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Student Spotlight: Johanna Rytkoenen, from Finland, a Fulbright Scholar

By Keith Morelli

Johanna Rytkoenen

TAMPA (October 28, 2019) -- Johanna Rytkoenen is a long way from her native Finland and there is a lot to learn over here in the United States, ranging from the content in lectures in the graduate courses she’s taking to the tiniest of details outside of the university. Like this:

“How you can pull a cord,” she said, “to stop the bus.”

The biggest adjustment, besides the main way to let the bus driver know your stop is approaching, is USF itself.

“First and foremost: The campus is huge,” said the Fulbright scholar. “I had looked at it on the map but never really got the magnitude. I also find the campus very pretty and I think I have only scratched the surface of all the campus has to offer. The same goes for USF as an institution. There are so many opportunities provided for students.”

Rytkoenen, who is enrolled in the MBA program and hopes to finish her studies in one year, is among thousands of international students attending classes at USF. But she is unique. She is here on a Fulbright scholarship, somewhat of a rarity, particularly in the Muma College of Business. She is only the second visiting Fulbright student scholar to take business courses over the past five years. She is one of 21 Fulbright students studying at USF from across the globe this semester. And, she is only one of four chosen from Western Europe over the past five years, according to information provided by USF World.

“I am the first person (from Finland) to be awarded this scholarship,” she said, “which was open to any master’s level business student.”

Her job back home is managing the marketing and communications efforts at Triuvare Oy, a small Finnish firm that provides IT specialist services for small- and medium-size organizations. As part of her duties, she is responsible for business-to-business marketing and communications, including planning, implementing, analyzing and developing marketing efforts.

Rytkoenen earned an MBA from the Lapland University of Applied Science and three bachelor’s degrees from the Turku University of Applied Sciences and the University of Tampere. She is fluent in Finnish, English and speaks German and Swedish. She is in the beginning stages of learning French, Spanish, Czech and Dutch.

Her only choice, under the program, was between pursuing a master’s degree in business or an MBA.

“Even though I have done similar studies in Finland, I figured an American MBA is really valuable,” she said. “I do enjoy how practical the studies are and how applicable everything is to real-world business life. I have about eight years of work experience and I wanted to synchronize everything I have learned in my career so far and to strengthen it with the newest innovations in the field of management. I can get that here at USF.”

Studying abroad, she said, offers unique experiences.

“I've spent a year studying outside Finland once before, in Brno, Czech Republic, in 2006 and I wanted to do it again. It's a really fun experience that teaches you a lot about yourself. So this amazing opportunity presented itself and I was lucky enough to get the position. And escaping the Finnish winter for a year in Florida did not sound bad at all.”

By the end of November, the sun in Finland typically rises at 8:53 a.m. and sets at 3:23 p.m.

“It goes without saying that the weather is pretty awesome here,” she said, “and I will have to send a lot of pictures home during the darkest months of the year to really rub it in.”

In class, she has noticed some nuances in how education takes place here, compared to her native land.

“I like the participative style of the American academia,” she said. “I am getting the hang of it. The teaching style is very hands on, which I really enjoy.” She took her first flipped learning class here at USF, she said, “which I have read about with interest, but never participated in before.”

Flipped learning is an educational exercise in which students are presented material before class and lead their own discussions, guided by faculty, about the material.

Her first impressions of Tampa are limited because she doesn’t have a car.

“That is a shame, because from the few times I have been downtown it looks really nice and I like the atmosphere,” she said. “Also, coming from a country with good public transportation it is taking a while to get used to the traffic here, how it is not always possible to get conveniently where you want with bicycle or a bus.”

Away from work and the classroom, Rytkoenen has tried skydiving, and recently jumped out of an airplane in Zephyrhills.

She also is part of a performing singing group back home, she said.

“Singing in public was always my number one fear so a couple of years ago I decided to conquer that and took up a low-threshold singing class for beginners,” she said. “A year later I joined this group. There is no musical talent requirement, we just sing the best we can."

She reads a lot and actively exercises, working out doing high-intensity interval training and yoga. And now that she has a bicycle to get around, cycling is becoming part of her routine.

“But, the greatest fun of all: escape-room games,” she said. “I haven't yet found anyone to do it with in Tampa but would love to try an escape room here in Tampa.”

So far, her U.S. experience has been pleasurable.

“You know, coming in, I knew about the friendliness of Americans,” she said, “but it still sometimes takes me by surprise.”