Duong in Helsinki

“Finnish companies can benefit a lot from foreigners”

Duong 

My name is Duong (pronounced “Young”), but everybody has a problem saying it. I’m Vietnamese and I’m 26 years old. I work for The Shortcut. I came to Finland in 2012 and I studied in Lahti University of Applied Sciences. Finland is popular for us Vietnamese because you can get free education, unlike in the UK, USA or Australia. No one is really prepared for the cold though, and the most surprising thing is the Finnish language. It’s quite hard and it’s also hard to get a job. I think Lahti is a nice place to live, but there is nothing there, no jobs. I think Helsinki is better, like a promised land for foreigners.

Most of my friends moved back to Vietnam immediately after graduation, but I decided that I didn’t want to leave. I mean, sometimes you wonder if you made the right decision. They moved, they have friends there, they have family there, they have really nice jobs. We were all doing very well at the university and then they went home to a place where they speak the language. Some of them have been promoted to be managers and so on. I sometimes wonder, what if I was there now. Where am I going? You can get a job if you graduate from IT, but not hospitality or science. I struggled as well. I got a job in a Vietnamese restaurant. I love the job because I love cooking, but it’s not 100% relevant to what I studied at university.


Duong: “I used to work as a cleaner in a hotel in Espoo. There were many people there working with the same background; engineering students, IT students – and we end up cleaning.”


I used to work as a cleaner in a hotel in Espoo. There were many people there working with the same background; engineering students, IT students – and we end up cleaning. I don’t have anything against cleaning, but I don’t want to do that forever. It educates you how to endure and it improves your physical condition. It’s a hard job and you have to work alone. You have very limited time to clean one room. I guess that’s why I try and keep the rooms very clean whenever I stay in a hotel.

When I stopped doing the hotel thing I was wondering what if I just go back to Vietnam with all my friends and have a nice life there. But then when I spoke to them about it they told me not to come back because the society is something else. If you are used to living in Finland it’s a hard job to get used to the situation in Vietnam. Transparency, the political situation and everything – even the lifestyle. What my friends have said has helped me to settle here.

People have different goals in their lives and even when we have the same goal, there are many different ways to go there. So they choose their way and I choose mine. At one point I decided I might go to Austria to do my master’s because I’m so in love with human resources things. Austria has a university that offers a really nice master’s programme in HR, very specific. I told my boss at the hotel that I was going to quit my job and start to study for my master’s. One week after I quit I got a call from my friends at the Vietnamese restaurant. They said they needed more people for the summer, so I said I could try to stay, but that I had a plan to go abroad. In the end I promised to stay until the end of the summer – that was last summer and I’m still working there.


Duong: “I think Finnish companies can benefit a lot from foreigners. If they want to go global or export they will get huge help from having a local on their team.”


My residence permit expired in the end of June 2017. I had to decide to either leave for Austria or take a risk and stay in Finland, hoping to find a full-time job. I didn’t even know if the job would give me a residence permit, but if it didn’t I would have had to go back to Vietnam. Austria gave me one week to reply, just yes or no. It took me one or two days to really think about it. Then I said I would stay. I felt like I would be studying my favourite thing, but I would have to start everything again. I would have to study German instead of Finnish. After that I asked to get a full-time job and I got it. Then I applied to get the residence permit, and now I can stay for another four years.

At The Shortcut, I used to be a volunteer, helping with the events and doing catering and things. In July I started to do more for their HR team and then they asked me to join as an intern. After turning down Austria I feel like this internship is now my opportunity to learn and have more connections.

For me The Shortcut is an organisation that tries to promote diversity and lower the barrier to get in the startup ecosystem in Finland. We have workshops and learning opportunities to connect people with the ecosystem. There is perhaps less focus on people like us, the ones who just moved here to study, but I know there are so many of us out there. I was surrounded by people like me, all of us were engineering masters or bachelors struggling to find a job. We’d end up cleaning and things.


Duong: “When I was in Tampere and waiting for a flight, the room was full of people, but the only sound you could hear was someone turning a page of a newspaper.”


I feel the government has tried hard to help the companies open their doors and hire us, but on the other hand I feel like the companies themselves give limited attempts to hire foreign people. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a problem with the mindset. When I was doing my thesis I read a lot about how the mindset of the forest people affects the mind of Finnish people. They are sceptical about things that are non-Finnish. Also people can communicate super well in English, but they don’t want to do it. I think Finnish companies can benefit a lot from foreigners. If they want to go global or export they will get huge help from having a local on their team. Otherwise, they have to spend so much time on the research and they don’t know the local language. Also, we have the connections.

In the future I would like to combine my knowledge of HR and recruiting in the field of IT. I have noticed that we have excellent people in IT in Vietnam, but the barrier is the language. I’ve noticed in Singapore that a lot of IT is outsourced to Vietnam and I want to do something similar in Finland or the Nordic countries. You’ll notice a very big difference in the salaries there. I want to study some coding when I have time. I know I can’t work in the restaurant forever so I have to find something long-term. The volunteer work at The Shortcut will come to an end at some point and I also want to earn more money to be able to invest in other things too.

I find people here a bit introverted. When I was in Tampere and waiting for a flight, the room was full of people, but the only sound you could hear was someone turning a page of a newspaper. I like Finland because it’s a place where you don’t have to worry about many things. The situation of the security has become a bit more difficult, but you don’t have to worry. If I leave my bag by mistake I will find it eventually and if I make a mistake at my bank account I’ll get the money back. People are just so nice, they try and help you.

Other resources: 

Andruta: “Seeing other women were so comfortable with nudity in the sauna made me more willing to embrace my own body”

Amjad: “At the reception center, we had an invitation from the sauna society and nobody wanted to go, except me”

Greg: “I feel alive, instead of being stuck in some really monotonous routine”


Interview by Peter Seenan recorded in Helsinki, Finland in 2017. If you wish to support our work in projecting the voices and achievements of immigrants in Finland please like our Facebook page and share Duong’s story. 

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