This article is part of a series that tells us about the experienced of how people from abroad eventually find themselves coming to live in Finland. The stories are from the members of Bloom in Tampere and reflect the rather random path that people take when arriving on our shores. As Karen days coming here for a well educated person is a leap of faith! Nicholas Anderson – Editor in Chief
“Take a leap of faith” by Karen Ahtiainen
The first time I arrived in Tampere, Finland, it was almost -30 deg C and dark! I am one of those that belonged to the old cliché joke about Nokia – Connecting People. I met my husband when we were both working in Nokia Singapore. At the height of my career and in a role I absolutely enjoyed doing with a wonderful boss and team, I took a leap of faith and chose love over career and decided to move to Finland with my husband (then boyfriend) who was re-posted back to Finland.
My story with Finland began when I was interviewed for a job in Nokia Singapore, I was asked by my future boss if I knew from which country does Nokia come from. I did not even know Finland existed as a country, and my reply was pretty much the same as everyone back those days – Japan! Bear in mind, when I started, there were no such things as a touchscreen phone, wifi, mobile data and the phones weighed a ton. Despite my mistake on getting the country wrong, I still got the job. I was offered two entirely different jobs – MTV Singapore, a well-known brand especially among the music lovers and myself, or Nokia Singapore in which the only thing I know about them is that they make tyres, tv and mobile phones and it comes from a country I have never heard of. Again, I took a leap of faith and chose Nokia simply because I wanted to try something different and get to know the brand and the country and its culture.
I met a lot of Finnish people while working in Nokia Singapore and they were friendly, welcoming and sociable — yes sociable! We would have regular BBQ sessions, beach and F1 weekends. It was also the first time I was not just introduced to Finland as a country, but also to the F1 race and Mikä Häkkinen. I also learned from them about gender equality, it did not matter if they were men or women, both have the rights to tech or non-tech jobs and there were a lot of women in high positions, the highest being Sari Baldauf at that time. There were also female managers who held higher positions than their husband in Nokia and this was a culture shock for me as an Asian.
Living in Finland was a totally different story! I did not feel as welcome as I did in Singapore amongst my Finnish friends nor during my summer holidays in Finland. It started from the time I landed in Helsinki airport with my shiny new resident permit! I was summoned to a room by the immigration officers who did not explain why I was brought there. My husband who was in the residence line had no idea what was happening. I felt like I was being treated as an illegal immigrant. They did not tell me why I was there.They took all of my fingerprints (I almost thought they would take my toe prints as well!) and I had to sign some papers and then they let me out. I actually still have no idea why I was there since my fingerprints were taken in Singapore during my permit application.
My next nightmare came when I needed to open a bank account. Since I did not speak Finnish at that time, I went with my husband who had an appointment with the bank about our house loan. He asked them to open a bank account for me and I could see the lady was not terribly happy about doing it, but she did it anyway without asking me or my husband anything about the account type or limits. I only found out how she personally profiled me when I tried to withdraw money for the first time at an ATM machine. My husband had taught me what to press, but an error message kept repeating, so I called my husband for a language translation. He told me that I am withdrawing more than I should – I was only trying to withdraw 100€. I had to call the bank to ask what was happening and found out then that my limit was set to 50€!! I was then told by my colleague in Nokia that the usual limit for an adult is 1 500€ and 50€ is usually set for children! While I understand the need for the banks to be careful, I believe the manager should have asked us for information about my status instead of deciding herself the limit I should have. When I left Nokia, I went into trying to make myself employable and communicable by taking full time Finnish language studies and attending courses. I finally got a job offer, but my husband was again posted to another country, so I had to decline the job offer and followed him to the Philippines.
We moved back to Finland around 2010. I noticed Finland had progressed quite a bit in terms of their point of view in foreigners. At that time, one applies for resident permits through the police stations and I have had really good experience with the Hämeenlinna police staff. They have always been very friendly and helpful; I have never been treated like a criminal or unwelcomed by them. Once our son was in päiväkoti, I took a refresher course in Finnish language and then tried to find a job. I kept getting rejected in job applications before an interview until I attended a short training organised by TE-Services and TAMK. Through my internship, I got my first permanent job with a small start-up, who recruited me to help them market internationally. I did successfully open a lot of markets for them and got them the brand visibility they needed, but the company was not in a good financial state before I joined and despite new markets, it was just too late to save the company.
After two years of unsuccessful job applications, I decided to, once again, take a leap of faith and take a 3.5 years Bachelor’s degree course in TAMK to improve my state of employability. Since graduating last year, it still has not improved my chances of getting an interview for job applications. The current COVIDpandemic probably does not help but I have not given up. I am reaching out, volunteering and expanding my network to get to know more people. Last November, Kelly Keodara approached me and asked if I would like to join her to set up Bloom to help the international communities. I said yes because I believe we could help not just make the international community’s life better in Finland, but also to encourage Finnish people to get to know the international community and hopefully both will be able to empower each other through knowledge and socialising.
I will conclude my story by encouraging everyone not to give up and never be afraid to try something new or different. It may not always be successful, but you will never know until you try and if you don’t, then it’s a 100% failure. But if you do, there’s a chance it could be successful and if it is not, then at least you tried and learned something from it, which will empower you further in your life journey.
To find out more about Bloom, please visit: www.bloomtogether.fi