Just saying
Comments 220

Finland is not for the ambitious.

[Preface] Hi folks! This is a personal blog. 🙂 A rant post like the following, in all its raw honesty, is emotionally charged. So here is a more toned down version. For economic/statistical evidence on why I lack faith in the current Finnish economy, read  “Why Finland can consider moving towards a more open economy: A Macroeconomic Perspective and how 2015 evidence from The World Economic Forum shows that Finland’s labour productivity is LOWER than the EU15 average. 

Fundamentally, I am against mediocrity because I know Finns are smart and more of them can become world leaders should the system support and reward ambition–Read:  In Praise of Ambition, Entrepreneurship and Vision for Finland. This system is the current troubling Finnish macroeconomic and political environment; prevailing risk averse attitude in Finland–“The fear of success, and fear of failure”; and unnecessary bureaucracy when it comes to entrepreneurship in Finland.

I know however, that it is presumptuous–not to mention disrespectful–to assume that everybody is for change. Helsingin Sanomat ran a neutral commentary on this post, even though the said reporter published the article without first asking me for permission and also mis-spelt my name. I don’t think that is respectful at all.

All that being said– Why are YOU so affected by this post? Is the truth that unpleasant for you? 

And guess what: due to austerity measures and planned cuts to Finnish university funding, Helsinki Sanomat reports that more and more ambitious Finnish academics are choosing to leave the country too.

UPDATE 19 May 2016: Read– “Finland can be for the ambitious: The 3 things I’d learnt from my interview with Peter Vesterbacka “.


Hey guys! Today I am going to blog an opinion piece on why ambitious foreigners/Finns should just leave Finland if they feel unhappy. This is as opposed to the alternative of trying to stay on to “fight for change”. You are hearing from a foreigner who heard many, many stories of other ambitious foreigners who fought, fought and fought but failed every single time, due to injustice or otherwise. I fought too, far less battles, but got really tired eventually.

Let’s start with a question: Have you ever seen any ambitious foreigner or Finn who are doing their own thing in Finland, and are wildly successful? Of course there are! But can these people be considered the norm, or the exception? And as exceptions, are these people constantly recycled as poster ambassadors to sell the concept, to both Finns and foreigners, of “Oh look, we are so international as One Finland?”

In fact, I’m currently of the opinion that if you are ambitious, you should just not even come to Finland. Go to some other countries that treat the ambitious better, such as Sweden, America, Singapore or Hong Kong. And as a relatively ambitious person, I’d take my own advice at this point in my life because I’m convinced that fighting for change in Finland is a waste of my time and youth.

So YES! When I finally graduate from Aalto University in 4 months I’d be going back to Singapore to work, to push for changes, to execute tons and tons of stuffs. A lot of my classmates don’t even turn up for school, having decided that they have better things to do, which I totally understand! Life is so much more than grades, especially when you are staying in such a beautiful country as Finland. As I am typing this, autumn leaves are falling zen-ly in the forest outside my house.

If I had learnt this sort of thinking earlier, I would also skip school to watch the pretty leaves fall with a cup of Juhla Mokka in my hands.

Don’t get me wrong– I’m grateful for the European experience while I am based in Finland: To be able to travel to countries with rich legacies Sweden, Norway, Italy, etc. I LOVE Norwegians! I stayed in Norway for 2weeks+. I love the fact that most Norwegians I’d met are pretty open-minded and kind hearted folks. I am grateful for the European worldview I now have, on top of my life experiences in Japan and Korea, that no amount of money can buy.

Also, I’m grateful for the chance to stay in Finland for 1+ years, to have met so many smart people in Finland, to witness for myself how some Finns live their lives, and to learn Finnish philosophy, history, arts and culture. Language, not so much, because I’m not that linguistically-inclined.

However, Aalto University did make me take an English test–in fact, it made ALL Asians take English tests while all EU folks are exempted, so that really made me feel that Asians are being slighted here.

I wrote in four times to tell the higher folks at Aalto how Asians in some previous British-colonies countries like Singapore/ India/ The Philippines are native English speakers, and they were like “Oh we didn’t know”. So it really did make me wonder if anything would be done about this issue, because nobody did explain to me why this rule was so.

This is an example of what I view as institutionalized discrimination. And also a strong example of how things in Finland make me feel that things never really change. To me, this is a simple rule related to language, and if such a simple rule never ever changes, it’s a probable indicator that bigger issues concerning foreigners is unlikely to change, too. I’m curious to see if this rule will ever be changed.

So I did grow up! Until I’m convinced that the Finnish system will change in the near future, I will urge ambitious folks to consider other options. For example, there is a viable alternative of bringing your business to Estonia, with their e-residency initiative.

I deviate. Let’s get back to the topic. By “ambitious’ I mean foreigners who want to:

  1. Dream big, execute big, and accomplish things in their career/ businesses;
  2. Want to compete based on meritocracy.

With that definition cleared, let’s begin!

In Finland, you got to go with the flow.

In general, in Finland there is a huge fear of failure. But what is usually counter-intuitive is this: there is a huge fear of success too.

Why? Because most Finns are nice people and they believe in equality.

Sure, you have the occasional crazy Finnish person who is refugee-hating and dresses up like KKK, but if Finns don’t believe in being equal, they will not be compassionate towards refugees. Finns can always delay the registration of refugees, or do some other tricks to make the refugees leave on their own accord, if they do hate refugees. But no, Finland is estimated to be taking 50,000 refugees this year alone.  This shows that Finns have good hearts.

And let me just say that it is perfectly sound to fear success and failure simultaneously. This is because a Finn will then have incentive to do everything correctly. Which is gold for any business owners, and gold for a functioning society! Imagine this utopia where everything is done perfectly and everybody just does things according to their job scope: Nothing more, nothing less. You can just get off work on time, have a great work-life balance, live a slack life and watch leaves fall from trees.

