Alumni stories
Four of our alumni, Dilara Asardag, Annika Lepp, Wiebke Arendt and Kinga Polynczuk share their stories and career paths.

You will receive firsthand information on the programme and tips for your studies.

Dilara Asardag

In this global community of ours which encompasses diverse people, ideas, and aspirations, I have chosen to pursue a degree in the field of Media and Global Communications. Due to my hybrid family background, I was brought up with an international and cosmopolitan mindset from an early age. I was born in Istanbul, and raised in Cyprus (where I come from). I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Media and Communications at the Goldsmiths College, University of London. After experiencing the dynamic and cosmopolitan London metropolis, where I had an intellectually stimulating education, I was inspired to take a new path. This path was guided by my pursuit of constant change, new challenges, different academic perspectives and last but not the least, my family ancestry. These aspirations together brought me here to Finland, the country of thousand lakes and forests.

Frankly, seeking a Master’s degree in Media and Global Communication at the University of Helsinki was one of the best decisions I have ever made. In addition to its world class reputation for excellence in education and research, the warmth, friendliness and the welcoming community spirit stole my heart right from the beginning. The professors, lecturers, and administrative staff are of the highest quality. I was impressed by their expertise in their fields coupled with a trustworthy, supportive and friendly attitude. I strongly believe that the skills and the knowledge of our lecturers which offered an intellectually stimulating learning, self-reflection, discussion and critical research environment allowed me to go beyond my horizons in areas of global politics and communications. The highly theoretically driven education system was invigorating for me. My Master’s thesis which dealt with gender issues and political economy inspired me to continue my studies at the PhD level, which I would like to pursue in the near future. The fact that the department regards each individual student as unique with their special skills, backgrounds, and aspirations, the flexible study plan offers the students to design their own schedules and time allocations, which comes as an important asset. The global outlook of the faculty and the university is apparent from the diversity of visiting scholars for intensive courses from international universities.  A well-equipped free library service, reasonably priced student restaurants and UniSports facilities make the University of Helsinki highly appealing.

I believe a true student life is never complete without a dynamic social life, and to that extent, the University of Helsinki has many excellent options to offer.  One of the most unforgettable experiences is what Finns and Swedes call “Sitsit” or “Sittning”, a special traditional student party with a themed dress code, nice dinner, lots of singing and a great company and laughter! The organizations like CISSI- Organization of International Social Scientists offer diverse activities and events all year long for the integration, well-being and enjoyment of many students. Besides these, there are plenty of other student organizations, associations and groups to choose from in order to keep your mind and body constantly stimulated. One of the best things about living in Helsinki is that, the dynamic urban cultural scene and the high-tech atmosphere stand hand in hand with the marvellous nature which offer incomparable opportunities for nature enthusiasts. The eclectic blend of student friendly art events, dance performances, exhibitions, concerts, gigs, sauna days, sports events and a wide range of other free happenings make Helsinki a unique city. Finland as a country has been praised many times for its safety and stability, strong welfare system and environmentally friendly approach. According to the World Press Freedom Index, it ranked 1st in Freedom of Press fifth year in a row. What’s more, its geopolitical location makes it easy to reach other Nordic countries and Russia. Rigorous study and research environment integrated with a vibrant, active and healthy lifestyle- what else can make a faculty and a university stand out more. I highly recommend applying to University of Helsinki.

Text: Dilara Asardag
Photo: Alina Sukhomlina

Annika Lepp

“When you do this now, you’ll be doing this forever.”

These were the words, more or less, spoken to me by Eddy D. Hawkins, the instructor of the course in foreign reporting at the Swedish School of Social Science at the University of Helsinki. He said it to me after I had presented him the subject of my foreign reporting project. “I don’t think so…” was probably my answer at that time. Six years have passed and I still can’t get his words out of my head. The reason is simple - he was right. 

My foreign reporting project was life-changing - I became an activist. Not only that, I co-created a whole new organization and an international event, I became a lobbyist and a spokesperson. My area of expertise is still communications and media, but my heart beats for activism. My studies at the University of Helsinki and my experience in media is a tool for a cause: animal rights. 

The topic I chose for my foreign reporting project was “fur farming”. During the project I had the opportunity to meet all the key people and organizations in Estonia and Finland, who are involved in animal rights issues. Their passion won me over. Already during the project I knew that I will not be able to go on without being involved in one of the greatest and most important issues of our time. 

I received my Master’s degree at the University of Helsinki in 2011 and I started to volunteer at the Estonian Society for the Protection of Animals (ESPA). At that time, I worked as a communication consultant at one of the top PR agencies in Estonia - Hill & Knowlton. After a couple of years, ESPA offered me a position of a communication manager, which I accepted gladly. 

I had volunteered for the organisation for two years, I had also established the first Baltic vegan fair Taimetoidumess. Ever since, the event has taken place every year, welcoming visitors and participants from Estonia and abroad. In 2016, we had 4000 guests in one day. 
In spring of 2013, me and two other animal rights lobbyists created the first Estonian animal advocacy organization. NGO Loomus protects the rights of animals and represents their interests in social discussions. Loomus is mainly concentrating on the interests of animals used in fur farms, intensive farming, entertainment and laboratories. Our aim is to increase the importance of animal agendas in the Estonian society and shape the policies of animal protection. One of the key issues we are working on is fur farming - the topic of my foreign reporting course. We collected more than10 000 signatures from the citizens of Estonia in support of banning fur farming and the issue is currently being discussed at both the parliamentary and governmental level. We have received support to our cause from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Brian May, the legendary guitarist and song writer of Queen. 
I’m glad Mr. Hawkins was right - I’m involved in something that matters and I owe it all to my studies at the University of Helsinki that gave me courage to act.

