Hinako Matsui interviews Taotao organisation for Colours of UniTurku podcast

Podcast: Colours of UniTurku | Navy Blue: Taotao

Colours of UniTurku introduces Taotao, the Student association of the University of Turku. #utuambassador Hinako and the president of Taotao, Malviina Soini, talk about what Taotao does and how they introduce Finnish student culture to international students. Malviina share her passion to inclusive events and love for the Center for the East Asian Studies!

Colours of UniTurku is a podcast by international student ambassadors of the University of Turku, introducing the unique student life and colourful student organisations in Turku, Finland.

You can also listen the episode on Spotify.

Text alternative for the podcast episode:

Hinako: Hi everyone and welcome to Colors of Uni Turku, a podcast about student organisations at the University of Turku. For those who are not familiar with them, student organizations are kind of like hobby group, where students gather around the things they like or things they study.I am Hinako, also a student, and today’s theme is Navy Blue.

I’ll be talking to Malviina Soini from Taotao.Thank you for joining us, Malviina! Could you introduce yourself and your organisation?

Malviina: Thank you very much Hinako, I am Malviina Soini I am a second-year master's student at the Center for the East Asian Studies. I am also the president of Taotao student club. I am originally from Oulu, so more north than Turku, and I did my undergraduate at the University of Glasgow in Scotland in history and Spanish, so I lived in Scotland for four years and Spain for one year after which I decided to come back to Finland. I am very happy that I did. So, then I came here to Turku to study East Asian Studies.

Hinako: Sounds very interesting. You traveled a lot. 

Malviina: Yeah, I have.

Hinako: So, what date has this organization been founded?

Malviina: This is kind of a complicated question in a sense because the official date when Taotao student organization was resisted to the office is 2013, which is now making its 10th year anniversary this year. But I heard from the teachers at the Center for East Asian Studies that the club has been at the center as long as the Center was founded which is now around 16 years.

Hinako: I think that is quite a long history!

Malviina: Yes it is. Not quite as much as other clubs though.

Hinako: Okay, then how many members does your organization have and how many international students?

Malviina: We have now around 60 members registered who are either from the way back that have lifetime membership and but currently we have around 30 to 40 active students. And of them, around half of them are international students.

Hinako: It sounds very international.

Malviina: Yeah it is ! I love it!

Hinako: Then, what is the purpose of your organization?

Malviina: So we are the student organization for the master's programme in East Asian studies, so we are a study club, but we are very open to doing a lot of other things that are not related to East Asia because half of our students are international students so we are trying to introduce international students Finnish life and Finnish student life so, I really love it that it is the mixture of both international events and Finland-related events.

Hinako: Hmm and you are now working as the president of this organization.

Malviina: Yes I became the president this year and last year I was the vice president of Taotao and it's been very good. I was a bit nervous to become the president but I really liked it.

Hinako: Okay. I am actually the social media manager of Taotao, and I really appreciate this organization because a lot of organizations are only in Finnish...I mean at all the events or parties people only use Finnish and international students are really difficult to get in. So I really appreciate Taotao's international atmosphere. 

Malviina: Yeah I love it as well. And I think there should be more stuff in English with other organizations. But we've been doing really well.

Hinako: True. Then why did you personally join this organization?

Malviina: Hmm because I am a master's degree student, and all of our students naturally join the club so I joined, of course. Then I wanted to try the board, so last year I was the vice president so, yeah, now president...

Hinako: Is your task hard?

Malviina: No! It's actually a lot of fun! And because our club is so small, we can do whatever we can. Some other big clubs might have some rules and traditions that they have to follow, but the good thing about our organization is that the sky is the limit.

Hinako: So what you do is not only limited to East Asia-related things.

Malviina: Yeah, that's true. We do have East Asia-related events like we had a Lunar new year event to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, which is now, this year. And we also had events like karaoke night or just chilling and playing games and eating.

Hinako: Eating!

Malviina: Eating is great.

Hinako: Yeah international students are sometimes difficult to try Finnish delicacies so it is nice of you to let us try.

Malviina: Yeah like salmiakki and Mammi for Easter.

Hinako: Then what is the best thing about being a member of the organization?

Malviina: I love being a part of this organization. One of the best things is that as I said we can do whatever we want and we can direct in the direction we want. So depending on member's hope we can do certain kinds of events. But then the second thing I really like is that we are very close to our professors at the Center for East Asian Studies, and I love we have a good connection with our teachers. So, we have a good...we also promote study. We try to do some study circles, but sometimes it fails because people are very tired and stressed. But we sometimes study. 

Hinako: I personally really like that teachers call us pandas. That's really cute I think.

Malviina: Oh yeah our logo is a panda, so the teachers call us pandas.

Hinako: Now I am curious about why your organization is called Taotao and why do you use pandas as your character?

Malvina: Okay this is a very interesting question and sometimes people other than Finnish people get confused because the mascot of Taotao is a panda, and the name Taotao comes from the animation that was released in the 80s and 90s about a little baby panda that travels around and has adventurers and stuff like that. I think Finnish people of at least our age would know this animation because I remember we saw this animation at kindergarten. The name of the club came from this animation. Sometimes people get confused about the name, but this is the origin of the panda called Taotao.

Hinako: Sounds very interesting!

Malviina: I think it was Japanese or German animation but somehow it got really popular.

Hinako: Then what kind of events do you have during a year?

Malviina: Um, we have a bunch of events and they all depend on the desire of the student and time but definitely the biggest event coming is K-pop party. It is the 13th of April and this is a big K-pop event that was started by our event panda. Last year it was really popular and this year will be even bigger, very exciting. But we also have events like Lunar new year and Vappu of course like other organizations. Then we have our yearly Christmas party with our teachers, which is very charming, I love it. Then we also have karaoke events which are requested by students. But another popular event is Finland night. At the start of the semester, we welcome international students by playing Finnish music and trying Finnish delicacies if we can call so.

