I am Karlina. Since the beginning of February, I have been on an EVS placement in Finland working at EKOenergy, hosted by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC). This is where I write about my adventures in Helsinki and beyond.
End of July was my 6-month mark - the half way point of my placement here in Finland. If I had to summarise my time at EKOenergy, I would say my first 6 months have been spent on developing contacts and learning everything I could about hydropower, energy markets and European ecolabels, and the next 6 months I will put everything I have learned into practice. EKOenergy is having a review of their hydropower criteria and my role now is to look at best practice options for Europe while Virpi, the Environmental Director of EKOenergy, is focusing on Finland (and of course overseeing everything I’m doing in Europe). Generally, for me this means lots of research into the environmental impacts of hydropower, interviewing experts and writing reports on hydropower plants that could be suitable for EKOenergy certification. It may not sound like a lot of fun, but renewable energy is such an interesting field and I love learning more about it. Also it is great to start seeing tangible results to the work I have put into this - coming from academia, where weeks or months of research can go by with no concrete results - I am still very much enjoying the contrast of working for an NGO.
For each volume of electricity sold as EKOenergy, some money goes into the Climate Fund, used to fund projects tackling energy poverty in developing countries. If the electricity is produced through hydropower, additional funding goes to the Environmental Fund, used specifically to fund river restoration projects. In June, we had the chance to participate in one of these projects and spend a day in Vihtijoki, a river not far from Helsinki, restoring a trout spawning area and visiting a restored fish pass. The numbers of migratory fish in Finland (and most of Europe) have declined, largely due to loss of suitable habitat, so these types of restoration projects are very important. I used to spend my summers doing biodiversity surveys with the Ribble Rivers Trust in the North West of England, so it felt great to put the wellies on and get my feet wet again.
In addition, FANC and EKOenergy got invited to talk at a youth event at the US embassy in July. It was aimed at young people and I volunteered to represent the ‘youth’ side of EKOenergy and teamed up with Steven, the programme director of EKOenergy, for the presentation. We had a 45-min slot to talk about anything we wanted to as long as it was related to sustainability and renewable energy, so we took it upon ourselves to talk as much about climate change as we could. If you know me at all then you know that I am passionate about environmental education and science communication, so getting to chat to a room full of young Americans ("Future leaders" as they were described in the event brochure) was wonderful - they were bright and interested, it is just a shame that their current president is an idiot.
Outside of work, June and July were the months of non-existent summer, but I still tried to spend as much of my free time outdoors as I could. Weekends were spent on day trips and hikes around lakes, and I had a go at sea kayaking which was fantastic.
23rd of June is midsummer night (Juhannus) in Finland - a summer solstice celebration that traditionally involves outdoor drinking, BBQ and bonfires. Not wanting to miss out on this important holiday, we spent the day on an island not too far from Helsinki, drinking and listening to Finnish music, and attracting so many seagulls with our tofu hotdog BBQ that it was starting to look like some sort of Nordic re-enactment of Hitchcock’s “the Birds”. Luckily we stood our ground and stayed till the bonfire on the beach, which was beautiful!
Finally, June and July were also the months of goodbyes, as many of the EKOenergy team finished their placements. It always surprises me how quickly you become friends with people when you are in a new situation. I guess there's some familiarity and recognition - I am new, this could be scary, let's stick together. It also helps if they are into outdoor adventures, board games and drinking wine by the sea. As much as it is sad to see people move away, it is easy to stay in touch, and I know I will see them again soon. And we have new EVS participants starting in the office in September, so I am looking forward to that.
Till next time when I will tell you about visitors and my attempts at learning Finnish.
Kiitos for reading.