Ionela Cioaca, Romania. Country manager for an e-commerce company
“I like the equality in the working field and the respect given to women as leaders.”
The first time Ionela visited Finland was in December 2013, to participate in a youth project in Konnevesi. It was a memorable experience for her, spending one week in the middle of the forest in an old school.
“I loved it,” she recalls.
Ionela’s second visit occurred a couple of years later after she was accepted into a master’s programme in global innovation management in Turku. After receiving the news of her study place, she promptly quit her job at a corporation in Romania and moved here. She hasn’t looked back.
“It was the best decision ever – I did not regret for one single minute that I made it.”
Studying in Finland was… the most enriching experience in terms of personal and professional development. Firstly, I learned to appreciate teamwork, but independence as well, and for the first time I was introduced to the notion of self-reflection in an academic setting. Reflecting on my own behaviour while working in a group was so revealing – I discovered some traits about myself that I like and some that I did not but which I could improve. I think that my studies in Finland set the basis for my self-discovery journey.
Secondly, I remember at the beginning that I was surprised about the autonomy and trust that teachers gave to their students, something that I was not very used to. The teachers are true professionals, who admit that they do not have the absolute truth, and students are encouraged to search, form and express their own opinions even though they might be different. I loved the freedom that I was given as a student to express myself.
Thirdly, I felt encouraged and supported by my teachers all the time: they were on my side, always willing to help. In addition, I liked the informal academic environment. At first, I was not used to addressing my teachers by their first name, because this is not a common practice in either Romania or France. But then I realised how much self-confidence you can get from this and how much it helps in building a better relationship. Furthermore, there is a big difference between countries like Romania, France and Finland in terms of style of studying and living. Both in Romania and in France, the rhythm of life is fast: as a student you are taught that competitiveness is important, that you always have to be the best in the class, and that you always have to push your limits and even stress about the results. In Finland everything is much calmer, equal and co-operation-oriented.
Moving to such a different country and trying to adapt to this culture is a huge change, but a beautiful experience. Moreover, I think that career and studies are respected a lot in Finland, but values such as family, friends and home are equally important. In Romania and France these values count as well, but I think the students do not use a lot of teamwork and do not help each other that much because it might negatively impact their own results or decrease their time for study. Overall, studying in Finland has shaped my personality, made me be more open-minded and less judgmental.
The transition from studies to working life here was... full of emotions, like a roller-coaster: I had to move from Turku to Helsinki and start looking for a job there. The change was not abrupt, because at the beginning I was working part-time and I was writing my master’s thesis at the same time. I remember that I had experienced a lot of emotions: excitement because of moving to a new city, fear because I did not know if I would be able to do both well, sadness because I felt that a chapter ended in Turku, curiosity about the new adventure, uncertainty and more pressure. With working life, I again felt the responsibility of being an adult, but it was a beautiful process. I remember having walks around the city to get to know the surroundings, going to different libraries, parks and museums. Also, my new colleagues helped me a lot, because I could make new friends.
How I got my current job is… well, I don’t know if I should call it luck, destiny or just perfect timing. When I arrived in Helsinki in April 2017, I had already applied for jobs since February. I sent over 100 applications in that time, or maybe more, and several of them got rejected. I remember that one evening I was frustrated that I hadn’t found anything, and I decided to spend some time on Facebook. And surprise! I open it and I saw on the wall a post in a Facebook group that the Finnish e-commerce company Bonusway was looking for a Romanian who could work part-time because they just opened a market in Romania.
I could not believe it and I told myself: wow, this might be for me, because I was looking for a Finnish company that has some markets open in Romania. I wanted to be the bridge between Romania and Finland. After four hours, my application was sent and the next day I was invited to the interview. The most surprising thing back then was that at the very same time another company invited me to an interview. That was a very interesting situation, and I learned that hard-work and perseverance are always a good combination. When you are almost giving up, an opportunity arises if you are aware enough to sense it.
What I like about working life in Finland is… the independence and the trust you are given, the respect given to work-life balance, and the fact that nobody will judge you because you have to leave earlier in order to solve a personal or a health problem. Also, I like the equality in the working field and the respect given to women as leaders. I also appreciate the lack of bureaucratic and hierarchical nonsense: I like that one can approach the general manager of the company without any fear and can ask questions very openly and transparently. This informality that characterises Finnish working life gives you a sense of equality, belonging and appreciation. In addition, it fosters your self-confidence and gives you courage to express your needs or feelings. I like that you are treated with respect as a human being, not as a robot.
