When I started studying environmental engineering at Xamk in Mikkeli, I had an empty CV and a wish to get the first page filled that year, a widely known Russian social media influencer, online educator and ecopreneur Daria Chekalskaia says five years later.

Her strategy was to fill her CV by grabbing interesting opportunities.  Since studies in environmental engineering seemed easy, she had time for improving her entrepreneurial and managerial skills, doing voluntary work and getting involved in interesting study projects.

“When Xamk staff asked who would like to do something I was the one to raise my hand. I got involved with Neptune water project and went to the Netherlands to study for a few weeks. I also did study trips to Sweden and Spain. In addition, I started writing articles for Xamk student magazine and guide books. Then I joined Startup Passion and Startup Summer Camp projects that combined environmental ideas to business topics. I grabbed every opportunity. I even started a hip hop course of my own.”

Daria Chekalskaia was born in Ufa, a Russian town with a population of one million close to Ural mountains. In her childhood travelling abroad was not a common thing to do. When she was finishing high school her elder brother based in St. Petersburg started motivating her for studies abroad.

“We found a Russian online group where people were sharing their experiences about studying at Xamk (former Mamk). So I got a pretty clear picture about what it is like here. I chose Mikkeli because there is a long tradition for teaching environmental engineering.”

Online courses for startups

She now says that the decision to come to study at Xamk in Mikkeli was the best she has made. Over recent years she has offered Russian companies and their staff online courses on zero waste, climate change and planetary boundaries.

“Doing that I discovered my inner climate change educator who wants to raise awareness and encourage people to find solutions for protecting nature. I also started a blog on climate change in Russian. That was a very niché thing to do because climate change and podcasts were both quite new in Russia then and they still are.”


She is now widely known in Russia for her online Zero Waste & Sustainability School, @daria_check blog and co2-free podcast. On Instagram she has over 20 000 followers.

Two years ago she organized a Climathon event and went to stay at a Finnish eco village. In addition, she also studied sustainability in Denmark sponsored by Xamk.

“I loved organizing Climathon because it gave me a chance to organize a physical event and form a team for it. I managed to ask my teacher to make it my final assignment for the Environmental Communication course. I just adore the way Xamk allows students to experiment things they are passionate about.”

Easy small town life

For Xamk student guide books she has written about how to study and travel in Finland and how she as a young woman found a purpose for her life.

“Living in a small town like Mikkeli gives you flexibility and freedom. I have gone to the nearby shop in my pyjamas and walked for a swim with just a towel around me. Because there is not so much going on all the time around you it gives you time to think about your own focus and do things that you like. There is more time for interesting projects. Right now I am writing about climate change myths in Russia.”

She now shares a 3-room flat with her boyfriend in a house close to forests and her little permaculture garden.

“This is the second summer that I have a small garden space in a nearby community garden. Last year my zucchini grew extremely well. This summer we have planted tomatoes, peas, beans, potatoes and herbs. I combine my exercise routine of daily running with seeing how my garden is doing.”

Good for your wallet and health

Currently she is fully employed by Xamk as a production assistant for Edufication for preparing online courses for the global market. She already created an educational course on climate change.

“My next step would be to become a qualified teacher to be able to teach offline as well. I also have ideas about using communities and various visual elements for online teaching.”


“This a completely new programme that aims at making youth more visible in the work of Climate Investment Funds when they deliver funds to lower- and middle-income countries.”

Daria Chekalskaia is more than happy to recommend studies at Xamk for foreign students who would like to have time to think what they really want from life.

“Xamk has a very flexible system. I could, for example, taka a month off studies to live in the eco village and there has always been time to complete interesting projects. Mikkeli is an excellent place to experience slow life. Living here has been good for my wallet as well as for my mental and physical health.”

Text and pictures: Päivi Kapiainen-Heiskanen