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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Kay Gets Oriented

Last Friday the staff at the Collegium organized a long orientation session for us, one of several that they have done or will do by the end of next week.  It's another of the ways they've been absolutely lovely about providing us with information, guidelines ... you name it--and being sure that we can settle into things as quickly as possible.  The whole process made some of the differences between the system here and the ones I'm used to (US, British/Irish, French, and even German) even more striking.

Because for this year's purposes I'm an employee of the University of Helsinki as well as the University of South Carolina, I have two layers of benefits and bureaucracy I need to reconcile.  Because I'm a EURIAS fellow, they negotiated some additional perks for me, but there are also some aspects of the bureaucracy I don't need to deal with.  That actually means 3 layers.  The challenge is keeping things straight, something that I'm finding hard even though, as most of you know, I'm pretty good with bureaucracy.  In any case, the best way to explain this without, I hope, boring you to tears is to describe the day.

We began our 4-hour tour through the labyrinth of university bureaucracy with most of the fellows sitting around one table surrounded by several tables of staff (the big orientation for the Finnish fellows was in August).  The chief fellow coordinator at the Collegium, Minna, began the presentation by describing the organizational structure at the Collegium itself and referring us to this amazing handbook that they'd put together for the fellows and that they sent me back when I was in SC; she describes it as their Bible, I think of it as a model for handbooks that should be given to all new faculty.  It was slightly funny having people introduced to us that we'd already met, but my impression is that they'd had problems in the past with some fellows assuming that the entire staff should instantly drop everything to help them in whatever quest they might have, an embarrassingly common problem in academe.  Some of the high points were

1.  having the existence of the free, bimonthly, half-hour massages confirmed.  I'm already signed up for my first tomorrow!

2.  listening to Minna stress repeatedly that they'd do or buy anything "reasonable" to help us with our work.  Considering I've already got a research budget of over 5,000Euro that they urge me to spend buying books in addition to likely research assistance come October, I keep trying to imagine what some of the previous fellows have asked for.  When I've asked a few staff, they just smile knowledgeably and say I'd be amazed.

3.  having the concluding statement be the completely honest and too often unexpressed point that they will do anything possible to help us because they plan to take credit for our accomplishments for years!  I thought I was going to lose it laughing when she said that.  It's so refreshing to have someone be that straight with you--and so very unSouthern.  (And it's not a language issue.  Minna got a PhD from UCLA; she has fluent English.)

We then moved to the pension and benefits system.  The poor person tried, but I don't think any of us was particularly interested in the organizational tree of UH and most of our benefits needs are individualistic.  Here, though, in the middle of this presentation was the high point of the day's talks for me.  Brace yourself.

I now have a Finnish pension when I retire!

Yes, you read correctly.  Granted the pension will probably be minuscule because I'll have only been here for one year, but I'm eligible for full Finnish pensioner benefits.  God, I love European social services!

The other highlight of a very informative but tough day was during the presentation about the university libraries.  The system is more complicated that those I've dealt with before because of my topic: I actually end up getting material here from ca. 8 different libraries.  Mind you, most of the time in the States at a big, research school, you borrow materials from multiple libraries.  In any case, as the librarian was explaining the borrowing privileges (I mean, I can only renew 50 times. :-)   ), cataloging, etc., we hit the section on overdue fines.  Then she stopped herself laughing.  Why, you ask?  (At least I did.)  Because professors here, like us, don't pay overdue fines.  I looked so shocked that the room just cracked up.  Ah, Europe: the weird combination of egalitarianism and classism. :-)

We wrapped up the day with a lovely reception where I got to meet a few more medieval/early modern Europeanists as well as chat with other fellows.  I must admit, though, when I got home about 6 pm, I collapsed on the couch; Ted got pets, no walk, that evening.

A pension, massages, and no library fines.  How ever will you put the girl back on the farm? :-)

Oh, and I've been told by several people how much they like to hear my laugh and how cheerful I am. Well, the people in Helsinki have been lovely thus far, although I could wish that the tram drunks weren't so magically attracted to me (one friend blames it on a perfume of Mad Dog 50/50, but it can't be; it would cost too much to import!).  I think it's pure, unadulterated relief at spending my days researching again, although I'm still not in quite the routine I'd wish.  Suppose I can't tell them that. :-)

Oh, and if you want to read about Ted the Towel-Tugging Terror, he's been written up on, a great blog by the Canadian family who's living up on the 11th floor.

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