An engineer by trade who arrived in Finland as a student, Mercy is now a working mother of four. In her blog, Simply Finnoy Mom, she shares about life in Finland, its culture and her journey of motherhood in a country she considers amazing. To see more of her posts, check out her blog and follow her on Instagram.
Read more about expat life in our Expat Arrivals Finland country guide.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I was born in the Philippines.
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: I currently live in Kauhava, Finland.
Q: When did you move here?
A: I moved to Finland in 2005, and I stayed in Vaasa for four years before moving to my current city, Kauhava.
Q: Is this your first expat experience and did you travel here alone or with family?
A: Yes, it is. I travelled alone, but I lived with my aunt and her husband for a while, so I already had relatives living here.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved here to study. I was already a university student back in my country but my aunt (my father’s sister) asked me to take an entrance exam for university in Finland. I got accepted, and I started a new degree and then graduated here.
Living in Kauhava and Vaasa
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the Philippines?
A: When I moved here, my host city was Vaasa and I lived there for four years. I enjoyed the calmness of the city, plus it’s close to the seaside and I have my relatives close by. I learned to use a bicycle for my everyday transport, including when going to school, even though buses are available. It’s more peaceful to cycle and there’s less heavy traffic compared to my home country.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: Some might experience discrimination in their early years, but I did not experience any, and I lived with my aunt and her husband, so I was taught how Finns are.
What I miss most about home – other than the warm weather as it is summer year-round there – is the joyfulness of the people. Filipinos are so quick to drop a smile. It's impossible not to smile, which is almost the opposite when it comes to Finns.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Finns are not the type to make small talk, and they keep to their personal space, but they love saunas – and being naked in the sauna, which I didn’t understand in the beginning. But I would say the biggest adjustment is the language. I needed to learn the language quickly to be able to communicate better.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to the Philippines? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Finland?
A: The cost of living in Finland is more expensive than in the Philippines, but we also have a lot of benefits here. Taxes are high, but they go to things such as social benefits and education.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Kauhava?
A: In Kauhava, buses and trains are used for inter-city transport, but Kauhava is a smaller city compared to Vaasa. Here we usually travel by car or bicycle to access everything in the city.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Kauhava? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: The healthcare here in Kauhava is excellent. It’s different from bigger cities. Here, we do not have to wait long to see the doctor, and dentists are also easily accessible. In some cities, people wait for months to get an appointment for a dentist in the public sector, but not in Kauhava. It’s also nice to have the same healthcare personnel that we had eight years ago, so we don’t need to continuously introduce ourselves at every appointment.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Finland?
A: Finland is a safe country, that’s why I love raising my kids here. Finns are very calm and honest people.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Kauhava? What different options are available for expats?
A: I know someone who is renting a house here with three bedrooms for the same price as a studio apartment in a bigger city. So, compared to other cities, rates are cheaper in Kauhava.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Kauhava is a smaller city, which means small numbers of immigrants, so if an expat wants to live in a more multicultural environment then I recommend bigger cities.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Kauhava?
A: As I mentioned earlier, Finns keep to themselves, so it isn't easy for them to accept foreigners right away. Some people have experienced discrimination, but I didn’t because I focused on learning the language to communicate with locals. Though my husband is a Finn, Kauhava was a totally new city for us when we moved here 11 years ago, but I never felt any discrimination. Our neighbours are very friendly and welcoming.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: It is for me, I am that kind of person who doesn’t wait for someone to approach me to make friends, I feel too awkward waiting in that space. I was part of an international group of students when I first came to Finland to study, and I was the only one from my country. Most of us are still friends, even though we don’t see each other as much as we used to. Finnish friends are very loyal so once you have one, they are for keeps.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: I have both groups. When I moved to this smaller city, Kauhava, I was on maternity leave and I only knew one person. So, I joined a lot of mothers and family group activities that the city was offering. The group is in Finnish, but sometimes they would speak to me in English. However, I wanted to improve my language skills, so I tried to speak in Finnish. Eventually, everyone spoke to me in Finnish which helped me improve considerably. The best part is that some of those kids in the group became my kid’s classmates and friends in school too. So they have known each other since they were young.
My advice for expats who are looking for local friends: try to speak to them in their language and to learn their culture. Get out of your comfort zone.
Working in Kauhava
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I came here with a student visa and could work for limited hours while on that visa.
Q: What is the economic climate in Kauhava like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Being active when job hunting is very important. The work situation is changing a lot, and knowing the language is a big advantage when applying for work, as well as having the right network.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Finland? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to local business culture?
A: It is easy to find a balance between work and home. Employers are very flexible to workers who have a family, especially those who have small children.
Family and children
Q: How has your spouse or partner adjusted to your new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: My husband is a Finn, but we moved here to our home for work 11 years ago without any relatives. It was challenging and still is for him.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: All my children were born in Finland.
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in Kauhava?
A: The playground, the library and the forest. My kids love books, and it is great to have the library and the library bus that goes around the area too. There are four playgrounds close to our house and one of them is just about 150 metres away. We love forest trips, and it’s really great to have forests everywhere in Finland. In the summer, there’s a lake to swim in which is about five-minute drive from home.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Schools are great in Finland. If the kids do not speak the local language, they will be put in preparatory education first before putting them into the basic primary education where Finnish or Swedish is the language of instruction. I don’t have any experience with this because our kids were born here and speak the language.
Schools in Finland are great. Primary school has very short days, and they have a lot of free time and playtime. They also have a warm lunch every day – they do not have to bring money and pay for their lunch. Every student in the class has a lunch break together with their teacher.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Kauhava or Finland?
A: I would suggest that if you are an expat in Finland, try to get to know the culture of the country. Learn the language, be active in getting more information and making local contacts, but at the same time let them also know who you are and what culture you have. It is important to learn from both sides. To learn the language, you need to be active in having the conversational part and not just the theory.
►Interviewed June 2020