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[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series] Interview with Her Excellency Paula Parviainen, the Finnish ambassador to Singapore.

Finnish People, Finnish Politics, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office

(Feature Picture: Her Excellency Paula Parviainen with our Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong!)

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Her Excellency Paula Parviainen, the Finnish ambassador to Singapore.

An experienced diplomat with over 20 years of experience in the Finnish Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Paula regards her posting to Singapore with fondness having first served here as the Deputy Head of Mission from 1996-2000. She has also served at the UN, in Paris and in Beijing in addition to serving as Press Attaché to the Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade. In September 2015, Paula became Finland’s 7th Ambassador to Singapore.

Singapore’s also Paula’s first ambassador posting, and everybody loves Paula!!~~

Enjoy the interview! ♡


WW: Hello Paula! Thank you for accepting our interview. Can you tell us more about yourself and what you do?

Paula: Boring as it may sound, I am a Finnish civil servant.

I have been a career diplomat at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs since 1995. I joined on the same day when Finland became a member of the European Union.

It was the beginning of a new Era for Finnish diplomacy.

Since then, I have held about ten different jobs in the Ministry, and some of them so different from the previous that it is almost like changing your profession.

From Middle East peace process in the United Nations to press attaché of your minister for foreign trade, and from Paris to Beijing…in very different cultures.

That is the fascinating aspect: you have to be humble and admit that you know very little at the beginning of a new posting.

And then on hindsight, you can see how much you have learned in just one year!

WW: What motivates you in becoming an ambassador?

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Paula: I think that most career diplomats want to become ambassadors one day.

As an ambassador, you are nominated by your country’s President to represent him and the people in another country. It is an honour but also a huge responsibility.

I was very happy to become ambassador of Finland to Singapore. I started my diplomatic career here 20 years ago, and I still have many Singaporean friends from those times.

I feel that there is so much that we can do to strengthen the bilateral relations between our countries and increase trade, investments, student exchange and tourism.

WW: I really liked the point you said about tourism! So many Singaporeans are now travelling to Finland and the Nordic regions to see the Northern Lights. Having said that, what is the Number One misconception foreigners have about Finns/ Finland, and why do you think it is far from reality?

Paula: That it is so faaaar and so cooooold!

[WW: LOLOLOLOLOL]

When you have a direct flight between Singapore and your destination, I tell you, it is not far.

‘Also, Finnish summers and even autumns are at their best very warm and pleasant. I have really learnt to appreciate the changing seasons – they are not only four, but twelve!

All months are different and the length of the day is the crucial factor.

And, in Finland, you never freeze indoors, like here with the artificial cooling of places like movie theatres – I bring my down jacket to the movies….

WW: Haha. On a more serious note, the Finnish economy has not been doing well since 2007. How do you think the Finnish welfare state can continue to take good care of citizens and residents in Finland?

Paula: We have to continue to be an inclusive society and support each individual to find his or her place in the society and use his  /her full potential.

Our welfare system has made people too passive in certain cases. Sometimes, the system does not always motivate one to work harder, since you get the basic income even if you don’t work.

We have to continue to educate our people, since a small country only has its brain power.

The welfare system should have more incentives to people to work in Finland and pay their taxes. If there are more beneficiaries than tax payers, then it just is not sustainable…

We have to continue on the path of lifelong learning to help even the older generation to keep up with the fast pace of digitalisation.

Also, we have to do a better job in integrating the foreigners coming to Finland.

WW: What are the three things you are most proud of as a Finnish citizen?

Paula:

1) Our education system, which is still world class and leaves space for creative thinking. Increasingly, it is also encouraging entrepreneurship among young people – and still free for all.

2) The equality between women and men, and the role women play in our country–be it in politics, public or private sector, arts and family life.

Finnish women are pretty strong and independent and most men are used to it.

3) Our nature, and how we seem to appreciate it more and more.

A weekend in a Finnish summer cabin, with sauna, tree–hugging :), berry picking, fishing and doing basic, physical chores like taking care of the forest etc.

It is just priceless!

WW: How about the three things you are not so proud of as a Finnish citizen? Do you think change is possible, and if so, how do you suggest change to be implemented?

Paula:

  • The increase in protectionism and prejudice against anything foreign.

