Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Emma Sjölund. In this interview, Emma shares with us her feelings and experiences as a young Finnish person exploring the world! ^^
Emma Sjölund is a communicator, storyteller and avid traveller with a background in economics and corporate communication. The last 4 years she has focused on expanding her knowledge in communications and she has worked with companies ranging from consultant agencies to non-profit organisations. Feel free to connect with Emma on twitter @sjolunde or visit her website.
Enjoy the interview! ♡
TH: Hi Emma! Can you tell us more about yourself?
Emma: Hello! I’m a recent MSc graduate with a major in corporate communication from Aalto University School of Business.
Currently I’m positioned in London creating content for a fintech startup called AREX. I love Finland but always felt traveling broadens the mind in a way being at home can’t.
Luckily my partner has a similar worldview and he was actually the one who persuaded me into moving to the UK. We live in a relaxed residential area together with my dog Valo.
Valo is a novascotian duck tolling retriever who reminds me daily to be grateful for the smallest things.
TH: What is your favourite place in Finland, and why?
Emma: Finland is a stunning country and all nature lovers can feel at home in this land of a thousand lakes.
One of my favourite places has to be beautiful Pihlajasaari. There are many islands scattered around the metropolitan area, but Pihlajasaari is the one I have the dearest memories from.
TH: What was the happiest moment of your life in Finland?
Emma: For the past few years, I’ve been focusing on conscious presence and instead of large occasions, my life is built of small and even mundane events. I also consider my life to have been quite happy overall, which makes choosing a specific moment very hard!
Perhaps among one of the happiest moments was the day I received the information I got accepted to Aalto University. There was a brief moment in which my colleague congratulated me with a big hug.
That felt very meaningful – my colleague’s a 50-something, grumpy man who’d never even smiled at me before.
TH: What does being a “Finn” mean to you?
Emma: When I still lived in Finland, there was this one late afternoon when I was going out with my dog Valo. On the shadier side of the park, we met a very drunk man who lied on the ground unable to move.
He refused my help and barked at me nastily.
After an hour full of soused insults, the man finally got on his feet. He took my hand, said “thank you” and walked home.
I think this story reflects Finnish-ness quite well. We might be distant and seem impolite, but we’re there for each other and we also appreciate that presence.
Millennials are more social than their parents, but Finns of all ages still like their distance. That’s why getting a fellow Finn to interact in some way makes my day. It’s meaningful and beautiful on many levels.
TH: Can you tell us what are some challenges you have faced as a Finn, with regards to “identity”?
- Being a Finnish Swede
Besides Finnish, my native language is also Swedish. Swedish speaking Finns are not always cherished among Finns but it goes both ways.
Generally, Finnish Swedes treat each other differently compared to how they act with Finns—it’s like being an insider. Though the feeling of being part of a group is nice, it strengthens the gap between Finns and Finnish Swedes.
- Cherishing independence
Not least the fact how much the 100 years of independence of our country is and will be celebrated is an example of how important independency is to Finns.
This proudness has been downscaled to a more personal level: you are supposed to do everything on your own.
To occasionally lean on someone else’s shoulders is mutually beneficial, but still Finns (including me) have the urge of doing everything by themselves to an extreme extent.
- Choosing sadness and melancholy over happiness and joy
Depression is booming in Finland and one small part of the equation is that it’s acceptable to be sad. A neutral or pessimistic outlook on life is the way to go.
Now, I wouldn’t go as far as stating that joy is unacceptable, but it should definitely be expressed in very subtle ways. Sometimes people might even ask me if I’m drunk—just because I’m happy!
TH: Do you think there are solutions or better alternatives as to how we think about these three challenges?
Emma: Acknowledging and embracing different ways of thinking and behaving is key to all the challenges I listed. There are always several ways to approach things, and the one we’re used to is rarely the most effective.
The more people I have gotten to know, the more I have started to appreciate the differences we share. No matter what views and thoughts people might have, we all are still the same.
On a general note, thanks to globalisation I believe Finns are starting to accept different paradigms. Unfortunately, Europe’s Migration Crisis has shaken things up and made many European countries including Finland wary.
