them had relevant professional experience and English was almost a second native language, however they could only get a job as cleaners, dishwashers, or fundraisers. In such positions, I felt their energy was drained twice: for doing the job, and for coping with the idea they could do better.

I could feel this feeling nesting in me. And I was fighting it when applying for different jobs and getting interviews invitations. In some cases, I got to the third, fourth or fifth interview but then an email beginning with “Unfortunately…” dropped me back to that feeling again: resentment.

At some point it became overwhelming, and it was difficult to manage. I blew up interviews, vomiting my frustration or bragging about my skills. And the consequent rejections drown me even deeper. Somedays I could not recognize the resentment and sadness in my eyes looking at the mirror.

I started to blame myself for leaving that doctorate position. Many times, I found myself not paying attention to the class but desperately searching for jobs online. Several months later, there was not yet a real offer on the table, my savings were almost gone, and my only real option was to deliver food. My self-confidence was crumbling when I complete the registration form of one of these companies. Like preparing myself in case that real job I was looking for did not happen after all.


During my job-hunting process, countless times I felt like quitting. And every time, the encouraging words of a beloved one arose to support me. Despite the problems at home and discussions because of money issues, my wife always pushed me forward. Kind words and caresses before sleeping helped me to overcome frustration and sometimes despair. Same with my parents. Them telling me their anecdotes of raising three children during a tough economic crisis. If they could cope with that how I could not overcome this?

Friends also played a key supportive role during this process. Some of them encouraged me to explore other fields, introduce me with people that could help me, or even invite me to collaborate in projects together. Moreover, they were also a source of inspiration to realize what I really wanted.

Amid my struggle, my initial search for jobs related to my field was broadened towards positions such as content marketing, coordination, or audiovisual production. But through some deep conversations, I could realize why I decided to leave positions related to media and use that expertise in educational settings. Based on my own experience as a student, I wanted to create a rich and nurturing experience for my students. One beyond learning content but helping them to grow as human beings.

When realizing my purpose I looked in hindsight. Every time I took a job just because of the money I did not enjoy it at all. It was just money. I felt uncomfortable not giving my 100% because, conscious or not, I was seeking the job I wanted to be in. On the other hand, when I have found a job aligned with my values. Oh my god, that was heaven. And that was what I was looking for.


After reaching that clarity, I got a job interview for a position as a lecturer. This time I did not hesitate to express my ideas and beliefs. I wanted the job, but I was also confident in my approach, and why I wanted the position. I wanted to help, and I had a certain idea of how to do it. I left that conversation with the confidence that whatever I got the position or not, I said what I honestly believed.

A couple of days letter, I found in my inbox an email starting with: “We are happy to announce you…”. My wife got worried seeing me crying, but few minutes later we both hugged and laughed. That afternoon we celebrated – worries were finally over after almost 8 months of stretching our budget to unexpected levels of creativity. Let me tell you, trying to have a balanced diet with a narrow budget is certainly a trigger for inspiration.

Now I have a job for one year. What would happen after that? I don’t know. I will do my best to keep it, but unexpected things can happen anytime. Life cannot always be happy, so more likely I will face times of uncertainty in the future too. So, now I will enjoy this new job, time with my wife, and the yoga classes, which were an additional resource to keep my mind focus on difficult times.

Pablo Santur

Learning specialist in thesis writing mode. Former TV scriptwriter. Foodie. Anime lover. Twitter: @pablodsantur

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Life in 18 Square Meters: A Uni Student’s Experience with ADHD During Distance Learning

When we think about educational accessibility, we often consider our own experiences of whether or not we feel fully included in educational activities. The realities of distance learning have made the burden of coping with daily life difficult for university students, but even more so for many with special educational needs.

Otso started his studies in Autumn 2020. He had realistic expectations from the beginning. 

“I knew university studying would be hard. High school was hard, middle school was hard, and I assumed it would only get harder.” 

He made a plan to take it easy for his own sake; pacing himself with his studies, especially now during the pandemic. Otso recognized that it would be challenging. Still, he didn’t anticipate the amount of difficulties he would experience with remote teaching in reality. The lack of routine, fewer lectures, more assignments, next to no face-to-face teaching, no clear schedules, and broken sleep patterns are some of the main struggles of distance learning life for him.

