Imagine a winter wonderland filled with 17,000 bright students from all walks of life. Together with experts at the top of their field, frequently cited scholars and skilled speakers, they collaborate across various disciplines to produce the next breakthrough in their studies or research.
That’s the University of Helsinki — a place Ann Dänner, from Germany, is happy to call home today.
The 22-year-old has a strong interest in all things culture and communication-related — better still, if they intersect. While she was studying for a Bachelor’s in Media and Communication Science as an exchange student from Germany at the University of Helsinki, she was charmed by all Helsinki had to offer. From the teaching to the people who keep the university and city running, they made a lasting impression on her. So much so that when it was time to pursue her Intercultural Encounters master's programme, she was convinced the University of Helsinki was the right choice.
“The master's programme allows me to continue specialising in the field of media and communication while also discovering more related topics to broader themes, such as, for instance, transcultural phenomena, conflict resolution or politics,” explains Dänner. “I like that I can deepen my existing knowledge while also getting to know new fields of studies.”
In classes, she explores topics related to intercultural interactions, transnational phenomena, and cultural diversity. Students can choose two out of four study tracks including communication and media; transnational identities and globalisation; knowledge, decolonisation, and change; or religion conflict and dialogue. Dänner chose the former two.
At Helsinki, every challenge has a solution. During the pandemic, learning shifted online for Dänner. However, as the restrictions then allowed, her introductory course was conducted with half of the students physically present in the lecture room, while the others took part virtually via a video call platform. “This form of teaching was something entirely new for me. However, I appreciated the teachers taking our situation of being first-year students into consideration and making us all feel very welcome."
The programme encourages discussions and exchanges amongst students from all around the world. The result? “It definitely has improved my intercultural communication skills. I have learned to work in a team to discuss and negotiate ideas and concepts,” Dänner shares.
At the University of Helsinki, lecturers often go by their first names once students get to know them better. They provide a supportive and comfortable atmosphere that allows students to discuss their opinions and ideas freely. “Here, everyone is heard and gets the support needed, and I believe that this is especially something that also reflects the concept of equality in Finland very much,” she shares.
During her first semester, the pandemic struck, leaving Dänner anxious about the lack of face-to-face experience. “However, the teachers were able to find a hybrid teaching solution for our introductory course, to give at least some of us students the chance to participate in the class in person,” she explains.
Every course in this programme allows Dänner to conduct research and dive deeper into topics she had little knowledge on. “I specifically enjoyed researching and writing an essay for my class in intercultural communication. It allowed me to learn more about research analysing the relationship between intercultural communication and social media,” shares Dänner.
The programme includes a mandatory course called “Career Clinic,” which supports students in building connections and networks with industry experts. During the course, students organise a panel discussion with several experts and a visit to a company of their choice.
What’s more, each student has the opportunity to conduct an informative interview with someone working in the position of their “dream job.”
“These tasks allowed me to connect with possible future employers in my specific 'dream' sector, which is communications. I made valuable contacts with people from the communications sector that I will surely stay in contact with over time," Dänner enthuses.
The HelsinkiUNI International Talent Programme connects Finnish companies with international students. Dänner is a part of a mentoring group led by the communications department of the City of Helsinki. “Through the programme, I can make valuable connections, network with professionals in the industry and ask them any questions regarding their career path, experiences, or needed skills for the sector.”