A multitude of social groups exist to help guide, inform and entertain come-from-aways in Finland.
IT could be that a foreigner’s best resource in Finland is other foreigners.
“I’m just so glad that people have stopped whining and complaining that there’s nothing to do, and no one to meet, and started to do something about it,” states Richard Berman, head of the volunteer-run International English Speakers Association of Finland (IESAF). “Because it’s true, it is difficult do to this stuff without help, foreigners coming over here trying to make friends with Finnish people – unless your wife, or your boyfriend knows them already. It’s hard to branch out beyond that circle.”
The IESAF is one of many available groups for internationally-minded residents of Finland. These groups offer information, business networking opportunities, and socialisation for those who are interested. They don’t limit themselves to non-Finns, either, welcoming both locals and newly established locals.
There are plenty of established groups looking to make connections for those who don’t have already existing networks, either for business or pleasure. The internet and social media, with their seemingly limitless ability to connect and inform, are fantastic resources for those wanting to get a little bit more connected, all that is needed is to know where to start.
GET OUT THERE
There are too many sites to
Foreigners in Jyväskylä
Things to do for all
The networks are for a lot more than bored folks looking for a new crowd to hit the pub with, although they do have that too. “We have our Saint Patrick’s Day event at Molly Malone’s, which attracts more people every year, and the Irish consulate actually gets involved,” Berman explains. “On top of that though we have a play group for people with children, information on how to find an apartment, on how to buy a house, how to start a business. We’re a little bit of everything for everyone.”
Despite an abundance of English language information provided through the government and other ‘official’ sources, there are aspects that don’t quite fit with what newcomers are looking for when trying to find themselves a niche.
“I think government has their hands tied, to a certain extent. What they’re offering isn’t what foreigners want,” Berman observes. Numerous services have appeared online, trying get the right mix of information and opportunities that people prefer.
Not a competition
“It’s a mix of business and charity,” said Paul Brennan when talking about the different ways his group, the Jolly Dragon, is involved with connecting people. “We have and promote our own activities, but we also donate to and support the other groups’ things.” Brennan recently was at an event with five different groups meeting at the same pub to connect and converse, no doubt to the delight of the bar owner. Brennan devotes a piece of his site to organising sports activities for those who want to play, in addition to the more typical networking and mingling aspects.
There is even an EU project that is in the mix trying to make things easier for newcomers. The Expat Project is a 1.3 million euro project that is doing policy advising and research, as well they have recently launched a test site showing all the groups and resources available, an interactive map advertising the different groups to those who want to plug into the electric current of what’s happening.
“There are many groups for people, they are just not all very well known,” said Expat Project manager Christine Chang. “One of the things we want to do is to make a better connections for people who are trying to get involved.” The site, while it is still in development, is creating a hub of knowledge that is relevant for people who are still establishing themselves. The Expat Project is working with those who are organizing these social groups directly as opposed to creating events themselves.
Helsinki and beyond
While the majority of groups have a location in the capital, there are things going on outside of the big city as well.
“We are a volunteer group with a committee member in Turku, Tampere, as well as Helsinki. We want to eventually get it so we are all over Finland,” said Brennan about IESAF’s reach and their plans to expand even further. “You don’t want to volunteer for us in Jyvaskyla, do you?”
While Jyväskylä may not have the bigger groups, the demand is still there, and the supply has been provided through social media.
Dominique Riggs created a Foreigners in Jyväskylä Facebook group, and active members meet once a month to connect. “Starting a social group is something I wanted to do for a long time,” Riggs recalls, who is also responsible for writing for expat info site FinnBay as well as organising the over 300-member group. “People want to know what’s going on, events for the month, store closures, news and information.”
Much like the other groups, the name doesn’t mean that locals aren’t welcome. “We do have a lot of Finns in the group, it’s not strictly foreigners,” Riggs continues. “It’s helpful, because Finns have a lot of the information that we need. There’s a lot of stuff people want to share with each other. The post their concerts, their dance shows, food recalls. Pretty much anything that could be of interest for someone in the Jyväskylä region.”
By creating a place where information can be boiled down to its essentials and communicated in English, Riggs hopes to ease the day-to-day life of people who have moved here but don’t yet have a strong grasp on Finnish.
Social connections lead to opportunities
A common thread between the people involved with the different groups is the view that helping people connect who wouldn’t normally is a service to the area. Indeed, in 2008 Jolly Dragon was decorated by YLE for an award deeming it ‘the best service to the city’. Both the groups who seek to eventually make a living connecting people or those who volunteer are helping both socially and economically.
“People like to categorise stuff, and put it all into boxes. I think we’re showing that everything’s mixed,” said Brennan about the Jolly Dragon. “You can be creating value all the time. If you’re creating value, everyone’s going to be happy. Whether you’re doing that for your friends to help them out, or you’re doing that to make a little money, it’s all having a positive impact.”
While Finland has a lot to offer immigrants, Brennan points out that immigrants have things to offer Finland as well.
“You’re foreign, you’re different. Figure out what that means and capitalise on that. You’ve got things to offer, you can be a big fish in a small pond.”