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Campus Celebrity: Silja Uusikangas – “Step out of your comfort zone!”

Silja Uusikangas is a 21-year-old Social and Public Policy major but outside of the university she dedicates her time to organizational activities. Here she tells us why we all should get involved with organizations and how stepping out of your comfort zone might help you to land your dream job.

You’re a second year Social and Public Policy major at the University of Helsinki but are also involved in many organizational activities. Tell us a little about what kinds of things you do?

Right now I’m a board member of ViNO (Federation of Green Youth and Students), a member of the Financial Committee of HYY and I also arrange a course called “Pääkaupunkiseudun Nuori Vihreä Vaikuttaja” which is aimed at young people who are interested in the Green politics or have just gotten involved with the party.

How did you end up working in all these organizations and getting so many positions of trust?

It’s been a long term thing. I’ve always been very active and interested in many things and wanted to make a difference. Also, I’ve been open-minded toward new things because I believe that everything can be useful for me in the future. For example, the Financial Committee isn’t really “my thing” in the sense that I study politics, not economy, but I’m very interested in the position because it’s a good learning opportunity. Last summer, for example, I got basically the first job that I applied for, even though I didn’t have much related work experience and I believe that my organizational experience was to thank for that. And one of my friends ended up getting a scholarship to Harvard after being a chair at one of Suomen lukiolaisten liitto’s (the Union of Upper Secondary School Students in Finland) regional organizations!

Many people would be jealous of your time management skills as well as your energy. Tell us, what is your secret?

Organization skills are everything. Also, you have to be quite honest with yourself. If you set your alarm at 8 a.m., then you really have to get up and start working then. And when you have so many things to do, leaving things to the last minute just isn’t an option.

Would you say, then, that you have a good discipline?

Actually, I was just thinking that the other day. But the answer is no. I feel that discipline is more like you have to forbid something from yourself all the time. It’s just that you have to have things that you actually like doing. I think that if you constantly have to use discipline while doing voluntary work, then maybe you should think about it again. Also, now that I’ve already done these things for so long, I’ve learned that there are things that it’s better to say “no” to. I’ve learned my boundaries.

Do you ever feel tired or that you have too many things to do?

It’s true that I do have many things to do and sometimes when I have a really tight schedule, I’m a bit scared of what would happen if I got sick or something else unexpected happened. But I just like it so much when I feel that I’ve accomplished something. It’s very rewarding. It’s also helped that I’ve learned to listen to myself – for example, if I’ve already been working the whole day and then been to a meeting, then after that, I don’t feel compelled to continue working at home, too, if I don’t feel like it.

Still, it’s not a value in itself to work a lot. I think that it’s more important to challenge yourself. Every now and then, it’s important to say “no” to a nice but familiar thing and to be able to say “yes” to a new and challenging, perhaps even a bit scary, opportunity that might teach you new things.

Do you have time for free time?

Yes, of course! Maybe not in a sense that I’d be working five days a week and had two days off but I was just on a holiday in Copenhagen during the past reading week. Also, I get energy from seeing my friends at lunch or coffee during the week, too. It balances things.

What’s the best thing about organizational activities? Would you recommend them to other students at our university?

I would absolutely recommend them to everyone! The best thing is versatility. There are so many different kinds of organizations to suit every taste and you can participate as much or as little as you like. Basically, you can just shop around for the best organizations for you. Also, if you don’t find anything that you like, you can always start your own project! I myself, for example, have run a project called “Hyvän mielen sukat” that collects woolen socks for young mental health patients for a few years now.

Organizations will not only give you a bunch of friends, but also valuable skills for working life. Employers are often looking for people with good organizational and communication skills and experience with event planning and these are all things that you will learn from organizations.

What about if you’re shy? Can you still get involved?

Definitely! Of course, it’s a challenge for organizations to make themselves accessible to different kinds of people. But, like I said, there are SO many organizations out there that there is definitely something for everyone. And there are different ways to get involved! In politics, for example, not everyone can be out in the front but we also need people who want to work in the background. You definitely don’t need to be loud and an extrovert to get involved.

Still, I want to encourage everyone to try and step out of their comfort zone. I myself had a huge stage fright when I was younger but getting involved with organizational work has helped me a lot with that. Organizations are safe places to try your wings. Also, don’t underestimate yourself! It’s OK to stay in the background but if you are even slightly interested in some position, go for it! Don’t think that you’re not “good” or “experienced” enough. Applying for a chair of an organization, for example, might be nerve wracking but trust me, everyone else feels the same way. And so what if you’re not chosen? You’ll still get valuable experience of the application process and who knows, maybe next year you’ll end up being the best applicant for the job!

 

Photos by Minna Manninen

An English Philology major and a Campus Correspondent for Her Campus Helsinki. In addition to Her Campus, I love good food, travelling, politics and cute dresses. My real passion is cookbooks, which I own way too many, and some day I would love to write one myself.
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