I think it’s a really ideal life to have!

So–why on earth does the government even want to change this system? The reason is that the Finnish government is running out of money, and on debt. Fiscal debt is however, not necessarily always bad–it’s okay to borrow money to spend on education. It’s only bad when the government borrows money and spends on unemployed people who have no intention of work.

In short, long-term unemployment, and people who are eternally out of the workforce because they are not even looking for work, are a real problem to the Finnish economy.

So you see, the Finnish government already sensed that bad things are coming up because some people don’t really want to work, and faced with an aging population, they have to do something. However, if–as a local, you are used to a relaxed life all your life, why would you listen to the government, or even want to compete with foreigners who are more hardworking and vocal?

Look: If I were the Finn, I’d be feeling angry and intimidated by the ambitious foreigner.

And why would I as a Finn give priority to the foreigner even if the latter is more capable? It just doesn’t feel right–remember, it’s the foreigner who spoils “work-life balance”, who is more vocal and hungry. Who is to say that the foreigner won’t overtake me in future? And how about respect? If I were to promote the foreigner, what would other patriotic Finns think?

The war history doesn’t make it easier for Finns either–Why should you trust any capable and suspicious foreigner?! On the flipside, it’s a FACT that if you stay as a foreigner and get a job, you are indeed snatching the job away from a Finn, because jobs are already limited in the first place due to the prolonged recession.

Actually, is this phenomenon unique to Finland? I would say: Not! What is happening in Finland is happening in Japan too. It is extremely rare to have a foreigner on the board of directors on any Finnish/Japanese MNCs. This is normal and even logical. It is the responsibility of the government to attract foreigners, because obviously hardworking foreigners are good for the Finnish society.

You need to over-promise to attract foreigners into your country, to sell foreigners the dream of a Utopian city that is “equal”, and to market to them the delusion that they can eventually carve a fulfilling and exceptional career in Finland. The goal is to get ambitious foreigners into Finland, with them thinking that they can eventually enjoy fruits of their labour so that they work really hard, but the reality is that foreigners will always be treated as second-class residents in Finland.

Again, this is only logical. It is definitely not the responsibility of the government to ensure equal career progression of foreigners as compared to locals. In fact, governments and local firms should always put locals first, no matter how “equal” they claim to be.

“Equality” does not mean meritocracy. In the Finnish context, it means mediocrity.

So I’d say, if any foreigners want to just stay in Finland, it’s best to just live a slack life, enjoy the leaves, and make some coffee. Taking life easy IS a prerequisite to staying in Finland long-term as a foreigner. Maybe even for a Finn, too.

So if you’re an ambitious foreigner like me–just leave. Don’t fight, nobody appreciates it, and you’re just wasting your own life. Keep your sanity, bring your talent elsewhere, live a good life, and keep a good relationship with Finns! 🙂

If the average Finn wants to think that globalization is a choice instead of the inevitable, so be it. Always remember–behind every successful ambitious person is an entire eco-system which supports ambition. Most likely, you won’t be able to find this system in Finland. The system in Finland encourages mediocrity, not ambition. But mediocrity is okay, it can value-add society as well! There is no point imposing your views on the Finnish society because if even the Finns are OK with this, who are you as a foreigner to say otherwise?

Move on, do well, and keep strong ties with Suomi!


  1. chrisfraseronline says

    It’s great that someone says these things. I know plenty of Finns who know it is like this and also want to push things on, but they know how it is here.

    ‘…generally-slack Finnish society.’ That’s a bit sweeping, but I know what you mean. People don’t often go the extra mile here, but that is down to many factors such as over education, not enough support for small businesses and entrepeneurs, low job opportunities, small population and lack of confidence among many other things.

    I remember Mia Istokova contacting me before she moved to Finland. It’s nice to hear she is doing something here, but sad to hear it’s not going how she wants it to. It’s difficult here to be freelance. There aren’t enough opportunities for sure, there isn’t enough support and in many ways it also comes down to the fact that there just aren’t that many people here. Helsinki is tiny. Finns think this is a big city. It’s nothing compared to London, Paris or Berlin. Then there are the really big cities around the world. There’s just no one here!

    I get frustrated also. I’m in a full-time job and thankful for it. I know it would be hard to go freelance here. If I did I’d go global on the internet, not offer my services just here – quite simply because there aren’t enough people or opportunities.

    I am totally with an open mind that I could leave here. My dream isn’t to have a summer cottage, a boat, my own sauna, car, etc. Yet, I gave a family and one thing Finland is good at supporting is families. I have issues with the daycare and late schooling, but the fact that it is very flexible here, the daycare is affordable (unlike London where it is around £1,000; here it’s more like 250€), work places and people are supportive and understanding and the government has been, until now, very supportive.

    Would I stay here if I didn’t have a family? Hell no. If you don’t have a family here and don’t really like it here then definitely go. There are much more interesting places full of more interesting people. If you have a family here or plan to then that is a different story. It’s much harder and less human in other parts of Europe and the world.


    • Thank you for sharing your experiences!!

      Yea this post is meant to be provocative because I want people to pay attention! A non-provocative reflection to this post is here: https://thehieno.com/2015/10/11/the-non-provocative-reflection-on-finland-is-not-for-the-ambitious/

      Also, note that I don’t hate Finland, the truth is that I am ambivalent. I have close finnish friends, a mummi whom I adore, the finnish Bf and his family, etc. this post is about systems: finland has an excellent childcare, healthcare and primary education system.

      Yet on the flip side, it also has this “equality”, mediocrity thing which is terrible for economic growth and funding the very good systems that makes finland a good place to live in.

      Margaret Tatcher once said that there is nothing wrong with a welfare state, just that one day we will run out of spending other people’s money, didn’t she? I think we are witnessing this real-time of finland now.