The amount of distractions at home has been the most frustrating part of distance learning for Otso. He describes seeing the sun rise and set from his window. He watches the people drive by in their cars, going somewhere else. 

“With face-to-face learning, there are fewer things to take my attention and distract me.” 

Studying from home without a real-life social context – one person,  a screen, and distractions – makes distance learning particularly challenging. Otso points out that ADHD makes it difficult to read and focus. He thinks this gets overlooked and is often “seen as just a wild little boy’s problem, which it is not.”  

Positive Social Pressure

For Otso, working together with others makes a great deal of difference. “Working in a group gives me a sense of urgency and motivation and mutual accountability – positive social pressure.” He feels that Zoom breakout rooms are something, but the social connection that creates the ‘right sense of pressure’ is just not there. “I remember at the beginning of term when it was easier to meet up with classmates and we’d get together with a few people. I was proud of myself for how much I got done then”, he reflects. 

In addition to doing coursework together, the emotional and social support from classmates is significant: “Our class  has been really great about that. There have been lots of crying emojis on our class Whatsapp group and probably real crying behind them.”

He values the great job his classmates have done in being there for each other and being non-judgemental even in hard times.

So far, Otso has also had positive experiences with university teachers being responsive and flexible during distance learning. However, he proposes that teachers could reduce the workload and offer tasks on a schedule that are less open-ended. 

“Distance learning gives more flexibility, but for me that is a big no.” 

A routine helps Otso remember to take care of himself and manage time effectively. “It really helps keep me focused when there is a specific time to do things: eat, work, move.”

He remembers a seminar at the beginning of the term handling life skills, goal setting, and motivation. Otso thinks that being coached on the importance of these things is not enough if you don’t have a routine to keep the motivation going. In particular, for students beginning their studies and for students with special education needs this is a vital tool that can make all the difference in learning.

“Having a routine in general helps with #adulting too,” he jokes.

Is the University doing enough?

Otso feels that the university has offered some help when he sought it out. He was referred to a psychologist and offered some adaptive learning support.

“I got a paper saying that I had the right to turn in assignments later and was allowed some flexibility by adapted assignment return dates.” 

Still, he doesn’t want to speak for everyone.

“To be honest, I don’t know enough to say whether the university has done its best for special education needs learners in general”. He states that, “being a self- advocate was important in making sure I got help and took it.” There may be students who suffer and do not have the tools or knowledge that they need to be proactive and get help.

Despite Otso having a positive experience in getting support, he describes having feelings of being wrong or weird when struggling with distance learning.  He started his studies this academic year and the combination of being new to the university and not meeting expectations has been a heavy burden to carry. 

“My self-esteem has definitely been affected. I’ve been dealing with depression again because of it. Generally, the distance learning situation has affected my overall physical and mental health.”

Due to the difficulties, Otso is taking the spring semester off and delaying studying until autumn. During his leave he has continued developing his teaching experience by substituting when possible.

Looking forward towards the autumn term he has feelings of optimism and realism. “I hope that everything goes back to normal, but in reality I am feeling that it will be hybrid at best.” 

As the interview comes to an end in Tellus glass box number 4, he says something many remote studiers can relate to. “Thanks for giving me a reason to leave my flat… All of 18 meters squared.”


The student-led education event, Burning Questions 2021, featured a workshop on Special Educational Needs provision during distance learning. Participants offered their recommendations for better practice from the student and teacher perspectives.

The number one recommendation from the student perspective was simply: Ask students what works best for them. 

Continuing the dialogue between students, university teachers, and administration about what works and what doesn’t work will help make distance learning more accessible to all. 

Self-advocacy skills were seen by many participants as vital – even more so during distance learning – and they should be taught. 

Minimizing the cognitive burden of distance learning can be done by aiming to make it as close as possible to face-to-face learning. 

Empathy, differentiation, and more training are some suggestions participants made for teachers/lecturers. 

Time before and after online lecturers for informal discussions can contribute to student well-being and motivation. 

