Finding Home in Eastern Finland

The first time I heard the sentence ”Everyone says they’ll stay at first, but they all leave” was during my first month in Finland. I had just arrived in Joensuu as an international student in English Language and Culture master’s program, eager to experience the beautiful nature and unique culture of this country. As I spoke with a kind Finnish woman who helps international students find accommodations, I expressed my love for the city and my hope to stay for a while. But her words left me with a feeling of uncertainty and doubt. 

As I continued my studies, I met many international students who left immediately after graduation, confirming that woman’s words. At the time, my only concern was that it was difficult to form lasting friendships since everyone seemed to leave as soon as they graduated. 

However, soon it was my turn to face the harsh reality of the job market in Joensuu. I applied for internships and summer jobs to gain experience and develop my Finnish language skills. But all the replies were rejections, with the reason being that they needed an employee fluent in Finnish. I was disappointed, but I knew it would be difficult to find internships in Joensuu and I didn’t have high expectations. 

It was then that I decided to speak with my professor about the matter and seek his advice. He suggested that I look for internships outside of Finland, which was not what I wanted to hear. I had just arrived and wanted to learn about the country’s work culture and the way things were done. If I had to leave without any work experience in Finland, what was the point of coming here? 

My professor reassured me that there was still hope, so I clung to that hope. Eventually, I found a summer job at a café in Koli national park that helped me with my Finnish language learning and formed a sense of belonging to the country and its people. The owners of the café are a local couple that had difficulty finding workers, so they broadened their search and interviewed the international students as well. Although there were a few challenges in the beginning, everyone found a way to effectively communicate with each other and it resulted in one of the best work communities I have had the opportunity to be part of. Some of us have even stayed close after the summer and found friendship within the work community but many of my friends were not as lucky and had to leave the country to find work.  

At gatherings with my university friends, the main topic is where to go next. Some of the people who arrived with me in Joensuu have already left, even though there is still one more semester left in their studies. Some have already planned for internships and jobs outside of Finland. The feeling of hopelessness and disappointment can be overwhelming, causing many to leave before they even get the chance to experience all that Finland has to offer.  Despite all a few of us are still planning to stay in the region. 

The University of Eastern Finland offers a limited number of traineeship positions specifically for international students. UEF Trainee Programme has been organized three times, and while the number of trainee positions has remained the same, the number of applicants has tripled. As a result, in 2022, it took a surprisingly long time to process the applications. 

Although I was fortunate enough to get a trainee position, many of my friends and capable students did not and for most of us this was the only chance we got in finding an internship without being fluent in the Finnish Language. 

Despite the challenges and uncertainties, a great deal has changed in the past year. Through my traineeship at the Center for Continuous Learning at UEF, I learned about an important project they are working on. Talent Hub Eastern Finland project aims to identify the skills of international students, recognize their past experiences, and help them find internships and employment in the region where there will be a shortage of workers in the near future. 

Although the application process is still underway, just knowing that a group of people has put all their energy into helping international students find work and make a home in this beautiful place is heartwarming.  

My journey has been full of challenges and doubts, but I am grateful for the people who have helped me along the way. I have learned that finding a home is not just about a physical place but also about the people and the sense of belonging they provide and the way they welcome you into their communities. I may not know what the future holds, but I am optimistic that it will be better as long as there are people who care about beautiful eastern Finland and people who want to make a home in it. 

Shima Garousi  
UEF Trainee at the Center for Continuous Learning