“FINLAND IS A PARADISE FOR STUDENTS”

Gargi Tariyal is a second-year student in the Erasmus Mundus MSc programme in European Forestry (MSc EF). Due to the mobile nature of the programme, she is now finalising her studies in Vienna – and looking forward to gaining more work experience in mountain ecology.

Thinking back to the start of the programme and her times at UEF in Joensuu, Finland, she recalls the interesting courses, numerous field trips and cultural learnings from her peers. Equally well she remembers the feeling that in Finland students are appreciated a lot – that you really felt welcome and supported when facing new challenges in a new country.

CALL OF THE MOUNTAIN AREAS

Enjoying nature has always been – well, natural – for India-native Gargi Tariyal. She grew up in a small and remote village in the Himalayas, which is not the most typical living environment in India with its crowded cities.

–However, when I was younger, I didn’t really think whether I was going to get a ‘real’ job on this field. I just wanted to spend time in the nature – but now when I look at it, this dream has actually gotten me really far.

Before applying to the EF programme, Gargi completed a Bachelor’s degree in Forestry and a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies and Natural Resource Management in India. After graduation, she worked in the Eastern Himalayas in a research project, studying high altitude flora and fauna. She was also very interested in learning the local ways: the Nepalese language and the community traditions there. Since then, mountain areas and the multiple used of forests have been close to her heart – and as an adventurous person, she wanted to go and explore the world and learn more.

– I wanted to learn from the best, so I applied to the UEF because I appreciate the long tradition of forestry research and resource management in Finland. In India, these things are lagging behind. I searched for alternatives as well, but most programmes were focused on subtropical forestry, whereas I’m more interested in temperate and high-altitude forests. The European Forestry programme met my requirements.

FIELD TRIPS, AFFORDABLE STUDENT MEALS AND EXTREME SPORTS

When the decision was made, the practical arrangements of applying and moving to Joensuu, Finland, were easy to handle.

–The application process was very convenient and the communication with the UEF staff was quick. Especially I would like to thank Marjoriitta, the coordinator of the EF programme at UEF, for being always ready to help.

The studies started with a highly practical focus, right from the beginning. The group went to many field trips to local companies in Joensuu, for example to see how biofuel is burnt to energy or how massive forestry machines are built, gaining a lot of business contacts for potential internships.

It was clear right from the start that the learning happens in the class – but even more outside of it.

–We were a group of 23 students of 19 different nationalities, so we were not only learning from notes, but also from each other, all the time.

For Gargi, the best part of studies was the one-month European forestry field camp to the five other universities in the EF consortium in Romania, Austria, Germany, France and Spain.

–It was amazing, as the whole group was travelling together and learning on site.  We stayed in mountain huts, saw bears and vultures...  you name it. Of course, it was not a holiday, but we wrote reports and completed other assignments during and after the trip.

At the time of the interview, Gargi has already moved to Vienna, as according to the mobility plan of the EF programme, each student can choose from the universities in the consortium where they will spend second semester. But when looking back to the times in Joensuu and Finland, the memories are warm.

–Finland truly is a paradise for students. Now I see it even more clearly, maybe because you value a place the most when you lose it, Gargi laughs.

She continues:

–The library was the best, really, with modern computers and rooms that you can book for group work and such. In addition, the professors are very easy to approach, as they are down to earth and you can always ask them anything you have in mind. Oh, and the delicious and healthy student meals at the canteen… You never have to cook and they are so considerate there as they have vegan, gluten free and other special options as well.

While in Joensuu, Gargi had no problem finding something to do on her free time.

–I love hiking, so the best thing about Joensuu was all the hiking trips I did as a member of Joensuun Latu, an outdoor sport association that you can join. Every weekend I went on hikes in remote peatlands or snowshoeing trips, and I even stayed overnight in a lean-to in –18 degrees! I made really good friends there, of different ages. I heartily thank Liisa Oura, Marjut and Merja for warm hospitality as they invited me to their houses and I really got to know real Finnish life that way.

WE ARE ALL THE SAME

Gargi’s vision of her future is clear.

–I want to continue focusing on mountain areas and on high altitude timber management and avalanche protection, for instance. I would like to get work experience from Austria or South America that I can really make use of when I go back home.

The cultural and spiritual aspects of forests are also something that Gargi wants to promote – while also enabling the economic uses of forests.

–In my region in the Himalayas, the forests are only for conservation. They are owned by the government and belong to the people. Therefore, they have a lot of spiritual value for the numerous tribes on the area. From Finland we can gain knowledge on how to balance the economic interests and conservation in this kind of setting.

Comparing India and Finland is not that far-fetched, because Gargi has learnt that in the end – we are all the same.

–When I’ve studied high altitude people, they are all the same – in Canada, Finland, India. It’s only us who divide people according to countries. I think we can learn a lot from for instance Sami people in Finland and how to deal with cultural issues related to forest management.

Even though Finland as a study destination had not been advertised so much in India, Gargi is very happy she ended up studying here.

–When I started my studies, I realised that Finland really is a “dream country” in terms of forestry. Here you can do everything from wood – building supplies, milk cartons, even folk medicinal products. It’s the perfect environment for learning.