“I was studying for a Master’s in mechanical power engineering at Cairo University before I came to Finland, but it was disrupted because I had to do about 14 months’ compulsory military service in the Egyptian army. I didn’t finish my Master’s because I started working right away after the army and my job was quite demanding; 12 hours a day every day. The plan was to finish my studies in Cairo and then apply for study in Finland, so that I would in the end have two Master’s degrees, one in mechanical power engineering and one in something else, but it hasn’t happened like that.
When I came to Finland it was tough converting Egyptian pounds to euros; one euro was worth about ten Egyptian pounds. I had savings of around 100,000 Egyptian pounds and that was roughly 10,000 euros. I thought I would be fine for the two years of my degree here. But in November 2016 the government re-evaluated the currency and the value dropped. Suddenly 100,000 pounds became about 5,000 euros. I was like, “Nooo! I already escaped that, I left the country!” It was a hard issue for me, but I managed. I made a strict budget and I’m keeping it very basic and eating quite a lot at the university mealtimes. The apartment I have is really cheap too, 165 euros per month.
I like my apartment, it’s up high. No one is looking at me and I don’t need to have my curtains closed. My mum used to cook for me, and this is a really big problem these days because I have no idea how to cook, and I’m a bit lazy. So I’m stuck on the university food for so many reasons, money is just one. One weekend I had an Afghani guy teaching me how to cook chicken. I have now been doing that same chicken recipe every weekend because it’s about the only thing I know how to cook.
One problem in Finland is Ramadan because the sun doesn’t go down here at all. But the guys at the mosque in Oulu can give permission to fast according to Mecca time if you feel it’s too much or too hard fasting for 23 hours.
The thing about Mecca time is that it gives me a small issue with the university cafe. Following Mecca time the sunrise would be something like 3.30 am in Finland and sunset would be 7pm. So when I’m actually allowed to eat, the student restaurants are closed.
I asked if I could do the same hours, but eat at the university restaurant – because otherwise I was not sure where I was going to eat. But that was not allowed. Not everyone is that strict, though, so I just thought I could make up some rule to follow so that it is convenient for me. Some people at the student union have also requested that we be allowed to get take-away. If none of this works I’ll have to cook for myself.
There is a mosque in Oulu city centre. I usually go only on Fridays. It’s quite far and I’m not that religious. There are people who go praying five times a day. In Egypt there are like three mosques on every street. The other prayers I do at home. I’m not that involved. I’m too busy with school.
I don’t think I will be going back to Egypt on holidays or anything. I’ll try and do my thesis here and maybe a PhD or something. My family is in Cairo. I have three siblings: two sisters and one brother. My brother is older, 30, and he has also left the country to Germany. He is working as a software engineer in Munich. My older sister is trying to leave the country. She got her Master’s degree from Egypt last year. She is trying to get a PhD outside the country. My youngest sister is doing her Master’s and probably after that trying to leave too. Mum and dad are still in Egypt.
Everyone was affected by the overthrow of the president. We were doing really badly before the Arab spring. But now it’s much worse than 2011 and many people want to leave the country. The reason I came to Finland was that I needed to get out and my options were Norway, Germany and Finland for my education. I didn’t want to go to Germany, because it was getting very crowded and there were many immigrants. It was very competitive to get in. There are many Egyptians and Arabs going there and they have language requirements. So it was Norway or Finland.
My first choice was Norway. I applied for schools all over Norway and Finland and I was happy when I was accepted to two universities in Norway. I was planning to go there, but then I got accepted into Oulu and I read about the prices in Norway. They are crazy high. It also didn’t feel like they would support the studies as much there, like the food, apartments and things. I also read about getting the citizenship and permanent residence. It was much harder in Norway, seven years, and they don’t even count the study years. The downside with Finland was the language. I studied Norwegian through Duolingo and it was easy. I also know some German, I studied it in high school. So I made lists with plus and minus and then I ended up choosing Finland.
I like it here, I like the studies. I also got an internship at my faculty. I’m happy because I’m getting paid in euros and when I convert it it’s so much money. Nothing really to complain about. I’m getting paid, learning and living in a really nice country. Everything is clean and organised, people are respecting and nice. I have not encountered any racism. Or once actually. It was at 3am, people were out partying. I was with a friend, who is Finnish. But his mother is from South America, so he looks very Arabic. And so there was this guy shouting to my friend – not even me – to go back to his country. It was kind of funny. My friend didn’t even respond.
I don’t know if I want to get married to someone from Egypt or Finland. It depends on the girl. If I find the right one, it doesn’t matter where she’s from. But the Finnish girls have set the bar really high, they are very smart and pretty. They have very strong personalities. If there is a mutual understanding and we share the same values, it doesn’t matter if she’s not Muslim. It all depends on whether we like each other and want to be together.”
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Peter Seenan recorded an interview with Ahmed in Oulu in 2017 about his life in Finland. If you wish to support our work in sharing the reflections of immigrants please like our Facebook page and share Ahmed’s story.