7 Things that 7 Years in Finland taught me

Happy Finlandiversary to me! Today, 7 years ago I came to Helsinki. When I moved here, the plan was to stay for a year for my exchange programme, but well. I’m still here. Today, 7 years later (man I feel old), I reflected mainly on some things that I learnt, that I took with me on this journey, things that surprised me and that still challenge me.


I often get questions about the why and how I decided to stay here and what made me relocate to Helsinki entirely. The answer is simple. I felt a connection with the city and it was mostly a gut feeling of really not wanting to leave that made me turn everything around and stay put. Another question is, what I would tell people who would like to or are planning to move to Finland. What to expect and what to prepare for. 7 years are a long time, and writing these things down felt so normal to me, that I hope that there is still something that surprises you. August 16th always will be an important day for me, because it was a huge step I took in my life, back then I just didn’t know it yet. Finland has been good to me and as long as things work out for me here like they have so far, I will stay put here 🙂 But mainly: HOORAY to Finlands and my little love story! Isn’t the 7th year always the worst? Well then, I’m coming for the future!

 


1. How being close to nature is a normal part of life

Maybe this is also partly because of getting older and wiser, but Finland definitely plays its role in this one. The sea, the islands, the forest and the national parks, nature is on everybody’s mind and radar and a perfectly merged part of life. Summers are spent in cottages or in a kayak, hiking and paddle boarding is a pretty standard weekend activity and if you need to borrow a tent or have questions about great trekking routes, you probably know at least 37 people you could ask and get an answer immediately.

Whereas Sunday walks in the woods were my worst nightmare growing up, I now can’t wait to hit the trails with my friend next weekend. It’s not a strange hobby here. It’s part of life and not questioned. Growing up in nature, Finns have developed a connection to their surroundings that I feel is something very special. Go sailing? Picking blueberries and mushrooms? Any day, anywhere.

My tip for you: You don’t even need to venture far out to experience nature. I’ve written a whole bunch of posts about short (or longer) city escapes, so check them out! For organized trips and tours check out Happy Guide Helsinki and Feel the Nature.


2. Digitalization is real

What still seems like future visions in many countries is pretty much business as usual in Finland. From in health care with electronic prescriptions and an online appointment system, to changing all your information online when you move, even applying for an ID card is possible online – Finland has reached the digital age and is a great example for other countries who still struggle with this. ID verification works through your mobile phone (if you’re on a contract) or with your online banking. It simplifies your life in big steps and once you’ve experienced this, it’s hard to believe how much of an issue this is elsewhere. Definitely amazing!

My tip for you: do some research on what’s all actually possible! Maybe you’ll still be surprised and save some more time in waiting lines. There’s a good chance that any official business you need to attend to happens online.


3. The language is a challenge, but not an obstacle

Ah, the neverending story on Finnish. My first ever Finnish teacher told me, that Finnish was the second hardest language on the planet, only an inuit dialect being more difficult (disclaimer: I’m quoting here, I have absolutely no evidence of this being true. But I kind of like the statement, so I don’t question it.) I’ve been taking classes on and off, from my exchange school to the summer university to some private lessons, but the only course that has really helped me move forward with my language skills, was a class dedicated to foreign entrepreneurs. Our small group of max. 4 people got to choose our course provider (we picked Axxell mainly for convenience – but I my experience from the teachers was thoroughly positive), our class hours and duration and most importantly – the topics. Before I had wasted countless hours on classes with awful teachers, bland content and no relevant topics for my daily or work life.

Being able to work on subjects that actually benefit us, was incredibly helpful and motivating. The course was organised co-financed by TE-toimisto and the European Social Fund which supports (foreign) entrepreneurs in Finland. The organisation is there to help with employment in Finland, and if that is something you are looking into, you should get in touch with them!

You can make it work in Finland without knowing Finnish. But you will struggle. That is something you need to confront yourself with, and you will hear the question about your Finnish skills constantly. Of course this also depends on your field, but generally, it’s hard to avoid Finnish entirely.

My tip for you: set realistic language expectations for yourself. Unless you’re insanely talented and have plenty of time on your hand, it’s unrealistic to think that you will learn Finnish in 1-2 years and be able to fully use it in your professional life. Think about what you actually need it for. Do you need to be able to write e-mails, attend meetings, have conversations? Focus on one thing at a time. My focus is to improve my comprehension and listening skills, as this is the most relevant thing for me and my work. I need to be able to follow work-related conversations and meetings without an interpreter or changing the conversation to English.


4. That Helsinki is transforming from underdog to an international Star

6 years ago, after I had just decided to stay after my exchange, the main reaction from people was scepticism and disbelief. Why would anyone voluntarily stay here?! Finns, in particular, couldn’t understand why I would do that.

