An Interview With Moonyi, a Global Development Student in Contemporary Societies

The Master’s Programme in Contemporary Societies 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?

Moonyi Kim, 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?

My name is Muni Kim, and I’m from South Korea, where I lived for my whole life. Before I joined this program, I worked as a digital media planner at a digital marketing agency.

Why did you choose to study in Contemporary Societies and Global Development Studies?

I was interested in digital media literacy after reading a book that a professor at my undergraduate school was an author of, and I got a chance to talk with him. He guided me a lot into studying abroad, and he mentioned that Finland would be a good choice if I wanted to continue exploring media literacy. I searched for some programmes from universities in Finland and found the Master's Programme in Contemporary Societies. The discipline was very intriguing for me since I have a double bachelor's degree in economics and the Chinese language. I also have had working experience in digital media and digital marketing, so felt that the programme could help me make a connection between my academic journey and working past.

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

The programme is very multi-disciplinary. My specific study track is Global Development Studies, and it encompasses history, politics, economics, anthropology, and sometimes even physics and engineering. I feel like that multi-disciplinary approach has been very, very crucial when it comes to looking for solutions to social issues. This was pretty surprising for me because before I was only focused on one discipline, such as economics when I worked for the media industry. After joining this programme, I also felt like I wanted to see and create broad and extensive solutions with other people, not just by myself.

The classes here have also been special. One example is a course I took in Global Development Studies called Cities in Global South. We had an assignment to pick one city in the global south and build a city profile based on our research and analytics. The professor offered a guide to structure this profile, consisting of the history, changes in economic structure, and key issues in the city. After that, we had to find the solutions ourselves, and it helped me understand a lot about the city and how to tackle its issues.

Studying at Helsinki

When it comes to studying at Helsinki, what does a typical day as a part of this program look like for you?

To be honest, it was much busier than I had expected. I had heard that Finnish culture is more easygoing and peaceful than in South Korea, but as a student, it was pretty busy. There were so many things to read, write, and think critically about. Each class required me to read two to four articles, so I had to read a lot before each class. During class, there were many discussions and group speaking times, so I had to adapt to sharing my ideas and opinions. I also joined many group projects with my classmates, and the final assignments often involved writing essays. Overall, I’ve been very focused on studying life.

Have you found anything challenging about your studies here?

Many things have been challenging. This is my first time studying abroad and learning in English, so the language has been a significant challenge. However, I also realized it wasn't just about English. Sometimes I felt I lacked the knowledge base and hadn't encountered many theories, which made it difficult to complete my assignments. Before joining this program, I also worked as a professional, not an academic, so I hadn't been trained to think academically. I remember getting feedback on my first assignment in the COS seminar, and my professor told me to turn my statements into research questions, which was a crucial lesson for me. I'm still on the journey of training myself to do that.

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

For me, it is really good so far. Studying isn't just about lectures, reading, and writing. It's also about what I can encounter in the city and university. As a foreigner, an international student, and a vegetarian, I thought I might feel excluded, but in Helsinki, I rarely felt that way. The city is very inclusive and sustainable. For example, when I arrived at the airport, I noticed the use of sustainable materials, like reusable towels, which surprised and inspired me. These small details are important as they motivate me as a student with many research questions and curiosities. The city and university culture have been very motivating for me.

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

Yes, definitely. I had some biases before coming here, like thinking Finnish people might be cold and individualistic. However, I've found that many Finnish students are active, sometimes extroverted, and participate eagerly in classes. They have their own opinions and are very engaged, which has been a good learning experience for me. It's surprising but also very positive to see how different people are from my initial expectations.

Looking Into the Future

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

I just want to say warmly welcome. If students are motivated about studying in Helsinki and are interested in Finland, they are already prepared to start their life as master's students. The programme has a host of multidisciplinary courses that cover various social issues from different perspectives, so it's great for building your strong knowledge base. There’s also been a lot of other wonderful experiences. For instance, I joined a programme called UniTalent, where the university partners with private companies or public agencies. I worked with Otava, a publisher and media group, and learned about the Finnish working environment and how to apply what I learned in practical settings. Even in my first year, I experienced many different events and learning opportunities. This programme is excellent for learning, experiencing Finnish culture, and understanding inclusivity and sustainability.

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

I am about to start my second year of the master's programme, which means I need to write my master's thesis. In the long term, I hope to find a PhD position in Finland, though I know it's not easy. Before, I had worked for private companies and their interests, but after this I want to work for the common people and democratic values. That's my ultimate goal. 

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.