  2. Great text, Wan! I mostly agree with you and would like to stress that this is one of the most important topics we can have a widespread discussion about.

    I think that a big part and source of ‘the equality problem’ is jealousy. We are a very jealous nation. Equality for us Finns means not only pulling people up to our level (of welfare, chance, education, you name it) but also dragging them down to our level. Now, we have a very comprehensive social security system. It takes care of helping the less fortunate, at least that is an easy everyday supposition to make and to live by. What’s left is ensuring that no one will have it better than the average. This is frighteningly apparent in things like public discussion about taxation, etc. A Finn wants everyone to have it as bad as he/she has it.

    The most important lesson we can learn from history is that progress has the power to lift the well-being of the society as a whole to another level. It may appear in the short term to widen the gap between the two ends of the spectrum but that is a distortion caused by focusing on the outliers, if I may borrow the language of statistics. Our biggest problem is that once we see a talented leader, entrepreneur, or whatever, reap the fruits of their labour and talent, we immediately want to bring them down to the average. We are mortally afraid of outliers.

    We want to do what we did yesterday. And so, we will again get what we got already yesterday.

    I sincerely hope that this discussion reaches from the youthful and dynamic depths of the internet to the rigid ivory towers of old men who, for some reason, have been given the power to decide.

    • Hey Joonas, thank you for the insightful comment. Old people are sometimes tricky when they refuse to listen and accept that the modern world is ever changing!!!!

      Im intrigued by your point on jealosty, my boyfriend often tells me about jealous people randomly scratching nice cars, but I just couldn’t understand. My de facto thinking would be “Huh well you just need to work hard and buy one for yourself, no?”

      • Tuikku says

        You must also remember that in most other countries, nice cars aren’t kept on the street side, but in guarded carparks. They are not accessible to those who could become jealous. In fact, as a Finn who has lived and worked in Europe, outside the highly achieving, English speaking expat community, where people tend to be likeminded, I must say this kind of jealousy exists everywhere, it is just much more visible in Finland. This is such a small nation, and the social policies have been markably egalitarian driven (taxation progression being a prime example, that an employee hits a 50 per cent income taxation before making six figures salary, in euros… making “working hard to buy a nice car” hard) since WWII.

        I have more to say about this later, but since I have to run, would conclude that while Finland wouldn’t be an ideal environment for a startup of a Global Scope, I fail to see outright xenophobia many have named in our system. For instance, even the Finnish quoted companies, not speaking of the public sector, mainly operate in domestic or regional market, where language skills outside English are a vital requirement. We are provincial, but so is all of Europe, outside big financial centres. This must be addressed, but as someone who was 18 the very year Finland joined The EU, I’ve seen the reality just 20 years ago, before Nokia, people now in their 20’s or even early 30’s would not recognise.

    • @Tuikku That is a great point!

      I have this smart Finnish friend who once told me about a potential fear of Finns switching to English for operating language in countries–they fear the dilution of Finnish language and culture.

      I need to think more about your xenophobia point. =) Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  3. Catherine Mburu says

    Well, i am just wondering what to say but i am so tired of people who have benefited from the system one way or another bashing it. Whether it is an observation or otherwise, i think it is only wise to respect the way things are done in a country that has been so nice to you. They say, ‘when you go to Rome, do like the Romans’. No country is perfect but i dare say that Finland is an example of an ideal country if not one.

    This past week, marked my 7th year since i arrived here and i have more positive things to talk about Finland than the negatives. I have had opportunities that my own country could not provide. I had the same feeling when i arrived here because i am an ambitious person, I felt disillusioned that i was not going to progress in my career, the way i had envisioned.

    The idea that one has to permanently remain in a country when they go for studies or for other reasons should not prevail. For me, when i came and saw the way things are and that there was not going to be any prospects for the progress, at least the way i had figured out, i decided to stay as i try to make my next move. I am still in that process. I know people who have moved on to other places or back to their country and are happy.

    My point here is, nations are not going to change for you. It is you who has to change. You do not have the underlying reasons as to why finns do things the way they do. And if you do not feel like changing, then, move on like many have done.

    I respect your sentiments and ‘feel you’ Wan Wei, but this is the way i feel.

    • Yep! Precisely my point, I agree with you completely– You articulated my sentiments beautifully. Thank you for the comment! If you want a non-provocative reflection to this post, it’s here: https://thehieno.com/2015/10/11/the-non-provocative-reflection-on-finland-is-not-for-the-ambitious/

      The point on “When you are in Rome, do what the Romans do” is very true. But honestly, just read the 100+ previous comments– are the “Romans” themselves really happy? That aside, I would like to change myself too, if I can. 🙂

      • Catherine Mburu says

        Good for you, at least you got one precious thing….a new family but not an opportunity to showcase your entrepreneurial prowess, or how ambitious you are so it is not all lost.

        I’m not commenting for fun either, I’m a busy person too with loads of work to do but sometimes it is important to put in your 2cents even if they don’t make sense to some.

        And i do completely understand when Finnish people say they are not happy with the way things are in their country especially those who have had an influence of other cultures. But i also think, what Finland has, has taken them hundreds of years to build and i guess they are not ready to be broken by a streak of ungrateful foreigners. They have to jealously guard what they have acquired with a lot of hard work. Give it up for the Finns with a cup of Juhla Mokka or Presidentti.!

  4. Finns are hard working people you know (not the kill yourself just to live working type), what I mean is they do what’s expected from them to do nothing more nothing less because for most finns money is not all, they seek also balance in hobbies, friends and themselves, so for them TIME is as important as money… It might be something true on what you said but I have the feeling what Finnish corporations or society as a whole feel more incline towards it’s TRUST not patriotism, (I for once being an inmigrant myself would trust a Finn more blindly than I would do for any other (even my own fellow country men)), not because of fear but because of experience. Finns are more reserve talking about their salary and/or financial related stuff, foreigners (not all of course) on the other hand!!??
    Competition and progress it is not always good you know. Corruption plays another part on that matter, in this country even the word corruption is frown upon by most.
    Finns are different. They, you and I were just raised differently, grew up differently and have different outlook of life and that’s what most of us foreingner fail to understand.
    I, before coming to live here I knew beforehand what was Finland like… it is not a perfect country but I like it the way it is, for who am I to jeopardize what they have high regard for?