Text: Annika Lepp
Photo: Krõõt Tarkmeel

Article with Mervi Pantti
Window to the West: Memories of watching Finnish television in Estonia during the Soviet period.

Wiebke Arendt

I moved to Finland in August 2010 to study for my master’s degree in Media and Global Communication at the University of Helsinki. Previously, I had completed my bachelor’s degree in Media and Communication at the University of Passau. My bachelor’s degree was less scientific and I enjoyed having a more research based approach to media and communication studies in Helsinki. When our program started, I was positively surprised by our small group size and the extreme dedication with which both our programme coordinator and the thesis advisor took care of us. When I studied in Germany we were over 100 people in the programme and had to fight hard to get a place in interesting courses. Throughout my studies, the master’s programme provided us with a close knit community where everyone supported each other and a perfect learning environment. Not to mention the great facilities such as the library where researching and studying got that special feel.

I had already worked after my bachelor so going back to studying was quite a challenge for me and as it turns out the research approach wasn’t the easiest after all. Nevertheless, I am happy that I accepted the challenge and got the chance to do something that didn’t come easy for me but where I could move out of my comfort zone and learn highly analytical skills and enjoy some of the best lecturers that were available on a global scale. Studying at the University of Helsinki has taught me to think critically about how the world we live in is and how it is developing.

Shortly after I started my studies, I started working which unfortunately meant that I got to enjoy less of the excellent student life and education possibilities in Helsinki. I started working in a company called Kiosked, which is today one of the leading ad-tech companies in the world. I got the chance to be part in building up their digital communication channels and learned to use marketing automation technologies which helped me in my future career. Although studying and working at the same time was tough, it is something that many Finns do and it definitely helps to add a practical side to the analytical skills you learn at the university. Even though at times it seemed like our studies where just theoretical, I notice in my daily work that most of the skills, especially the research skills are still the ones I am using all the time. After all, finding information and evaluating it critically is something we need to do in our work life.

Text: Wiebke Arendt

Kinga Poly­n­czuk-Alenius

I moved to Finland in August 2011 to do my Master’s degree in Media and Global Communication at the University of Helsinki. I had only been to Helsinki once before, although I had visited Turku several times, but I developed a certain fondness for the city with its endless waterfront and exquisite Senate Square. Fast forward five years – I am still here, moving around the same spaces at the City Centre campus of the University of Helsinki. Has something gone wrong?

I started my studies in Helsinki right after I had completed a Bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Warsaw, Poland. That previous programme loomed in some liminal space between theory and practice, making me want to get my Master’s degree over and done with as fast as possible to enter the working life. Studies in Helsinki, however, were something different: shamelessly theoretical, forcing us to read pages and pages of, at times dense, high-level academic writing, deliciously extorting our underdeveloped analytical thoughts through dozens of essays. Already after two or three months I knew that I wanted to give the academic career a whirl and continue with the doctoral studies.

I completed the mandatory coursework within the first year of my studies, leaving only the seminar and thesis for the second year. This proved to be a good strategy, especially when I landed a full-time job as a communication assistant at the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM). Two circumstances helped me in getting this job: participation in what was then the HERA Mentoring Programme and having the privilege of a personal interview prepping session with my professional mentor, and the traineeship grant from the Faculty. Working at HELCOM was a valuable and enriching experience, stretching over the second year of my Master’s studies, and between my graduation (April 2013) and the start of the doctoral studies in January 2014.

Currently, I am finishing the third year of my doctoral research on communicating ethical trade in social media, supported by a three-year grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation. I am looking to submit my dissertation in autumn 2017 and hoping to defend in the first half of 2018. I have been able to travel around Europe presenting and discussing my research (although the honour of being the absolute highlight of my doctoral studies will always belong to the PhD seminar in Kenya!). I have listened and talked to people whose, at times dense, writing had a formative influence on my intellectual development. The most uncanny experience was, however, teaching my first ever course last September – the same course that I kicked-off my studies with back in September 2011!

If I can offer a word of advice for the current and incoming international students at the Faculty of Social Sciences, I urge you to use as many opportunities offered by the University as possible: intellectual as well as professional and social. For me, the mentoring programme and the grant were a springboard for gaining the first professional experience in a foreign country where my network was still really weak; for you, it might be something else. Furthermore – and you are going to hate that – if you have even the vaguest idea of staying in Finland after graduation, try to learn Finnish early on. After five years in the country, I am finally hovering around the intermediate level and it has made my everyday life much easier. If you do not want to do Finnish as a part of your university studies, and that is what halted my learning for some three years, there are affordable, practical and more ‘relaxed’ courses available at Adult Education Centres located around the Metropolitan Region.       

Further information on Kinga Polynczuk's research

Article with Mervi Pantti
Branded Solidarity in Fair Trade Communication on Facebook

Text: Kinga Polynczuk-Alenius