A Tale of Two Departments


The two English Departments in Turku, Åbo Akademi and Turun Yliopisto, congregated, as has been the custom over the years, for a joint retreat, this time on the island of Seili in the Turku archipelago. Seili, of course, is the island historically (in)famous for its leper colony and later its mental institution. For the last 50 years, the Archipelago Research Institute has had its base on Seili.


The retreat started from the River Aura, where the boat Aurelia picked us up on the two-hour sea voyage to Seili in sunny but cold spring weather. After settling in to our sleeping quarters and having lunch, it was time for official business. We started with a round of introductions, as despite a history of joint retreats, not everyone knew each other in advance. Informality characterises the retreats, and this one was no exception. Synergy cannot be achieved through official structures, but rather through interaction, spontaneity, and relaxed atmosphere. The retreats are ideal for that, as going away from your usual environment can foster new ideas.

Professor Anthony Johnson and PhD Candidate Aleksi Mäkilähde gave a presentation on their joint project on the Orationes, a collection of school plays from the late 17th century. Their excellent presentation was followed by Signe-Anita Lindgrén & Pekka Lintunen’s presentation on various learner corpora, as they chronicled the challenges involved in corpus-building, ranging from practical problems to comparability, but both also stressed that corpus-building is in fact lots of fun!


After the two joint presentations we were treated to an English-language guided walking tour of the island, on which we got to visit, for example, the island’s church which had a special section for those residents who had leprosy and thus were not allowed to sit with the other church goers back in the 18th century.


In the afternoon, the two Fulbright scholars, one past and another present, Chris LaLonde (SUNY Oswego) and Casie Hermansson (Pittsburg State University, Kansas) had a discussion about the Fulbright experience as a member of both English departments in Turku. For both Casie and Chris, the Fulbright period far exceeded their expectations, an evidence of which is the fact that this was Chris’s fourth time back in Finland since his Fulbright year 1997-1998. Taking the time to discuss the Fulbright’s benefits perhaps also served as reinforcement for the two departments’ ongoing commitment to keep the scheme going. After all, the Fulbright scholar is a teacher to whom students stick, as remarked by Professor Emeritus of ÅA’s English Department, Roger Sell.

After the Fulbright discussion, Casie and family were gifted with Åboriginal t-shirts, followed by the ÅA faculty’s moving and laughter-inducing tribute to Professor Risto Hiltunen, who is about to retire. They likened Risto to the current James Bond, Daniel Craig, and reminded him about his skill in cultivating friendships the same way that he accidentally cultivated mold in an old coffee cup back in the eighties.

The day was concluded by sauna and dip in the cold sea, followed by sausage-grilling, refreshments, enjoying the beautiful sea view, and continued conversation about the day’s topics.


The next morning, before leaving the island, we had a future-oriented workshop led by Risto, who reminded us about the twinship of the two departments, and encouraged the small groups to come up with practical suggestions about joint activities. The fruits this productive session will bear are to be seen, so both departments — including our students – will have lots to look forward to in the future!

Text: Elina Valovirta
Photos: Adam Borch

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