Note: The following text was written by Karolis Banys, an exchange student from Lithuania, who took part in Rovaniemen Seta meetings and activities while staying in Rovaniemi in 2011.
In the conference on LGBT and education held by Flemish Minister for Education, Youth and Equal Opportunities, Pascal Smet in Brussels, I met the representative of SETA. By that time I already knew, I was going to be an ‘vaihto-opiskelija’ at the Lapin Yliopisto for the spring semester. I asked the representative whether there is a possibility to get involved into LGBT activities in Rovaniemi. After I wrote to the adress I was given, I was successfully contacted by local group and started participating in the weekly meetings of Rovaniemi SETA.
Especially when thinking about exchange students, the ones like me, who chose to have their exchange programme in Finland particularly because of Finland, interested in its high social and educational development, high level of democracy, achievements in equality, and if students as well are interested in Human Rights, Rovaniemi Seta is a great place to meet true Northern people (but not ‘True Finns’ at all), share the ideas and debate various topics.
During the Wednesdays we discussed diversity of issues, starting from LGBT situations in particular countries and regions, like Lithuania, Finland, Baltic States, Muslim states to LGBT movies, journals, tv-series or simply talking about cultures, languages and so forth. I was pleased that all the members of the group speak English, some of whom even had excellent English skills (thanks to the educational system of Finland).
As well, I would like to outline that this minority group in Rovaniemi is diverse in itself. I was able to meet teenagers, adults, elder people who belong to the same LGBT community. Furthermore, I was not the only ‘vaihto-opiskelija’, students from Turkish Cyprus, China, United States of America attended the meetings several times also and shared their ideas as well as experiences concerning LGBT issues, spoke about LGBT situation of countries that they came from: strong heteronormativity of Turkish Cyprus, changing attitude towards homosexual people in East China, conservative South Korean society, first Baltic Pride in Lithuania, constellation of attitudes inside the United States towards adoption by homosexual parents, the outcome of the results of Finnish Parliament elections and so forth.
Coming from an activist organisation in Lithuania, I was interested in additional practical activities related to LGBT issues and just before the Parliamentary Elections to Eduskunta, I was asked to hang posters ‘against the Homophobia’ and so to assist the organisation.
No doubt Rovaniemi Seta is a great place where people can get their social cohesion, a vital element of belonging, being a part of something bigger than the individual is as well as learn more about what’s happening globally in terms of the Human Rights. For students who are interested in Finland, Human Rights, LGBT community, it is an indispensable place to learn about Finland and Finnish culture, directly from the local people in the informal setting. If somebody would come up with questions to me, I would highly recommend weekly meetings of this small but absolutely charming organisation full of interesting people.
Student of Political Science,
Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy,
Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania.
Vaihto-opiskelija for the Spring semester, 2011.