The clock reads 10:30 on a Saturday morning and I am already too late to find an open table at the Helsinki University library. Every one is full of students, headphones wedged firmly in their ears as they flip through academic tomes on politics, biology, and everything in between. It would appear that Finnish students take their education much more seriously than I imagined, a change in perspective for this Yankee who spent the last 2 years 'studying' at a university in the United States. But as the crowded library indicates, I am not in Kansas anymore.
Why an Iceberg? I assume a lot of you have already seen what is there to see when you arrive in Finland: the tip of The Iceberg. Chilly weather and beautiful winters (if they manage to arrive); long nights colored with auroras and sweaty dens of millions of saunas; eternal summer days and thousands of lakes; strangely quiet but genuinely likeable Finns; safety as you walk home during night time and bunnies in the streets; good social security and weird passion for bitter-tasting coffee; Moomins and rally cars... whether you are an exchange student, an expat, or a character in a romantic story, you have experienced (or are about to experience) all of these.
What is the bottom of The Finland Iceberg made of? As someone who has lived in Finland for almost 6 years, I could write about the hardships that an immigrant might be facing in a foreign country (maybe not so specific to Finland alone), but I prefer to talk about it as some sort of an ice-cream cake, if you wish. One difficult layer is covered with an amusing or positive one.
I sit in the company of Finns who are having a conversation: I cannot participate, because every time I say something, the topic has already changed or I completely misunderstood it (I am deaf towards double vowels or consonants, for example). So I just sit and stare at my coffee. However, whenever I have a tête-à-tête conversation with a Finn, I get complimented on my language skills, because not too often a foreigner would make such a (gigantic) effort.
Looking for a job, I do not get a reply or get turned down because 'Finnish language.' A lady from the unemployment office tells me I would not have any troubles finding a job with my education. I know it’s a lie, but nevertheless I am flattered.
I can’t stand pauses in the conversations and what I call a ‘Finnish hug’ (the one when they hug the air around you and tap you awkwardly on the back). It makes me not want to have hugs at all – and I love hugs! On the other hand, when you attend a concert and need to leave your nice spot in the front row to go to a bar, you return and there is your space, completely untouched, like the air around you during that hug.
Terrible coffee is compensated by its availability and wonderful pulla; very high living expenses are softened by cheap student lunches; huge taxes come back to you when you lose your job or need to visit a doctor; the hard process of making Finnish friends pays off with years and years of having the most devoted of friends; cold dark winter nights are replaced by eternal daylight in summer; the general gray color of the cities is outweighed by magnificent natural sights; the struggles of learning Finnish pay off by you proudly (with a thick accent and wrong grammar) conversing with doctors, bankers, friends, and strangers; the taste of salmiakki is forgotten when you pick a bucket of blueberries and buy fresh salmon from the market. I can go on like this forever.
I have left Finland now. Why? I am positive that I took all that I could from this country, both positives and negatives, and it is time to move on. After all, if the world is a book, I have only read a few pages just yet. But I will always remember Finland as a country of dark and light, that gave me a lot of experiences - good and unpleasant alike. When you start exploring this country, remember that it is an iceberg, a layered ice-cream cake iceberg. A downside always has a silver aurora-colored lining.
My name is Pingshan Hu-Pentikäinen and I'm originally from Beijing, China. This is my 20th year living in Finland. Life for most people at my age (44) seems to get less exciting because there are not many changes in work and family life. But for me, my second life just started!
Three years ago in spring, I was fired from a Finnish company where I was working as a sales manager. At that time the company was not running as expected and I was the only one kicked out. One day at noon when the CEO sadly informed me of the decision, I thanked him first and then happily told him that I was going to an interview with Finnair in few hours. In June, I started a new career: flight attendant at Finnair and this job was never planned in my life. I was 41 that year and my life totally changed after that!
When I told my friends in Canada that I would be moving to Finland to start a master's degree, I received a lot of funny reactions. People were worried that Finland might be a less developed nation that the quality of education would not be as good, and there was a fair amount of concern that the entire population of Finland is about the same as Toronto's metropolitan area.
My quest for quality education took me to Finland in 2007. As a student and a graduate of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, my experience throughout my stay can be grouped under: power distance, individualism, food, and weather.
Power distance refers to how the elderly in the society cope with the youth and how those in higher authority cope with their subordinates. Unlike in Ghana where the views of youth are normally not considered, I realized that in Finland their contributions are welcome. At the work place, those in higher authority listen to and mingle with their subordinates.
The daily disappointment that I know only one language. Kiitos doesn't count. This shortcoming is a real strength for the majority of Finns, but they have a typical "What's the big deal?" attitude. It is a big deal.
Helsinki is safe, clean, with little graffiti, fantastic public libraries, and a public transportation system second to none. Fast, reliable, and clean. It just works. Every day. 07:12 train? Be there at 07:12. 7B tram? If the sign says 3 minutes, it means 3 minutes. What a concept.
"So many foreigners!" was the first idea that came to my mind when I arrived in Helsinki for my internship. I had visited the city numerous times before - because I lived just across the Baltic Sea - but only for touristic purposes. As the actual life in Helsinki is of course different; some things have managed to surprise me.
With news of Finland entering its third technical recession, the average person reading the newspapers hasn't got much to celebrate about. Job are slashed and looming layoff negotiations compound the future outlook even further. Intellectual introspection attributes it to a variety of factors like Apple vs. Nokia, the paper industry failing, immigration – the list goes on. In short, reading the daily news isn't a positive experience.
I often hear young foreigners and Finns alike ideating over Finland's wonderful free education system. Wonderful? – maybe. I hope so. Free? – certainly not! As a 27 year resident of Finland I take almost native pleasure in casting down imaginations and can tell you nothing, especially in Finland, is free.