Today’s interview is with Paola, an Italian expat living in Finland. Paola, a wife and mother of two, lives and works in the tech sector in the capital area of Finland. Besides her full-time job, which she loves, Paola is a dedicated blogger. Today, she talks about her expat life as an Italian in the Nordic world, and her appreciation about Finland’s natural beauty, as well as the country’s socioeconomic security — aspects which nurture a happy family life.
Hi Paola, please introduce yourself. Where are you from, what are you doing in Finland, and what were you doing before you arrived?
First and foremost, thank you for having me here. I was born and raised in Italy. I moved to Finland in 2010 to finish my Master’s in Mathematics and ended up staying for postgraduate studies. Since graduation, I have been working at a software company.
In which city do you live?
I live in Espoo, a satellite town of the capital, Helsinki.
What is the process of moving to Finland?
Finland is part of the EU, so travelling here as an EU citizen like me is easy. However, as probably many expat readers know, that doesn’t automatically give right of permanent residence. Moving here with a signed job contract in hand is quite straightforward. Immigration police grants you residence and that triggers the few other bureaucratic steps, such as getting a social security number (essential to do anything) and public health coverage. Those who come without a job have much thinner chances. Sometimes it helps to prove you have means to support yourself. From my understanding, things have not changed in the past eight years.
What is your favourite thing about Finland, and what is your least favourite thing?
I genuinely love Finland much more than I ever loved Italy when it comes to this sense of community they have here. I love that in Finland there’s a shared feeling of community and a deep understanding of why the common good matters. Sometimes I joke that this must be stemming from the harsh winters in the past when people had to cooperate if they wanted to survive. I rarely witness people “playing just for themselves”, and I like it. There’s a touch of socialism to all of it which I appreciate. Another favourite thing is nature and accessibility to it. For example, it’s common for the forest to start at your doorstep.
What I like the least is the seclusion of the Finnish people from the outside world. Often, I perceive an “only Finnish is good” rhetoric in what they say or do. Racism is on the rise, and I regularly witness discrimination in many contexts. I wish Finnish were less scared to open up to the rest of the world. Also, I don’t like the month of November; it’s so dark and wet.
How would you describe Finland in one sentence?
Oh, this is too hard! I will use the famous Winter is coming. This may have a double meaning. The obvious one — winter here lasts for eight months — and a more hidden meaning — Finnish people work hard to build a better society.
What has surprised you the most about Finland?
It’s a modern country for world standards, yet there’s something naive, genuine, and sweet about the people living in it. I love it. I am learning every day from it.
How is today’s expat job market in Finland?
It is better than it was eight years ago when I moved here, but still rough. The Finnish language takes years of study and practice, and despite being a modern country, there’s a tendency in Finland to use the Finnish language only in most workplaces. Many jobs are inaccessible for short-term expats. Software development is one of the most open to expats jobs sector. There’s also a big difference between the work ethics here and in other European countries. After you have worked here for a while, you will get used to the system. However, expect your first job to be hard, and allow yourself some time to adapt. It may sound discouraging, but I have seen improvement in the past years, and I am hopeful my words will be outdated in a few more years.
How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in Espoo, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?
I may sound negative again; I am sorry. In the capital area, which is where you’ll find the most English-speaking jobs, the demand for accommodation is much bigger than the offer. Rents are very expensive, and to apply for an apartment you need a social security number (which comes almost exclusively through having a job). Besides, because of the social closure, as discussed above, and the high demand, owners tend to prefer Finnish occupants to expats. If you are looking for accommodation from abroad, beware of scams. I recommend for a start you rent a furnished apartment from a housing company while you are scanning the free market.
What are the biggest holidays in Finland?
Christmas is the family holiday. Then there’s vappu, which is on May 1st, and it marks the beginning of summer in Finland. Juhannus, which is Midsummer, is also widely celebrated; mostly at the family summer cottage.
What is some essential etiquette in Finland?
People are reserved. If you want to make them “open up”, plan long-term. I mean years. If you ambush them with personal questions, they easily implode.
