“My name is Shania and I’m from South Korea. I was born 1976. I try not to count my age. I came to Finland in August 2012 as a Master’s degree student. It was my second Master’s degree and I graduated in May 2014.
The first question is always “where do you come from?” I’d only introduce myself as a Korean; I am from Korea. Then people would ask “North or South?”… are you kidding me? So I started to say that I’m from South Korea. And then they’d ask why I came to Finland. And the third question is a much more sad one: “When are you going to return to your home country?”
I came to Finland after 12 years of working in Korea. I used to work for quite well-known international companies: Coca Cola, Deutsche Bank and Standard Charter. I completed one Master’s degree there, but somehow I did not find it enough of a challenge. I realised that I didn’t enjoy myself any longer, so I decided to quit and I prepared to go to the States – like every other Korean. I sent every application paper except one: the letter of motivation. The schools kept urging me. But I could not start that letter because it was really hard for me to convince myself. Why do I have to go to the States? Because the others are going? It was not sufficient for me.
One day I saw a short video clip about the Finnish education system. It was very impressive and changed my plan completely. I started searching for the subject that I wanted to study. The funny thing is that I started from ‘A’ and I began by searching courses from the University of Helsinki. I saw ‘Adult Education’, clicked it and liked what I read. So I decided to apply for a Master’s in Adult Education.
Many Finns do not understand why people like me come to Finland. They simply assume it’s the free tuition fees. But I completely disagree. I have an endless list, if you ask I could keep giving reasons until tomorrow or even until the end of the week. So don’t even try to argue about that issue with me. Because of that belief people think that we take the benefit, the free education system and then leave because we don’t want to stay in this dark and cold country.
Many also ask if I have a Finnish boyfriend or Finnish spouse. I’m single since I was born so that is not my case. But I said that yes, I’ve fallen in love… with Finns. Not one single Finnish guy. The Finns. And I like it here, especially nature and the lifestyle; keeping the balance between work and life. And the core values make my life too easy. I even like their culture and I’d like to learn more about the history.
In Korea we are taught and we learn to speak indirectly. So we have to read between lines and focus more effort on reading what the other one is saying. As I mentioned, I also used to work for American and European companies and many old bosses or supervisors said “brilliant, awesome, excellent”. That does not mean excellent. Sometimes it just means “you did your job”. So there I had to think twice and now in Finland I don’t need to. I really like that, it makes my life much easier. If you drop a glove on the street you will find it the next day exactly in the same spot. That’s what I like.
I can’t see myself as a typical Korean. I’m not so fond of the collective culture. They care about each other too much and there people simply ask “why did you not get married?” This is my private life and I did not allow them to invade my privacy. Here that is only the question when they get to know me and they really start caring about my life. I like the culture that people can have their one metre distance when they are waiting for the bus. I prefer that lifestyle so I think that makes it much easier to adapt because that’s what I desire. And as for me that’s why I prefer having friendships here with Finns because, as you know, it takes time. They don’t need to be nice from the beginning. But once they start opening their house and open their heart, then that’s the time when you experience how much they care about you. So I really like Finnish style friendships.
From the beginning I had a chance to meet a lot of good Finns and they treated me like family. My friends range in age from teenagers to sixty years old. When I studied at the University of Helsinki I didn’t want to mingle with the international students only. In a more honest way I tried to avoid it because I didn’t want to be an isolated island. I could meet other people in other countries but I quite seldom got the opportunity to meet Finns. Since arriving I wanted to learn from local people by experiencing their life, so I joined the Hämäläinen osakunta, one of the student associations – for those who come from the Häme region. And except for me all the others are Finns and very typical Häme people. But still that was one of the ways I could learn about how others experience things.
The other way is that since the first Sunday I was in Finland I attended a church that I’m still going to today. Half of the people are international and half of them are Finns. And from that community I met other Finns as well and many actually invited me to their hometowns. I went to Haapajärvi, invited by my Finnish flatmate and I stayed there after Christmas until the new year. It’s in the middle of nowhere, one or two hours from Oulu. There I really experienced what the complete darkness and peace means. Others invited me to their homes over Christmas time or even to family gatherings, like to a reception when a friend’s daughter graduated from high school. I also had the chance to go to a summer cottage in Savo. So I’ve really been able to experience Finnish life and my hosts have appreciated what I’ve told them because they have not seen it through my eyes before.”