"I enjoyed the cosiness, multidisciplinarity and academic rigour"

Equipped with a study background in youth studies and work experience in Social Services, Leah Martin was drawn to the programme due to its core questions, which she had previously encountered in her day-to-day work.

Leah Martin

Head of Marketing, DASH Design and Community Manager, Feravolo Oy

Graduated in 2022

She was particularly interested in questions surrounding cultural norms and identity, issues of inclusion and exclusion and the creation of peaceful relationships between communities. Leah particularly enjoyed the openness of the people involved in the programme, its’ multidisciplinary and cosy character and academic rigour. By building networks through her involvement with the Student Union and the completion of traineeships throughout her studies, she found several job opportunities soon after graduation. Now, she is working as Head of Marketing for DASH Design and Community Manager for Feravolo Oy.

  • Tracks of specialization: Transnationalism & Globalisation, Knowledge, Decolonization and Change
  • Focus, resulting in thesis: national belonging & citizenship & cultural norms associated with it
  • Favourite memories: Student Union, International Committee, founding of Orbis
Full interview


Why did you choose to study in the ICE programme? 

Because of a friend who had studied at the University of Helsinki. I started looking for master’s programs on the website. Of course, a lot of them were interesting but I felt that the ICE programme was asking similar questions that I was asking in my day-to-day life and my work. I felt drawn to the core of the programme.

Where had you been working before you started the programme?

When I applied, I was working several jobs. One of them had to do with citizenship and people acquiring US citizenship and the other was working in a library, which was very social services oriented. I worked with a lot of different people, coming from many different backgrounds. All of them were trying to live in a community with one another, so I think the idea of studying cultural norms and identity a bit more and fitting in or feeling included was very compelling to me.

What is your study background?

My Bachelor’s is in Youth Studies. It is a branch of Social Sciences that is about youthhood, how it is constructed and oftentimes about the perception of youthhood in the media. At first, I thought maybe they would not see the connection between what I studied and this programme but I think that my focus before has been really interesting to incorporate with the ICE programme, because age is one of the intersectional factors in any type of identity or belongings.


What did you like the most about the ICE programme?

My favourite part was the cosiness of the programme. My bachelor’s was at a giant university. I never had the same professor twice and often had classes where I had to meet all new peers. This shift to a smaller programme, where I felt I got a lot of attention was so refreshing to me and exactly what I needed. It was so nice to have professors that saw me throughout my master’s journey. Although I tracked my learning and my growth by myself as well, it was nice to have other people around who had also seen it. I felt like I came out of it with not only these core learnings but also with very good references because the people around me could speak to who I was as a full student.

What were your areas of interest within ICE?

My tracks of specialization were the Transnational and Globalisation track and the Knowledge, Globalisation and Change one. I guess my focus, where I went with my thesis, was more about the idea of national belonging and citizenship and the cultural norms associated with that. Of course, they do fit into those specializations. I think, the different focuses of the ICE programme helped me to gain knowledge from different fields and about a variety of topics, which I then used to go my own way.

What in your opinion is unique about the ICE programme?

The ICE programme is uniquely multidisciplinary. Also what I’ve heard in comparison with other master’s programmes that may be similar, the openness of the people who are drawn to the topic of Intercultural Encounters is unique. I felt that everybody - from the Faculty to the people who are studying in the programme, to even the guest lecturers - were so curious, so open for discussion and conversation, even when they might be difficult.

How did you benefit from studying in the ICE programme? 

In my bachelor’s I did not do a proper or official thesis. I had a capstone project instead. I never got this kind of base sociology background, so what I found valuable was the academic rigour of it. I felt that I learned a lot more about research methods, about how to conduct research ethically and got a proper academic background. The programme is practical in many ways too, but that was not something I had lacked in the past.

What’s your best memory from your time as a student in the ICE programme?

I have so many good memories. It’s hard to choose but I think my favourite memories all come with some sort of interaction with the Student Union at the University of Helsinki (HYY), whether it’s the starting of Orbis or being involved with HYY and the International Committee. My best, best memory was washing Manta but I think part of that was not only the experience of being up in this crane, but it was being invited and recognized as an international student who contributed to this community and being asked to take part in a student tradition. It was such an honour and it made me feel so appreciated and included, which was special.

What was the best/most memorable course you attended and why?

