The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office.  Today we have our third interviewee Dexter, a young Finnish expat who is currently working in Asia, to share his views on this topic.

“Born in Asia, raised in Europe. A global citizen and aspired entrepreneur. In constant pursuit of wisdom, enlightenment, challenges, and above all, happiness.”– This is how most people would describe Dexter, including himself!

We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did 🙂

WW: Hi Dexter! Can you tell us more about yourself and your family? At what age did you come to Finland?

Dexter: I was born not far from Nanjing, although my mother’s side of the family was originally from Beijing.

I moved to Finland when I was eight. Back then my parents were pursuing their degree at Aalto University (formerly known as Helsinki University of Technology).

Finland has been my home for twenty years. This was the country which raised me, where I went to school, learned to snowboard, did my military service, and worked for Finland’s iconic brand, Nokia.

These days I’m living in Taipei, in Taiwan, and I will be moving to the States.

WW: What do you see as your “place” in Finland when you were staying here?

Dexter: When I first moved to Finland, it was really difficult for me, as I was unable to speak the language.

Before I started at the international school, I spent almost a year in what was called the “MAMU (i.e. maahanmuuttaja = immigrant) luokka/class“.

The point of the class was to teach Finnish to immigrant kids. Back then I remember most of the children were from Somalia, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia. At the time it was a very foreign environment to me and I struggled to fit in.

After some time I enrolled in the international called Postipuu school. Back then English schools were not predominant in Finland. Most of the children who attended English school come from immigrant/expat families which placed a strong emphasis on studying in an international environment.

By the time I attended high school, I enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB) at of one of Finland’s elite schools Helsingin Suomalainen Yhteiskoulu (SYK). It was a truly international school represented by over twenty nationalities, and we had a very diverse staff.

Over the years, my identity evolved from being an immigrant to the sense of being an expat. However, given the circles I was raised in, I never truly felt like a native Finn, either. Just like my close friends, I like to think of myself a being a citizen of the world.

The fact that I am fluent in English, Mandarin, Finnish and French makes me feel a close bond with the expat community, both at home in Finland and around the world.

WW: What was the most important and meaningful event or experience that happened in Finland?

Dexter: To work for Nokia for five years, as I finished my Master’s degree.

As I finished the IB program, most of my classmates back then went off to university around the world, predominantly in the US and UK. I did my undergraduate and graduate school in Aalto University.

Although I was able to speak Finnish already, it was culturally difficult for me to blend with the university culture. Although everyone was able to speak English, I observed a clear dichotomy between the Finnish students and the international students at the same school.

For me, I wasn’t much interested in sitting in lectures. So I applied for a position at Nokia. I wanted to be surrounded by a community of very diverse people. And that’s what I found at Nokia- overseas projects, a community of expats across the business community, and a sense of belonging.

WW: What was the happiest moment in your life in Finland?


Dexter: When I finished my Master’s degree and left Nokia, the company which I worked for five years. I was very excited to begin the next chapter of my life.

WW:  Can you tell us what are the top 3 challenges you have faced in Finland, when it comes to thinking about your identity as a Finn?

Dexter: Well here they are:

  1. Finnish drinking songs, I still don’t remember the lyrics.
  2. I didn’t know how to deal with racial discrimination when I was in primary and middle school.
  3. Eating salmiakki (Finnish liquorice candy). I still cant’ stand the taste. Although, I admit, I take my friends for Salmiakkikossu when they come to visit.

WW: Do you think there are solutions or better alternatives as to how we think about these three challenges?

Dexter: Solutions are as follow:

  • Solution 1. Look up a bunch of Finnish drinking song lyrics, practice with friends during Vappu.
  • Solution 2. The fact that I am culturally and linguistically diverse is an ever increasingly advantage and privilege. Be proud of it.
  • Solution 3. Salmiakki comes in different flavors, try different ones!

WW: What do you appreciate most about Finland?

Dexter: Now that I am living in Asia, here are a few things I miss the most about Finland:

  1. Freezing cold tap water.
  2. Sauna
  3. Freezing cold, fresh air, on a -20C morning
  4. Blueberries
  5. Pingviini (Pinguine) Ice cream
  6. Eating Ice cream with blueberries
  7. Smoked salmon (Savulohi)

WW: What does being a “Finn” mean to you?

Dexter: Being a down-to-earth, modest person, and remaining true to my friends.

Being simple in life, appreciating the mundane.

WW: Do you feel less of a Finn now that you are working abroad?

Dexter: I feel as a Finnish expat now that I am working abroad.

Deep inside, I am blessed to be international at heart. But from time to time, I enjoy to seeing the confused looks one people’s faces when I spend 10 minutes explaining my background.

WW: Do you think people would regard you as less of a “Finn” now that you are working abroad?

Dexter: I don’t really care how other people regard me. I need to know who I am. 🙂

WW: What do you think are some of the popular misconceptions of Finland, local Finns, Finns abroad and foreigners in Finland? Can you share some of these perceived misconceptions with us?

Dexter: It was really eye opening when I did my military service in Finland, in the navy brigade.

For the first time in my life, I was confronted with “real native Finns” from all parts of Finland, small villages that I have never even heard of.

It was during this time I comprehended that the expat circles in Helsinki was a bubble. I can understand why some would consider Finns to be hillbillies.

But then again, I would like to highlight there is a large population of Finnish expats in Finland and overseas. A large number of them live in Hong Kong and New York, for instance.

WW: What are your dreams and visions for the future?

Dexter: To have a fulfilling career and family across Europe, Asia and the States. Ultimately to be happy. 🙂

WW: Finland would be celebrating its 100 years of independence next year. What are your dreams and visions for Finland’s future?

Dexter: Finland and Europe has sailed some really rough waters in recent years.

Although Finns have tremendous sisu, it will take the collective effort of Finland and Europe to dig ourselves out of crisis.

I look forward to seeing Finland importing more talent from overseas become a culturally and economically vibrant country.

WW: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Dexter: I encourage the young generation in Finland to gain overseas experience either through education or work.

We hope you have enjoyed Dexter’s interview! The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feel free to follow Dexter on twitter @Dex_He. Cover photo courtesy of Dexter.