Today’s interview is with Leah, an American expat living in Finland. Leah is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. She and her husband grew up in Iowa and had lived there continuously until their move to Finland in August of 2012. Though she misses family, friends, and Skippy peanut butter, she finds living in Helsinki to be very easy and relaxing. She currently enjoys taking advantage all that Finland has to offer, as well as exploring other nearby European destinations. Follow along as she experiences a new culture, tries in vain to learn Finnish, and makes a few missteps in this Nordic country.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Iowa and lived there until my recent move to Helsinki.
In which country and city are you living now?
I am living in Helsinki, Finland.
How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I have been here since August of 2012 and plan to stay for two years.
Why did you move and what do you do?
I moved to Helsinki for a career opportunity. I recently earned my PhD and decided to pursue a post-doctoral researcher position. These types of positions are usually short-term and since I wanted to try living in Europe, I thought that this was the perfect opportunity. I work at the University of Helsinki as a post-doc where I am studying skin development.
Did you bring family with you?
Yes, I brought my husband with me; it is certainly an experience that I wanted to share with him!
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
We have had difficulty with the burearcracy of the governmental offices. Otherwise, Helsinki is a very easy city in which to live.
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
There is some truth to the stereotype of Finnish people being introverted, but we have made friends with some locals. We also have a number of expat friends who we met in Finnish language courses.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The best thing to do in Helsinki is to spend time outdoors! There are extensive networks of trails for hiking when there isn’t snow and for cross-country skiing when there is snow.
What do you enjoy most about living here?
By far the best part of living in Helsinki is the public transit: it is cheap and so convenient. We are able to get to wherever we need to go and are much more relaxed in not dealing with the responsibilities of car ownership.
How does the cost of living compare to home?
The cost of living in Iowa is comparatively low, so moving to any big city was going to be a shock. That said, the cost of living in Helsinki is rather high. For example, going out for dinner or drinks is very expensive. However, if you make a budget, you can make anything work.
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The tough part of being an expat in Finland is being patient while dealing with the bureaucracy. When you first arrive, you need to apply for an identification number. This takes anywhere from 2-5 weeks to obtain, and you need this number to obtain health insurance (KELA), a cell phone contract, a permanent library card, a tax card, and many more things, it seemed.
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Take every opportunity to experience living like a Finn!
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Being away from family and friends, especially on the holidays.
When you finally return home, how do you think you’ll cope with repatriation?
It will be difficult to give up public transit. I am not sure where we will land, but very few places in the US have such an extensive network of mass transportation.
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
- Get out and explore your new surroundings and meet people.
- Be patient: things will be different from home (food, the government, people).
- Try to learn the language.
- Take pictures and keep a journal! You will forget things.
- Bring with you a few items that remind you of home and that will make your new abode feel like ‘home’.
Published by “Expats Blog ”