      • Thanks for reading my post.
        I understand very well why some Finns are disgruntled about the way things are going and how it’s been handled.
        Then again, we are talking about a system that has been able to give balance, equality and provide its citizens of richness and wealth (not only monetarily) for decades which somehow has created a lifestyle that many locals or foreigners alike now fully enjoy, I don’t mean by that that the system has been perfect but it is the one that has worked till now.
        What I think it is FEAR not unhappiness what Finns want to express, fear of a uncertain future, fear of something that last generations have never experienced before (high unemployment, immigration, economic crisis, etc). They don’t simply know how to deal with it!
        There is also a phenomenon happening not only in Finland but in other wealthy European countries as well, countries where patriotism is on the rise “buy locally, support local bussiness/farmers/products, jobs for locals”. The kind of patriotism that refers back to this whole thread where lenguage, culture, history make it hard to succeed in a country like Finland which itself differs from others where TRUST is also part of the heritage; I remember a Finnish couple I met long before coming to Finland who told me: “once you win a Finn’s trust they will trust you forever”.
        It’s not imposible to us foreigners to succeed we only have to try twice or sometimes trice as harder. Just do it good, be honest, learn the lenguage, work hard and with sisu and then you’ll reap the fruits of your commitment and then Finns will appreciate it.

      • Hey J Paco Legnar,

        How do you then suggest people in Finland (all residents, Finns/non-Finns) deal with this challenge of “fear”?

        agree with the mentality of most finns that ““once you win a Finn’s trust they will trust you forever”. 🙂 I like to go to the K-supermarket near my house and a Finnish uncle likes to tell me this everytime he sees me. haha.

  5. muumi says

    I think most Finns are not so patriotic. Many foreigner students come here for “free” studies and then they want to stay here to get work. Unfortunately they can not get work, because they don’t speak Finnish enough well. This is a small country and most companies requires that you speak Finnish, even though most young Finnish people can speak English. Only IT companies can give work for English speakers.

    It would be good if government would make English official language, but unfortunately it is not going to happen soon. So many talents goes away.

    • Hello muumi. Yea, it’s sad. 😦 But i’m thinking, if these talents can contribute back to Finland from their home countries, it will be a great idea too! ^^

      • Practical solution? That is simple: increase export and economic turnover. Any ideas? Finland’s economy needs to make more money in order to finance the social welfare system. The government only knows one direction: cut down and save money. But that’s not a solution. How could all these ambitious personalities here on this blog do something FOR the economy? That would be something…

      • The currency of the new age is information. With higher quality informed discussion, more people can be empowered into change. 🙂 Furthermore, we always don’t know what we don’t know, and this might potentially be fatal in the information age–but can be overcome by talking to random people, not necessarily on this blog, but on reddit, facebook forums and elsewhere. If the goal is the same, i.e. to think about how one can make Finland a better place, I think there would be tangible benefits to discussions.

        For example, people (especially silent readers) can go through the comments with an open mind, and consider another possibility of a better Finland–one that is economically powerful AND still takes good care of its citizens. I went through most comments, gave serious thought to some, and learnt too.

        This learning is powerful economically. Why? Because it is the first step to thinking in a different way. 🙂 And I think the will for unified economic + political change starts with vision. After that, we can talk about exactly HOW to execute things.

        I think all in all, an open mind and the right intention is essential. If the intention is sincerely to make Suomi a better place for all–in both securing funding + high quality oublic service, then listening to perspectives will result in significant economic progress.

        This posting after all, is never about me–it’s all about Finland. Good intention is key!

  6. Hi, you have many good points and some not so good. But I will point out the one little historical detail that you got wrong – since that’s facts. The other issues might be more philosophical and cannot be labeled as wrong nor right. Finland has never been under Sweden. Finland and Sweden was one great nation (eastern kingdom and western kingdom) – so there is no reason to why Finns shouldn’t trust the Swedes…and I like to think we do.

    • Hey Familja, okay! Noted with thanks! Id make the changes.

      Which points are not so good? And just curious–what is your opinion on the relationship between Finns and Russians?

    • Pity_Xenophobia says

      Familja! Can’t see the extreme tension most of Finns have toward Swedes? Seriously? No Swedes believe any association or similarity between Finland and Sweden! They simply ignore Finland. But, this is only Finns who are jealous of Sweden, hate Sweden, but at a same time pretend to have so many similarity to Sweden!

      • Finland has been under the Swedish kingdom, just like Russian (how does it become one great kingdom under one empire and slaves of another?) Or maybe one can put it some other way. There is lots of jealousy and stereotyping of Sweden, especially mocking at multiculturalism and humanitarianism. However, Finland is first to copy Sweden almost anything innovative. Finland has some unique things but wastes most energy in hate and childish comparisons.

      • I really can’t see it. We like to joke about Swedes in a rather nasty way and there’s some tension in ice hockey games, but besides that, no-one really seriously hates Swedes. Finland and Sweden are very similar and many of the political decisions are strongly inspired by the Swedish system. There’s jealousy, I give you that.

      • JJB says

        “but at a same time pretend to have so many similarity to Sweden!”

        I take it you haven’t visited Kokkola-Pietarsaari (eller Karleby-Jakobstad) region.

  7. Great to read such an honest text. Finns, such as myself, love reading about Finland and the fact that the text is just a tad pessimistic makes it even better for the average Finn!