How do you find the lifestyle in Finland?
I feel there are two main streams: the “capital city Finns”, who are young, modern, a bit hipster, technological, international, and curious. Then there are the “province life Finns”, who can also be found in the capital area. They are the old-school people; country boys and girls at heart, pragmatic, reserved, tough but reliable, may smile once a year but they melt your heart when they do. If you are a Finn reading this, please leave your comments below, and correct me if wrong.
How is the transportation system in Finland? How do you move around?
Public transportation is excellent but expensive. In many cases, it is cheaper than owning and using a car. I commute by car, but many people don’t even have a driving licence. The train system is fast and reliable. Finnish people would tell you otherwise, but they didn’t witness the dark sides of commuting in Italy as I did.
How is everyday life for you in Finland?
I have a family with two children. Life is filled with work and family activities. Overall I think it’s quite happy.
Do you feel that you have adapted to your new life?
I like it here, and I can see myself getting old in Finland.
What do you do in your free time?
Most of our free time is filled with the kids’ activities and events. I also like to take care of myself with several small activities such as meditation, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, and so on. I also like to volunteer for social causes.
What new habits have you developed in Finland?
I developed a full new life perspective and habits in Finland. I could go on for hours on this. I will summarize it by saying that we have made a serious effort to include Finnish traditions in our family life, so many of our new habits have to do with those. Oh, and I have also learned to appreciate nature here. I spend much more time outdoors than I used to do in sunny Italy. I have to thank Finland and Finnish people for this positive change in attitude and perspective.
And what old habits have you quit?
Cheek-kissing strangers. In Italy, almost every human interaction involves kissing.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Finland?
Cost of living here is quite high. Some things are more expensive than others. For example, family activities are cheap, buying and owning a car is very expensive. To be fair, I think prices are balanced according to the real need. It’s hard to live in luxury here because of the socialist attitude, which results in high taxation. So if you are looking for a place to drown in money, look elsewhere.
Share your most memorable experience in Finland?
One month in, at a students’ party, about 50 people got in their birth suit in front of me to play in the water in a park fountain, as part of a student tradition. Fun fact about Finns, they are super reserved but boy they love to get naked.
What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?
I like Nordic cuisine, especially when some local restaurants dare a bit with it. Finnish day to day cuisine is not exciting. You can spot the closeness to nature in the eating habits. Instead of a dish, I want to celebrate Finnish berries. You have not eaten a strawberry until you pick one yourself in Finland and eat it right away.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
I know it’s a stereotype, but I miss the Italian warmth. Finnish people have a huge heart, but they may let you dig for years to find it. I miss the spontaneous display of (good and bad) feelings that belong to Italian culture. I miss the Italian flexibility of bending the rules sometimes, and I miss the Italian food of course.
Have you had a moment when you almost felt like leaving Finland? How did you overcome that? What kept you there?
I approach my life here as a metaphor for marriage. When harsh times come, I remind myself what’s out there and what made me fall in love with Finland. At the same time, I have developed some awareness of what I like and what not, what pushes my buttons and what I couldn’t do without. Some life situations have made me feel that I am first and foremost an immigrant here, and have deprived me of my depth as an individual. In such cases, I have felt angry and ready to storm out of the country in search of another place. I think it’s common for expats to feel like this. You trade off your home for your well-being. I often remind myself of that and hope my children will not feel the need to make that trade.
Can you give some useful tips that soon-to-be expatriates in Finland might benefit from?
Isolation is a common issue. Work hard right away to find your tribe. The expat community has grown over the years and is willing to help newcomers. Look up expat groups, take part in local meetups, bump your head against the ice-wall Finns may put up (remember: delicate but constant bumping is the key).
What are your plans for the future?
To enjoy life in Finland, grow my family and my life here, contribute positively to the Finnish society. And nowadays, enjoy the long-awaited Finnish summer!
What is one thing that you will take with you from Finland?
Finland itself. Where I go, it goes. Meaning I won’t leave it ever (sorry, Finns).
Published by ” Expat Com”