Northwest graduate Emma Bergin has a passion for justice and human rights — a passion that has led her on a 5,000-mile journey to Helsinki, Finland.
Like many Bearcats, Bergin, who grew up in Overland Park, Kan., wanted to continue her education after earning a bachelor's degree in sociology. She also wanted to travel.
Those twin desires led to her entering a master's degree program in international human rights law at the Aboakademi in Finland's capital city.
The school is sometimes referred to Aboakademi University, a redundant term since "akademi" means university in Finnish.
In addition to her graduate studies, Bergin has also been doing work with 09 Helsinki Human Rights, an organization that seeks to promote equality in social services through youth outreach.
As an 09 HHR volunteer, Bergin coordinates activities, translates documents and works with young people during special events that focus on eliminating prejudice and discrimination through sports and other activities.
She said her experiences are changing how she looks at young people and the way they respond to new ideas.
"I've learned that people's feelings and opinions are not set in stone," Bergin said. "People tend to think that attitudes are the way they are from how they were raised. I don't think like that. In just a week you see these kids change their minds from what they thought when they got here.
"Changing ideas as children can really open minds and open their opinions."
Bergin, who speaks Spanish and is learning Finnish, has lived in Helsinki since August, 2011. She has another year to go before completing her studies. She said the language barrier hasn't been a problem, since most Finns also speak English.
Bergin said the culture in Finland is reminiscent of 1950s America: people are friendly and trusting and crime rates are low.
"It took me awhile to get used to leaving my backpack and coat in the hall when I went to class or lunch," Bergin said. "I think I could drop my wallet on the ground, and I would find it in the same place a week later untouched, or maybe set on top of something for me to see it."
As for her involvement with 09 Helsinki Human Rights, Bergin hopes to move from volunteer to full-time status.
Following graduation, her visa will expire unless she finds a job or signs up for more schooling. She said both options are on the table. For now, she is working on her thesis and doing research for a seminar paper.
Whatever the future holds, she said she is determined to continue working for social change in whatever country she finds herself.