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I’m writing this to document my struggles “switching” to a new field and to remind myself that some people are not worth listening to. In fact, they are worth nothing. I don’t know if I will follow this path, I do doubt myself a lot sometimes and some of the people around don’t make it easier either. But one thing is sure, I will never look at my abilities and determination, the same way again after these studies are completed.

Let’s start from the beginning. I started studying chemistry in the sixth grade. Before that, I discovered some of my dad’s old chemistry books. I fell in love with it because it seemed like a fascinating world. I couldn’t wait to start the classes to learn more, to enter the lab and do all those experiments in the book. It was a subject that unlocked the mysteries of the world around me, it would make me understand the world to its tiniest core up to complex phenomena.

This is not how things went. Our teacher didn’t really care to teach, to make us understand. There was no passion and even worse, when I did ask for clarifications I was called stupid: “I said it once, why weren’t you paying attention/are you stupid?” Obviously if I didn’t get it in a second, I was automatically stupid. I had no support in solving exercises and even if I tried but failed, I got the usual scolding…you are so stupid, how can you not understand a thing so easy? No support, no encouragement and as a child I believed it. I was too stupid, that was too difficult for me. I gave up. I didn’t pay attention anymore, I started skipping chemistry classes and I declared an eternal hate and disgust for this subject (along with maths and physics – secondary school physics teacher was horrible). Never again. I was done.

I chose a humanities class in high-school and ignored science classes completely. We had bad science teachers there also. They were not interested, no passion and the usual – those humanities dumb heads, not that they would understand anything. But there was a spark. In my first year of high-school, we had a very cool physics teacher, I enjoyed hear explanations and her way of teaching. I understood things very fast and at the end of that year I got one of the best grades in physics. She left. After that, I stopped studying physics; her replacement did not live up to the standards.

Fast forward 13 years. After years of studying in humanities, and specializing myself in museum studies I fell in love with a branch of museum profession called conservation. I said that nothing will stop me to study that. Bad luck…chemistry was needed. Only the first high-school course but still. I cut my ties with chemistry right at that very beginning; it was like I never studied it. Because I never did, actually. I skipped most of the classes and barely passed. I wasn’t interested. I went to the library and took that book, opened it and tears came into my eyes. I didn’t understand anything. It seemed so difficult. But I said: YOU WON’T GIVE UP! And I didn’t, I bought the book and started studying chemistry on my own. First months were hell. There was nobody to help me, nobody I could ask. Swearing, frustration, tears, ripped pages with exercises. But time went and I started understanding. I was so happy after few hours of struggle to understand and even solve problems on my own. And at one point I realized, with amazement that I started liking it.

After going through just one chemistry course (out of five), I signed up for university. Chemistry. One of the craziest, if not the craziest, thing I did in my life. No background studies and there I was, sitting in a class with people who had a strong background in chemistry. I realized what I have done one week before I started the classes. I panicked so bad that I almost puked right before my first chemistry class. How could I keep up with these people? They are so advanced, I know nothing. You have no idea how many times I cried after classes because I couldn’t understand almost anything. But I studied on my own and in one month I went through the whole 5 high-school courses, at basic level, at least to understand the concepts. (thank you opetus.tv!) Until now I am proud to say that I have passed all courses with a very good in Chemistry of the Environment. And I think I’m falling in love with chemistry to the point of thinking to switch completely to science and start my studies all over again.

Things aren’t so easy, however. I did mention the struggles and certain people in the beginning. Let’s put it straight: chemistry, like any other subject, is not easy. Especially when you are crazy enough to sign up for university courses with no strong background. But that’s not the point. You can learn it; I’m a living proof of that. What makes it worse, are the people around you. In my case, it started with the teachers. A bad teacher will make you hate a subject or if you are lucky, you’ll be just indifferent to it. I can’t complain now, my present chemistry teacher had always had the patience to explain the most stupid questions I asked him. And that’s what makes a good teacher.

But what is worse, is other people’s attitudes. I was told that this is useless because if I don’t understand things right on the spot then I have no talent for it. Have these people heard that work is required in every field? You don’t wake up overnight and get top grades. Everything requires hard work and passion. Chemistry is not like singing, you have the voice or you don’t. Even singing requires lots of work. Very few people are born with extraordinary talents. The rest of us have to work. Giving up is not an option.

I was told that I’m at that age when you are too old to study and as a woman I should have other normal priorities (read lifescript), not dreaming of a career in a STEM field. To be clear, lifescript has never interested me. It might suit others but I always found it extremely boring. If an activity is not intellectually challenging or has a certain degree of difficulty, I drop it. I love studying, reading, thinking and solving problems a lot. Am I 100% at this point that I want to go into STEM? Maybe not 100 but I’m strongly considering it. I do love my job a lot and my present field but studying chemistry will never take me away from cultural heritage field. On the contrary, I will become one of those multidisciplinary persons with a wide understanding of various disciplines and enhanced capacity of solving problems and be innovative.