Finally, peer support groups and guidance for making an effective daily routine can make learning more accessible for special education needs learners as well as for all students.

Anna Heumann-Kaya

Intercultural teacher education student. Amateur Yogi and professional Humanist. Believes written word is the spice of life. Twitter: @AnnaHeumannKaya

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Studying to go back to normal in autumn – Rector Jouko Niinimäki says teachers will decide

It’s not yet been decided whether studies this autumn will go back to normal or stay remote, says Jouko Niinimäki, the rector of the University of Oulu. The goal, however, is to return to normal.  “We hope and believe that we can get back to normal by autumn. At the moment, we believe that the […]

TEKSTI Iida Putkonen

KUVAT Iida Putkonen

It’s not yet been decided whether studies this autumn will go back to normal or stay remote, says Jouko Niinimäki, the rector of the University of Oulu. The goal, however, is to return to normal. 

“We hope and believe that we can get back to normal by autumn. At the moment, we believe that the corona situation will in any case calm down for summer. It’s safe to assume that all adults will have at least one dose of the vaccine by August.”

Niinimäki says that national or regional exit-plans may restrict the university’s hopes, as they will decide in which order services will return back to normal. The university has announced earlier that it’s preparing to organise courses as contact-teaching from the 1st of August onwards.

According to the rector, the university hasn’t made any exact plans about transferring to contact-teaching nor planned separate guides for teachers.

“No instructions for autumn have been planned, and there won’t be any guides from the university management. Instead, they’ll be decisions made by teachers and students on the field”, Niinimäki comments.

When last autumn contact-teaching was mainly secured for freshmen, this time around the goal is to offer contact-teaching for everyone. The hope is that everyone could start normally, Niinimäki says. However, it’s not purely a return to the old normal.

“During the pandemic, we’ve learned some things both in work and study life that we want to keep. I believe that neither students nor teachers want to return to quite the same daily routine as before the pandemic, but instead some remote work will become permanent.”

According to Niinimäki, remote studies have brought people more freedom and decision-making power about their own schedules. However, it’s not the purpose to get stuck with remote work forever.

“Contact-teaching is extremely important, and the university will continue to keep offering contact-teaching as much as possible. It’s well known even through research that time spent together with the teacher improves learning.”

However, mass lectures for hundreds of students might benefit from being remote in the future as well, the rector thinks. If the teaching is one-sided, there’s not that much of a difference whether teaching happens in the same physical location.

Entrance exams to test things out 

For this spring, teaching will continue remotely, but contact-teaching will be tested with the spring’s entrance examinations. Last spring universities arranged entrance examinations through alternative methods, such as digital exams and acceptance based on grades. The changes of the criteria received critiquing, which Niinimäki agrees with.  

“The critiquing was justifiable, and I agree with it. Because of it, universities have now decided to arrange entrance examinations in person. When you look at the national corona situation, I’m confident that it’s going to be fine.”

Niinimäki emphasises the increased safety measures of the exams and the fact that there’s enough space for each candidate on campus. However, there’s still a problem with examinations being arranged in person: if a candidate is in quarantine, they can’t participate in the exams this year at all. The common guide for universities states that a candidate who’s otherwise ill, in a voluntary quarantine or waiting for test results must also not participate in the exam.

“Due to getting ill, there might be individual injustices. They’re sad things and personal tragedies, but as for corona, you can say that if someone wants to protect themselves from an infection before the exam, all needed means are available.”

This year 20 133 people applied for the University of Oulu, which is over 3000 more applicants than last year. Despite the large number of candidates, rector Niinimäki is positive that the University will get through the examinations safely.

“I hope that people coming to the examinations live so they won’t get an infection before the examination. I trust that things will go well in Oulu, and that an easier time will dawn by autumn.”

In practice an easier time in autumn would mean contact learning for both new and old students and a return to the old normal in August.

Iida Putkonen

Oulun ylioppilaslehden entinen päätoimittaja. Tiedeviestinnän maisteri ja glögin ympärivuotinen kuluttaja. Etsii revontulia, riippumattoja ja juuri oikeita sanoja.

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