Wellbeing tutoring inspires students

The University of Oulu is running a wellbeing project led by the Student Union and funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, which is implemented as wellbeing tutoring. The hobby activities based on peer tutoring, which started in the spring of 2021, help the university students to engage in meaningful activities - with the help of each other.
Luovamieli toimintaan osallistujat Ystävyyskeskuksessa
Creative Group participants at Ystävyyskeskus, Vuolle Setlement, from left to right: Angelique Tuomivaara, Priyadharsini Venkat, Silpa James, Niyati Kandikanti, Miia-Christiina Thallinger, Ipara Mohter. Photo: Leevi Rantala, 2022.

"Wellbeing tutoring helps in finding new friends and new hobbies," describes Timi Kärki, the coordinator of the wellbeing project at the Student Union of the University of Oulu (OYY). “There have been similar activities in Oulu previously, but on this scale, the project is unique in entire Finland. During and after the Covid-19 epidemic, efforts must be made to ensure the wellbeing of students. Here, too, preventive work is cheaper than fixing the problems.”

To date, about 50 instructors and more than 700 participants have joined as many as 200 individual activities, Kärki says. However, more tutors and participants are needed, as recent research shows that students experience a lot of loneliness and, for example, exercise too little.

Get involved in the activities

In wellbeing tutoring, students guide and help each other. Hobbies and stimuli are organised in three different categories: culture tutoring, skill and knowledge tutoring, and sport tutoring. Thus, students are offered a wide range of sports, knowledge and skills, and culture, including both activities organised with own resources and attractive experiences outside one’s own study community - mostly at reduced prices or with special opening hours.

"The intention is to lower the threshold for participating in different hobbies and meeting new people," Kärki summarizes. “Many different manual skills and crafts have been popular, as have sports activities. However, engaging in joint activities and enjoying each other’s company are most important in the project. No one needs to be alone.”

Everyone can express their wishes for new activities. “Students can influence what activities are organised and what supplies, for example, OYY could acquire to support various hobbies,” Kärki says. “Wishes can be shared, for example, with a message on Instagram, in Moodle, via email or in Whatsapp. After receiving the ideas, we look for a tutor and a way to organise the activity.”

A pre-taste and details are also available at the Oulu x Summer event on 19 May 2022, where you can get acquainted with the summer activities and events organised by local interest societies and wellbeing tutors.

"As the activities of organisations slow down in the summer and many students stay in Oulu, there is a need for wellbeing tutoring also in the summer," Kärki emphasizes. “Our operations will continue, in practice, on a normal level throughout the summer. The best way to stay on track is to follow the project on Instagram under the name @hyvinvointihanke.”

Gain from the tutoring experience

Becoming a tutor is a challenge made easy with a short training and free activities. "Anyone can apply to be a wellbeing tutor, no special skills are needed, as long as the tutor is interested in working with others and organising activities," Kärki says. “The next application period for wellbeing tutors is already on 29 August – 11 September 2022. The training provides the basics and tips for organising activities. Tutors receive an hourly wage of 12 euros, as well as free admission to many different activities.”

Niyati Kandikanti pursues a double-degree Master’s degree at the Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine and started as a wellbeing tutor in September 2021. “As a healthcare professional at my core, I feel a sense of purposefulness when I can help ease the suffering of those around me,” Kandikanti explains when asked why she wanted to become a wellbeing tutor. “I consider myself a general tutor because I am inspired by different ideas. To put it in simple words, I lean towards creative and artistic skills as well as some sports.”

The list of activities Kandikanti has helped to realise is immense and includes, e.g., DIY Halloween costume making, acrylic cloth and dot painting, self-image mask making, traditional Finnish yard games, yoga, badminton, and minigolf, to mention a few.

With new ideas just waiting to be realised, Kandikanti has easy access to needed resources. “I usually get a lot of help and support from the project coordinator Timi with reservations, materials, discounts on tickets etc.,” she says. “Of course, I get a wage of 12 euros/hour for the duration of activity. And I also collaborate with different organisations like the Byström center, Vuolle Settlementti, Nyyti, some university guilds etc. to organise these activities and help students familiarize with these organisations.”

Kandikanti’s purpose for being a highly active wellbeing tutor derives largely from students’ real-life challenges. “From what I gather, most of us are completely occupied with studies and work. We are either too stressed out, or feeling overwhelmed, burned out, or downright lost. I get that. I see myself in you. Some days, it is that friendly invitation, a call from a buddy, that can help me make time for a hobby activity, help me learn a new skill, get me to work out my stress, feel my emotions, or even just get me out of bed really. I want to be the person that I needed.”