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At this point, I’m in a bit of panic as I finished my second MA and I just realized that the school year will start soon but I’m not going to be a part of it anymore. It is somehow hard to believe because I have been studying for a while with some breaks in between when I was working. I enjoy studying a lot and learning new things. Going to classes and keeping a study schedule, visiting the library, checking the courses, outlining a study plan has its charm. At least, at the university level since I enjoyed that part much more than lower education.

Anyways I did find that one can very well study online nowadays through various organizations. I did find out about Coursera (courser.org) from a friend of mine a while ago and I already managed to get and complete few of their courses. Most of them were in humanities, one in IT and one in agriculture. You can find lots of courses, from different areas and from universities all over the world. I am taking courses only in English and the universities i attended were mainly from UK and US.

Nowadays I’m taking a course in cultural heritage from a university in Italy, Rome and I can say I am very pleased with it and besides things which I already knew, I did find out new ones especially about ancient history and completing my reading list with several books.

Some of the courses follow a strict schedule and deadlines, some can be taken at own pace and assignments are not compulsory unless you want to earn a certificate of completion. Certificates divide themselves between standard ones and personalized ones which you have to pay for. Some course packages can be taken for a certain fee. I never paid for the courses I have taken and I got only standard certificates. I was thinking at some point to get a package of courses but there isn’t anything that I really want to take and be willing to pay for yet.

As about the fields, one can choose from a wide variety, although I think they do have more in IT and engineering but I would advise that one should stick to their fields as some of the courses are very challenging (it’s university level) and they do not start with introductory data. For example, I do have a humanities background and I can’t take a course in robotics. But I could take courses from social sciences, business, language learning and even life sciences. Some biology, agriculture, environment and health courses are indeed for everybody who is interested. Also there are some IT courses which are more general but if you want to really learn something, you need to make an extra effort and not just be contempt with the video lectures.

Actually, I could say that about all the courses from the site. Of course, one can pass the course just by watching the video lectures and complete the quizzes but if one really wants to go deeper into the subject, I suggest getting acquainted with the reading list, extra links and materials and do their own research if they want to know more about a certain topic.

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I wanted to work in the cultural heritage field since I was a kid. Many people have asked me why, where does this passion come from. I can’t give a simple answer to this question although it seems so plain and straightforward. There were many factors along the way that made me fall in love with the museum profession but I can’t say that I had the utmost goal to work in a museum from the beginning.

I learned to read from a very early age, around 4 years old, 3 years before I went to school. And I started reading whatever I found at home. We had lots of history books magazines and I remember I enjoyed the subject a lot. Later on, at school I was a lot into history and culture subjects in general and I decided I want to continue studying archaeology in university. I didn’t have any romantic expectation about the professions like many kids have (Indiana Jones and adventures in exotic places). I knew that the job might include working on archaeological sites but I also know it would include lots of research done in several places like museums and archives.

I think that a big contribution that developed my love for cultural heritage was also my personality which wasn’t typical of a crazy kid but mostly the introvert, shy one who just likes reading and researching. I remember that my mom tried to put me in childcare aimed at working parents but I didn’t like at all their rigid schedule which involved playing, eating and sleeping. It was very boring and I couldn’t resist more than two weeks.

My mom’s workplace back then was exactly near the city museum and by chance, one of her friends was working at the museum. She left me with her friend for few hours while she was at work. Mom thought I will get bored eventually and she’ll pick me up very fast. She was so wrong! I lost myself in the museum’s exhibition, reading the texts and looking at the artefacts for hours on end. Mom’s friend was quite surprised because usually kids weren’t that interested in the exhibition (back then they had a very typical traditional museum exhibition that was not quite appealing for children who were 4-5 years old).

And that’s how it started. Seeing that I enjoy being at the museum, mom left me there in the care of old artefacts and natural history collections. Museum workers weren’t bothered to have me around and I’m really grateful that they had the patience to answer to all of my questions related to collections and museum work in general. I think I learned from them more than I learned in school at the history classes. I remember being very impressed with the conservator’s work which I think later on awoke my curiosity into conservation field.

Later on I tried to go away from the field, mostly also due to my parents, who didn’t allow me to study archaeology, because that’s a bankrupt profession in their opinion. Which is not entirely wrong. But being in love with such a field is at times very contradictory. On one hand you do what you love but on the other, is very hard to find employment and the salaries are not at top. Well, that’s an aspect of museum work you have to deal with – one doesn’t choose a cultural heritage career because of money. They choose it because of passion. If your priority is a good salary, then I suggest you look somewhere else.

