November 18, 2019

My career: From start to Finnish

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Grace Zhang, China
Company founder

After a few years of glamorous metropolis life filled with hustle and bustle in Shanghai, Grace decided to change trajectory and “live a Finnish life with less anxiety and more reassurance”. After arriving here, she first tried to hunt for jobs. She then found out about the Startup Permit via Business Finland, which had just been launched.

Grace had never thought of herself as the entrepreneur type, but once she started considering it she came up with a startup idea that excited her overnight. The very next morning, she went through the idea with her boss at that time, who liked it and wanted to invest in it. Then Grace set about the application process without any hesitation.

My initial expectations of Finland were… I had a Finnish friend prior to moving here. And she had told me many, many interesting stories. Some are true, like kalsarikänni. I thought it was just another urban myth that people don’t really do any more. But some are not so true, like “people are very cold”. I have hitch-hiked from Helsinki to Kemi once, and I saw how open-minded and helpful Finns can be!

What I find surprising about working in Finland is… trust and honesty. Trust other people to take ultimate responsibility for their own work and be honest about your capability and feelings. I was very used to people pushing their work partners to make sure the work gets done. It was a waste of time and energy not to trust them. I actually felt quite relieved once I broke into the Finnish working culture, since I only need to focus on my own work now.

If I could change one thing about Finnish working life it would be… that I feel people should feel more comfortable about taking risks. It’s understandable to play it safe and have everything under control. But usually a breakthrough comes from a big leap. If you said “jump!”, a lot of Finns probably would say “landing on what?” instead of “how high?”. A lot of Finns I have met always look for existing validation of whether things will work out. That could be very frustrating to startups that don’t have the perfect references.

The piece of advice I would give to someone contemplating coming to work in Finland is… that since you are already contemplating coming, you should focus on the solution not on the hurdles. Visas, housing, nursery school etc. can be solved given a certain amount of effort. For those who have doubts about Finnish winter, you can always fly to Spain!

The Finnish word that best describes working here is… tehokas (efficient). I’ve seen how efficient Finns truly are and they do what they promise. I appreciate that Finns are hyper-realists.

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