Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Tung, a fiesty young gentleman from Vietnam who is currently based in Helsinki.

Enjoy the interview! ♡

TH: Hello Tung! Can you tell us more about yourself?

Tung: Hi WW. My name is Tung, a Vietnamese alumnus from Laurea University of Applied Sciences.

I am currently pursuing a career path in commercial video production.

This only started after I got to Finland, when I realized how video production is truly close to heart.


TH: Why did you initially choose to come to Finland?

Tung: Frankly I did not know much about Finland rather than its EU membership and Nokia.

But well, I was just a naïve 19-year-old boy coming from the other half of the globe with limited knowledge about the world.

Of course I was being very honest at my entrance exam interview that I’d been “aware that Finland has one of the best education system in the world”–according to PISA.

But at that time, I really had no idea that PISA ranking method was meant for 10-12 year old kids while I was actually applying to a Finnish higher education institute!!!

Seriously, I was in my early life crisis not knowing who I am, what I am gonna do and why my existence matters and so on… then I accidentally found out about an opportunity to come to study in Finland.

I just wanted a change so badly and it was no doubt an easy decision for me to embark on an unknown journey to the land of Santa Claus. Though it was not the same for my family who were very much worried and tried to persuade me to stay.

But well, if it weren’t from my parents, where would I have gotten that wanderlust gene from?


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

Tung: People always asked “why do you come to Finland” and “what are you doing in Finland?”

I was always giving the response “I am a student here” so people can nod their head “ahhh” and continue asking about the school, the subject and the student life blah blah

It was a convenient way to start conversation with silent Finns but until recently I started to think about it a little bit more–partly because I was going to graduate–and finally stopped giving out such lazy answer.

I don’t think I really belong to any academic groups because most of my regular contacts and close friendships are not from school. It is great that Finland has a quite open culture where you are allowed much freedom to explore about yourself and pursue whatever your heart wants…

Now I simply want to be seen as a creative with an Asian background trying to prove my worth to Finnish creative industry.

But it is of course not easy.

All I can do now is just trying to work hard, put 200% effort into every project I am involved in and hope for a breakthrough.


TH: What are your feelings about Finland when you were staying here? Did they change along the way?

Tung: I remember my first day in Finland boarding a train from Helsinki to Kokkola. It was the first taste of an egalitarian society as I exchanged a 4-hour long conversation with a 70-something lady.

The way this senior woman treated me was very different with what I’d been used to for previous 19 years of life. The next day at school, our highly respected lecturer told the whole class to address her with first name only, simple as that, no need for “Sir” or “Madam” or any titles.

It was another little shock. I must admit that I immediately felt in love with the laid-back and minimalist style of Finland in every aspect of life.

It has been 6 years since I first arrived in Finland and this country did not seem to change a bit in my mind. But well it did make me a different man.

I can say it made me a more confident, independent and… quiet person despite being away from the country for nearly 2 years during that 6-year stint.

I first came as a keen observer trying to learn the best secret of the-greatest-place-to-live-in-the-world which is usually confused with “Holland” in my homeland. You see, Finland and Holland are similarly pronounced in Vietnamese.

Yet now I still… have no idea what that secret actually is.

To be fair, Finland got a lot of things right but there are also things that don’t quite work that well.

Suomi is no paradise.


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

Tung: There were possibly lots of things to tell but I recall two particular events that totally made me the person I am now.

Although Finns are not notorious for their marketing aptitude and willingness, it was enough for Liisa Niemi (my former 60 something Marketing lecturer) to teach me about thinking and reasoning from the first principles –

“always ask yourself why”.

It is hard to explain exactly how that helped to change my life. Because the “why” question did not literally change me from the outside but effectively haunted me from the inside.

It urged me to find my own identity and values in this big noisy world. Once you truly understand yourself, you have a chance to achieve what you truly want for your life.

The second one was simply the moment I decided to commit myself with the life behind the camera.