It’s true, I didn’t study archaeology but later on after studying languages and digital cultural heritage, I landed in a masters’ degree in museum studies and all started from there.

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Regarding my last post and some of the claims that students get too much money and they spend it on going out and drinking, I decided to write about living on student financial aid. The student financial aid includes the aid and some help with the rent – which depends a lot on the rent. Also the aid is given taking into consideration the degree so you might have it for 36 or 25 months or for another period of time depending on the length of the studies.

It is a while since I got my student aid but as far as I remember it was for around 25 months and about 450-460 euros per month. The rent was about 235 euros per month in a student apartment. Now, let’s do some simple math: after paying the rent I was left with 225 (given that the aid is 460 euros, rent includes water, electricity, internet + other administrative expenses). Finland is one of the most expensive countries in EU area and the food is quite pricy.

What can you eat with 225 euros per month? If you take the lunch at the student cafeteria it costs 2,60 euros. Let’s say you eat one lunch almost everyday at the student cafeteria – that is about 80 euros. So, you are left with about 145 euros. You also need to buy food for breakfast and dinner and one may assume that vegetables, fruits, meat (a generally balanced diet but nothing extravagant) would cost about 20-30 euros per week – 4 weeks = 80-120 euros.

You are left with 25-65 euros. There is also the phone to pay, I have a cheap operator so I pay around 10 euros per month. What’s left? 15-55 euros per month.
And here I didn’t include: products of personal hygiene, clothing items, kitchenware, books, office supplies, bus card, medicine, electronics and other items that one uses in their everyday life.

So I wonder, where do these people get the idea that 460 euros is enough to go clubbing and get drunk? This sum is barely enough to survive if parents don’t help you and if you don’t have any job. Many students do work during the summer if they are fortunate enough to find a job and save money for the school year. That was also what I did.

Of course, I’ve heard the ones who blame young people that they don’t take blue collar jobs because they are lazy and entitled. My observations show exactly the opposite but unfortunately not even these jobs are enough for everybody. It’s not that we are lazy and entitled – it’s just that even these jobs are hard to find and get. But that’s another story for another time.

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In Finland we have the so-called student financial aid. The student financial aid is not much, it can reach around 500 euros a month and it includes financial aid plus rent aid and the sum depends a lot on several factors such as the year when the studies began, the rent and so on. Some “brilliants” from the government thought that cutting student financial aid and forcing students to take loans would be a great idea to save budget money in the long run. The student financial aid is not big at all and many students do actually take loans, go to work or are helped by parents. But still student financial aid is indeed very helpful and many students from poor families can make a future thanks to it as otherwise they would have no chance to study. Even if there are no tuition fees, living costs are very high around here.

What kind of shocked me was the nasty reaction of some people who were actually supporting these cuts. The comments mentioned that: “back in my day we didn’t have such thing, nowadays the youth is so spoiled and useless”, “students are some lazy shits who know nothing but to get drunk and party”, “get a fucking job if you want to study – blue collar jobs are not good for you?”, “why don’t you study an area that gets you a safe job afterwards?”, “students extend their studies forever and get money for free”.

These claims are the most stupid i have ever read. And here is why:

“back in my day we didn’t have such thing, nowadays the youth is so spoiled and useless”

Dear jealous nostalgic, back in your days things were different. Unemployment and uncertainity wasn’t so bad as nowadays and you could afford to take a loan. Nowadays, there is no thing such as a “safe field” that guarantees you a 100% job after graduation. You might get a job, but most of the time is temporary – meaning non-stable job. We are not spoiled or useless. Times have changed and you should get your head out of your posterior and update yourself. We live in 2016 not in 1970.

“students are some lazy shits who know nothing but to get drunk and party”

This student here worked her ass off to get the degrees she has. Sometimes i had classes from 8 to 20 with 10 min. break between them and 24 exams per year plus mountains of books and courses to read. You could lose a course because you missed it 2 times. That was my bachelor degree. During my master’s i learned Finnish languange in parallel with my MA courses. Add to that culture courses and Swedish languange plus optional courses. Plus my master’s thesis. My second MA was done in Finnish (after only 3 years of studying Finnish language), plus my secondary subject was Finnish languange and culture, courses for the natives who were becoming teachers – those harsh courses in Finnish linguistics, that were not piece of cake at all. Plus optional courses and the second thesis to write. I had no time for social life and no money for partying or getting drunk. And for your information, i hate both of them. I prefer quiet evenings with friends and watching movies or playing games. So, much for your “lazy” students.

