Entering a new field of area studies has been a fulfilling experience

Irene, who had previously studied translation, moved to Helsinki to study in the Master’s Programme in Russian, Eurasian and Eastern European Studies. She felt nervous as she was stepping on a new territory but she was soon relieved to find that she is doing great in her studies and networking along the way.

Please, introduce yourself briefly: what is your name and where are you from?

My name is Irene and I’m from Florence, Italy. I moved to Helsinki last year to study and I am currently a second-year student in the MAREEES programme.

Why did you choose to study in the MAREEES programme in Finland?

I have a bachelor’s degree in translation and interpreting from the University of Trieste, Italy, where I studied English and Russian. While I was studying the language, I realized that I wanted to gain a more comprehensive understanding of Russia and get to know more about its history, politics, society, and so on. I’ve always wanted to study abroad, so I started to look for international master’s programmes that could help me in broadening my knowledge on the country, and when I found the MAREEES programme, I knew that it was the right fit!

I was especially attracted by the multidisciplinary approach of the programme: having little to no previous academic knowledge on the subject, I was happy to have the possibility to explore different paths within the area studies scholarship and different countries besides Russia.

Funny enough, I enrolled in the programme to learn about Russia, and I developed an interest in many different national contexts!

What is the best thing about the MAREEES programme?

I was really surprised to find a very welcoming academic community. As students, we are all supported by the professors and encouraged to find our own path based on our personal research interests. Like for me, given my different academic background, before coming here, I felt a bit worried that I would have had to work twice as hard to keep up with my peers and the pace of the classes. But thanks to the support and guidance I received, I soon felt relieved. I managed to complete all the compulsory courses, while also attending many interesting optional classes, and I am currently working on my thesis (which I also presented during an international academic conference, the Aleksanteri Conference 2023!). In addition, I am now doing my internship for the programme itself.

What do you find the most challenging about your studies?

To me, one of the most challenging things has been adapting to a completely new academic environment. Everything is different from what I had previously experienced in university: essays instead of exams, participatory classes instead of frontal lectures, shorter periods instead of annual courses, and the possibility to choose among a huge variety of optional courses! It was overwhelming at first, but I soon got used to it.

However, something that I will never get used to is Finnish winters! I love snow, but I wasn’t prepared for the weather to be this cold and dark. It can be quite challenging to stay motivated to study and go to class when it’s -20°C outside and it gets dark around 3 PM. Luckily, I now have Finnish friends that are giving me advice on how to survive this weather.

You mentioned that you are doing your internship for the programme; can you tell us more about it?

Sure! Four months ago, I started my internship for the MAREEES programme. I am currently working in the Aleksanteri Institute, and I’ve been helping with different tasks both regarding the organizational aspects of the programme and independent projects within the Institute.

I’m really enjoying my internship experience so far for many different reasons. First, being an intern for the same programme I’m studying in made me feel more involved in the academic community, which is very rewarding for me. Then, since I’ve been helping with the organization of international projects and conferences, I had the chance to meet a lot of new people and improve my (almost non-existent) networking skills. Also, it is convenient to work with people who know that I am working and studying at the same time, making it easier for me to manage my time. My contract is almost coming to an end and, overall, I can definitely say that it has been a super nice experience for me, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity!

What are your plans for the near future?

Unfortunately, I have no answer to this question. I am currently focusing on finishing my last courses and working on my thesis. But I still don’t know what the future holds for me and what to do after graduating.