My Best Souvenir from Finnish Academia

By Dukkeum Sun

19th June, 2021 at 19:05

I am writing this blog to share such an intense emotion I have got from the happy surprise that my colleagues have gifted me today. This certain set of time and space has brought me all the flashbacks which have been taken for my 5-year stay in Finland as a master and doctoral student.

27th August, 2016 – 2017

In 2016, I came to Jyväskylä to join the master program in Applied linguistics at the University of Jyväskylä. In fact, I had applied for 5 different universities including this university and I got accepted to four of them. However, I did not hesitate to choose Jyväskylä because the University of Jyväskylä was the only place where there was a field combining language and communication. When I joined the master program, I met my supervisor, Maria Ruohotie-Lyhty, who introduced me the concept of learner agency and identity which have become my core interest in my research at all times. I became quite ambitious and motivated to continue my study as a doctoral student.

In 2017, I started my doctoral dissertation. In the beginning, however, my ambition and motivation for the academic adventure were not good enough to clarify what I was doing. As a Korean student who had been in the academic world in Korea where everything was crystal-clear in the curriculum from the beginning till the end, I felt quite lost and confused in this new academic world. It was difficult for me to understand the Finnish curriculum which gave me too much freedom and autonomy. I would often live up with the feeling that I was falling behind with all the assignments which I should have done but I did not know what they were.

Autumn 2017 – Winter 2020

She was the very first one to let me realize the fact that I was not alone swimming around this challenging swamp.

I once met a colleague (also a Finnish friend of mine), in one poster session in a conference at Agora building. That was my very first time when I saw another colleague in the same department. She then introduced me to the postgraduate group and the activities which were taking place in the group. We later met each other for lunch and she was so genuine to share challenges and difficulties she was facing with her doctoral dissertation.

The encounter with her became quite meaningful for me because she was the very first one to let me realize the fact that I was not alone swimming around this challenging swamp. That feeling I shared with her was quite special so that I felt a strong need of sense of belonging to survive in this community. Thanks to her encouragement, I could recognize my shyness (maybe due to my identity as a foreign student in the Finnish bubble) but set it aside, meet people and take part in the activities with those people in the community. I found such true joy of getting to know people through professional events.

For example, in working as one of the organizing members for Spring School was a great example of learning by doing. There, nine brains got together and we were quite professional to take care of even such micro issues about the event from scratch. To work with those remarkable brains, Karina Doi, Minttu Laine, Kirsi Leskinen, Jari Parkkinen, Tanja Seppälä, Mai Shirahata, Pasi Ikonen and Polina Vorobeva, was a great honor for me.


Next, Bakhtin reading circle run by Reeta Ronkainen (in the picture above) did help me fill up my thirst for classical reading to be able to deepen the fundamental philosophies and thoughts on Bakhtin’s dialogism and chronotope. Thanks to this experience, I could both expand and deepen these theories to be put my articles to use.

Moreover, through mentoring meetings, we shared nearly everything about the things that we can experience through the course of our research life. I thank Saara Jäntti and Kristiina Skinnari for showing me the humbleness and open heart as seniors and Sanna Ryynanen, Anna-Maija Ylä-Mattila, Shomaila Sadaf and all the other mentees who cried, sighed, complained, criticized, laughed, congratulated, encouraged, talked about our research and life as researchers. Lastly, I do thank Minttu Vänttinen, Elina Tergujeff, Sanna Voipio-Huovinen, Virpi Masonen, and all the others for being with me in the online writing retreat, waking me up in the morning, eating lunch with me, giving me the great peer support while I was fighting with the endless revision and endless frustration with still catching the last straw of hopes for my articles on the edge of Covid-19.

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Spring 2021

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In May of 2021, a journal finally accepted my very first article for a publication. The moment I received the unreal news, I immediately felt happy with the fact that I could finally deliver this ‘happy’ news to my supervisors, Maria Ruohotie-Lyhty and Anne Pitkänen-huhta. For nearly three years I had had to deliver only bad news about rejection after rejection to them.. I can never thank enough to Maria, who has become such a nurturing, motherlike teacher for an old student and Anne, who has given me very sharp and constructive feedback in every right moment. They have been with me at all times, even during the periods of rejections and frustration. I also remember another person, Johanna Ennser-Kananen, who was the only one, except for my own supervisors, to show a genuine, passionate interest in my first article written by a completely-not-yet-existent-in-the-academia writer. It was a great moment to notice this genuine curiosity and passion for any kinds of research at any levels.

19th June, 2021 at 23:21

I want our passion and effort toward a sense of belonging to continue in our community


Today, in Muurame, my colleagues have gifted me one of the happiest surprises in my entire life. They have been preparing for this surprise farewell party for the last three months. One of them had to come from Oulu to show up for the party. This surprise memory has become one of the best Finnish souvenirs I will bring back to my home country.

As I came back home and shared this memory with my daughter tonight, she said,

“I firstly thank those people for giving my mom such a special memory. I also think all the relationship you have been establishing for the last five years have shown who you are now. It is like this mochi (Japanese rice cake) package I have now. When you open this package, you find every piece of mochi wrapped in a cute, smaller bag. All the meaningful encounters and relationships you have collected in your Finnish package have made you and your life meaningful and worthwhile. So, mom, you have done a great job with people in the community.”

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I came to a small conclusion at this point of my life. I agree with my daughter’s opinion that I have done a great job for choosing to come to here, not elsewhere and for choosing to build a sense of belonging with these nice people. I now happily and proudly say that I belong to the Department of Language and Communication Studies at the University of Jyväskylä. I want our passion and effort toward a sense of belonging to continue in our community, which was the very reason I wanted to write this blog.

Lastly, to everyone who showed your true Sisu to me, I would like say, 감사합니다, Kiitos, Kiitos and Kiitos! See you again.

Dukkeum Sun was a master student and doctoral researcher at the Department of Language and Communication Studies at the University of Jyväskylä. She is currently working as both a doctoral researcher for the university and an English teacher in a secondary school in South Korea. You can contact her via email at dusun(a)