“get a fucking job if you want to study – blue collar jobs are not good for you?”

Studying full-time and having a job is extremely challenging and in my case almost impossible. During my BA studies, it was out of the question. I was rotting at class and in the library. Free time was sleeping and eating. While in Finland, i did get summer jobs to finance my studies but they were extremely hard to get and the ones i got were with some help from my husband. And they were blue collar jobs – and no, i’m not ashamed to do them. Besides is very hard to get a job that has a flexible schedule. After that, i was very lucky to get a job in my field and have understanding teachers who ignored the fact that i was missing some of the lectures.

“why don’t you study an area that gets you a safe job afterwards?”

What study field will give you a secure job nowadays? Perhaps healthcare or IT, to give some examples, but not everybody is fit, can or want to become an engineer or a doctor. And it’s good like that. We can’t have a society full of doctors and IT specialists. Also my area is not at all a useless one, since i’m trained to be a museum professional. I always loved this field and in my opinion a world which doesn’t care about it’s heritage is dead.

And unfortunately, i know people who were supposed to have a “safe” degree and the jobs they got afterwards were temporary or completely different from their studies. Because upon finishing their studies, their field was not in demand anymore.

“students extend their studies forever and get money for free”

This one is partially true, there are some people who linger on a degree for 10 years but they don’t get money for it. The financial aid is given a certain number of months and you need to have 5 credits per month to get it. No credits = no money. Also, the degrees are now limited to a certain number of years and if you don’t finish in time you need to explain that to your own department in a formal manner. The department might accept it or not. And if you want to study in another field – as far as i know – you won’t get financial aid anymore if you finished all your aid months.

To be honest, people spewing this nonsense are far beyond reality because if one knew a bit about student life and aid rules, one wouldn’t make such claims. And besides, the financial aid is not free money, you will pay it back after graduation in taxes, presuming that you will get a job and i doubt that many people will be unemployed all their lives.

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I’m the typical woman when it comes to my studies. I always followed humanities path. Sometimes during my childhood years – I think it was primary school – I decided I wanted to become an archaeologist. I didn’t have the rosy colored image of digging and finding lost treasures and solving mysteries as many of the kids have (lots of them want to become archaeologists) but I was rather more into research. Since then I flirted with less feminine jobs so to say including truck driver and train engineer. My parents were quite an authority when it came to my studies so in the end I had to choose something that would get me an university degree and a job.

How was I drawn to humanities though? Archaeology belongs to humanities but it involves a great deal of science though. It started in secondary school to be more exact. Then we began studying, besides mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics. I was very excited to learn new things and I never thought for one second that I would hate any of these subjects. I was wrong. After I met the teachers and especially their style of teaching, I started loathing these subjects.

To start with, the teachers were women well in their 50’s and had a horrible style of teaching. They followed their teaching schedule and had absolutely no interest if we remained with something after the class or not. It gave me the impression that they didn’t even enjoy what they were teaching. We got into the lab very few times and there wasn’t enough material for everybody to do the experiments. They went really fast when teaching and when you asked them to repeat smth. because you didn’t understand, they called you stupid. “Didn’t I explain that thing once? Are you stupid?”

My biology teacher got a weird pleasure in teasing me for an unknown reason. In fact, at a test she marked two of my good answers as wrong and when I confronted her about that she didn’t take it too well. Since then she was always testing me – getting me in front of the class to recite the previous lesson and to draw cell structures on the blackboard. And insulting me occasionally. I remember that one of my pens dropped on the floor (unintentionally) and she started yelling at me saying that she’ll throw me out of the class if I don’t behave. Plus commenting on my outer look or making snarky remarks about me and my back then boyfriend.

I can’t say I hated the respective subjects but the teachers made them so horrible, I had no will to learn them anymore. And another thing specific to my birth country were the private lessons. All students took and are taking private lessons in order to succeed at exams because most of teachers fail to do their duty in class. If you don’t have private lesson with your class teacher then you should expect small grades for no reason. That’s what happened with me in math. Although my dad knows math and he was helping me, the grades started going up the same time I started private lessons with my math teacher. Which was weird, because I can’t say my math improved at those private lessons.

I do look back at these things sometimes and cannot help but wonder if my path had been different would it not been for so bad science teachers. Maybe, maybe not. But one thing I know for sure: I don’t hate these subjects and they are not particularly difficult for me. My interest in sciences came back across the years to the point that I am reading medical books just for fun and I want to learn chemistry as I wish to specialize in conservation.

I didn’t realize the power of a teacher until I had to deal with bad, uninspiring people who represented a field and basically turned a subject (that was otherwise interesting) into a repulsive burden that one needs to pass in order to get a diploma.

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