When times are economically harder, some are scared that there will not be enough for them, if they have to share with “outsiders”.

However, healthy competition is good.

  • The stubbornness of some Finns, who don’t understand that good old times are not coming back (and were they so good anyhow?).

More flexibility and forward looking attitude is needed.

  • Jealousy. I think a lot of these negatives are explained by our history and historic position first as part of Sweden, then as autonomy in the Russian empire.

The younger generation is born to a global and more open world. I believe that there will be a generational change taking place naturally.

WW: Against the context of globalisation, who do you think can and should define “Finnish-ness”?

Paula: Anyone who has lived or visited Finland can define “Finnish-ness” and all opinions are valued.

Maybe you can have an opinion of Finland by only meeting Finns abroad, or by hearing from those Singaporeans who have visited Finland.

There are no minimum criteria to who can define the term….

WW: What is the happiest moment of your life in Finland?

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Paula: Becoming mother in Jorvi hospital, 26 years ago when my first son was born.

The second one was born two years later in Capetown, South Africa.

And that was a pretty amazing experience as well …

WW: Can you tell us the top 3 things/ traits you regard as “Finnish”, and why?

Paula:

  • Finns are original, we don’t pretend to be something that we are not.

Even if it makes us a bit “juntti” or blue-eyed, I still think that by just being yourself you can conquer the world 😉

  • Sisu” is a definition that is hard to translate but is actually a very descriptive adjective of Finns, especially the older generation.

Finns are strong and united when times are tough.

We all admire our grandparents spirit in the time of Winter War and how they built Finland from an agrarian to industrialist country.

Increasing complacency however, is a risk to the future of a nation.

  • Global” is the adjective I would use to the younger generation.

For example, my two sons and their friends take it as very natural to travel the world to work and study in different countries – this is a big change already when comparing with my generation…

WW: You’re so loved by so many Finns and Singaporeans! What do you think are the top three differences between Finland and Singapore, in your view? Can these differences be viewed as strengths?

Paula: Haha 😉 I don’t know who you are referring to?

[WW:♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥]

Finland and Singapore are similar in many ways. Be it the size of the population, open economies, countries in gateway position to a wider region – EU and ASEAN.

Actually it is easier to find similarities than differences. Of course, the climate is different, but we are both affected by climate change.

The tax system is very different!

Finland is more homogenous. Singapore is a cultural melting pot which makes it interesting for culture, food etc.

But on the other hand, Finland has also been part of Sweden and Russia, and has taken influence from both eastern and western cultures…

Finns are probably more creative, we had to find solutions to our problems by ourselves.

But we are not so good in doing business and selling our innovative creations in international markets – this is really where we could work more with the business-minded and well-connected Singaporeans.

WW: If a friend visits Helsinki, where are the top three places/ hidden gems you would recommend him/her to visit, and why?

Paula: If I were personally hosting these friends, I would invite them to sauna on our island, 100 kms from Helsinki. But beware, there is only a dry toilet.

Helsinki has made the sauna culture available to even tourists and this is something I would recommend. Sauna Hermanni is an old fashioned, “Aki Kaurismäki” movie styled sauna, then there are the new Löyly, Culture sauna and Allas…  definitely worth trying.

If they are visiting in winter, I’d recommend that they also try the ice swimming!

Helsinki has an incredible street culture, available to all.

Inventions such as Restaurant day, Cleaning day, open air dance parties, dinner under the Finnish sky etc are all started in Finland and many of such inventions have now spread overseas.

In November, the only reason to come to Finland, if you are a “techy” or an investor, is during SLUSH. SLUSH is the major ground–up start-up event in Europe.

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The first SLUSH Singapore was a success in September, and next year it will be bigger!

In late summer, take a hike in one of our natural forests or national parks and with the help of your local guide, experience the berry picking and mushroom picking.

You can enjoy the everyman’s right, that is,  you don’t have to own the forest to be able to collect your food from there…

During summer months, Finland is full of cultural festivals that are really world-class.

And of course, the Aurora Borealis – northern lights are something not to be missed. Now they are abundant, because there is so much of solar activity.

WW: What is the one advice you have for aspiring young Finns who want to become a Finnish ambassador like yourself?

Paula: Go for it!  The most interesting job I could imagine…

But beware– it is not just a job, it is a lifestyle!