Since then, a lot has happened. And not just in Helsinki, but many people have Finland on their radar, especially after it lands a top spot on any living quality index-like list that’s out there. Sauna and good education being the only thing about Finland many people knew (well, that’s a good start), the question nowadays has turned into a more specific wonder for what made me decide to stay, but it’s not questioned anymore.

What do I like the most? How Helsinki just grows into being a city that makes it fun to live in. You can feel the changes happening here that have turned the Finnish Capital from the Emo kid into the new celebrity of Nordic urban lifestyle. It’s fantastic to be part of this transformation and to see how people fall in love with the city more every day.

From the recent introduction of the city bikes to just smart urban planning, great events and my favourite: the local food scene. Still completely undervalued internationally, many are completely surprised by the quality and level of innovation in the Finnish food scene.

 

My tip for you: Generally, Facebook is still a great tool to keep up to date with local happenings and events. Follow your favourite venues and blogs who share what’s going on, and also official sites like the My Helsinki portal are great places to get started.

As for foodie bits: Check out the White Guide for Finland that lists the best restaurants! My personal favourites (not all of them listed there) are Fisken på Disken (best salmon soup in the country, hands down), Ônam (fresh and delicious Vietnamese food), Kolmon3n (great locally sourced dishes, amazing quality and cozy atmosphere), Werner (I’ve sadly only been once, but it was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in the city!) and…well, check back on this blog for more to come!


5. Ignorance is bliss

This largely kind of related to the language portion of this post, but still to me deserves its own point. It’s a bit ironic to me, but not understanding the language around you without focussing on it is actually quite nice. Being able to completely zone out of your surroundings is something that I’ve weirdly learnt to cherish, but I feel like I have found much more zen in my daily life when I’m able to concentrate on myself and what I’m doing, without being distracted by everything that’s going on around me. Selective understanding is pretty awesome 😉 In any English- or German-speaking country I immediately get headaches from information overload around me. Bit of a random thing I know!

My tip for you: give it a try 😉 There’s also this benefit to not being fluent in the language.


6. Costs are high, but some things balance out

Finland is known for being notoriously expensive, and it’s not wrong. But it’s not entirely right either.

Compared to the majority of European Capital cities, the cost of living is still somewhat average here. Purchasing prices for apartments fluctuate constantly, so there’s no point for me to quote anything here, but in rough comparison, Finland won’t strike you as being the wildest. I always say, that there is a balance in things. For example, rents are high, but utility costs are low. Electricity costs are very little compared to places I lived in before, often water and even internet are included, and you won’t be surprised by any strange fees for things (in Germany I got a sudden bill for the hallway cleaning and the fee for the garbage disposal. Eeeh).

You see where your taxes go and what you pay for. I don’t really hear lots of complaints from locals about their tax bills because everybody benefits from it. The infrastructure works and is constantly expanded and improved (the tram lines just got an upgrade and well, maybe one day the West Metro will also run), even in winter there’s little delays if any, streets are cleared even for cyclists. Education is free and of high quality, students also get housing benefits and all kinds of other support; paid parental leave is amongst the longest in the world; health care is pretty much free and effective and so on. The list is long. People can whine about high taxes but then they also complain that the public sector isn’t working. Finland has figured this out and society benefits from it greatly.

Connectivity is a big factor as well and it’s talked about a lot. Unlimited data on your phone plan is the normal thing, als you can get it for as little as 15€/month. No data caps, good EU roaming deals, and extremely stable connections for mobile are still impressing me today. Full 4G in the middle of the city, sure, that’s no big deal. Full 4G in the middle of nowhere, 150km from the next village somewhere up in Lapland? Sure thing!

On the other hand yes, food and drinks are pricey, there’s no denying that. Then again, food is often locally sourced and of good quality (if you pay attention).

My tip for you: if you are worried about your expenses when planning to move here, check some online comparisons but also talk to people. Some costs will come as a positive surprise to you as well. Don’t focus on the beer prices, but think of other monthly expenses that might even fully disappear. Keep an open mind.


7. You value work-life balance

I scratched on this topic in my Business in Helsinki article recently, but the more I thought about this, the more it struck me insanely important. The whole working culture in Finland is just so different than in any other place I work in. Regular working hours are respected, overtime is rare and questioned. Someone said recently, that “you don’t have to be brave, you just have to be honest” – and that is just so wise. It applies to many things in life but in regard of the work situation here, it’s the ultimate Finnish thing to say. If you are overworked and need help, you ask for it and you make changes. The networks here are very supportive and also the official institutions are there to aid you.

Life is more important than work, and Finland for me is the perfect country to use that time in. Nature is around every corner, there are beautiful cities to visit, great restaurants to try, festivals and culture to experience.


HERE’S TO THE FUTURE!


This post has been supported by a cooperation with the Labour Mobility in Europe ESF-project. More info here. Thank you!

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