An Interview With Alina, a Social and Cultural Anthropology Student in Contemporary Societies

The Master’s Programme in Contemporary Societies (COS) at the University of Helsinki aims to provide a variety of fields, topics, and phenomena to study. But how do its students feel about the programme and the city?

Alina Deresh, a first-year Contemporary Societies student, discusses what made her choose the programme, the pros and challenges, and student life in Finland.

The Person and the Programme

Who are you and what were you doing before you joined Contemporary Societies?

I am currently in my first year of the Master's Programme in Contemporary Societies on the Social and Cultural Anthropology track. Before joining COS, I studied Educational Sciences (History) and Sociolinguistics. 

Why did you choose to study in Contemporary Societies and Social and Cultural Anthropology?

I did my first master’s in Sociolinguistics, namely Language Policy in the Context of Ethnocultural diversity, where I researched language shift and language vitality among Sakhalin Koreans. I also wrote my thesis on linguistic identity and language revitalizations among the Sami community of the Kola Peninsula. As my thesis and academic interests were on the intersection of sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, I decided to get my next education in social and cultural anthropology to study various societal issues from perspectives other than purely linguistic. The COS programme seemed a perfect choice due to its truly interdisciplinary nature and an opportunity to learn from your peers.

Have you found anything special about studying in Contemporary Societies and your specific study track?

For me, it’s people from different backgrounds who come here to study various societal issues, and it is the COS programme that can unite them all.

Studying at Helsinki

What does a typical day as a part of this programme look like for you?

As COS students we study in the city centre, so the final destination of your everyday commute is the University of Helsinki station if you come by metro. Another nice way to get to uni is by bike, whether it’s your own or a city bike as Helsinki is the perfect city to cycle.

It’s mainly you who is in charge of your schedule so the amount of classes during the day varies. I usually have one or two a day, quite rarely more than that. As the buildings on the City Centre Campus are located very close to each other, it is easy to get around. In between the classes, you can always grab lunch (for a very reasonable price!) in one of the UniCafes. My recommendation is the one in the main building (päärakennus).

Have you found anything challenging about your studies here?

So far it has been the curriculum. As COS is still quite a new programme with a multidisciplinary nature, it might be quite challenging to navigate through all the existing courses when creating your study plan. Guidance from teacher-tutors is valuable but organizing more meetings with both teacher-tutors and student-tutors (perhaps second-year students) at the beginning of studies might be very helpful. 

How do you feel about the city and the university as a place to study?

I love both the city and the university. For me, one of the most important things I’m looking for in choosing a place to live is the proximity of nature, efficient public transport (which allows you to freely move around the city using different means of transport, preferably with the same ticket), safety, and affordable housing (both price and availability). 

Helsinki has it all and sometimes even more. My apartment’s windows are facing the forest. The bus stop is right at my door. I can get to the uni in 30 minutes. You can avoid freezing in winter by using a special passage between the metro station and the university library.

The university library is one of the best places on the City Centre Campus to study or just to veg out a bit. You can always find a spot up to your needs. 

In the summer Helsinki becomes a whole new city. I could write an ode to summer Helsinki. There are a bunch of activities to do from going to nearby islands by public ferries to renting a floating sauna.

Was there anything that surprised you when you first came to Helsinki or that still surprises you?

How efficient, clean and cosy the city is. It seems like every person is taking care of it. Another thing is the amount of nature around.

Looking Into the Future

What would you say to students who are considering joining the Master's Programme in Contemporary Societies?

You might be struggling with a choice of the city, university and the programme. But I definitely recommend you to join the COS community. 

The COS is a journey on which you meet amazing people, undergo diverse experiences and challenge yourself - for instance, by studying quantitative methods for the first time side by side with your quantitative peers.

What are your near future and long-term hopes and plans?

While this question has always been very hard to answer, I can undoubtedly say that the University of Helsinki and COS have provided me with all the opportunities to build my future and career either in Finland or somewhere else. I find it great that an internship (an obligatory part of the programme) can be done both in Finland and abroad, and there are grants to cover it. Currently, I am going through the internship application process, which doesn’t seem to be scary thanks to all the career events organised at the University.

As an anthropology student, my plan for this summer is to do fieldwork, which you can also get the funding for. 

At the same time, I am looking forward to the next study year as it feels like I already miss this study routine. And, frankly, I didn’t expect summer holidays to be that long. The last classes took place at the very beginning of May, so it’s more than three months of holidays ahead. 

Contemporary Societies

In the Master's Programme in Contemporary Societies, you choose from six major subjects:

  • Global Development Studies
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Social and Public Policy
  • Social Data Science
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology

You also study themes like Data and Society, Ethnic Relations and Migration, Mind and Society, Socio-Cultural Shifts and Sources of Inequalities.