Parisa and the representatives of ESN in the podcast studio

Podcast: Colours of UniTurku | Spectrum: Erasmus Student Network

Colours of UniTurku introduces ESN, Erasmus Student Network of the University of Turku. #utuambassador Parisa Piran and two of the board members of ESN, Wilma Olenius and Natalia Szergejev, talk about what ESN does and how they introduce Finnish student culture to international students. Wilma and Natalia share a passion for making students' stay in Finland more exciting!

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 listen the episode on Spotify and Soundcloud


Text alternative of the podcast episode:

Parisa: Hi everyone from snowy Finland, and welcome to the Colours of Uni Turku, a podcast about student organisations at the University of Turku. For those who are not familiar, student organisations are kind of like hobby groups where students gather around things they like or they study. I am Parisa, also a student and today’s theme is a spectrum! I am talking to Wilma and Natalia, from ENS. Thank you for joining us Wilma and Natalia, could you introduce yourself and your organisation?

Wilma: Hi, my name is Wilma.

Natalia: Hello, I'm Natalia.

Wilma: We are coming from ESN Uni Turku, ESN Turku is a non-profit organisation. It's basically student helping students, and it is the biggest student organisation in Europe. And basically what we do is help students who are coming to Finland. We organise different kinds of events and trips for them and give them a membership card which can help them get a different kinds of discounts and help them have a nicer time in Finland in Turku...yes we are pretty much a wide network, so we are like Erasmus student network.

Parisa: Ok great! So discounts. Very important.

Wilma: Yes yes.

Parisa: Ok, then can you tell me what date your organisation was founded?

Wilma: It was founded around 1994, so it's been around for quite a while. Um...yes, I've been with it only in the past few years but...

Parisa: Okay, and how many members does your organisation have and how many of them are international students?

Wilma: the moment we have around 700 members who have our membership, we have some active members who can be Finnish students as well, but I would say mostly they are international students but yeah Finnish students are actually minorities. So almost all are international students like exchange students and international degree students and also those who are working as trainees in Finland.

Parisa: Yeah, that makes sense because you are a student organisation in the whole of Europe so that makes sense and is very nice. So what is the purpose of your organisation like? Like what kind of organisation is this?

Wilma: We basically are trying to help the international students...kind of integrating better in Finland and kind of trying to help them introduce them the Finnish culture and student culture which is very active and, you know, there are a lot of things going on that can be know, confusing if you don't know what it is about. We are trying to introduce very traditional things and other kinds of things for international students as well, um, and you know, we organize that kind of event but also to show other places in Finland that could be nice to see and also like some other countries nearby. We also trip to Norway and Baltic countries like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and we do trips to Lapland which is know people like to experience the Northern lights which are like one of the best things you can experience I would say, and we just have a lot of things we can possibly help with when people are coming. We have an office where you can get a membership and we mentioned the discounts which are very good in Finland I would say. Um...what other things do we do? We do so many things.

Natalia: We also work with other sections so for example our Tallinn trip is usually with the section in Tallinn which also promotes networking and this whole mobility and internationalization in Europe. For example one of our biggest events is like a pirate of the Baltic sea which actually happens with several countries from the Baltic region and Finland and... so we also work together with these other sections all around the world. And oh year in the office we also provide free sim cards for those need it because sometimes international students need it. But yeah I would say the point of our main events is like authentic Finnish student life experience which is a big part of going on an exchange.

Parisa: Yeah. I would say...when you move to Finland as an exchange student or an international student, everything sounds very overwhelming and you are very nervous so you are very nice of you that you help with these students and you kind of hold our hands and give us a plan for settling down and everything, I really had a nice experience with ESN and they help me a lot, so thank you! Thank you for everything! And...why did you personally choose ESN?

Natalia: I joined ESN because several years ago I participated in many other Erasums projects all around Europe and when I went to my own exchange studies for my bachelor's, that local section offered so many great experiences so when I was in Turku and started my studies I was like "yeah, there is an ESN section here too!" and you know they also provided community and the events that I would want to engage with.

Wilma: For me, I have not studied abroad yet, I am planning to do it but I feel like it will be very nice to still see what is like for international students and be kind of a part of the international student community in someway and help the people who make the decision to come to Finland because I can only imagine it can be quite overwhelming and confusing so I felt like it is really nice to do something to help these people who are coming and...yeah that's something. And in general, being able to do events and meet so many people from so many different countries, it's really really nice. So yes I'm really happy that I decided to do it.