    Jokes aside, it’s nice to see that exchange students find their way to Finland and find things to comment on, even the less nicer ones.

    I would like to ask you if you think that the general distrust rooted in Finnish mentality against foreigners in Finland (something we can all agree on atleast to a certain degree) is a big reason that we don’t get many white-collar foreigners to work here? Or do you think it’s possible to differentiate between the opinions regarding expats and say refugees? I get the feeling that in your text you are primarily referring to expats (ambitious and educated) and I wonder if you think that a drunkard in Lahti has a significant effect on their presence in Finland as well?
    Personally, I do believe that a bigger reason behind this is the lack of large companies in Finland; the type of firms that usually attract expats. Look for example at Australia that has very strict immigration and refugee laws but still manages to attract quite a bit of expats.

    The reasons behind this lack of companies is of course an entirely different matter. You did brush on some of the major causes but I’d like to point out if I may something I don’t think you mentioned in your text, but that has in my opinion a great effect on the Finnish work forcely. Namely, alcohol. Sure, it’s also the butt of all jokes about Finland and the Finns, but the sober truth (pun intended) is that it affects nearly all aspects of Finnish society (health care, crime and the majority of people marginalized). This is a trend more common in Eastern Europe than Western Europe it should be added.

    Anyway, great text. You seem like a very bright person and it gladdens me that you’ve made som ties between Finland and Singapore during your stay.


    • Thank you for your comment OR. Hmm actually I don’t find this post pessimistic at all…Finland is a great country with super smart and strong people. My intention is also to encourage more younger Finns to be able to put themselves on the line more, so as to assert their opinions in an intellectual and constructive way.

      We all want a better Finland–and I believe the younger generation of Finns are ready to articulate their views in English confidently. Just look at the comments to this post! 🙂

      I think one method to “change” the existing structure is to act with a great sense of vision. A Finnish asset is the knowledge of vision–the ability to see things beyond yourself, the ability to contribute greatly to the world, the ability to think on behalf of other people, to create empathy. In fact, so far my unpleasant experiences with Finland has only to do with narcissistic jerks. My encounter with most Finns have been positive, though I feel agnst whenever I see a smart friend not pushing himself/herself more, because I see his/her fuller potential. But honestly, even that sort of “pushing boundaries” thinking on my part might not be ideal HAHA because I don’t have a healthy sense of work-life balance all the time. 🙂 But the idea is to be able to have an opinion, defend the opinion, live with haters and execute big things that are beneficial to the world.

      To everyone reading this post, I want to encourage you guys to think and execute ideas boldly about how to make the world a better place. Don’t just sit on your idea, be brave, put yourself on the line, and execute it. This is what I mean by ambition: Let’s break out of our comfort zone with all the smartness and education we have from Finland and do big things that benefit the world, not nonsense that benefit only the capitalists. This IS the Finnish strength and I hope more Finns find the courage to do it!

      Hmm I think the Finnish media can consider distinguishing 1. refugees, 2. multiculturalism, 3. expats, 4. immigrants altogether, for a clearer public discourse. And yes in the context of this post I’m talking mostly about expats.

      To the seemingly deep set of mistrust–> On the contrary, I think most Finns tend to be very curious and kind people! To attract more white collar we need better Public Relations + Communications. The challenge is that perhaps, Finns are sometimes reluctant of putting themselves on the line to make themselves and be more articulate about their cultures–when someone is unhappy about a situation, they just keep quiet and accept: Passive aggression maybe? Perhaps more white collar workers can come to Finland once Finns get used to the idea of marketing Finland a bit more aggressively. Public Relations comes into play!!

      One of the reason why I blogged such a provocative post too, and try to reply to as many comments as possible, is also because I want to encourage public discussion. The best sort of opinions come when a reader can clearly say, “A, B, C is what I agree with; E, F, G is what I disagree with; and I’d like to hear your views on X, Y, Z.”…

      …not quietly sulk into one corner and write “what a naive post” in Finnish, with zero justification, as I’d seen on some of the FB comments. hahahaha, thank God 95% of the comments are positive though.

      And nope, I’m not an exchange student, I’m on a 2 year masters programme at Aalto. Been dating a Finnish guy for 4.5 years already…Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the Finnish culture,

      …and wow the alcohol point is interesting indeed! I’d think about it. Unsure if it has any economic effects.

      • Thanks for a quick and extensive reply.
        Maybe pessimistic was a poor choice of words on my part – maybe pointed is more to the point haha.

        I’ve had some personal experience from working in Hong Kong which might be comparable to Singapore at least in the sense of work ethics. And I can safely say that the differences to Finland and most European countries in general are quite staggering. People work very long hours and whilst many are ambitious and this ambition is the driving force for their work, working long hours did not apply to only white-collar workers. The culture in Hong Kong at least sets a great deal of importance and pride in work. Pride in what you do is unfortunately becoming quite rare in Finland and people expect to have a high income more or less naturally. Finland also has a quite strainous relationship between employers and employees in Finland, something which became sadly clear after the austerity measure demonstrations a month back. You might have noticed these?

        But in the end, Finland is a tiny country and this has of course it’s good and bad sides. A good side is that it doesn’t take that long for measures to come into effect: if we could find a new strong industry and a couple more companies such as Kone, investors would probably return quickly. Sadly, the fall of Nokia has had an inverse effect on things and there haven’t been any major listings on neither of the stock exchanges in Finland – a troublesome sign.

        Oh yeah the alchol plays a quite fascinating part in itself: it may sound crazy but I would argue it definitely affects also the economy. Death by alcohol related disease is 9x as high for long term unemployed (https://www.thl.fi/fi/web/hyvinvointi-ja-terveyserot/eriarvoisuus/hyvinvointi/tyollisyys). Also alcoholism counts for a fair share of people on disability pension as well, people who you won’t see in the unemployed statistics. But you’re right that other kinds of structural changes should be made as well and we can’t blame our love for Koskenkorva for everything.


