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From the classroom: Studying politics and sociology in Scotland

University of Edinburgh student, Ilona Myllyniemi is not only handling her uni studies, but is also a UKCISA ambassador. Source: Ilona Myllyniemi

Ilona Myllyniemi, 21, is originally from a small town in the Finnish countryside with about 4,000 residents. She is now pursuing an MA Sociology and Politics at the University of Edinburgh. Why did she choose Scotland? A big factor was being able to study for free as she’s an EU citizen. Another was because the prestige University of Edinburgh commands — it is well-known globally for quality teaching and research.

Today, she’s not only a student at this leading uni and study abroad destination — but also an ambassador for the UK Council for International Student Affairs. She plans to finish her degree and continue to support the #WeAreInternational campaign. We speak to her below about all of that and more:

What made you choose to study sociology and politics at the University of Edinburgh?

Initially, I chose sociology and politics as I’ve always been intrigued by how our political institutions function, and the factors that impact the ways we humans behave within our societies. I am also passionate about making social change, and I felt like studying for my MA Sociology and Politics at the University of Edinburgh was the best way of building my skill sets for this. 

University of Edinburgh

As an international student, Ilona Myllyniemi loves gaining knowledge on historical facts from different cultures. Source: Ilona Myllyniemi

Do you think it would have made a difference if you studied at a local institution? If yes, why?

I actually studied at a local institution for a while. I did a year of English linguistics and translation studied at the University of Helsinki in Finland. However, I quickly realised that it wasn’t for me, and I really wanted a different kind of student experience that none of our local institutions could have offered me. While I could have studied for this degree somewhere else, Scotland has stolen my heart. A joint honours degree at the University of Edinburgh is something I couldn’t have done back home. 

What has been your most memorable class so far — and why?

I’ve really liked all of my courses, but a memorable one was a course I randomly took as a fresher which was about the history of medicine. Definitely was not my first choice for that semester, but I ended up absolutely loving the course. The lecturers were helpful, easy to approach and extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the topic. That was the first course that really made me sure that choosing the University of Edinburgh was the right choice for me. 

How have your lecturers supported you in your studies thus far?

I really respect all of my lectures, especially those ones who make an effort to make their classes engaging and entertaining — something my politics lecturers have managed to do on several occasions! Additionally, one of my sociology lecturers is also my personal tutor, and her support has been extremely important for me. Especially during times I’ve needed to make super important decisions.  

University of Edinburgh

Edinburgh has lots to offer, especially with regards to hikes and nature trails which is something this student is used to. Source: Ilona Myllyniemi

Tell us more about your role at UKCISA as a student ambassador? What goals do you have to improve the #WeAreInternational campaigns forward? 

As a UKCISA student ambassador, I’m especially passionate about student mental health, and more about the particular struggles international students may face during the current circumstances. I also want to amplify different types of international student experiences, and make sure that the UK remains a safe and welcoming destination for international students from all over the word in the future. 

What are your academic goals? What skills have you gained thus far?

I’ve definitely gained a lot of knowledge about how the world works, and honed my academic skills. I am currently aiming towards getting good grades. More than this, I also really want to learn and understand stuff that goes on in the world, and how we can make an impact. This is something the University of Edinburgh has taught me the past three years. 

Do you plan to progress into further study in Sociology and Politics? What do you plan to do with this degree after graduating?

After graduating, I definitely want to study more. I would love to pursue a master’s degree, and even a PhD after that. I’m also planning to pursue a law degree and work in the legal field in the future. I also run a social enterprise that aims to destigmatise therapy and mental health. I would also love to apply my knowledge from my current degree to the mental health front as well. 

What cultural sites have you explored in Edinburgh? Tell us something you learned from this.

I’ve visited the essential tourist sites in Edinburgh, such as the Scott Monument, Arthur’s Seat, the National Museum and so forth. It’s provided me with a boatload of historical tidbits I will probably never use outside of a pub quiz. Although a more overarching lesson I’ve learned by visiting these historical sites has definitely been a profound appreciation for our shared humanity. 

University of Edinburgh

Myllyniemi would love to pursue her master’s degree after, and maybe consider a PhD. Source: Ilona Myllyniemi

What’s one thing you miss from home and how do you substitute it?

Back home in Finland, there’s always a chance to experience untouched nature no matter where you are. That is something I can’t help to miss. While Edinburgh is wonderfully green and has several lovely parks and walking trails, it is still a large city. I do love it, but I miss the constant presence of nature that I would get back in my hometown. I substitute this by going on day trips and hikes in Scotland with my partner or my friends. I can definitely recommend St. Abbs Head for some breathtaking views when lockdown is over!