Moreover, I like the Finnish work ethic and the fact that people here take their time to rest, to disconnect from work. Finnish working life surprised me in a very positive way: it made me realise that employees expect to be consulted, control is disliked, the attitude toward managers is informal and the manager counts on the experience of their employees, which is completely opposite to Romanian working life where people accept a hierarchical order.
I really feel humble and grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience working in a Finnish company.
Working in the e-commerce industry in Finland is… very exciting and rewarding. I accepted this job as a challenge. I did not know anything about affiliate marketing before, nor had I any prior experience in the e-commerce industry, especially the Finnish one. I knew at that time that I wanted to act as the link between Romania and Finland, and I had a strong desire to learn more about this field. So, I ended up being a country manager and managing all the operations of the company in Romania. Sometimes it feels like running a marathon while playing ping pong with the person next to you and knitting a scarf that you should wear when you cross the finish line. I like the independence that comes with it, the freedom that I can make my own decisions, the opportunity to work in an international environment and the fact that I can bring some joy to Romanians by showing them a way to do smart online shopping through a site that comes from such a ‘tech country’ as Finland.
The piece of advice I would give to someone seeking employment in Finland at the moment is… be perseverant. I encourage everyone to be perseverant, to build their own network, to attend all kinds of events (there are plenty of them online and offline), to go out there and meet new people, because you can never know with whom you can talk and who can recommend you for a possible job. Also, I think it is important to be authentic, to show who you are without being afraid that you might be seen as different in the Finnish culture. There will be moments when you feel frustrated, discouraged and stupid, with low self-esteem because of all the rejections you receive from companies, but you need to keep applying for jobs and still make the effort when you are too tired. Being determined and knowing what you want is essential in a job search.
The organisations that have supported my professional growth in Finland are… International Working Women of Finland, an organisation that does all kinds of webinars and meetings. It can provide valuable information about working life in Finland and how women could be successful here. Then, the company for which I work now, Bonusway, has been my biggest fan and my greatest supporter when it comes to putting ideas into practice and thinking outside the box. Also, I feel very grateful for the first company that helped me in Finland, while I was in Turku, Delphos International – it was the first to give me confidence that I can learn everything in every field if this is what I want. In addition, my university, Turku School of Economics, helped me a lot with finding the right company for writing my master’s thesis. Then, the Student Ambassador Network of South-West Finland has been such a great support during my student life: through it, I was able to attend different important events in Turku, to participate in conferences and workshops, and to volunteer for a popular business event called The Shift.
A challenge that I have encountered while adjusting to working life here in Finland is… learning Finnish. Even though at work we are not required to use Finnish language and everyone speaks English very well, I still wanted to learn the language but it is slower than expected. So, this process is very painful and sometimes overwhelming.
I also remember that when I started at Bonusway I felt overwhelmed with all the new things I had to learn, but people at work were very helpful and always eager to help. From the start, I was encouraged to ask questions, to go to people’s desks and ask them when I do not understand something.
My favourite area in Helsinki is… Kallio, because it is close to the city centre, to the sea (I like walking by the sea every morning in the summer), to different supermarkets, bars and to nature. In Kallio, one can enjoy anything from Thai food to Georgian cuisine, Chinese food, vegan and vegetarian options, artisan pizza and Finnish classics. Also, you can very easily and rapidly walk to Mustikkamaa island, which is a nice corner of peace and relaxation.
Volunteering in Finland is… rewarding. I started volunteering because I wanted to meet new people, to make new friends and to give something back. Finland gave me great experiences during my studies, so I felt that it would be nice if I could do something for Finland as well. This is why I joined the Student Ambassador Network of South-West Finland. I really enjoyed it and I recommend everyone to do some sort of volunteer work: it gives you positive energy and helps you see the world with different perspectives.
The hobbies that I have really enjoyed practising in Finland are… lindy-hop, dancefit, hiking and I bought myself a card to see all the museums in Finland (museokortti). I enjoy spending time in Oodi with a book, I like walking in the forest and relaxing on the Finnish beaches.