My Career: From Start to Finnish
Working here is informal and relaxed, says Lais
Lais Oliveira Leite, Brazil. Education consultant
Lais first came to Finland in 2016 to complete a master’s degree in primary education in the eastern city of Joensuu. It was not long after this that she met her Polish boyfriend, Piotr. Upon graduation they were still together and she decided to stay in Finland. Piotr was launching his start-up, SeeTrue Technologies, which focuses on developing eye-tracking solutions, and Lais was keen to continue her studies with PhD research.
Fast-forward to now and they are both actively working on their professional lives, with Lais also working as an educational consultant. “Finland is just the right place for both of us to be,” Lais says.
How I got my current job… was a complete work of destiny. I am currently undertaking my PhD research, which demands that I collect data through an online questionnaire. At the time, the University of Eastern Finland was using an online form system developed by Eduix called e-lomake (Formjack), which lacked a specific feature that would allow me to collect data as I needed for statistical analysis. I decided to send a feedback email with suggestions about the features I needed. And I sent the email to none else than Rami Heinisuo, the CEO of the company.
Rami first replied to my email thanking me for the development suggestion and even helped me with some troubleshooting for the forms I was applying with. He was so available and open for suggestions; it was the first time I ever spoke to a company CEO with such openness and easy access. Next, Rami sent me a second email with the title “Interest in your expertise”. And from that moment, we started conversations that reflected our shared understanding about how to improve education with edtech solutions. The rest is history.
“People here judge you by your skills and expertise, and not by your appearance.”
The Finnish word that best describes working here is… ‘vapaamuotoinen’, which means informal and relaxed. I love that Finnish society does not have strict hierarchical relationships between employees and employers, workers and managers, and, in general, in life. The workplace is generally an informal environment in which we call ourselves by our first names and we can openly share our opinions, even if it brings out disagreements in a conversation. In addition, people don’t judge you by your appearance, unless you are at a formal event that asks for some dressing rituals. But piercings, hair colours, tattoos – these are not taboos to be careful about when you are trying to find a job, for instance. People here judge you by your skills and expertise, and not by your appearance.
The main differences in working life in Finland compared to other countries where I have worked are… the lack of pressure to do extra work to prove your competence and show that you-are-performing-great-and-better-than-your-colleague-so-you-don’t-lose-your-job. Uff. This also reflects the general social wellbeing and security of the society. Also, my rights as a worker and employee are guaranteed and I enjoy them so much. My paid holiday, good pace of work, healthcare – all these aspects make me happy about staying in Finland.
Finland’s approach to education is different to other places I have lived in because… as in working life, students are individually respected, and they can go at their own pace to develop their work and deliver the results. There is so much more autonomy and shared responsibility in decision making because people who are collaborating and working together respect each other and trust that we will do what we are supposed to do. This works so well for me! I understand that some people prefer to have someone pressuring about deadlines, but I enjoy the autonomy and freedom in organising my work, in my own time and pace, as long as I deliver what I have to on time.
What I enjoy most about living in Joensuu is… the people and the nature. Over the past years, we have built a community of international people in Joensuu whom I can call my dear friends. We are from everywhere: Iran, Poland, Brazil, Turkey, France, Finland, Dominican Republic, Iraq, China, Greece, Italy… The community has also changed over the years, some new people come while others leave. But we have a core group of students and workers here in Joensuu and we just keep meeting, developing relationships, travelling together etc. This is a great place for me to be because these people also enjoy the nature around us. We all enjoy outdoor activities, so we go camping, mountain biking, we play volleyball at the beach, we go skiing. You can imagine how great it is.
My partner and I also go picking mushroom and a lot of blueberries in the fall. We make our own wine out of the blueberries, for instance.
The organisations that have supported my professional growth in Finland are… the University of Eastern Finland (UEF), Kansalaisopisto and Eduix. My partner was a PhD student in computer science at UEF and he taught me how to navigate the university in terms of searching for work. The trick is: tell people around you that you are looking for job. So, I started putting myself out there: I told my supervisor, I told my teachers from different courses, I told my friends from other departments that I needed a job and, if they knew about any opportunity, that they should let me know. And one thing led to the other. Different positions “arrived” to me: research position, research assistant, trainee, teacher educator etc. Although they were all fixed-term contracts, sometimes for only two or three months, they kept me going financially.
This can be stressful, because it leaves you in constant search for jobs: even though you’ve just started a job, you already must look for the next one. However, by working in different projects, you meet new people and consequently you open doors to new opportunities.
In addition, during 2018 and 2019, I was also a Portuguese teacher at kansalaisopisto, which is like a community college for informal education. These institutions are everywhere in Finland, and it is such an amazing place to be and to work, because it reflects the lifelong learning attitude that Finns have throughout their lives. These community colleges offer courses that people can join for a small fee, and the courses vary from culinary to computer skills, dancing and martial arts, languages and many others. In any case, one of my international colleagues from Spain used to work as a Spanish teacher at a kansalaisopisto, and she asked me if I would be interested in teaching Portuguese there, because there was demand. I immediately contacted the person responsible for it, and soon there I was teaching Portuguese. Piotr was one of my students and that was really fun! Finally, after I started working at Eduix in 2020, my professional network expanded exponentially, since I am responsible for the internationalisation process of the company. Therefore, I am meeting people from everywhere and I just love it!
The challenge that I have encountered and overcome while adjusting to working life in Finland is… the Finnish language. I am learning Finnish, but it is going much slower than I wish because of my work, PhD studies, my social life and now I have a dog. Learning a new language demands time and the need to actually use it. It’s great that here you don’t actually need Finnish to participate in all aspects of life, because everyone speaks English. However, for that same reason, I don’t learn Finnish so quickly. There are some meetings that are held in Finnish and, in these moments, I have extra work to keep up with what is going on. Hopefully one day I will catch up with the language too.
The words of advice I would have for someone thinking about moving here for work are… if you are looking for job, put yourself out there, especially through LinkedIn. If you already have a job, put yourself out there to meet people and make your circle of friends and family. The country can be quite difficult in terms of weather conditions, and it will be the people who will keep you healthy and running.