And not always easy to combine with traditional family life…

WW: What is the one wish you would have for current and future Finland-Singapore bilateral relations?

Paula: That there would be more business, investments, tourism and student exchange between our two countries.

That there would be more awareness of one another.

There is so much potential for us to do more. We are complementing each other in many ways.

If we knew each other better, we could create more business together.

WW: We hear that there are so, so many exciting things lined up for the Finland 100 programme in Singapore! Can you tell us some of the events we can look forward to?

Paula: The calendar of all events is still in the making, but the main themes where we want to build bridges between Finland and Singapore are:

  • In education, especially early childhood and lifelong learning;
  • In healthcare, elderly care and wellbeing;
  • In innovations and start-ups, so SLUSH will be even bigger next year; and
  • In design.

We are working on partnerships with our local Singaporean friends to do a lot together.

We want to bring Finnish culture, such as music, cinema, design and fashion to Singapore and continue our meetings with the young people.

Many of them have already said that they want to participate in volunteering in our events!

WW: What is the one 100 year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 is Finland’s 100 years of independence?

Paula: It is great that we know our history, there is nothing to be ashamed of. But we can not live in history.

Just like Singapore, we have to take bold steps to look into the next 50 or 100 years and be  brave to make decisions that are needed for us to succeed.

It is of course harder in a multi-party democracy with strong opposition, but we should not be too idealistic when we talk about the economy.

I am proud of the values that Finland is based on.

We should be still more international and open and bear also our global responsibility while investing in the educational excellence in our schools and universities.


We hope you have enjoyed this interview with Her Excellency Paula Parviainen!

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 Paula.🙂 Feel free to follow Paula on twitter @paulaparviainen. ♡

Oh yes and please like The Finnish Embassy in Singapore facebook page and also Finngapore too! ♡

[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series–"What is Finnish-ness?"] Interview with Carol Chen, the professional geek and amateur musician.

Finnish People, Foreigners in Finland, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office

Hey folks~~ Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 next year, we feature Carol Chen, who will be sharing with us her feelings and experiences staying in Finland! ^^

Carol is a professional geek and an amateur musician. She has been in the ICT industry for 14 years, with roles ranging from software development, community management to product marketing and communications. In her spare time she plays timpani in an orchestra and trots the globe. Having visited 30+ countries and lived in 4, she continues to explore strange new worlds to enhance her rojak [=Singlish for “mixed”] identity.

Enjoy the interview!


WW: Hi Carol! Can you tell us more about yourself?

Carol: Hi Wan Wei and everyone reading this, thanks for giving me a voice on The Hieno. I’m honoured!

So let’s start with something about me… I was born in Taiwan, and spent most of my formative years in Singapore.

Before coming to Finland, I studied and worked for a total of 11 years in Texas. Now coming up on 9 years in Finland, I can only say that I have a “rojak identiteetti”. I was working on my doctorate in Computer Science in UT Dallas when I landed an internship at Nokia some 14 years ago (wow, time flies). After being offered a full-time job, I packed up my ABD and started climbing the career ladder. I’ve entertained thoughts about going back to complete my Phd, but maybe I need to do more than just think about it 😛

Nowadays I do Product Marketing / Community Development at Red Hat, and play the timpani / percussion in Tampere Academic Symphony Orchestra.

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TASO performing at Temppeliaukion Kirkko in Helsinki.

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

Carol: Nokia 🙂 Well ok it’s a bit more involved than that.

I’ve already been in Nokia US for about 5 years at that point, and sensing that Nokia wasn’t progressing as well as it should stateside. Thinking there might be more opportunities for me in Finland, and wishing to see more of Europe without the expensive flights and jet lag, I approached some colleagues in Finland. 3 interviews, 2 job offers and 1 decision later, I found myself having to eat my own words of “I wouldn’t want to live there” posted just a year earlier.

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

Carol: First of all, I thank Finland for having a place for me! In return, I do my best to be a productive member of the Finnish economy. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” should apply to adoptive countries too.

Whichever country I live in, I’m consuming their resources, receiving the benefits they provide to their citizens and residents, etc. So it’s only appropriate that I do my job well, pay my taxes, vote in the elections, volunteer and partake in local activities, and so on.

