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Four lessons learned in four years in Finland

Couple of Expats share their four lessons learned in fours years in Finland.

We recently celebrated our fourth Finland anniversary (or "Finnversary"), and this time of year always brings a boatload of emotions. It’s a subtle reminder of how time is passing by, and always brings us memories of the life-changing journey to Finland.

But our "Finnversaries" are also a time for us to reflect on our time spent here and think about how far we’ve come, as well as the road still ahead of us. At the same time, we like to reflect on the things we’ve gotten right and the things we wished we had done differently or had known about sooner. So, here are our four facts about life in Finland we wish we had known sooner.

1. Be prepared to be proactive

Trying to integrate in a new country can be overwhelming. In many ways, it’s like starting over from scratch. Not to mention, there is a lot to learn about your "new home", alongside your regular agenda, whether that is studying, working, or something else. And even though it’s perfectly normal to feel like you have a lot on your plate, being proactive whenever it’s possible can really help in the long run.

Taking a guided city tour is one way for someone who is relatively new to a place to learn more about the city and its surroundings. All year long, there are usually many tour alternatives, including some that are completely free. In addition, you might also want to find out if the city offers any services for newcomers. For example, International House Turku and Turku Business Region are very active in organising a variety of networking events, information sessions, and other types of events that are specifically targeted towards new internationals in Turku.

Here's what our close friend and Talent Advisor Jonathon Murphy from the International House Turku says:

International House Turku offers advice and guidance for all internationals living in Southwest Finland. We especially support new arrivals and help them get started in their new country. Don’t hesitate to visit us if there is anything we can help you with!

A few proactive steps to consider taking:

  1. Building a network of friends both within the local community and among other expats.

  2. Getting to know the local culture and language.

  3. Pursuing old and new hobbies that bring you joy. Finding some familiarity with an activity or a hobby you enjoy might be comforting when moving to a new city or country where almost everything is new.

Whether or not you decide to be active during your first few years of being in a new country, time will still pass. But if you do choose to be an active member of the society, you’ll wake up one day and realise that you have a network of people and friends you can rely on, and that you may even be a part of the community, and that you may feel at home in a completely new place.

2. Start learning the local language ASAP

After moving to Europe, you'll likely hear and read the recommendation to "learn the local language" repeatedly. Depending on where in Europe you’re located, the urgency to learn the local language can also significantly vary. For example in Finland, everyone speaks quite good English, making it possible to get by in daily work without feeling the need to master the local language. And while that makes perfect sense, especially in the short term, investing time in learning the language can be beneficial in the long run.

In Finland, it is possible to survive without mastering the local language. But how far can one really go? While it’s possible to find work that doesn’t demand knowing the local language, one is able to really expand the net from a job search perspective if they are able to show some proficiency. Not to mention, there are fewer jobs available in English, which makes them more competitive. Furthermore, many internationals in Finland face difficulties in finding a job in their field without language proficiency. And this has been an ongoing issue for many years now. Both of us have also experienced that employers here appreciate the effort of wanting to learn the local language, and this can also work in your favour.

A book called "Suomen mestari" is a very popular textbook for adults learning the basics of Finnish language.

"Suomen mestari" is a very popular textbook for adults learning the basics of Finnish language.

Benefits of knowing the local language:

  1. The ability to communicate freely and participate in casual conversation (chit chats) in Finnish.

  2. Feel less alienated and more at home.

  3. The ability to access services that might only be offered in Finnish. For example, it can be difficult to locate electrician and handyman services in English, because people in these industries typically only know Finnish.

When it comes to accessing services, we’ve had our fair share of difficulties since people in these professions hardly ever speak English. For example, when we once required a handyman's help, the person on the other end of the phone hung up as soon as we said "Hello". Another time, we emailed a company in English, only to get a response back in Finnish. We hope that these examples help you to better understand the difficulties that someone who doesn't speak the language can run into in daily life in Finland.

3. Build a Nordic wardrobe

Finland has four very distinct seasons. And with distinct seasons and cold weather, comes the need for a diversified wardrobe. The weather can vary greatly depending on where you are coming from. Kris was more prepared both mentally and physically and had a decent wardrobe to get him through the seasons because the temperature in Riga, Latvia is similar to that in Southwest Finland. Having come from a warm country (India), I was considerably less prepared and recall going shopping both before and after arriving in Finland. And considering there’s so much to consider when moving abroad, and not to mention various luggage restrictions, the most common scenario is landing in a new country with your whole life packed into two suitcases.

It can get quite cold and snowy in Finland.

Finland is prone to cold and snowy weather.

And, believe it or not, building a wardrobe appropriate for the Nordics can be both expensive and time-consuming. And while not everyone will agree that building a wardrobe is essential, having one that allows you to take pleasure in the chilly winters and rainy autumns, as well as one that will keep you safe from the strong winds and allow you to enjoy the outdoors during the cooler months, can have a positive impact on your wellbeing.

When arriving in the Nordics, your priority will probably be to start with the essentials for each season. Exploring thrift shops would be a much more cost-efficient option for building a Nordic wardrobe on a budget. There are many different secondhand stores where you can find clothes, goods, and even furniture.

Here are some initial items worth investing in:

  1. Waterproof jacket.

  2. Slip-resistant winter shoes.

  3. Warm base-layer for outdoors.

4. Think long-term

We already stressed on being proactive, but what if the productivity of being proactive could be enhanced by thinking long-term? You can get a significant head start in your studies or professional career by combining long-term thinking with being active in the present. Our advice in this case is to "Think long term and act now". But what does it really mean?

Well, starting to think long-term from day 1 is helpful if you want to stay in Finland in the long run. One way to accomplish this would be to review your goals during your initial days and develop some sort of a 5- or 10-year plan. For example, what kind of career would you wish to have and what other goals are important to you? Would you, perhaps, like to be a homeowner in the next 5 years?

Once you've carefully thought out your goals and long-term plans, it's a good idea to note how long you realistically expect to take to achieve them. In most cases, achieving your long-term goals requires years of hard work and commitment. So, the question is, what small steps can you take right now to contribute to your long-term goals?

Here are a few things that you might find useful:

  1. If you’re in the age range of 18-39, you can open an ASP savings account, which is a government-supported way to purchase your first home.

  2. If you know you’re interested to work in a particular industry and have certain companies in mind, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself via LinkedIn and express your interest. In Finland, it is very beneficial and necessary to network and to grow one's personal network.

  3. Don’t be shy to put your skills on display. Volunteering can be a great way to showcase your skills and get noticed. If you're good at something, don't be afraid to show it off; eventually, people will notice.

Moving to another country is a tremendously big learning process, and the only effective strategy is to take things one step at a time. Even after living in Finland for a few years, we occasionally discover something new and reflect, "Gee, I wish I knew about this two years ago." And while in most cases, only time and experiences will help you learn, as your fellow expat friends, we compiled this blog in the hopes that someone, somewhere, won't have to wait two whole years to find some important information.


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