Meg Sakilayan-Latvala in Helsinki, Finland

“As a migrant in Finland you have to be 2-3 times better than your native competitors”

Meg, The Philippines

I worked as a clinical psychologist in the Philippines and I used to teach in the university as well. When I moved here, I didn’t have the language and had to start from zero. But I guess the difference between me and most migrants that I’ve been working with during the last 5-6 years is that I kinda knew myself before I moved here. I had a sense of who I was and what I wanted to do when I arrived. Since I knew that already, I was able to find my way to learn the language by using the skills that I already had. But not everyone can do that.

I think it is one of the things that the system in Finland does not really know how to value. For example, in Canada they have the point system so at least they recognise that there are people who are highly educated and could do something right away. That was missing here; you have it for some professions, but people are different and we should see what they already have and move from there instead of thinking about what they don’t have and then start from there. I think that’s a very ineffective way of doing stuff. It’s the same as starting a business; you start with what you have, not with what you don’t have.

I was 28 or 29 when I first came here and I have been here over 10 years. I first arrived in October, Friday the 13th, in 2006. It was dark and rainy, but colorful. My friends from the Philippines were joking about it. They wondered why I chose that day, it was bad luck. I officially moved in April 2007. I got my residence permit. I always say that I didn’t move to Finland before that, even if I first arrived in 2006.

It was difficult. There are pros and cons to the fact that I already had a career back home; you have an idea about what you want to do but then when the thing you want to do is very specific then it’s also difficult to find exactly what you want. I had to be flexible and work hard I guess to get what I wanted. It’s a combination of luck, hard work and being in the right place at the right time.


MEG: There are certain things in a migrant’s life that are common among everyone. There is a sense of adventure, there’s risk and being comfortable with the uncertainties around you.


When you are a migrant in Finland you have to be 2-3 times better than your native competitors. Even if the country is equal but you are a coloured migrant woman, you have to work harder than your colleagues and prove yourself. You have to be better than anyone else. But it’s hard to start from zero or even just somewhere.

I’m just starting to stop proving myself, I feel like I’ve now done enough and from this day onwards I can just breathe, relax and help other people. But still there’s this feeling of needing to be better. But then again that’s a part of being a migrant as well. There is this identity that comes with it. This is one of the things that inspired me to continue studying even if I already have a degree. I could have gone through Valvira and had my clinical psychological degree recognised just like that, but I didn’t do that. I had to learn Finnish like a native speaker, which at that point was quite impossible. Then I started looking around trying to find myself within the crowd, you know. I found myself in a group that had the same issues, difficult language, not getting a job, being underestimated. I figured that it was interesting and I wanted to find out more and find myself through that and so I studied ethnic relations at the University of Helsinki and social psychology.

For me it was a very good experience knowing that there are certain things in a migrant’s life that are common among everyone. There is a sense of adventure, there’s risk and being comfortable with the uncertainties around you. I moved here voluntarily, I made the decision and had the privilege of making a decision for myself. In a sense I had control over the risks, I was old enough or mature enough to think about the pros and cons to make sure that I make the right decision. But the risks – I don’t think there’s anything that could have prepared you for that. There this abstract risk in your head and then suddenly when it happens you realise “oops, this is the risk happening”.


MEG: I’m just starting to stop proving myself, I feel like I’ve now done enough and from this day onwards I can just breathe, relax and help other people.


I come from the Philippines and it’s very well known for people moving out the country. My parents were migrants. They were migrant workers. When I was younger one of them was always somewhere else working, in another country. It was like that until I was about 10-11. I lived in the reality that one of them was always away. After high school I felt like I didn’t want to move, I wanted to stay. I was one of the few Filipinos who, I think, would want to stay and advocate for the people in the country. I mean, if everyone leaves then who will take care of the people in the country.

When I told my friends that I was leaving to Finland for a trip they just said okay. But then the next time I mailed them I said I was staying and they were all like “What?!” I came to visit Finland because my then boyfriend, who I met in the Philippines, was a Finnish guy. We met through work, since we were both psychologists in an NGO. We collaborated on some stuff, met, dated and then he left to Finland and I stayed in the Philippines. At some point, he asked if I’d like to visit. By that time I had never been outside the country, but I travelled a lot within the Philippines. And so I came here October 13th 2006 and then never went back, I stayed. Life happened.

It was difficult, I have always been very family-oriented and I always thought I would be the one taking care of my parents. I’m also the oldest of four and the only girl. I always had this idea that at some point I would be the one stuck at home with my parents.

That’s why I travelled a lot. I left home when I was 15 to move to the southern part of the country, to the muslim area, to study in college. So I was away from home for a while. But the idea of being at home, I mean, this is what many oldest girls do. I was very homesick and I realised it was because I made a decision that I was not prepared for. I always thought I would go back and be at my parents’ place.


MEG: At Nicehearts we try and make women realise what their opportunities are and the tons of possibilities that the world offers. I always remind the women I work with that if you are unemployed at the moment that does not mean that it will always be the case.


Then when I officially moved I was able to process all these thoughts and reflect. I felt like I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to any of my friends, family members, relatives and all. It just happened. We call it despedida, this farewell party. I did it eventually in 2008 when I went back and had my daughter with me. Now I speak Finnish and people don’t always ask me where I’m from and why I moved, but before I always felt it was such a cliché that I came for love. There’s nothing special to that.

At present, I work for an NGO called Nicehearts and our main goal is to foster social inclusion. We make sure that women and girls have space and voice to say what they want to say and do what they want to do. I’m connected with Neighbourhood Mothers, it’s a model from Denmark and Germany. So I just copied it in. The idea is that there are already many active women in the communities, who’d like to get their own chance to be whatever they want to be. Many of the women we work with are already totally active, they have a lot of things going on and they have done many things in their lives – but they are still unemployed.

Sometimes I feel like I’m so privileged to be working with these talented women, very professional women. There are times when I ask myself why am I getting paid for this, while these very talented women are still unemployed. We’d like to help women and Neighbourhood Mothers develop so that they can help others. We think that’s going to double or triple our time and input. We try and make women realise what their opportunities are and the tons of possibilities that the world offers. I always remind the women I work with that if you are unemployed at the moment that does not mean that it will always be the case. So meanwhile you can develop yourself, grow your network and get to know yourself better to be able to know what you want to do. And the result of this long-term empowerment is that many of the women get into work life. Nicehearts has a large network and cooperation with government agencies and other NGOs to help find jobs, placements and practice places. Within the Neighbourhood Mothers programme we want the women to help themselves before they can help others and to own their power.

Other eye-opening stories: 

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 Meg’s story. 

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