Parisa: Yes, when you deal with a lot of foreigners you become a foreigner in the end. You might not be that much of a local but you are definitely more international and a foreigner. So what are your roles, each of you, in ESN, your organization?

Wilma: I am currently the vice president and local representative so I am kind of helping our president with different kinds of things and as a local representative I am kind of the "link" between our section here in Turku and then ESN Finland and, you know, just kind of representing the section when it comes to other parts of the country and the part of the whole network in Europe. So that's most of what I do and I also do a lot of events. I really like to be at the events.

Natalia: I have been a secretary this year for the organization which means I am doing kind of administrative things like meeting minutes and official documents but on the other hand, it hasn't been much demand or time so I also help with the events and successful implementation and I have also been the social inclusive coordinator for a couple of months or weeks...months. With that, I kind of make sure that our events are inclusive to all and also students are aware that our events are inclusive. We also have our network with the rest of the Finnish social inclusion coordinators so we also meet up with them to share practices with different sections so we can learn from each other and brainstorm together to make more inclusive events.

Parisa: I imagine for a big organization like ESN there are a lot of things that should be organized and done, but what is the coolest thing that you've done as a member of your organization?

Wilma: I can kind of think of many things because, for example, we are now organizing a trip to Lapland so a whole week in Lapland with different kinds of fun things like husky safaris, seeing northern lights, going skiing and...all kinds of things that seems very fun. Something that has been very fun that I have actually participated in is one of our trips which is a trip to Norway which was a very big bus ride of almost one day, a bus full of students, and going to the Swedish Lapland all the way to Norway. It was a very cool experience just talking to students and experiencing the whole thing but also all the small things like organizing shiz parties and organizing different kinds of events and meetings and stuff. I think just all of them are somehow really really nice. So it's so hard to pick only one thing I would say.

Parisa: How about you Natalia?

Natalia: Well, I haven't been participating in very big things like the Lapland or Norway trip so for me it's more like the smaller ones because I am generally busy so these little things...they are not little but compared to other things sounds very easy or little. So you know for me just more like that I was able to participate in many smaller activities or events.

Parisa: Yeah, that sounds very nice. And well, I am a member of ESN but for our audiences what is the best thing about being a member of your organization?

Wilma: To be a member, I think that the thing is that there are all kinds of events available even if you are not a member but if you are a member, it can be a bit cheaper. I feel that our events are still quite a good price because we want them to be as inclusive as possible so the money is not an issue. Yes that is something very nice and I again bring up the discounts but they are pretty nice to go to different restaurants and some...we have some pubs and other types of things that you can get services and discounts which is very nice I think. Also just being a part of it, being our member and being in our events you get to meet so many new people and we organize an orientation week for example at the beginning of the semester which is a very good opportunity to meet a lot of new people and even during the semester you can meet so many new people. I think that is a very good thing about it.

Natalia: I also noticed that you are even able to see new faces and new people and it is always nice, you know, to see them coming and after the orientation, I was just walking in the city center, from the other side of the street I saw some people waving to me and I was like "oh year orientation week!". No idea who they are but I recognize them from the orientation week and ESN events so it was really nice feeling. Still, sometimes I come across or meet students randomly in other contexts and "Hey you are with ESN!" I think it is really nice because if you know many other people so you know this brings together all of the different international students.

Parisa: Yeah as you said I remember ESN parties and events were one of the first ones I attended, and I think expanding the network and meeting new people was the best part. I still talk to a lot of students that I met at those events and you become very good friends. So I think it is very good to have this kind of organization and meeting where we gather all and share the international experience that we are having's a very nice thing about ESN.

Wilma: I think it sounds like we are promoting this discount but like you know, we actually work for this discount because we acknowledge that Finland is not the cheapest country so every little euro can help the students so if you can just buy a ticket to somewhere two euros less or get some discounts when you go out, it already helps students to participate and engage in this thing to able to go somewhere and experience activities, so we take it actually very important.

Parisa: Yeah I know for our audience who are coming to Turku, it is a big and all the financial stuff so discounts are always appreciated. I agree. But to the fun stuff, what events do you host during the year?

Natalia: Ok, generally start with the orientation week, and basically after covid 19 during the summer so it was kind of new and we plan different events for every day so that was kind of big. And we also plan to do the orientation week for the coming students in the spring semester. Generally do the traditional sitz parties because they are kind of a big thing in Finland and they are very popular as well. Within two minutes tickets are sold out and besides, we have partnerships so we also have these trips to different countries and places with them. We have our own organized trip to Lapland every year and we also try to organize smaller regular like sitz party events, go hiking and we also organize a trip to Helsinki chocolate factory.

