More Than the Degree

Being in the board of association at Aalto and my exchange destination

Group of 5 students, 3 women and a man
Photo credit: Anastasiia Ivanova

In the past 5-6 months, I have been encouraging all prospective applicants during squad coffee sessions to consider being in the Board of one of Aalto associations. I am still standing my ground on this incredible opportunity and decided to dedicate a blog post on this topic. I will briefly describe how and why I decided to join the boards of 2 organizations at Aalto University and in Vienna during my Erasmus exchange and how it contributed to my growth and personal development.

I could group my 3 outcomes by 3 bigger categories:

·      New skills

·      Creativity

·      Friendships

To begin with the skills, I had some minor Board experiences in the past where I took a shorter or smaller role. I was encouraged to become a more active member, but hesitations or self-doubts prevented me from doing it at that point. I was not sure if I would be able to do a good job when taking a new role that I have never done before, which can be quite a responsibility when you are in the Board for about 12 months. However, I got very interested in the association called Women of Aalto when I started my master’s studies and decided to try myself in something new and overcome my doubts. I eventually got a role as a head of partnerships. Later on in the same year, I also became a student ambassador at TSH and was part of U25 Board. Both were great platforms to try myself in different roles and improve different skills. Though trial and error, I was able to develop more soft skills, event management, project planning and implementing among other useful outcomes. What is important to note is that even if the role if new for you, it is totally okay to be a newbie and learn step by step! Aalto communities are very kind and accepting. There is no stress to be the best or achieve a certain level, associations are made to be a place to learn, share and exchange information and skills!

Creativity was another component that I certainly got to develop and improve upon in my Board roles experience. This might be different depending on the size of the association and the processes that are established there but what I noticed though my own experience is that being a member of a smaller association that needs some sort of turnaround (in our case due to effects of covid and decreased amount of members) was an amazing test for your creative skills. We had to come up with various concepts, events, opportunities for developing our association. As the partnerships head, I had to think of ways to establish new partnerships, colabs and sponsorships. While the brainstorming process can take some time, I noticed that after doing a lot of research, trials and errors and looking for inspirations from other organizations and associations, I started to think more out of the box and have more ideas coming up. Especially, this process is expedited once you work as a team which is a great advantage of the board experience! Usually others contribute and help you with your tasks too which makes it interesting to see how other people think and what ideas they might have that you never thought of. That was personally a great reflective experience for me. We are all different and that makes it a huge advantage because we can find solutions from different angles and create a synergy though collaborating. Thanks to these lessons, I was already more confident in my other role in the Social Hub Vienna where I acted as a student ambassador. More inspirations and ideas came to my mind and in addition to more standard or routine tasks that I performed, I proposed multiple initiatives that I implemented by myself. The examples of these are connecting 2 organizations I’m part of and receiving a grant to provide books on that topic for TSH community. Additionally, I organized psychology-related workshop which was very successful and it was the start of lunch & learn concept.

I cannot omit another important aspect of being in communities like these. These are the friendships you establish. Not only do you meet people, companies and groups though the process, you become much closer to your Board teammates and connect on a deeper level. I will really cherish my time in TSH Vienna where I got to meet so many incredible students and expats from all kinds of study and work areas, backgrounds and areas of interest! By encouraging people to join fitness classes at TSH, it was possible to grow closer with many people because of meeting frequently and sharing common interests. After one semester in Vienna, I can confidently say that I built incredible connections, friendships with people with whom I will surely stay in touch in the long-run and certainly meet in the future. This is a very positive aspect, especially if you are new to some city or a country! You are bounded with people easier because a common goal or inspiration unites you and can become friends for life.

I could go in much more detail about my learning outcomes but that would be an unnecessary long blog post.. : ) All in all, I can say that if you are looking to get introduced to the new community (as an international student for example), open for new friendships, would like to try yourself out in the new area and would like to make a positive impact of some sort in your area of interest, I can assure you that you can do all of these though association experience. After a bit more than one year of participating, I see a lot of positive changes in myself, outlook on life and my personality and this encourages me to continue in the same direction and try myself in different organizations and roles. This is certainly one of the highlights of my study experiences and I was often able to use some of the obtained theoretical knowledge from the courses and apply it into practice.

- Anastasiia

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