This story was written by Tram Vo from VIETNAM.
I am Tram Vo from Vietnam. I got a chance to study a Bachelors degree in Business Administration in Finland, the best country for education. I have lived here for around three and a half years so there have been many many great experiences, but also challenges that I did not get whilst living in Vietnam. I would like to share my story about language and cultural barriers.
When we grow up in our homelands, we are affected by behaviors, thoughts and lifestyles from our surroundings. Growing up, we are eager to learn from other countries, how their life is and what makes them different from us. As a Vietnamese student studying in Finland, I found it was quite difficult to adapt to a new life from the beginning, my head was empty when I came to Finland. At school, I attended a course introducing Finnish customs and culture. To me, the course was not enough. I needed more real life experience and to read more cultural books. I wondered why Finnish females apply too much makeup, and why Finnish males are so muscley. The answer is that they respect their bodies and want to be and look healthy. Our bodies will not function well forever but exercise helps us to be younger and avoid depression and sickness.
In Vietnam I only wore normal, boring clothes at home and at school and did not take much care about my body. Finland lets me know that I am a young woman, that I need to pay attention to what my appearance says about me. With a slim budget, we can buy things from secondhand shops. We can get a totally new item with a low price simply because it is unnecessary from the sellers. Sitting in front of the laptop too much makes me gain weight, move slowly and feel tired, and I do not want additional fat. To deal with this, I changed my lifestyle by attending public events to improve my Finnish skills, did some exercise and read more books. I also paid attention to my diet by avoiding sugar and fat. I have eaten more fruits and vegetables. After a week, I felt more healthy, positive and energetic.
It is commonly said that the Finns are very quiet in public and at home. They respect personal space. They do not communicate as much as Vietnamese people. Disturbing their neighbors and making noise is not their style. In Vietnam it is normal to look at everyone, everywhere on the street. In Finland, when walking on the street, you just look straight down the street. It is impolite to look at the Finns, and the Finns will realize that you looked at them. This situation is called the private space. They do not want to disturb others.
I have learned that they are highly independent, meaning that they try their best to deal with problems themselves and limit asking for help. Being independent makes you more creative, strong and wise. You may think that is why the Finns are so distant and cold with everybody. However, once you understand the Finns and gradually adapt to Finnish culture, you will learn a lot from them and everything will become very awesome. Individual efforts make you more confident, make you face problems head on and find solutions to control your own life.
In Vietnam, we have only two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. However, there are four clear seasons in Finland requiring you to wear clothes seasonally. Finland begins the year with winter which is a very long, beautiful, strong season. In this time, we need to keep warm enough to avoid consequences in the long term, drink vitamin D for your bones and do exercise. There are many interesting sports you only play in the winter. For example, Nordic walking, downhill skiing, skating are all great.
You may think that is why the Finns are so distant and cold with everybody. However, once you understand the Finns and gradually adapt to Finnish culture, you will learn a lot from them and everything will become very awesome.
Then the spring comes and your life changes, since the ice and snow melt, you will see more sunlight, singing birds and small red buds. Life flourishes. I sometimes miss the sunny days in Vietnam as they are hot and energetic. Most people like the summer as it is the hottest time in the year. They will enjoy nature, for example going swimming, going to the forest and attending musical events. In summer, winter clothes should not be in your wardrobe but summer clothes. Autumn is attractive by its yellow, red or even golden leaves. How can you control your heart when seeing many beautiful yellow trees?
The next aspect I emphasize is language. I faced many difficulties because of language. I could not attend events in Finnish language, except music events. It was hard to find a part time or full time job relating to my business studies with my limited Finnish skills. I cannot say that Finnish is difficult as we are all different and have specific points. The Finns prefer speaking Finnish rather than English with foreigners, as they have high ethnic pride.
Finnish and Swedish are the main languages in Finland. Around 5% of people speak Swedish. There is also the Sámi ethical language. There are no genders, or positions in Finnish but there around sixteen suffixes having different meanings. It is a Finnish say that ‘Practice makes perfect’. It is very correct in studying Finnish and in generally, you should practice many times otherwise you will forget them quickly. You will be surprised when information on the food packets is in Finnish and Swedish. There are more people speaking English in the capital Helsinki, so you may find it easier to live here because of the crowd, language, jobs and many interesting things.
Understanding Finnish language makes you more comfortable to live here as you can communicate with the locals, understand what is going on surrounding you, especially the culture and the Finns themselves. My life was not easy when I did not understand Finnish. There is no news on TV, job advertisements, notices which are not mainly in Finnish. There are also programs and events aimed at the Finns so I missed chances to learn new things. Everyday you just try a little bit until a certain time you understand that your Finnish skills are developed and do not forget to practice regularly. Living in a foreign country will force you to develop yourself, to adapt to a new environment and have an opened mind. I try to work and save money for traveling.
This story was part of Safety First for Girls (SAFIGIs) #SharingNotShaming campaign.