Hinako: Do you have any collaboration with other organizations at the university?

Malviina: Yes! This is actually the goal this year to have more collaboration with other clubs, so already this year we have done something down with Sempai, anime and manga association, and Mingbai, the Chinese language association, we had the Lunar new year party with them. And then for the blue overalls events, we are collaborating with English, French, and German language clubs, material engineering, biotechnology, political history, speech and language pathology, and wine appreciation club. So that is a lot of clubs we are collaborating with and I am very happy about that. And then we also have food appro together with ESN, the exchange students association, and we are also planning Shiz party with the archeology club.

Hinako: It sounds really fun. For those who are not familiar with the word appro, could you explain a bit about it?

Malviina: That's an interesting question! Some of them haven't done their bachelor's study in Finland, and  I am also new to being in appro my self, But the basic idea of appro is you will get a map, and you have to go to certain places that are marked into the map. And when you go there, you get the stamps, and when you return the map to the organizer, you will get a overall patch.

Hinako: Okay so it is like a tour...city tour.

Malviina: Kind of! Some of them are heavily on going to bars and clubs but then there are other appros like Turku day appro where people visit different sights in Turku and then our appro will be food appro. So we visit stores and restaurants which sell food.

Hinako: Then which event is the most popular among students and which one do you suggest our audience to attend?

Malviina: This is a great question, and I must say for a general audience listening today, K-pop party is something you should definitely check out. Because it’s going to be a very nice event where the focus will just dancing and having fun with your friends, and listening to K-pop. And but then in general Vappu is the big event and I think if you are in Finland during Vappu, you should definitely join the student events during Vappu because they are crazy, like all the ideas you have about Finnish people will go out of the window, because everyone becomes very social and active. The Spring has arrived and the semester is ending, and it is a great carnival.

Hinako: I think Taotao's Vappu is very special...because we do it with our professors.

Malviina: Yes! So our tradition is to have a Vappu BBQ with our professors and we have our professor who is the barbeque master and we just hang out with professors and eat and drink and chat...it is a great event.

Hinako:Last year I had a great memory with my professors because we usually meet only in the classrooms we don't have enough time to talk about other small things so it was really nice.

Malviina: Yeah, I love that as well because we are so close to each other and we can just chat and forget about supervisors...I  think there is, this remis me of some other universities than in Finland there might be a different way to talk to professors, but I think many international students are very surprised that we can talk to them in a relaxed manner and the atmosphere is very...warm hearted and welcoming, and there is a lot of difference in status in students and teachers. So it is very easy to talk to professors, but some people are struggling because the system is so....chill.

Hinako: Yes, the Center for East Asian Studies is kind of hidden...we have such a small hidden research center but it is actually a benefit for students because we can be close to professors and talk to them in a casual manner. Then could you share a special memory from the organization?

Malviina: Yeah, I thought about this and what immediately came to my mind is that last Vappu, it was the first Vappu in a while after covid, we could go out without wearing masks and without worrying too much about the pandemic, and I remember I took part in the flag ceremony starting from the university hill and it goes up to the museum hill, and we sang some traditional Vappu songs there. And I remember I sit in the best seat in the house where everybody gathered around the square, and put their white caps on. We can see those caps during Vappu like this sailor hat...and people graduated from upper-secondary school wear. So it was an amazing experience after covid to see everybody gathers around having fun and putting on the hat at the same time...it is a very special memory for me.

Hinako: Yes this white cap is something I really envy because for international students it is impossible to get it. We can actually buy it but it's very different from what you got.

Malviina: I know! But you can wear funny hats for Vappu as well.

Hinako: Yeah, well maybe...? Then what is the future plan for your organization?

Malviina: So, what we definitely do more collaborates with other clubs, and especially what I  wish for is that we could get in the contact with other student organizations in other international master's programmes and kind of see if we can collaborate in any way. But we also want to collaborate with other Finnish student clubs and try to provide some more Finnish student culture like shiz parties but personally, because one of the best things about the club is that we can do events very casually, we can do whatever students wish to do. So arranging sauna trip to karaoke evenings to K-pop party which will definitely become our staple event, so the sky is the limit!

Hinako: Now I know Taotao is such an open and flexible organization, I think more and more students have to know more about us.

Malviina: Yeah, we are kind of hidden, we should be more open! Everyone is welcome to join our club if you are interested.

Hinako: Those who are not really interested in East Asian studies can join as well?

Malviina: Yes, of course. The good thing about Finnish student clubs is that you are free to join whatever club you wish and you can be also a part of many clubs. So if you are not a master's student in East Asian studies, you are definitely welcome to join us.

Hinako: Finally, do you have any message for our viewers?

Malviina: Well, I think for all international students audience out there I wish is, please get acquainted with some Finnish students as well and you can get to know Finnish cultures with those acquaintances and friends. So my message will just make the most out of your experience at the University of Turku, not only by studying hard and enjoying your studies but also make some friends here and getting to know Finland.

Hinako: Thank you for joining us today, Malviina. If people want to know more about Taotao, where can they find you?

Malviina: Oh as an old school person, I would suggest trying our website which is very nice and it has all the links to our social media outlets as well, and we have a study guide in English. We also have an Instagram page @ceastaotao, and we also have Facebook page. And if you would ever like, you can come to our club room at the Center for East Asian Studies at Publicum to know more about us.

Hinako: All these links will be in the podcast description, along with links to the University of Turku, the Student Blog, and the UTU Instagram account, so please follow and subscribe to us as well. Thank you everyone for listening and see you next time!