I was trying to look up the exact name of that course but I think it has changed. It was part of the indigenous studies track and it was about collaborative research methods. The course was rooted in indigenous research methods and even though I never intended to do research with indigenous groups, I felt that class was valuable. I think it applies to any research that you do with any group of people to think of the context and the ethical implications of what you are doing. Even though from the course description you might think - Oh, this is not for me because it doesn’t exactly have the focus of my thesis - for me it was a transformational course that I found was the most useful when I went to design my research project.

What would you say to students who are wondering whether the ICE programme is right for them?

I would say, take a look at the course offerings and the different tracks and whatever information is provided about the courses. If those interest you, then the programme is right for you. I think that those who are drawn to the questions that the programme is asking are the people who will enjoy the programme the most. If anyone has a hesitation, it is always good to use the resources that the University provides, e.g. to chat with someone in the programme (student chat). That way you can get a sense of the opinions about day-to-day classes and how you can specialize. It is an opportunity that I did not use at all when I came and I wish I would have. I think it would have helped a lot.

How did you find Finland and Helsinki as a place to study?

I like Helsinki and how the University of Helsinki is integrated into the city itself. I have always thought that there is an openness to new ideas and innovation in Helsinki. I do believe that if I had an idea and I was super excited about it, then I could rally enough people, even funding, to get it started and there would be a lot of support. I think that is unique for a capital city and a big city. It is kind of this big little city and that is something that makes it less daunting to settle in a new place.

Professional life

What was your journey after graduation? 

I think similar to many students at the master’s level, there was not this clean line between studies and working life, but you kind of start looking or start working at the end of your studies, so you can make this transition. During my master’s studies, I was trying to do traineeships and make networks, so that I could find something afterwards. After graduation, I was able to find several opportunities quite quickly, though a bit pivoting from what I had done in the US, in my home country, and more moving towards this communication and marketing direction. I think that that pivot was simply due to being in another country and not yet having the language skills to do exactly what I used to do. The journey after graduation was made easier by really making an effort while I was studying.

What is your current job and how did you obtain it?

I have two jobs. One is a part-time job for a company called Ferovalo Oy. They are an inter-management platform, so they connect freelancers at a very high level with companies that have needs. I am the community manager there, so I do some communications and marketing. In the future, I will also try to get those who are registered to the platform to have networking events and make them feel like they are part of the work community, even though they are freelancing and not necessarily so connected with an employer. In my other job, I am working as Head of Marketing for an organisation called DASH Design. They host a big design-thinking hackathon every year and are a little bit associated with Aalto University or a student organisation at Aalto University. That has been fun too, not only having the responsibility of suddenly being a Head of Marketing, which is something I did not do at all before I moved to Helsinki but also being part of a big event organisation, which has been exciting too. 

What is the coolest thing about your job?

I think the coolest thing about my job at DASH is that I have a really lovely team that I have the pleasure of managing. On my team, we have a Head of Visuals, a Digital Marketing Lead and everybody is so eager and trusting. I think the coolest part for me is to be able to not only make decisions by myself but to kind of co-create what our marketing strategy is going to look like. Because the team is so involved too, I feel that then we can trust each other whenever we do decide to take on a task. So, that’s pretty cool!

Which challenges do you encounter in your day-to-day work?

In general, I am still finding this post-Covid challenge with remote working and in-person working. Finding that balance, knowing that once I am in the office or I am in person with a meeting I enjoy it. However, finding this extra motivation to go there when I can work online, has been a challenge in both positions, which I am trying to work through. In general, being someone with an international background in Finland, finding stability in work is a challenge. Even though I feel like I have been very lucky to have opportunities quite quickly, a lot of them are short-term or not as long-term sustainable as I would like. That is a challenge that not only affects how well I can do my work but also how I see my future and the energy I can bring into every day.

Which skills have been useful in your working life and how?

Skills that I learned in the ICE programme that specifically go into my working life are skills around prioritising what’s important. That’s something I felt was emphasized in the programme. I am a person who always wants to strive for the highest possible but I think this mentality of really focusing on the base first and then building on top of it has helped me in my working life. I guess I cannot say whether that is our programme or if that is more of a Finnish way of working. I do not want to make any claims about it but it has been a nice improvement for me as far as balance goes.

More alumni and student stories
About the programme