Troy Woodson moved here from the bustling metropolis of the Big Apple three years ago. So, just what does he make of the Finnish way of life?
What do you do here in Finland?
I am an English language teacher and corporate trainer. As a freelancer I work for several language training companies.
When and how did you end up here?
Let me just say that I am a native New Yorker, born and raised in the South Bronx. I lived in Brooklyn for 14 years and I knew very little about Finland prior to meeting my ex. After a whirlwind romance, I married a Finn three years ago and we had a son together. She had another son from a prior relationship. We were all living in New York where I was working in sales for an insurance company. The company decided to lay off the entire sales team and I was left to seriously consider my employment prospects. We decided to move to Finland in search of better opportunities. I love America but it is a country where you either sink or swim. I had little interest in sinking. With a little baby and a stepson, Finland seemed like the best choice considering that it has universal healthcare and great daycare options. Within a few short months I gained employment with a language training company and reinvented myself as an English teacher. Though I have split with my wife, I decided to remain here because of my son and because Finland has grown on me.
What do you like about Finland?
I like Finnish honesty. The Finns can be brutally honest and, when I first arrived here, it was difficult for me to adjust to people being so direct with me. In English there are softeners built into the language but the Finns have yet to master that aspect of English. Also, in Finland commitments between people are solid. In New York City friends might say they will be at a place at 10 pm and not arrive until 12 am. Here, punctuality is important.
What do you like about the Finnish culture?
As an African-American I come from a very expressive culture where people have no problem talking. We are a very passionate group of people. Finns are a lot quieter. At a dinner table with my family and friends in New York, everyone is talking at once. In my experience here, most Finns wait until it is their turn to speak. I have come to truly appreciate the Finns’ respectful silence.
What culture shocks did you experience when coming to Finland?
Once I was walking in Senate Square with my wife and kids and I started laughing loudly. I have a very noticeable laugh. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a cute little old lady scolds me and says, “We don’t yell here in Finland”. I was shocked but she actually made me laugh even louder. I have also experienced some racism where I’ve been called neekeri on trams, in the street and in metros. One day while playing with my son in the park a little girl, about six or seven, called my son a neekeri. I didn’t blame the child. I believe the parents are responsible for her words. I doubt she even understood what she was saying. Though I believe that most Finns are forward-thinking and progressive in their attitudes toward race, there is still a significant part of the population, vis-à-vis the True Finns, that is resistant to the prospect of multiculturalism and would rather that Finland remain homogeneous.
Have you been able to settle and integrate into Finnish society?
I believe I have. I have made Finnish friends and that helps a great deal toward integrating and appreciating Finnish culture. Learning the language, however, is perhaps the most important thing to do here. One year ago I took an intensive Finnish language course that lasted one month. This summer I plan on beginning another Finnish class.
What are/were your worries?
As a freelancer, my biggest worry is the inconsistency that exists in employment. During the fall, winter and spring months there is a strong demand for language training, but during the summer most freelancers are left jobless with few employment prospects. That worries me. But, as a native New Yorker, I am accustomed to finding a way to survive.
What are your future hopes and wishes for your life here?
My long-term plan is to get my MBA and start my own business.
What is your favourite Finnish word?
Sisu. The Finns are a strong and determined people who will endeavour to persevere despite life’s inherent challenges and I like to think that is a quality I share with them.