    • Hello OR!

      Hmm I think you might have a point with the alcohol problem. Thanks for sharing the link!

      I agree that there are good and bad sides to Finland. In the immediate term, the obvious downside is a lack of jobs in the job market for everyone. I’m curious about one thing though: what are your views on the fall of Nokia–what do you think caused it?

      Oh yes, I don’t want to come across as that I don’t care about the older generation in Finland–They are the ones who laid the foundation of this nation and we should appreciate their good works. Finland’s society is very well structured, and I think the younger generation here should be capable enough to come up with an idea on how to progress as One Finland.

      Personally I’m also intrigued with the idea of how to create a functioning society that is people-centric (like Finland does well), but do not ultimately run out of $$$ to fund the good structures. Because this balance is what Singapore can do well by learning from, too.

      BTW, are you only 17????!?!?!?!

  8. sumuli says

    Thanks for a post which sums up allot of what I’ve felt along the road here. Mostly correlates with my experiences. I moved here after 4 years of South Korea. I was devastated by the nonchalant attitude and ignorance. However after grinding for 15 years, I’m beginning to understand that talking will get nothing in this country except someone claiming your idea for their own. Also the disappointment comes from not getting a tap on the back or a ‘good job’ when you do something excellent. That’s the hardest part. To keep doing awesome stuff and not caring about the bullshit. It’s not worth your time.

    • Hello Sumuli, thank you for your comment.

      I’m truly sorry to hear about your experiences! 😦 Do you think it is a intercultural communication issue? I was reflecting about my own experiences, and I think cultural differences might be one of the reasons why I need to change my style when talking to the locals.

      Also, I’m curious about the “someone claiming your idea for their own” part. 😦 That’s just terrible.

  9. Tommi says

    I’m a Finish person who you might consider a high achiever. I’m working in finance in London after I graduated from Imperial College.

    You say that finish people are lazy and the whole nation is going bankrupt because of this.
    Have you actually looked at statistics on how Finland is for example doing in terms of GDP per capita terms? Finland is ranked top20 in IMF, world bank and UN reports on the issue. Leading nations such as UK and Germany. Also when you look into debt statistics in the eurozone the public debt of Finland is again lower than pretty much any eurozone country.

    Sure Finland is currently in a quite a bad economic situation at the moment. However perhaps it’s not laziness, but a combination of a failed monetary experiment in the EU, EU sanctions against one of it’s biggest trading partners Russia and the absolute collapse of what used to be one of the 10 biggest companies in the world when compared by market capitalisation.

    Sure job opportunities in big metropolises around the world are better than in Helsinki. Are prospects better in other cities of similar size, e.g. in Canada? It’s common for high achievers from all small places to end up in such “world capitals” as you mention.

    However you really have to be at the top of your game to be able to say that London for example offers you more. Only a select few get to work at the best companies in the world such as Google, Goldman Sachs or Apple. Mainly people who have graduated from Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE or UCL.

    The rest get to work at no name companies, companies with a starting salary of 27k pounds per year, getting to have no more prestigious things in work than what you would have in Finland. 6k of your salary in London is gone after taxes and National Insurance. Another 10k will be gone after you’ve paid your rent in a what by finish standards is a pretty crappy bedroom in a shared apartment. Most of your remaining money will go into things such as food and transportation.

    Are you perhaps studying something that is not respected in Finland? The respected things to study are medicine, law or engineering. These people don’t have problems finding jobs or advancing if they are ambitious. The more you go towards humanistic soft subject the worse your career prospects become. This isn’t just a thing for foreigners, but for finish people as well.

    • Hi Tommi! Thank you for your comment! First thing first, this post is about the finnish SYSTEM, not the Finnish PEOPLE. For Finns to reach excellence + be ambitious, I believe they have to go overseas (out of the system), have a cosmopolitan worldview (like yourself) and THEN they can be non-mediocre.

      1. “You say that finish people are lazy and the whole nation is going bankrupt because of this.”

      Exactly where did I say this? Curious how you got that impression. I think I clearly meant fiscal debt/ unhealthy fiscal deficit, not a nation bankrupted. Funding public services on heavy fiscal borrowing, especially for the long term unemployed + people out of the workforce because they are not looking for a job (“discouraged workers”) may not be the most prudent idea. Taking fiscal debt to fund mothers who took time off work/ quit their jobs to take care of their children is OK however, and taking debt to invest in education is a great idea too.

      I think Finland will never go bankrupt, BUT there might be a lack of growth in the medium term, due to the fiscal deficit positioning.

      I am pushing the point however, that the current system might be pushing Finns into mediocrity. Also, “being slack” does not equate “being lazy”, and being slack is not necessarily negative, even for economic growth.

      2. Also, I do not define ambition narrowly in terms of $$$. I’m challenging the mentality of not just doing what is required/ do what is minimal as dictated by the job scope. I’m saying that with the skills, talent, will to contribute to the larger good of the world, Finns can be more ambitious in putting themselves on the line and being influential to the outside world.

  10. Dario says

    After I have been living for 15 years in Both Finland and Sweden, I can say that I agree with you. However, I have to say that you are not offering any strong argument to provide support for your statements. Your article can be understood only by people who know the context.

    I believe you should point out
    – how high is the tax pressure on the middle class
    – how high is the taxation for entrepreneurs. If you employee yourself you get about 35% of the gross amount.
    – The ridicolously high cost for hiring employees
    – The tax system that levels everybody down to the middle. Earning well is seen as something to punish, not the result of hard work. You see that when you compare the lifestyle of a bus driver versus an engineer (or different combinations). Pretty much everybody ends up driving an average car, lives in a pretty small flat with Ikea furniture, cannot enjoy to eat reasonably often in restaurants.

