Wor­king hard to pur­sue the dreams: Polina’s sto­ry of apprecia­tion


Polina’s jour­ney in Fin­land did not start in Oulu, but she is hap­py that it led her the­re. She is now pur­suing a degree in Tou­rism and dreams of doing impact­ful work at the city ser­vices.

Jour­ney to Oulu

My name is Poli­na, and I arri­ved in Fin­land from Rus­sia 2.5 years ago to stu­dy tou­rism at Kajaa­ni Uni­ver­si­ty of Applied Sciences. Befo­re coming to Fin­land, my pro­fes­sio­nal jour­ney was – and to an extent, still is – all over the place. I stu­died Che­mical Tech­no­lo­gy at a uni­ver­si­ty in Rus­sia, wor­ked on mana­ging trans­la­tions of digi­tal pro­ducts and typo­grap­hy, and did a bit of work in dif­fe­rent areas of the tou­rism industry. I dreamt of moving to a Nor­dic count­ry for years befo­re I got the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do it and ended up in Fin­land in 2021.

When I arri­ved in Kajaa­ni, I was loo­king for any emplo­y­ment oppor­tu­ni­ty to cover my living expen­ses. I asked eve­ryw­he­re – at the career cent­re at my uni, at the rec­ruit­ment agencies, sent CVs, etc. My friend who was wor­king at the res­tau­rant recom­men­ded me to her mana­ger, and even­tual­ly, I ended up sig­ning an emplo­y­ment cont­ract the­re.

My work hours slow­ly grew, and I ended up wor­king qui­te a bit of hours as a wait­ress. Howe­ver, I wan­ted to move to a place with more job oppor­tu­ni­ties and to grow career-wise, especial­ly once my hus­band moved to Fin­land too, so I applied for work in Kuo­pio and Oulu. I got a job offer as a shift mana­ger in a res­tau­rant in Oulu and moved here in Sep­tem­ber 2023.


First impres­sions

Oulu imme­dia­te­ly gave me a very posi­ti­ve impres­sion. I felt like I was not tur­ning heads any­mo­re when I was spea­king my lan­gua­ge on the streets, people had no problem com­mu­nica­ting in English, the­re were many sto­res and ser­vices, and the neigh­bours were friend­ly. In the end, our rela­tions­hip with one of the neigh­bours grew so much that she gave us a home­ma­de cake for Christ­mas.

The streets in Oulu are very clean, and the­re is a lot of gree­ne­ry (even in win­ter­ti­me!) once you get a litt­le bit out of the city cent­re. I love the pine forests in Fin­land: they are well taken care of, pure, and rich in ber­ries and mush­rooms for pic­king in the sum­mer. I admi­re how well the roads are main­tai­ned in win­ter, and how clean the snow here is. The­re are all kinds of help avai­lable for dif­fe­rent life situa­tions, and you need only ask for it.

What about the lan­gua­ge and cul­tu­re?

Spea­king the Fin­nish lan­gua­ge is impor­tant in Fin­land in gene­ral if you want to beco­me a part of Fin­nish socie­ty. I star­ted lear­ning Fin­nish right as I got my admis­sion let­ter, but I could only int­ro­duce myself when I arri­ved in Fin­land. Luc­ki­ly, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to stu­dy with a pri­va­te lan­gua­ge teac­her from Rus­sia.

I was moti­va­ted by my university’s pos­si­bi­li­ty of stu­dying tui­tion-free for a year if I pas­sed an inter­me­dia­te YKI test and progres­sed in my stu­dies accor­ding to plan. I had lan­gua­ge les­sons 1–3 times a week, stu­died Fin­nish on my own almost dai­ly, and prac­ticed it at work. Having stu­died Fin­nish for 1.5 years, I pas­sed the YKI test (Natio­nal Cer­ti­fica­te of Lan­gua­ge Pro­ficiency) in Novem­ber 2022. The­se days, I speak more Fin­nish than English dai­ly.

Fin­nish is not an easy lan­gua­ge, but the good thing is that Finns do not make fun of people who attempt to learn it and are very sup­por­ti­ve. You will need to ask them to cor­rect your mis­ta­kes because, in my expe­rience, most Finns will not do that out of fear of discou­ra­ging you. It is a fasci­na­ting jour­ney: to see how your mind adapts to an enti­re­ly new way of thin­king, and how you gra­dual­ly start unders­tan­ding more and more.

I apprecia­te the values that Fin­nish socie­ty has. The­re is a strong emp­ha­sis on trust and empowe­ring people to be inde­pen­dent and advoca­te for them­sel­ves. I like that Finns are glad to help, but they will not jump in to assist you right away unless you are real­ly in need. You can always say your opi­nion free­ly, and you can expect people to hear you out in full and genui­ne­ly con­si­der it. I have grown to be more open-min­ded and learnt to voice my opi­nions.

Polina at International House Oulu

An intern at IH Oulu

Now, I am doing the final interns­hip of my stu­dies at Inter­na­tio­nal House Oulu. I quit my job to focus on my stu­dies and to build a network in the city ser­vices. I had wan­ted to be emplo­yed in city ser­vices for a long time.

In Fin­land, such work can affect people’s lives for the bet­ter, which is impor­tant for me. As an intern at IH Oulu, I do a varie­ty of tasks: I help to plan and imple­ment events, I wri­te social media posts, I assist with pro­ject tasks, and I pro­vi­de gui­dance. Many people come here with urgent or serious mat­ters, and it is impor­tant to be sen­si­ti­ve and infor­ma­ti­ve and to lis­ten more than speak.

I like that Inter­na­tio­nal House Oulu leads by example: it emplo­ys foreign-born resi­dents of Oulu and allows them to prac­tice Fin­nish. I could choo­se my tasks here, which was great because it allowed me to test my skills and know­led­ge in areas that I was inte­res­ted in. I felt inc­re­dibly welco­me here.

”The impor­tance of networ­king in Fin­land can­not be overs­ta­ted.”

Tips and chal­len­ges

To me, the big­gest chal­len­ge in Fin­land was and to an extent still is a dif­fe­rent approach to things. It is qui­te relaxed and some­ti­mes slow, in com­pa­ri­son to many count­ries, which can be stress­ful if you need to get things done urgent­ly. You should always reser­ve some ext­ra time, especial­ly if you are doing some impor­tant stuff, such as at banks, at the hos­pi­tal, or when applying for jobs. It takes time to get used to it, but this approach to things means that when you are sett­led and emplo­yed, you will get to enjoy the res­pect of your free time, too.

I would recom­mend first and fore­most to put an effort into lear­ning Fin­nish. In Oulu, you will have plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties to do it, for example, at the uni­ver­si­ty (even if you are not a stu­dent) or at Vil­la Vic­tor. Spea­king Fin­nish, even a bit, will open plen­ty of doors for you, and it will help you sett­le. Also, the impor­tance of networ­king in Fin­land can­not be overs­ta­ted.

If you have time and ener­gy to go to fairs and rec­ruit­ment and networ­king events, do it! Tell about your­self, your skills, and your expe­rience when you can, and ask for sup­port at emplo­y­ment-rela­ted ser­vices and career cent­res. Volun­tee­ring can give you plen­ty of new expe­rience and valuable con­nec­tions, so do not shut tho­se oppor­tu­ni­ties down, if offe­red.

All in all, I enjoy life here in Oulu. I hope that my interns­hip con­ti­nues as emplo­y­ment here at the city ser­vices, but we will see. I am open to chan­ges, but I would like to stay in Oulu and con­ti­nue the calm Nort­hern life here.