We recently had the pleasure of attending the 100th Anniversary Annual Ball of the Student Union of the University of Turku (TYY), where Megha was invited to give a speech as an international alumna of the University of Turku. It was an evening celebrated in style, upholding guidelines of traditional Finnish ball rules, but with a modern touch and an abundance of glamour.
A 100-year Anniversary calls for grandeur and festivity, and that is exactly what the evening was all about. More than 700 friends of TYY sat down at the table, including students, alumni, politicians, and University staff and leadership. From first-year students to those who had participated in university or student union activities for up to five decades, all age groups were represented. The goal of the evening was clear – to mark the celebration surrounded by friends while singing and toasting to the community built over a hundred years. And, in between, to hear 6 speeches and a choir performance, followed by delicious food and festive dancing.
Megha Goswami was a student at the University of Turku in the Molecular Biotechnology and Diagnostics study programme between 2018-2020.
Megha was one of six speakers to give a speech during the Annual Ball, and her speech was the only one given in English that evening. You can read the speech she gave below, followed by a a brief overview of what is TYY, their role in student life and more.
Good evening friends of TYY,
It amazes me to look around this room and see what can be achieved in a 100 years’ time. The probability of an Indian woman standing on a stage in Turku, Finland in the year 1922 would have been close to zero. But thankfully, it’s 2022, and I’m proud to say that’s no longer the case.
When I first chose Finland as my study destination, I was met with some surprised faces. And the reason for the surprise was that, compared to US or UK, Finland wasn’t a very typical destination among Indians pursuing higher education. Yet, I was surprised to find that even in India, a distant country where people have relatively little knowledge about Finland, there was a general understanding of Finnish education system being among the best in the world. And the excitement I felt to be merely months away from experiencing this education system myself was overwhelming.
My first memory of student life at the University of Turku is a cliché. I remember running around the University hill, trying to find which building the orientation was being held. As time passed by, the buildings became more familiar, and so did the city of Turku and its people. One seldom realises how fast time flies, between adjusting to new study methods, meeting friends for lunch at Assari, learning about the Finnish culture and the local language, and even being “extra tired” for morning lectures on Fridays.
I won’t have the time during this speech to get into all the things that I appreciate about the Finnish education system, but I can say that it’s one of the main reasons I am here today. In a world where education comes at a hefty price and where young students and their parents are forced to carry the burden of an expensive education in the hopes for a better tomorrow, Finland did the opposite – Finland enabled me with a full tuition scholarship to pursue my education abroad.
A country that invests in its children’s education, invests in its future. While this may sound like a quote, I believe it to be true. Each generation has the responsibility of contributing to society and the betterment of it, before passing the torch to the next generation. Finland has achieved something rare – the country has established a global reputation for providing top-notch education. Many of you sitting in this room have fought to make that happen. In addition, former and present members of the Student Union have advocated to give a seat at the decision-making table also to international students. By bridging the gap between Finnish and international students, we can make our education not only more inclusive, but also experience the beauty of multiculturalism and learn from one another.
The progress that has been made in the past 100 years has been phenomenal, and speaking for our younger siblings, we cannot let the progress pause. Times may get challenging, and we already have our fair share of obstacles, including the worrisome financial situation of the University of Turku and common post-pandemic mental health problems among young students. But I urge you, let us do everything in our power to continue the growth. Let us remember the progress we have made, the monumental work that has gone in to make it happen, and build a future we can be proud of in 100 years to come.
Thank you for your attention! I would also like to thank my parents back in India for having the courage to send their only daughter to a country far away, as well as my fiancé Kristaps Kovaļonoks sitting in the audience today for being my constant rock. Now, let’s all raise a toast to 100 years of prosperity, and hundreds more to come. Cheers! Kippis!
Some of the decoration at the TYY 100th Annual Ball.
What is TYY?
In a nutshell, the Student Union of the University of Turku (TYY) promotes the interests of all students of the University of Turku, both locally and nationally. Additionally, TYY plans and organises a wide range of events and other kinds of free-time activities for its members, including tutoring, orientation course, themed weeks (such as Sustainable Development Week), parties, and sports events. They also offer a starting package, rental spaces, counseling and support services, and even serve as the point of contact for harassment. Joining TYY's events and activities is one of the best ways to meet other students in Turku and even take part in different volunteering activities.
Here are a few words from TYY Executive Board's Chairperson and friend, Camilla Saarinen:
“Internationality is an important value for TYY. We can make the life of international students easier by demanding better residence permit practices, making sure that health services are accessible and working to create a more tolerant atmosphere. Free education should be available for international students as well. Finland and Turku need internationality, so we should impress our gratitude by giving international students the best possible life here.”
Student life and student unions
In Finland, each university and university of applied sciences has its own student union. Each student pursuing a bachelor's or master's degree is required by law (the Universities Act) to be a member of a student union (this applies also to all international students). It is possible for exchange students to join a student union, too. The membership entitles students to a number of benefits, including access to student health care, lunch and public transportation discounts, and many other types of benefits.
That's actually how our association with TYY began – by paying the membership fee without fully understanding how they supported the university community. But soon after, as Kris' interest in international affairs and internationalisation at the University of Turku grew stronger, so did our relationship with TYY.
Back in 2020, Kris was elected to serve on the Executive Board of TYY, making him only the second international student to hold that position since the Student Union's inauguration in 1922. It was at that point we realised the importance of student advocacy and guidance, and fully understood what it really meant to serve as the voice of the international student community. At the same time, this experienced taught Kris and I the importance of keeping all students up-to-date on changes to campus policy and procedures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While Kris's term on the Board was predominantly virtual because of the pandemic, attending the 100th Annual Ball a few years later gave us a glimpse of the lively community the Student Union consisted of.
A collage of the 3-course meal served during the evening.
Importance of trade and student unions in Finland
Last but not least, are there other unions as well? In Finland, unions are common both in student and working life. They act as advocates for people's rights and are available to offer a range of services and support when help is needed. While we won't be exploring all the differences between a trade union and student union, it is important to note that they are very different in how they provide their services.
For example, trade unions mostly work together to negotiate and enforce a contract with management that guarantees the things employees value the most, like decent raises, affordable health care, job security, and a stable working schedule. Student unions, on the other hand, deal with issues that affect students and may be either directly related to academia or be more broadly political and social in nature.
Learning about your new "home" is only one aspect of integrating into a country. Sometimes, it's also about finding joy in new traditions and embracing them. In our experience as internationals, feeling like we are a part of something bigger gives us a sense of belonging, whether that feeling lasts for a minute or a few hours. And that's exactly how we felt as we sat at the long tables, making friends with strangers over the course of an evening, creating memories while singing songs together with our arms locked in, and discovering new traditions.
Personalised programme cards for Kristaps Kovaļonoks and Megha Goswami – what a memorable souvenir!