    I am not saying that there should not be equality and fairness in a society. It is a big achievement and a merit for a society to make sure that eveybody can live in a decent apartment and can grow a family in decent conditions. However, an educated hard working person should be allowed to achieve more than that, without contributing to the State expenses so much more than he receives from it.

    Remember also that high taxes are not for the rich. Rich people can pay accountants to fix their tax bills, can reduce them by using corporations and tax arrangements, can move the business abroad or live abroad.

    Taxes are paid by the vast majority of people, the middle class.

    If you would elaborate more on these arguments, you would receive less angry comments, I think. It is more difficult to contradict hard facts.

  11. Mark Hayton says

    Evening Wan Wei,

    First of all, it’s good to see passion and incendiary debate about a country I have lived in for a over a decade and love dearly.

    It makes me sad however to see so much vitriol aimed specifically at one country and people with such little informed perspective.

    Do you believe that if you were about to graduate in say London, New York, Singapore or Delhi you would be at this point ready to bring about sweeping social reform?

    Is it not possible that in other countries there is also a misguided belief that the long term unemployed or migrants are more costly than high-end tax evasion or capital emigration?

    I admire your eloquence but your blog only reminds me of myself and other students struggling to find a foothold in the world and I can tell you… When you leave Finland it will be exactly the same where ever you go. If you have ambition and drive you will make it in Finland… But it won’t be easy.

    Finland is a land not for the faint-hearted, the silver-tongued nor the impatient if you want to achieve here you gotta work at it every day.

    Time-wasters need not apply.

  12. Albany says

    Hello Wan, Your post is really fabulous in a way that you said the bitter truth without offending someone belonging to Finland. I myself spent a long time in Finland about 3 years. I came there to did my Master’s degree. Finland is an exceptionally beautiful country. The colours of spring, lakes, summers, fairy white nights of winters I miss them a lot. I would have loved to Finland forever, and I tried briefly, but then I soon realised that living in Finland forever for a foreign born person with very high qualification is rather impossible.

    Finland is a paradise for all those foreigners who want to work in cleaning, newspaper deliveries or food sector business where you are paid below minimum wages. If you are happy with these professions and if you want peace and serenity, then Finland is a best place to live.

    Otherwise, if you really want to excel in professional life + have a social life + make friends then leave Finland immediately as soon as you graduate. I rarely saw any of my collegues/students getting a professional job. Finns are good and honest people, but still racism is rampant in the society. Though its not visible but its everywhere. Its not spoken verbally, but you are made it felt that you are an alien, you look different and you have different skin colour. Helsinki is multicultural, but try living in any other part of Finland. I would not blame the Finns about their nature, because its just their nature or culture, that they wouldn’t trust someone. No eye contact, no social interaction, no social greetings of Hi or bye, no smile. All these things are considered rude in every part of the world except Finland.

    Just forget the racism in professional job, even odd-jobs have racists Finnish bosses. I can give just one small example. Once I burned my hand while working as a cleaner, because gloves my cleaning company provided me to do dishwashing were leaking (By then I was graduated with distinction with Master degree). I told my boss about it, and rather than giving me comfort, she started questioning me which cleaning liquid cause this burning, then she said come to office, and show her my burned hands which was terribly painful. I barely went there with hurting hand and then she went with me to the supermarket where I was working. I had to tell her the cleaning liquid that burned my hand. It was clearly evident that she did not trust me. Since I was on a sick leave and it was written on the sick leave paper that I cannot be called for any office work but still she said I should come to her office and do nothing just sit around. I said why? I know my rights and that thing is written on my sick leave paper that I cannot be called. She said I dont trust you, you could be working somewhere else. or watching movie at your home. Just imagine, would she say that to any Finnish person who burned his hand? Ultimately within 1 week after that incident she fired me and hired another person.

    I see no opportunity in Finland. Even the jobs which required no English skills, never ever I got a response. Once I applied in a very good company and then I called the manager who was recruiting, He received the call, and he had very thick Finnish accent. I said Hi , as soon as I started talking , he said, I am looking for a Finnish person for this job and then without apologizing or whatsoever he hung up. That’s only one small example. But I met with some amazing Finns also. Now I am in New Zealand and its so great !

  13. Ahmad says


    What I understand from this article is that, Finland is not a country for the persons who want to settle there or want to do a job but what would you suggest me If I want to go to Finland for my PhD in University of Turku or UEF? Is it a good opportunity from research point of view? Can you share some experiences related to this?

  14. Love your post. I’ll probably pay attention to Finnish culture regarding ambitiousness and foreigners more in the future. While some of what you say feels completely foreign (excuse the pun), it does tug at a few strings as well.
    I’m a Finn through and through, I love the country, the nature, the people (though they do have their downsides too), etc. But I’ve also lived abroad for a few years and often get told that I’m not the stereotypical Finn – a generalisation obviously but something that at a time I took pride in.
    I’ve come to think though, that the stereotype they’re referring to is probably more adequate when applied to previous generations, not the younger, new, ‘leaner’ generations.
    I like to think (I do say like, not that it’s necessarily the truth) that currently Finland is a lot more open and welcoming to foreigners, the people more sociable and such though it might not be the truth.
    I guess living in a bubble of like-minded people – kind, welcoming, considerate and thoughtful – has immersed me in a bubble and blinded me from those who are not any or somewhat to what I described above. I guess having been an expat, associating oneself with others alike and current expats in FInland turns you blind to what the society-at-large is really like.

    What makes this doubly interesting to me is that lately, I’ve been playing with the thought of entrepreneurship and come to the conclusion that I am not up for it due to lack of ambition, something I’ve seen in a lot of people I’ve been in contact with over the past couple of years. But maybe that is just because in the gaming startup scene, people just dream big with no guarantees of actual success? Now I’m starting to think whether I’ve been unduely harsh on myself for lacking something that those people have.
    I’m surely going to be looking at things from a different perspective now, thank you for that.

