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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.

Yesterday, I had a brief talk with my flatmate about her study period in Finland and from one subject to another we started talking about things one hears hundreds of times while studying or moving here. I don’t take these things as an insult but after hearing them so many times, it gets tiring and at one point not all people have friendly intentions when they ask you about your background and motives for being here.

  1. Where are you from?

I hear this one almost all the time. In my first years here it was normal as I was studying in an international environment and met people from all over the world so we did ask each other a lot where are we from. Nowadays people ask me where am I from because of my accent. Sometimes they don’t even bother and take a wild guess: are you Russian or Estonian? Or some start talking to me in Russian all of a sudden which make me have a complete block because I don’t speak nor do I understand Russian. Other guesses regarding my nationality were Italian and Spanish. I think the closest is Italian.

I do not mind the question but given the nasty reputation that Romanians have (lots of thanks to Finnish media for that), I do have some hesitation when answering, also depending on whom is asking. The nastiest reactions I got were from older people when upon finding out where am I from they stopped talking to me and ignored me completely. I remember in particularly two cases, an older lady and a man, who looked at me so disgusted, if spitting was allowed, I think I would have gotten a phlegm on my face. Once an older guy, after hearing my country of birth, he got so close to me, started staring at my face analyzing every feature: “Yes, you have brown eyes but you are too white for a Romanian.” In fact, my eyes are hazel and yes, Romanians are white unless you don’t mean a certain minority and I guess he meant just that.

  1. Why did you come here? Why did you choose this country? What are you doing here?

It’s quite difficult to reply to these questions because, besides family ties, I do have other reasons I am here but I really don’t want to explain them to strangers, they wouldn’t listen anyway. My Romanian friend told me that some persons ask with a kind of annoyance in their voice which implies “oh no, again a foreigner, what the heck are they doing here?”. I didn’t really pay attention to it but it might be very well be. They usually shut up when I mention family ties.

  1. You speak Finnish so well!

I do take this as a compliment but sometimes it goes too far. For example, I barely manage to say “hello, nice to meet you” to a stranger and they immediately jump to the conclusion that I talk Finnish very well. I know they are trying to be polite but it’s just ridiculous. Wait until we talk about life’s deep philosophical matters and nuclear energy. Then tell me how god my Finnish is.

I do know though that I make mistakes and my language is not as good as some claim. There were at least three persons who criticized my language skills. One of them did it in a very constructive manner and I appreciated that a lot (she is a teacher afterall). The other two were just being assholes. One of them cannot speak anything else besides Finnish and the other just English but for him is perfectly ok to make fun of people who are trying to learn other languages than English.

  1. Do you like it here?

Of course, I do otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

  1. What do you think about Finland?

Again if I start a long endless discussion about things I like in Finland (and there are lots of them) my interlocutor would probably get bored so I just say “it’s nice”. End of story. If they want to know more, they can ask. I’ll gladly answer.

 

A while ago I joined different online groups where people sell, exchange or give away all kind of stuff. I did use these groups few times to buy mostly books and linen but I also used them to sell some of the stuff I don’t use anymore. In general, the groups are very easy to use and never had any problems when I purchased goods but I did have issues with selling things. Here I compiled a list with few of the things I found very annoying while selling stuff online.

  1. If you are interested in a product, PM me. Some people commented under the photo of a product saying “I’m reserving it” and after that I never got a message from them. If you reserve something, send me a private message. I did try to contact them but they never replied. This is very disrespectful and you are basically wasting my time.
  2. Sending a message about a possible meeting to pick up a certain product. The person mentions that anytime is good for them but when I try (several times) to suggest a time, they are never happy with it. Why do you say that anytime is good and then when I suggest a date, you don’t like it? It would save both of us the headache if you said what time is good for you because “anytime” obviously doesn’t work.
  3. The person books a certain product, we arrange a day to meet so they can purchase the product then on that certain day (usually few hours before), they say something has intervened. We establish another day but the same thing happens. This has happened to me when the respective person changed the date around 4 times and the fifth time I tried to contact them in order to establish a new day but they never replied back. Look, if you don’t want to purchase something anymore, say it but don’t waste my time.

Sometimes there are other people who wait in order to purchase a certain product and the type of people mentioned above make it difficult for them as well as for me. If you don’t plan on buying something, don’t reserve it for an unlimited period of time and after one week of trying to establish a pick up time, you decide that you don’t want it anymore or worse, stop replying. Of course, it is the person’s right to change their minds but please, do it faster because in most of the cases I want to get rid of the stuff I’m selling quite fast. For example, if I move somewhere else.

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.

I’ve been working in a museum for a while now and to be honest the moment I got the job (even earlier when I had the chance to be an intern) I was one of the happiest persons because that was the field I wanted to get in since I was a kid.

The place I work is a small university museum and like in all small museums, one does not have a certain job description but one can do various tasks besides their main job description. And I actually like it because there is something new to do all the time and you do learn new things.

My main job is customer service which includes taking care and monitoring the exhibitions, being in the museum shop and offering guided tours and information. I do help with other tasks, too like building exhibitions, organizing events, having workshops, documenting artefacts or taking care of collections.

Being in customer service, I got asked several times if I had difficult customers. I can gladly state that I didn’t. Usually people who come to the museum are interested in what the museum has to offer and some do ask questions about various issues from history related to tourist or studying related. I do enjoy offering guided tours as I get to meet really interesting people and it’s always an honor to have the chance to present our university history to them.

If I am to mention one of the most challenging tasks until now is one of our exhibitions which deals with mathematics. It was quite challenging because I have a background in humanities but I had to learn to offer guided tours and workshops to several age groups (from small kids to seniors) and that involved learning all kind of mathematical concepts for that in two foreign languages. After this small adventure I realized how much one can learn in a museum, especially, if there are different temporary exhibitions with various themes. Of course, a museum employee, especially in customer service has to learn everything possible about an upcoming exhibition in order to inform the visitors and for possible tours. I usually do that by attending meetings about the exhibition, reading the material related to it, finding more information and also talking with the curator(s). If I have the chance or help is needed, I also volunteer to help building the exhibition.

Another thing that I found challenging it was taking care of the museum shop – the financial side. I have never used in my life devices for card payments or managed sales but I learned that very fast to my surprise although I was a bit skeptical in the beginning. I say skeptical because I was never a math friendly person and I am a bit hesitant when it comes to numbers. I did learn that numbers are nothing to be afraid of and nowadays the software embedded in many shop systems does the math for you very efficiently.

One of my goals in museum work is to work more with collections mostly getting acquainted and taking care of them and for that I think I’ll take up some volunteering work behind the scenes along with the curators and conservators.

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.