Three years have passed since I arrived in Finland and it is a good time to sum up and reflect on my experiences here. Each person faces challenges and obstacles in a new environment because we are not used to changes as it causes stress and discomfort. I was not an exception though. I had lived in different countries prior to Finland. The term ”culture shock” was something familiar to me. At the same time, I cannot say that my adjustment in Finland was progressing fast and smoothly.
Now looking back at how my perception about Finland has changed over these years, I would like to share some tips with foreigners on how to adjust and integrate faster:
1. Start learning Finnish as soon as possible! The Finnish language is difficult, but not impossible. It takes time and hard work to learn any language but it eventually pays off. As Nelson Mandela said: ”It always seems impossible until it is done”. Try to immerse yourself in a Finnish-speaking environment as early as you can. Take some language courses, use mobile language apps, read kids’ books, watch local programmes, do language exchange with Finns. Find a way to start learning the language in a fun way! Finns love when foreigners speak their language. Another great quote by Nelson Mandela says: ”If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”. You will feel much more confident once you learn the language.
2. Try to be active in any weather condition! Each season in Finland has its own unique trait and people do physical activities throughout the year. Many foreigners get depressed during cold and dark winters, but locals find their way to enjoy every single day. The winter is the best time to experience ice swimming and sauna. Don't forget about skating and skiing. Do mushroom picking in autumn. Learn how to bake Finnish pulla, enjoy a hot cup of coffee and take great photos in fall. Grill some sausages, make Finnish salmon soup and spend some time in mökki in spring. Pay a visit to the strawberry farm, do lake swimming and enjoy white nights in summer! Nature is the best place where you can do so many things.
3. Be patient when looking for friends among Finns! Becoming friends with Finns might take some time. Do not rush or lose hope. Locals are very cautious when it comes to outsiders and won’t always initiate first. There are many interesting comparisons about the nature of Finns by foreigners. Someone said that Finns are like walnuts. It is very hard to crack them but once you do, something nice is awaiting you. A friend of mine compared Finns to a tube of toothpaste. You need to squeeze it hard in order to get your paste out. Self-initiation and determination will help you to find a great Finnish friend! You can always find awesome friends with similar interests. Having fun while socializing takes interactions to the next level. Join a gym, volunteer, get a pet, attend community events, etc.
4. Try to understand the uniqueness of Finnish culture! There are certain cultural traits that exist and seem to be perfectly normal. There is a joke that Finns know how to be silent in several languages. While working with Finns, I encountered such moments and always felt like filling out those silent moments with words. It is something perfectly normal in Finnish culture and not seen as an embarrassment.
5. Learn the notion of sisu! Try to be sisukas and embrace Finnish culture! Sisu is a unique Finnish concept. There is not a precise translation in English. It can be roughly translated as perseverance, determination, resilience and a strong will. The notion could be described in one sentence like that: ”Whatever needs to be done - will be done no matter what”.
There is not a perfect place and moving to a new place without knowing anyone is hard. You have no one to help you out. Just give it some time, take it easy, do your best and try to stay positive! It takes time to adjust and understand the uniqueness of Finnish culture and once you do - you never want to leave this country ever.
The author is an immigrant from Uzbekistan who currently resides in Kuopio where she works with immigrants. Outside of work, she likes cooking, dancing, gardening and exploring beautiful places in Kuopio.