Parisa: Yes! I love that.

Wilma: We also have our overalls which I think is something very good to mention because if it's somehow difficult to get their own overalls of their own student organizations then we also sell our ESN overalls at the office so it's easy to get. And relating to that we have also evening gatherings where we teach people how to sew patches because many people including myself when I got my own overall I had never sewed a patch, I didn't know how to do it so it was really nice that people know the tips. We also board game evenings just like very relaxed gatherings, just you can just meet new people and spend a nice evening. I think that's very nice. We mentioned there is a trip to the Baltic sea before it's basically a cruise that goes to Stockholm, Sweden, and exchange students and international students from all over Finland and also from the Baltic countries and sometimes we even have people from Poland and yeah, it's a very big thing so you meet a lot of people even from different cities in Finland and even in other counties so it's really cool that there is a big full cruise boat or a ship full of international students. That's pretty cool.

Parisa: Yeah. Among all those you have mentioned, which one is the most popular one and which one do you suggest to our audience to definitely come and join?

Wilma: I would say the Lapland trip because it gives you such an amazing experience to see all kinds of things about Finland that are know they are a big part of Finland and just an amazing experience to see the Northern lights to see all the beautiful reindeer when you taking a bus and the bus has to stop on the road because there is a bunch of reindeer casually hanging out in the middle road and...just having all kind of these activities like seeing huskies when going to the husky safari and going snowshoeing and going to skiing and...if you don't know how to do those things there are people who are teaching how to do those things so you can learn all of these things and it is just... the cool experience I would say. So I must say that I think.

Parisa: Yeah, Lapland sounds like a true Fin experience so definitely suggest that. And can you share any funny memory from your organization? Is anything funny that has happened?

Wilma: Well, something that comes to my mind is actually related to the Lapland trip. Last time I was not on the trip myself but people who went there accidentally forgot a big part of the things that we are supposed to actually take with us on the trip so then I had to carry this big box and just mail it to Lapland for the participant which was quite a funny situation and a bit complicated, but it worked out in the end so I think it was still fine.

Parisa: It would be very bad if you miss such a thing when you are going to Lapland especially. You have to be very well prepared. It's a very big trip. And what is your organization's plan for the future?

Wilma: For the future, we are planning to continue doing a lot of events because since covid times I feel like the past semester has been the best so far because we are now at full speed for all the events and have done even more events than we have done before covid which is very good. And we are still planning to do many more events and we have many more ideas. We are even planning a trip to Poland in addition to the ones we have currently because it is actually easily accessible from Turku, from the airport. So we are planning to do that. Um...then we have some other things coming up like...we are working on a survival guide which is kind of doesn't include the basic things that you can find by googling but it's more like things people may not know unless somebody tells you those things and can be confusing because many people always ask "what is this?" or "I don't understand" so that something that we wanted to work on. That's what we have been working on so we are going to provide it for the students who are arriving the next semester and maybe we can add something along the way if new things come up. But those are something that comes to my mind right now. We are continuing as we have been doing before, even better.

Parisa: That sounds very fun, especially the trip to Poland. I am looking forward to joining that. And yes, it is always very good to know that there is always someone who is supporting you, thinking about you, and trying to help you, so it is very nice that we know what international students will need in the future. That's very sweet of you. So at the end do you have any messages for our audiences?

Wilma: I think the message is just that when coming to Turku, we are very happy to see you around at our events or at our office or just anywhere in general and I think it can be very nice to join our events to get a better insight into the events because the Finnish language is a bit tricky's a good way to start I think. We have a lot of nice events that you can attend so we hope to see you there for sure!

Parisa: Natalia?

Natalia: Come join us!

Parisa: As an active member, I suggest that everyone join and join at least some meetings to see how it goes and maybe join in the future. But thank you for joining us today! Wilma and Natalia. If people want to know more about ESN, where can they find you?

Wilma: We are the most active on Instagram so we have our Instagram account called @esnuniturku, just all together, that's where we post a lot of stuff and you can send us a message anytime also from Facebook, just ESN Uni Turku, again you can find that. And then we also have our office if you just write ESN Uni Turku on Google Maps, you will find it immediately. It's in the campus area so it's very easy to access. Office hours are always on Instagram and Facebook. Or just in the events, you can see ESN people as well so just say hi or ask questions.

Parisa: Great! All the links will be in the podcast description along with the university Turku and student blogs and UTU Instagram account so please follow and subscribe us as well. Thank you everyone for listening and see you next time!