By Kelly Keodara, Founder of Bloom
It is February 2015. I step out of the taxi into a winter wonderland. Something seemed strange, a sound that is different from where I come from. The sound of silence. Finland was giving me its ‘tervetuloa’ and I almost immediately felt at home.
Little did I know the adventure I was about to embark on. I moved to Finland not only for a relationship, but for my very first job in Finland. I was teaching Business English to various technology companies and adult universities in the Satakunta region. Living in Rauma was a charming experience, but I felt that I was destined for something bigger. I wanted to make a positive change so I thought, why not reach for the United Nations? After researching, I noticed that all of the positions that seemed interesting to me required a Master’s degree. So I decided to follow a dream that I had put on hold. In 2017, I applied to Tampere University to pursue my Master’s degree in Media Education, and never looked back.
During my studies, I made it a mission of mine to join as many associations as possible that shared the same values as mine. My interests were humanitarian aid, personal empowerment, leadership and equality of education. A tip that I would give to newcomers to Finland is to start networking through volunteering. When you give your time, you receive so much more back in return. And when you actually start looking for a job, this network that you have built can be a powerful element to your success. But I must add, please know when to say no.
My first job during my studies was at a startup company. Guess how I got there? From a referral of a friend that I made through one of the associations. Although it was a nice learning experience, it wasn’t all roses and sparkles as this experience popped my bubble of the perfect Finnish society. I felt like a puppet as I endured the cautioned mistreatment of working as an international in a Finnish company. The exploitation pertained to salary and I didn’t know about it until it was too late. The company filed for financial instability and I was let go, at the most uncertain time of my life.
I was graduating and needed to find my way or I had to leave the country. Fortunately, through some networks, I was able to find a few freelance gigs to sustain myself until I found what I was looking for. And what I was searching for was security. So every day for a couple months, I scoured the internet applying to jobs that I qualified for, and to ones that I didn’t qualify for. I was stressed 24/7. One day, I was scrolling through yet another website. And I find the title intriguing — Marketing Communications Manager — not only because the title was in English, but the entire job post was in English.
So I went through the checklist of qualifications. I checked all of them and deemed myself worthy of the job, until I reach the last line — Fluency in Finnish required. I enjoy learning the language and can communicate in Finnish but I wouldn’t consider myself fluent by any means. My spirits dropped. But I was so fed up that that didn’t stop me. I found the email of the interviewer and sent a LinkedIn request. He replied that sorry, he does not accept requests outside of his network. Again, that didn’t stop me. So I replied, would you like to have a lunch meeting with me later this week? In that meeting, he commented that he wished that I spoke fluent Finnish because I would be the perfect match to the position. But that he was also perplexed because the company was on its way to the international market anyway where Finnish is not needed. Lo and behold, there is the famous dilemma that Finnish companies face. And the funny part is, I received another job offer at the same time to work at the United Nations Headquarters in NYC. Long story short, I wanted to stay in Finland and after that lunch meeting, that person became my boss.
I am now the Marketing Communications Manager for Patria Systems, a Finnish government company in the aerospace and defence industry. And not only that, I am the very first international, and woman, to join the team. And now to circle it back to the starting point, to make that positive change, I have founded Bloom ry, an association that aims to build the bridge between internationals and locals to thrive together in Finland.
I would like to conclude that although there will be traditional regulations and natural barriers, there is no rule saying that you cannot break them. Mindsets can be changed if you set your mind to achieving just that. And as I reflect more, it is also good to know who you are, what you like and where you want to be because when that opportunity shows itself, I hope you are able to recognize it and seize it. I encourage you all to be brave and take that road less traveled. Our stories are what shape us and we can only grow stronger by sharing them.
Find more information about Bloom at www.bloomtogether.fi
Photo: Bloom’s Kelly Keodara