And it’s really not that difficult since Finland has so much to offer. When Finns ask me “Why are you in Finland/What brought you to Finland?”, I think some of them are pleasantly surprised to learn that I came (and stayed) here on my own accord rather than because of a Finnish partner, which is a reasonable assumption given that’s a perfectly sound and statistically significant reason.

WW: LOLOL!!! I love how you say “statistically significant reason”. That is really quite true! What was the most important and meaningful event or experience that happened in Finland?

Carol: Do I have to pick one? There are just so many… from my first white Christmas in Lapland in 2007, to being unemployed (twice), to getting new jobs and the support I had in the process, to buying an apartment here in Tampere 2 years ago.

Ok if I have to single out one event, it will be getting my Finnish permanent residency, which solidifies my place here.

Although is it really permanent? I have to renew it next year!

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Snowmobiling in Rovaniemi, my first white Christmas.

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

Carol: Again, really tough to pick just one.

I feel tremendous pride and joy every time I get to perform with my orchestra over the past 6 years; the exuberance of sailing in the Gulf of Bothnia with my dear friends Minna and Mika (doing that again next week, yay!!); and countless memorable moments/events with my friends here, Finns and foreigners alike.

Perhaps my family’s visit in 2009 top the charts for this one. I was going through a homesick phase and a heartbreak, so having them here really helped. Maybe not exactly the “happiest” moment, since it was bittersweet, but definitely filled with love and hope.

Speaking of family, spending time with my boyfriend’s family comes a close second. It’s really comforting to have a sense of belonging in a foreign land, and I love my adoptive family!

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Me taking a pic of my sis taking a pic of my mom and my dad taking a pic of Savonlinna. 

WW: Can you tell us what are the top 3 challenges you or foreigners you know have faced in Finland?

While I enjoy my life here in Finland, it is not without its challenges. These are some of mine:

(1) Suomen kieli – I’ve actually taken a basic Finnish course before even thinking about moving to Finland, from a Finnish lady who was living in Dallas. As I was working for Nokia, I thought it would be fun to learn a bit to eavesdrop on my Finnish colleagues in Dallas or on my trips to Finland 😉 I was too optimistic.

Now after almost a decade since “apina laatikossa” (the two words my first course started with), I can maybe understand 75% of children’s cartoon show, 50% of a conversation if I know the topic and context (and if they’re not speaking too fast or with too much puhekieltä), and back to 75% in a bar after certain hours (with reduced vocabulary plus sometimes they’ll toss in a few english words at this foreigner).

Speaking the language? I can’t do much other than single word responses 😛

(2) Making friends – Finns make great loyal friends, if you can manage to befriend them first. Coming from the states, where people in general tend to be more social and outgoing, I quickly learnt that in Finland I can’t just sit back and let people come to me, I have to make an effort to put myself out there to make friends. It may not be that much of a challenge for everyone, but I’m an introvert, so being social doesn’t come naturally to me.

But the friendships are worth the effort. I truly appreciate my friends here (both Finns and foreigners) for opening their hearts and sometimes even homes to me!

(3) Understanding why I’m here, a.k.a. convincing my family/friends that I’m not crazy – this was more acute of a challenge in the initial years.

People were constantly asking why I’m here and sometimes I wasn’t sure whether I was explaining to them my reasons or trying to convince myself that I made the right decision.

Why was I in a place that’s cold, where everyone spoke a weird language, without my family and friends (initially) close by, where I made 30% less for the same job level in the US, with Finnish guys breaking my heart left and right (well, only a couple of them, but each delivering me a KO blow to the ground)?

I had to repeatedly remind myself that I wanted a change, I was unhappy in the US, and while moving to Finland would not solve all problems, it was a decision I made and I should stick to it.

(4) Weather – ok, I know you asked for top 3, but this is one of those challenges that many people would bring up, and which I thought would be my biggest challenge before I moved here.

Remember that I grew up in Singapore (where 25°C is considered freezing) and was living in Dallas before the move (where the whole metroplex shuts down when it snows that one time – or two if you’re lucky – a year). Several months of below freezing temperatures and snow? How will I survive?

