Looking back, the reason why Yoshi decided to do her master’s degree at a Finnish university came down to the connection she discovered between the Finnish professors and students. Back when she was doing her bachelor’s degree at Tongji University in Shanghai, she spent a lot of time on the Aalto Design Factory Shanghai premises and participated in many international courses and programmes.
It was in one of these that she met five professors and six international students from Aalto University, who together made a significant impression on her.
So much so that she was inspired to study in Finland.
When studying at Aalto University, I found the most useful and rewarding thing to be… that you have plenty of opportunities to work on real-life projects for well-known companies during your studies. A lot of students were able to land an internship or even a full-time job with one of those companies they worked with during their studies.
Aalto also has a great network with many other universities all over the world. It’s not hard to find a study project that collaborates with other universities, most of them are really well-known worldwide, such as Stanford. Joining those projects could give you a chance to travel to different countries and get wisdom from professors in different universities.
In addition, most studies and courses involve teamwork and the students are from different backgrounds, so it’s a very good way to learn different cultures and build up connections in different industries.
I think the most important thing for finding a job after graduating in Finland is… having good connections and a broad network. It is extremely helpful – I got both my first and second job through friends’ introductions. No matter which city you are in and the culture there, people always prefer working with those they are familiar with. On top of that, many companies won’t post all the open positions on public channels for various reasons. Therefore, having friends who know what you are good at and can introduce you to those “hidden” positions will give you a nice boost.
Working as a UI & UX designer in Finland has been… awesome! First of all, there is a good number of tech companies that require UX/UI design work, so it’s comparably easy to get a job, especially when you have some work experience already. Before the pandemic, there were many design events going on in Finland and Europe, and it was quite easy just to travel and participate in different conferences. Finnish people have a very good taste in design in general, and most of them respect design and design thinking. It’s not too hard to convince them of the importance of user-centric design, and I feel really lucky that I can work as a designer in Finland.
Some of the organisations that have supported my professional growth in Finland include… schools. They offer various kinds of help. For example, my department will post job opportunities from time to time. It’s rather easy to get a job advertised at school since the competition is not too high as usually only a handful of students apply. There are also organisations from school to help you write your cover letter and CV. I also joined many different hackathons during my studies and won a few prizes. Since hackathons are solving existing problems for established companies, they help me expand my connections with those companies and build my reputation – and helped me make some life-lasting friends, of course!
The challenges that I have encountered and overcome while adjusting to working life in Finland include… learning Finnish. Finding a job as a foreigner in Finland can sometimes be challenging, as a lot of companies prefer Finnish-speaking employees. Most international students will learn some Finnish at school, but the Finnish you learned at school usually is far from enough for working professionally and effectively. You might need to spend a whole year just to learn the language and practise it daily before it reaches a professional level; many of us don’t have the time and determination to do it.
So, in the end, at least in my experience, polishing professional skills and having good connections is more helpful than aggressively learning Finnish to land a job. However, it’s still good to learn the language when you are in the country, as you will understand the culture better and can enjoy more local jokes.
Also, one of the tricky things that needs to be mentioned is taxation, as you need to estimate your yearly salary in advance and order a tax card yourself. But if you have done it once, then it gets quite easy.
Oh, if you are from an exotic place and picky with food (e.g. I’m from Sichuan in China), you better learn how to cook yourself in advance. Students get a student lunch for a very cheap price of 2.60 euros. However, it can get tiring if you eat them every day. There are many good restaurants in Helsinki, and the prices are quite affordable if you are employed, around 11 euros for lunch, but they can be a bit expensive if you don’t get steady income.
What I enjoy most about living in the Helsinki district of Kallio is… that it is a very interesting place. I have lived here for about one year now. Besides occasionally seeing some slow-walking drunk dudes and speeding scooter drivers, it has been pretty delightful living here. There are plenty of cheap bars here (five euros for a beer that would cost eight euros in other places in the town), many restaurants including Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Nepali, Japanese, kebab and, finally, Finnish cuisine.
I didn’t need to use any food delivery service during the whole lockdown, since good food is always within walking distance when you live in Kallio. Here is also the centre for different food markets: there are a handful of Asian stores, Middle Eastern stores and Mexican stores, where you can get authentic food and spice from different countries.
Maybe because of all the things I mentioned above, you can find a very diverse group of people here. You can see a husband and wife of the different races enjoying their evening beer on a terrace or glimpse a same-sex couple giving each other a good-bye kiss. I even ran into former Finnish President Tarja Halonen when I went for lunch with my fiancé to a Finnish buffet near my home. That is why I like living in Kallio and in Finland, because everything and everyone is quite well accepted.
The best way to become part of the Finnish society is… having an open mind and staying curious. No matter if you are an introverted or extroverted person, this is very helpful when it comes to making friends and feeling included. There will be a lot of differences between your culture and Finnish culture, and you will meet all kinds of people here from all over the world. You might not appreciate some of the differences, but if you can take them as opportunities to learn, not as a reason to complain, in that way, you will feel much happier and people will find you easier to be friends with. When you have that mindset, then you can take your chance and join different events. There are many different events organised by schools and companies, such as Vappu and pre-Christmas parties.
The words of advice I would have for someone thinking about moving here for work or studies are… be brave and enjoy every moment you can :) Moving to a country far, far away can be really intimidating, but, since you’ve already overcome the fear and decided to start the journey, you should make it count.
My journey has been quite an adventure. During my summer holidays, instead of getting an internship, I would do volunteer work for some organisations in return for food and accommodation. With that I have lived on several farms in Finland, Sweden and Germany, and also crammed myself in a 10-square metre illegally parked boat in Amsterdam with three other people and two cats. I picked berries, ate honey, chopped trees, shot hunting guns, drove tractors, shovelled sheep manure and occasionally escaped from bear cubs. It was really fun.
Even though the trips I had were well worth it, not having an internship was definitely not helpful when it came to finding a job. I needed to look for about 1.5 years before I got my first full-time job. During my unemployed time, I started a startup with a few friends. It failed like most other student startups, but it gave me quite good skills in pitching ideas and helped me make a lot more connections. Eventually, I got the job that I really wanted and feel happy to be part of the society. In the end, I wish you good luck and hope you can enjoy the trip as much as I do.