I’ve never turned back since then.


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

Tung: The moment I got my first photo approved by Vogue Italy editorial staffs. It was probably the official start of my photographic and cinematographic career.

Now I got about 60 photos approved for the site and majority of them are taken on the streets of Helsinki.

You can view the photograph here: a candid moment of Helsinki street in summer.


TH: That’s a really gorgeous portfolio you have there! I’m sure it must have been a great moment for you. Has life in Finland always been smooth-sailing? Can you tell us about the top 3 challenges you have faced in Finland?

Tung: The first thing that came to my mind was Suomen kieli LOL, quite challenging even though I found it sound really cute. Almost as cute as Japanese to my ears.

It’s very embarrassing every time people ask me something in Finnish and I can only answer in one or two words with an awkward smile instead of a full sentence.

The second challenge is about finding a job that suits me. Finland is essentially an engineering country so it’s very difficult for people outside IT and engineering industry to find a job.

The only creative job that may have a little bit more acceptance for foreign talents is Graphic Designer but unfortunately it is not my special thing.

The third is actually not a real challenge but I just realized that I do not have a… Finnish buddy. I know one or two very good friends –who happen to be native Finns–to hang out with.

But if you ask about a really, really close one then I say none.


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

Fresh Snow

Tung: I have a strong theory that Finnish schools are absolutely going the wrong way.

If you stay here long enough, you’ll start realizing just with your ears at some point that the Finnish spoken language and the ones you are being taught at school are completely different.

It is not like academic English and informal or even slang English. These Finnish situation sounds like a two separate languages with absolutely no way for foreigners to study one and automatically figure out the other.

I have a very handy example – my flatmate who went to the same school. He did an experiment by dropping the academic Finnish at school and tried to learn as much spoken Finnish as possible by talking to Finns and participating in various local activities.

After just 8 months living in Finland, he could understand and communicate on the street much better than me. I can never do that with my basic academic Finnish and yet my grade on Finnish for foreigners is still higher than the guy…

…Well who needs those scores when you go to an interview and the employer starts talking to you in Finnish?

About the job challenge, Helsinki is certainly no Los Angeles and most studios here are only looking for freelancers and even for Finns I think it’ll be very hard to join a production and become their regular staffs.

Again it would be a matter of luck and I definitely need a lot of that.

I am already having contacts with several places so hopefully things will be more positive in the coming weeks.

Some would be quick to shout out “racial discrimination” or white people don’t make friends with non-white etc…

…but I don’t agree.

To be friends with someone, you need to think on the same wavelength or share some values in common but everybody is different!

The high context culture and distance (aka personal space and sometimes shyness) of Finns surely add up to the difficulty to find a Finn buddy generally but I also have a very interesting theory on this one.

Finns are very independent individuals. I’d heard some say that that is a trait of Nordic people– They rarely ask for a favor and most tend to suffer in silence.

I don’t need to elaborate on how a youngster may move out at just 15 or 16 years of age to live alone. However, this is always very striking to me as an Asian native.

In short, it seems highly likely to me that Finns deeply and unconsciously believe that “being independent” will facilitate integrity and true affection in any kind of relationships.

Because no one is dependent on anyone they would not have to worry about whether or not their friends will like them because they can “make use of” them later, their wives/husbands love them because they have money or whether their sons/daughters are treating them well because they want their legacy… etc.

Many will disagree but well… I really believe Finns truly desire “true love” that way LOL.


TH: Hahaha that’s a really interesting theory! Do you have some memorable experiences in Finland? Do share some funny, weird, strange, upsetting anedotes with us.

Tung: Whenever I am away from Finland, I always miss the sauna and the… forests.

You know I grew up in a city of 5million people with little and almost no green coverage. It was some sort of little shock (but a very welcome one) to me when I first saw my student house in Finland.

I’ve madly fallen in love with the trees and mountains since then!