Surprisingly, with enough layers and glögi, my body adapted quite easily, and I actually enjoy winter more than I anticipated. Of course, I join the Finns in lamenting about long winters and short summers, but it’s more a part of life than a challenge.

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Enjoy your hot drinks with Finnish Geisha chocolates!

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

Carol:

(1) To the challenge of learning the language: If it’s within your control, come here when you’re young (defined as < 30 y.o.)!

Really, young brains are more malleable and pick up new knowledge, especially languages, faster. I think I also got complacent working in international companies, where English is the common working language, so I don’t have an immediate need to be fluent in Finnish.

Dating a Finn? Nah, their already decent English will only get better, but not my Finnish. Well, at least now I know enough so I don’t need to bring a dictionary to the supermarket, can read most menus and ask for what I want in broken Finnish, and know if someone is swearing at me.

Your motivation and circumstances will determine the command of Finnish language you’ll have. It’s a difficult, but not impossible language.

(2) To the challenge of making friends: Be sincere and persistent.

The stereotype of Finns being reserved around strangers is true for the most part, while exceptions always exist. They tend to have fewer acquaintances and a tight knit of friends. But once they consider you a friend, you’re probably gonna be friends for life.

Knowing this and understanding that they might be suspicious/hesitant at first, you’ll realise that it’s ok if they don’t warm up to you right away. Their melting point is just higher on average. Perhaps speaking fluent Finnish helps? Although mine is not at a level where I can verify that assumption.

(3) To the challenge of choosing Finland: No country is perfect, and I’m not perfect either.

But just as with finding a partner, it’s about recognising what works for you and how you complement each other. Knowing I’m here for the right reasons pulled me through the initial doubts. By about year 3, I was feeling more “at home” in Finland than I did in all my 11 year in the US (where I had a green card and bought a house as well). I’ve been referred to as a closet Finn, I guess it’s my poor command of the Finnish language that’s preventing me from coming out of the closet 😛

(4) To the challenge of weather: wear enough layers and drink lots of hot glögi/chocolate/your beverage of choice.

Also a long harsh “proper” winter tends to be followed by a pleasantly warm and “proper” summer so hang in there!

WW: Do you think it is difficult to get a job in Finland? How did you manage to overcome the difficulties?

Carol: I pondered over whether to put this as one of the top challenges.

It certainly can be a challenge, depending on the circumstances. I arrived in Finland with a job contract, so I’m lucky in not having to deal with job search while settling in with the other challenges mentioned above.

Then again I’ve also been laid off twice and had to look for jobs in Finland and finding most of them requiring fluency in Finnish (except maybe in Helsinki). I dutifully went for Finnish classes, but was progressing at a pace that I felt would never be enough to do the kind of work I want to do.

When I was laid off from Nokia, I started getting involved and organising several major tech events locally on a voluntary basis. That probably played a part in me landing a job with Jolla, which, although a Finnish company, operates internationally with English as the lingua franca (and my knowledge of Chinese was an asset).

After leaving Jolla, I joined Red Hat, which is headquartered in the US, but I’m employed by Red Hat Finland and pay taxes to Suomen verohallinto. I worked hard, continued to do what I’m passionate about (unpaid for a while), with openness to different working arrangements (I work remotely and sometimes have meetings late into the evenings with my US colleagues) and a bit of luck I’ve managed quite ok.

This is certainly not the recipe for everyone, as your opportunities and challenges in getting a job in Finland will vary greatly on your interests, profession, work and educational experiences, family obligations etc. etc.

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(representing Jolla at TalentIT Career Fair in 2013)

An introverted Finn looks at his shoes when talking to you; an extroverted Finn looks at your shoes… I’m looking at a bunch of shoes, what does that make me??

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

Carol: It seems that I’ve rambled on for quite a bit, so I’ll try to be more succinct.

Stereotypes on Finland/Finns

(A) Place is cold (B) People are cold (C) Food is bad.

Well, to the stereotype of (A) “Place is cold”. This is  not really a misconception, it does get freaking cold here. But it’s not as bad as you might think, plus there’s sauna! In a sauna, 75°C is not warm enough!

To the stereotype of (B) “People are cold”— as elaborated a bit earlier, the people are not cold, they might have a slightly hardened exterior (that looks like ice but it’s not) which you have to take some time to melt.