Kandikanti further explains how she benefits from the experience on a personal level. “I think I receive the opportunity to practice event organising. Because I frankly find it insanely satisfying to pull together arrangements and activities for people. Another thing I love about being a wellbeing tutor is that I can set myself new targets and new things to try out that I would not have on my own. Of course, I make many friends along the way and that’s a really great long-lasting impact for me.”

The experience and skills are also useful for her future career in healthcare. “I think being a wellbeing tutor makes me more empathetic towards people. I find myself being a better listener because my maturity about individual persons is always getting enriched by people I reach out to and familiarize with. I also think it gives me confidence in social environments and learning from mistakes. Aside from all the organisational and social skills I learn, it also helps me feel like I am not useless to society.”

Improving the wellbeing of students together

At the University of Oulu, OYY operates wellbeing tutoring with funding awarded by the Ministry of Education and Culture in 2021 as part of special grants to support the wellbeing of university students. The purpose of the special grants is to organise activities that alleviate loneliness, provide low-threshold services, and support students' life management.

The Finnish Student Health and Wellbeing Survey (KOTT) - conducted every four years - was last realised in February-April 2021 when more than 6,200 students in universities and universities of applied science completed it. “The study is used to investigate higher education students’ physical and mental health, lifestyle, perceived wellbeing, and social relations and the factors affecting these, and the students’ ability to study and related support needs,” the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) describes on its website. Similar information supporting development activities is not provided by any other study.

The latest research shows that one out of four university students feel lonely. The analysis considers respondents who have reported feeling lonely quite often or continuously. At the same time, one out of four university students do not feel that they belong to any study-related group, such as a class, study group, subject society, department/unit or the like.

The pandemic has created a variety of effects, the results suggest. “Other students feel that distance learning has made studying more difficult and lonely. Other students have gained new motivation for studying and more free time. According to preliminary results, people living alone have felt lonely more often than those who have families”, says Suvi Parikka, Development Manager at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), on THL's website regarding the main findings of the study.

"The purpose of the wellbeing tutoring at the University of Oulu is to reach students who are not reached, for example, by societies operating at the university," Kärki confirms. "The goal is to create meaningful activities for as many people as possible and, at the same time, meet other people who are interested in similar things."

The latest research by THL also shows that half of the university students exercise too little compared to the physical exercise recommendation. The results are based on two questions inquired from the university students:

1. How much in total do you exercise as you study, work, or go to work or school, and during your free time?

2. On how many days in a week, on average, do you exercise to maintain or develop muscle fitness? For example, gym training, home gym, group exercise, ball and racket games or physically strenuous chores?

The physical exercise recommendation specified by THL is at least 2 hours 30 minutes of moderate endurance exercise, or 1 hour 15 minutes of strenuous endurance exercise per week. In addition, exercise to maintain or develop muscle fitness at least twice a week is recommended. On the other hand, based on the research results, it can be stated positively that half of the university students were active in accordance with the physical exercise recommendation during the pandemic.

However, it is clear that students need to be encouraged to exercise more. In sport tutoring, as part of wellbeing tutoring, students can try out new sports and forms of exercise within the offering of University Sports of Oulu (OKKL) and outside it.

"Especially when exercising, social situations are easy and a common language is not necessarily needed; in many sports, gestures, or exercising or competing together create common positive experiences," Kärki says. “In addition, students are sitting more and more, so there is a need for exercise. And when a student maintains their physical fitness, research shows that the ability to learn also improves.”

OYY's goal is to make wellbeing tutoring a part of normal operations. "It would be important that the operations continue and develop further," Kärki emphasizes. "Student resilience is constantly strained, and both the university and the Student Union must do their best to continue to support the students."

In the near future, wellbeing tutoring could collaborate more with various organisations and companies. "When a student is doing well, they will also be a healthy employee in the future," Kärki adds.

Read more:

Wellbeing tutoring https://www.oyy.fi/wellbeing-tutoring/?lang=en

Subject societies https://www.oyy.fi/student-societies/subject-societies/?lang=en

Interest societies https://www.oyy.fi/student-societies/interest-societies/?lang=en

More information:

Timi Kärki, Project coordinator

timi.karki (at) oyy.fi

040 520 1761

Related news: https://www.oulu.fi/en/news/kela-reports-remote-studies-and-loneliness-have-put-strain-higher-education-students

Last updated: 19.5.2022