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Reflections of an ALL-YOUTH Intern

I have had the fortunate opportunity to work part-time with the ALL-YOUTH project, chiefly in Subproject 1 based at the University of Helsinki. This ambitious multidisciplinary project is exploring both the capabilities of and the hinderances faced by young people in their engagement with society. Even though their research is not directly related to my master’s work around social capital and communication, I could find many relevant and useful connections between them. I was also very happy to be exposed to new and current research topics that greatly interest me.

The team I worked with was very open, supportive, and friendly. It was not hard to feel like I was part of the team. It was also very enlightening to be a part of a larger project to gain a better understanding of some of the basic logistical issues. It was clear that it can be quite difficult to organize multiple people located in three different (and relatively distant) cities but it just requires a little extra planning and communication. If time had allowed and my schedule was more flexible, it would have been nice to meet and work with the people in the other subprojects.

Learning new skills

Nevertheless, there was plenty of fun and challenging tasks available to me. I researched topics around minority youth and political participation (specifically in Nordic countries); disability, inclusion, and belongingness; disability and intersectionality; gender, agency, and youth participation; young women, media, and power; young women, the Internet and private spaces; as well as youth independence and transitions to adulthood. There was also opportunity for me to help prepare for a course on qualitative methods by searching for comparable syllabuses from other universities as well as relevant (and current) textbooks and articles.

I was also able to participate in several practical activities connected to the many journal articles I researched. For example, I joined in on the first two sessions of an ethnographic research project aimed at understanding how a high school civics course defines political participation, or “good citizenship,” and how this construction impacts the relationship between ethnicity and participation. I was there to observe and take notes. The first session was an introduction to the course and to the research. The students were highly engaged in their course work and attentive towards their course leaders. However, towards the head researchers the students were less engaged and polite as they immediately reached for their phones during the researchers’ presentation. Some might argue this is an indictment of today’s youth growing indifference but it seems more important to question why there was a considerable change in the students’ focus levels. Is concrete action more motivating to young people than researching theories?

In the second session, the students were able to have face-to-face discussions with two politicians at the Little Parliament. It was interesting to observe the interactions between the politicians and students, which were very focused and purposeful. However, a professional photographer was there to take photos of the discussion and his presence was quite distracting because he was constantly (and noisily) taking photos. There did not need to be a hundred photos taken to prove that the students had a strong desire to raise their voices and be heard. The students taking part in the civics course are not representative of all youth but they do challenge the notion that all young people today are completely disengaged in politics and political action.

Another practical activity I could contribute to was a campaign organized by young people designed to stop discrimination and harassment on public transportation. My main task was to distribute flyers (and sweets) to passers-by and participate in a flash mob outside the metro entrance. Passing out flyers to cold and tired commuters was not always cheery business but it felt good to be a part of the action so to speak. On the whole, the campaign received a lot of good feedback from the public, though there was on occasion those individuals who were dismissive or claimed to have never seen discrimination or harassment on public transport.

My most challenging task was to write my very first blog post for the project’s website. It was difficult to prepare an academic blog post that was both engaging and informative but also concise. As I have been writing essays mainly for the past two years, it was a new skill I had to learn. Thankfully, I had a lot of support from the ALL-YOUTH staff. Writing this blog is now a bit easier with some experience, though it also helps that it less formal and more personal.

Finnish is important

An important area of self-assessment pertains to my knowledge of (or rather lack of) Finnish. I have taken several Finnish courses but I still have a fairly beginner’s level. When I am being more generous to myself it is between a beginner’s and intermediate level of Finnish. This hindered me in a couple ways. Firstly, there were some tasks I could not perform for the project because my Finnish was not advanced enough. Secondly, even though I could observe body language and understand the gist of conversations, I was not able to get an entirely comprehensive view of the ethnographic research because it was all in Finnish. Nevertheless, despite my lack of fluency in the Finnish language, I still gained valuable knowledge and experiences from my work. I also believe the ALL-YOUTH staff benefited from having a native English speaker on the team as well. It certainly was not an insurmountable issue but it is clear that greater knowledge of Finnish will only be a benefit in later professional settings here in Finland. This may be obvious to most but I have met too many other Americans in Helsinki who seem to ignore this simple truth.

Overall, my time at the ALL-YOUTH project has been a great experience. I am very grateful for the team’s support and feedback. A big thanks to you all!

Photo Credit: Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Writer: Jade Rosenkranz. A second-year master’s student in the Global Politics and Communication programme at the University of Helsinki. She has recently interned and gained valuable practical training at the ALL-YOUTH project.

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