To the stereotype of (C) “Food is bad”–while there’s not as much variety of cuisines in Finland, the food is rather tasty – depending on the cook as well – and more importantly the produce fresh and high quality. And it’ll grow on you, I miss the bread here when I’m away for a period of time.

Stereotypes on Foreigners in Finland

(X) Foreigners are here to take jobs from the Finns (Y) Foreigners are here to sponge off the social benefits (Z) Foreigners are here to steal Finnish men/women.

Well, I think these are concerns/misconceptions not unique to Finland, but to many developed countries. While there are always some black sheep in any demographic, I think most people come here with good intentions.

Take a chance and talk to them and find out what their motivations are, you may be surprised. And if they did come here because of a Finnish partner/spouse, didn’t the Finns steal them from their home countries then? 😉

I can’t speak for others, but for myself, I can say that to the stereotype of (X) “Foreigners are here to take jobs from Finns”–the jobs are not easy to take! You’ve gotta be properly qualified and/or have a solid command of Finnish, in which case, wouldn’t the person be a positive addition for Finland’s growth?

To the stereotype of (Y) “Foreigners are here to sponge off the social benefits”— I received some benefits from KELA when I was unemployed, but I’ve paid more in taxes!

To the stereotype of (Z) “Foreigners are here to steal Finnish men/women”… Actually, think of it as an exchange rather than steal. I mean, I’m in Finland, so the probability of me meeting and being with a Finnish guy is pretty high, even if that’s not one of my initial goals coming here.

And Finland gets me in return! Hope that’s a good thing… 😀

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

Carol: More understanding and acceptance all around.

A lot of the conflicts going on in the world today are due to misunderstanding and intolerance towards others of a different race, religious belief, gender role/identity/preference, generation/age, nationality, social class, and even place of birth. I think people in Finland are generally tolerant and accepting in most aspects.

Both sides (Finns and foreigners) have to do some work to bridge the last mile, and then we can set an example for the rest of the world. Ergo, achieving world peace 🙂

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

Carol: Finland as a nation and Finns as a race have pretty strong identity and culture, and I can empathise with their desire to guard and protect it from being diluted by foreigners and immigrants.

However, I think a happy medium can be reached by keeping the important and positive parts of your culture (like talkoot and sisu), while integrating new ones that make sense. There’ll be changes to the identity, but it’ll be for the better.

I’d still like the Finnish language to remain, difficult as it is, maybe one day I’ll have enough mastery of it to claim it as my superpower. Promote English as the second official language in the country and in workplaces, so Finland can have a firmer foothold in globalisation. Nothing against the Swedish language, but I haven’t met many Finns who claimed studying it made their lives better.

Finally I hope that (probably futilely) global warming will not mess with the climates too much. In recent years we’ve been getting more and more black (snowless) Christmases. This is not good.. part of Finland’s charm is the snow and skiing and Santa Claus and the cold that comes with it so you can appreciate sauna/hot spiked cocoa so much more.

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Order a Santa from Finland!

WW: What are some of the advice you might have for aspiring foreigners who want to come to Finland?

Carol: If you’ve read thus far, congrats! (and thanks!) You have what it takes to persevere in Finland 😉

If any of the above resonate with you, maybe you’re in a similar crossroads in your life as I was, or we share some backgrounds/characteristics, perhaps my experiences and suggestions will be helpful.

If not, just forget what I said.

Because you will have your own observations and set of challenges that will shape your experience in Finland. That’s not to say that you won’t be able to get support. I –and I believe many other foreigners in Finland– will be more than happy to lend a listening ear. Our set of problems may not coincide but will overlap to some extent.

Keep an open mind, and remember: layers. Layers of clothing, and layers you’ll have to work through to touch the people and learn the systems and language here. The rewards will be all the sweeter.

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

Carol: LOL it looks like I’ve failed to be succinct. So I’ll just end off with an invitation to connect with me on Twitter or Facebook to continue the conversation if so desired. I’m interested to hear your thoughts and questions!


We hope you have enjoyed this interview! The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? led by the Prime Minister’s Office. All photos courtesy of Carol.

 

The Garden of Eden: An analysis of why Singaporeans and Finns think so differently.

Commentary, Finnish Culture

Have you ever thought about why Singaporeans and Finns think so differently? I’d thought about this before, and in the end I concluded that it’s because of the differences in attitude towards nature.