Have you been to Sompa Sauna near Kalasatama? I had been a frequent sauna goer there but now they are closed.

For me and many others, Sompa Sauna is wonderful and perhaps the most iconic symbol of Finnish culture – a unique mix of modern society with woodmen’s tradition LOL.

I’m so in love with it.

Hopefully they’ll find a new place soon. I made a very short portraiture about Sompa Sauna that you can watch here:


TH: What do you think are some misconceptions of Finns that are far away from reality?

Tung: As I said just now, Finns are not cold and shy at all. They are just not very aggressive and generally super calm.

Yet they are no woodsman, no bear, no alcoholic. They are decent people, that’s all.

Maybe one misconception about Finns is that they always need to live up to their reputation of “almost nearly perfect people” in an utopian society.

Some non-Finns I know seemed very disappointed that their native colleagues or classmates are “mostly average” and underqualified (though having the same remunerations and benefit levels) when working in the same position.

Perhaps it’s true that many Finns are not necessarily much more talented and confident than their “imported” co-workers but then when I think about it…

…if you are not better than what they already had, or at least can bring different values to the mix, why would Finland decide to import you from the first place?

TH: What do you think are some misconceptions of foreigners by Finns which are far from reality?

Tung: The recent economy downturn made some Finns become so negative that they went as far as branding non-EU students here “freeloaders”.

It’s true that many students did not have to pay tuition fee but it’s not cheap at all to pursue a degree in Finland.

Even if those non-EU students do not work in Finland and pay taxes, their living expenses and other unnamed fees injected a fair amount of money (that covered the very high VAT and they would never be able to get it back) into Finnish economy every year.

Not to mention that many alumni helped a hand in promoting the image of a modern and heavenly Finland to the rest of the world for FREE.

Ah. Some Finns may have an idea and ask, “Why should we promote ourselves to the world?”–

–well, I leave the answer to Mr. Timo Soini of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.


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

Tung: Hmm… At the moment I just hope to have more opportunities to make films and find a suitable job for me in Finland.

You know it’s good for the country to have one more tax payer who know how to make everything about Finland look beautiful on digital media 😉

I am trying not to think about the future too far ahead.

Remember that I’ve shared with you before about an idea to connect all creative people and help them find jobs. [TH’s note to readers: Tung is talking about his vision for a website for creatives, by creatives.]

It’s probably a bit out of my hand at the moment.


TH: What are some of the advice you might have for aspiring foreign students who want to come to Finland to study? Do you think the charging of fees for non-EU/EEA students will affect their application rates?

Tung: Like I said above, Finland is an engineering country so be aware of that if you want to come and study anything outside the field.

It would be quite dangerous once you fall in love with the country and then find yourself hopeless in an attempt to secure a “suitable job” and a future in Finland.

Yes, there’s no doubt about the huge drop in numbers of applicants.

I was very surprised to see it happen. I am no expert but this decision can probably tell you one or two things about the confidence level of the current government in turning things around.

Or maybe this is just an excuse to say no to multiculturalism? I really have no idea… But if you turn your head to Germany, they are going the opposite way despite that so-called immigration crisis.

I can see ambitious and talented international students are now flocking to Goethe Institutes everywhere to find a better chance to create values in Europe.


TH: 2017 is the Finland’s 100 years old birthday! Do you have any wishes for Finland?


Tung: Onnea Suomi! ^^

Finland may already have everything to be proud of herself. But I hope she will not fall asleep now and instead continue to embrace multiculturalism as an important path to the future.

You know a lot of international people like me fell in love and made a serious bet on her with our young energy and total belief.

We’re holding back nothing so hopefully Finland will be able to fulfil her promises and potential.

Go Finland go!

We hope you have enjoyed this interview with Tung!

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme.This series  “What is Finnish-ness”? is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Photographs courtesy of Tung.🙂 Feel free to visit his website or follow him on instagram @tungnsl.