In any case, ideologies and views take time to change, and I’ll rather spend this time in a welcoming environment – something that Finland still misses to some degree.
TH: What is the one thing that you appreciate most about Finland?
Emma: It’s calmness. A lovely Korean lady asked me recently whether all Finns are calm.
In addition to me, she’d met one Finnish guy who was apparently like an incarnation of the Buddha.
I’d never thought about it before, but a Zen-like way of dealing with things is very Finnish and something I appreciate.
TH: What is the one thing that you think can be improved in Finland?
Emma: There are so many things!
Finland is a great country but the idea that everything can always be improved is important in order to keep up with the change we face globally.
My heart beats strongly for animals, and I’ve been excited to see more and more vegetarian and vegan restaurants and food options in general entering the markets. “Pulled Oats” are a good example of an innovation that make sustainable choices enjoyable.
Social media has allowed people to discuss animal welfare openly. People are getting more aware not only of the conditions in which production animals have to live in, but also of the intelligence and emotions animals possess.
A good example was the public’s recent discussion of the Särkänniemi dolphins. Conversation is always good, as it can actually make a difference.
Yet, as long as people utilise animals for their own personal good setting the animals’ welfare aside, there’s still work to do. I believe that educating children in kindergarten and elementary school could be a good option.
How many children actually know from where the meat in their plates or the leather in their shoes has come from?
And for that matter, how many adults know in what kind of conditions these animals live in and how intelligent even smaller animals, such as fish and birds, are?
TH: Do you feel less/more of a Finn now that you are working abroad?
Emma: Identity is a very flexible concept and being a Finn is just one small part of the whole. At times I identify myself strongly as a Finn and at other times as something else.
I believe that the more you travel, the more your identity gets shaped. When you start to understand glimpses of other cultures, habits and ways of thinking, you adapt them to your own behaviour.
So yes, in general I probably feel less like a Finn, but the feeling changes from time to time!
TH: Do you think people regard you as less of a “Finn” now that you are working abroad?
Emma: I don’t believe people think that much about who I am.
TH: HAHAHA– I love your answer–That’s kind of funny in a philosophical manner. Do you have plans to return to Finland some day?
Emma: Despite of my soft spot for Finland, I’m not certain whether I’ll return there.
There’s so many opportunities to grab and it would feel foolish to not turn every plate once you have the chance to do so.
However, nothing is settled and situations change. Finland will always be my home country, but home can be anywhere.
TH: What do you think are some of the popular misconceptions of Finland, local Finns, Finns abroad and foreigners in Finland?
Emma: The first misconception that pops to my head is coldness. The weather in Finland isn’t actually that cold, especially in summer the weather is usually very pleasant.
Putting the few oddballs aside, Finns do also get cold, just like anyone else. It’s just a matter of smart dressing that keeps Finns warm!
TH: Do you think there is gender equality in Finland?
Emma: Not to the extent there should be.
Saara Särmä’s blog Congrats, you have an all male panel!, the rise of female networks or for example the campaign of The Finns Party Youth against the feministic idea of fading genders from last spring are good examples of the fact that gender is still a smouldering issue.
The problem lies deep within the core of our society.
Why do women speak up only after they’re completely sure of their expertise? Why do men tend to have more guts? Why do women usually ask for a lower wage compared to men? Why does the management of listed companies include more men named Juha than women?
TH: What are your dreams for the future?
Emma: I’m curious about the future and dream of a life with constant learning. I’m grateful for everything life has given me so far as even darker periods have shaped me to be who I am today.
That’s why I hope that whatever happens in the future, it will continue to shape me further.
TH: Finland would be celebrating its 100 years of independence next year. What are your dreams for Finland’s future?
Emma: I’m grateful for how good things are in our country.
Instead of reminiscing the old days, now is the perfect time and space to dig deeper and focus on the next 100 years.
We hope you have enjoyed this interview! The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photo courtesy of Emma. Feel free to connect with Emma on twitter @sjolunde or visit her website. ♡