So today I am going to use the Garden of Eden as an analogy to illustrate the differences in premise/ foundation of thought by Singaporeans and Finns. Some other day this week I will write about this poem 桃花源記 by Tao Yuan Ming, to give an analysis of why Finns might be in general suspicious of foreigners.

“What exactly is the garden of Eden”, you might ask. Here is a biblical description of it:

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. —Genesis 2:9

So let me ask you a simple question:

What is the function of the garden of Eden?

Did God create the garden of Eden for human beings to nurture each other, or did God create the garden of Eden for human beings to fight each other, such as life becomes the survival of the fittest?

Seriously, just take a moment to think about it. Why did God create the garden of Eden, and why did God include a stupid tree of the knowledge of good and evil there? What’s the function of the tree? Is it to celebrate the beauty of free choice and will, or is it done purposely to cause Man to sin?

Most Finns will answer that the garden of Eden is created with the intention to nurture. There is no need to worry, because you can find all you need in the garden. There is no lack of food, water and clean air. People help each other out. Singing, dancing, relaxing in the sun, watching leaves fall from trees are appreciated. Basically you do things because you feel like it.

Are you suddenly unemployed? No worries! You’d be employed soon, because the garden nurtures. You’d somehow get help from nature, or from the community. There’s no need to worry that you’d die from poverty–the state provides and nurtures.

On the contrary, most Singaporeans will answer that it doesn’t matter what the garden of Eden is created for. Just look at the garden now–what is–the modern day earth. It IS a battle of survival of the fittest, there is lack, you can’t anyhow sing in this damn garden because it doesn’t make you money. We should chop down trees to build more buildings to generate more money and profits just in case we lack in future!

The continual propagation of “Singapore only has natural resources” contributes to this “lack” mentality of self-reliance. You have to earn your own keep here. There is no such things as “unemployment benefit”–you have to work to get something. If you are poor, you seriously won’t be able to survive with a peace of mind in Singapore. A wise way to progress is to be elitist and really be very, very rich. Basically, this implies that what is more prized is when you do things even when you do not feel like it. Along the way, if you do too many things you don’t feel like doing, but society expects you to do because it is “progress”, then you will lose a sense of what you like and who you are.

The analogy of the garden of Eden explains why “progress” to Singaporeans is interpreted as “greed” to Finns. Both Finns and Singaporeans work really, really hard. But when the average Finn work hard, the motivation tends to be intrinsic. When the average Singaporean work hard, the motivation tends to be external.

It’s very simple. If you see the garden of Eden as nurturing as a typical Finn would, then a person taking more flowers for himself “just because” is interpreted as Greed. But to the average Singaporean, if I take more flowers for myself, it is because I fear that I would run out of flowers in future and die. So I have the ability to stock up, and it is therefore progress.

Why is there mistrust between Finns and Singaporeans sometimes? It’s simply because they don’t recognise this difference in the premise of thought. And as there is more and more lack in Finland, due to the shit economy, more Finns are starting to even doubt the original “nurturing” intention of the garden of Eden. Does intention even matter, or should Finns play by the games of “survival of the fittest”?

I had this professor at Aalto, and he once said that “Nobody is against the welfare state system in Finland, we just have to find a way to fund it.” I had always found the phrasing very weird, and thought it was bullshit. You see, this sounds like a typical public-relations statement to justifying elitist sentiments, and disproportionate wealth.

But after understanding the differences in premise of thought, I think there is great wisdom to what he is saying. He is probably saying, “We should always keep in mind that the garden of Eden is to nurture, even IF we are facing lack due to the current prolonged recession. We must think hard of how to get additional revenue for the country.”

The simple answer to this additional revenue is via exports market.

Why hasn’t Finns tackled the exports market much yet? The answer is because (1) Finns are in general suspicious of foreigners; (2) Finland is located at a rather isolated area in Europe.

I will write about exactly how to to tackle overseas expansion more quickly in my next post (when I have time this week), by analysing the Chinese poem 桃花源記.

P.S. If you ask a Singaporean about trees, an average Singaporean will tell you that “trees are trees”. But if you ask a Finn about trees, I think they can tell trees apart, even by names.