    • Hello Omnilion! 🙂

      Thank you for the kind words! I love Finland, Finnish nature and Kimi Räikkönen; Wrote a fangirl rave on all three on Helsinki Times before.

      You know, I think this Finnish “system” only applies when people are staying in Finland. Like feeling judged by others. So I think for yourself, you DO have the advantage of living abroad for a few years. Therefore you have been exposed to other worldviews, perspectives and ideologies too. 🙂 This is awesome!

      BTW, I’d love to connect you with two Singaporean professionals in the gaming industry, since you mentioned that you’re interested in the industry. I’d assume that your contacts are so far mainly Finns. The Two Singaporeans–One has a successful gaming company while the other has crazy views on gaming and life. I suspect their perspectives will be different from yours–and that can be only good for brainstorming. I’d link all three of you up on facebook later if you don’t mind, hope this value-adds you! 🙂

  15. First I would like to say you have in my opinion flattened the term ambitious to suit your own idea of what it means to strive for greatness. Since the 1970s people have mostly traded their time for things that they don’t need making themselves dependent on stuff and status while forgetting to wake up and grow towards goals that will support a happy life even without huge financial success or neighbors that envy your job or prestige. A person can be ambitious and strive for maximized well-being by working 100 days a year, 6 hours a day. It is a personal choice. An ambitious person can be a guy cleaning up streets and aiming to actually care and nurture the personal relationships that he or she has in his life. This being said, I do think Finns generally are insecure and lack the courage to tell people what they’re good at and what they’re not. I’ve also noticed a great progress in this regard and even the primary education system has revised their designs to support people to become more confident in the future. Change just takes time to settle in.

    Your point that Finns are patriotic is also one that will change as generations and progress sweeps the world. A small, northern nation which still remembers war and famine and have little experience with foreigners are bound to be patriotic and rasist until the world catches up and they are no more. You also empathize with Finns with alarming inaccuracy. You speak of us being alarmed by foreigners taking our jobs and competing with us – this is not the Finland I know so I must conclude we both have our own subjective experiences that we use as a source of information. Provocative but rather pointless. Please do excuse my sharpness but if you write a provocative post you should be expecting the same in return.

    You seem to idealize working hard and feel that it isn’t appreciated in Finland. You may be right. The huge advantage of drinking coffee(Juhla Mokka is shit, try Löfberg’s) and enjoying the view is that you might have time to think, breathe and understand that in 50 or 60 years the society we know will be no more. There will be no work for 240 days a year and 8 hours a day. Our productivity is already amazing and it will exponentially increase over the years. What would you have if GDP per capita grew in a linear fashion like some people seem to think is optimal? Now people have two cars, a house and a summer cabin. Will you in 60 years own six cars, three houses and three summer cabins? When you add this to the equation that supermarkets are already made smaller, people’s ideals about consumerism are changing and some young people don’t even want to own a car, I am forced to think that “putting yourself on the line” is secondary to actually having people who have the capacity to think and design systems that secure a quality life with a minimal income. I do hope that you succeed in Singapore and finally get to execute your tons of stuff. In Finland starting a company takes about an hour online and costs 330 euros. You have to put in a minimum of 2 500 euros of capital but that’s your money that you can spend how you wish. So you could have probably executed at least one company instead of blogging.

    Yours sincerely,
    Olli Montonen
    A native, lazy Finn

    • Hello Olli,
      this is precisely why I have no wish to change the system, because there are so many Finns like yourself. 🙂 Which is awesome, isn’t it?

  16. esa pekka says

    Usually foreigners who do not make friends, or end a relationship decide to leave. It is brutal to not have friends here as people dont have a greeting culture and so on.

    Especially if you have no intention of learning finnish fluently you may feel quite isolated. We are a finnish speaking country, not english speaking.

    I am not sure exactly what you were studying, but we do have a lot of ambitious people, too, it just varies between the place and field. In our physics department in Helsinki we have lots of people working 12hours+ a day.

    But good luck with your life.
    Hope you will find what you seek for


    • Haha, thank you for your kind comment, Esa Pekka. 🙂 I do speak conversational Finnish.

      I think for my case I do have friends and I’m not ending my relationship though! But again, I could be the exception. Just like how the hardworking people at the department of physics are exceptions.

      Hope Helsinki University isn’t too affected by the funding cuts.

  17. Same sh.t here in Belgium. A society dominated by mediocrity, with no desire for professional self-improvement. Hard-workers being punished with higher taxes reaching 55%. As a result nobody wants to work more because salaries after taxation are almost the same for most professions.
    Graduates from high school or college get special benefits amounting more than 1000 euro/month until they get their first job. Guess if they are in a hurry to start working 🙂

    Local companies would never recruit a foreigner if they have a Belgian candidate for the job. And people who don’t speak the local language are often neglected or even treated as retards.

    • 😦 looks like it’s really a “system challenge” across most European countries, and that Asia + America are where the growing markets are…

      Thanks for sharing, Stefana 💕

  18. Let’s have a look at Apple, how they did it with “ambitious” people. May be some inspiration can help.

  19. Anna Rist says

    as a Finn who has been an expat in the UK for nearly 15 years (with no plans to ever move back permanently), I really enjoyed your piece. The lack of ambition is even there in Finland’s much lauded school system which is all about raising the lowest level of attainment but not encouraging pupils to really shine. As a result you get higher-than-average marks in PISA etc which obviously has many valuable societal implications in terms of eradicating abject failure. But it doesn’t enable/encourage anyone to shine! I was shocked when I came to a British Uni after 2 years academic’ study in Finland and discovered that even the ‘cool’ kids chase that 1st class honours degree. I mean in Finland it was such a social embarrasment to do well at anything. Yet, there was simultaneously a weird expectation that you *will* do well enough, just don’t be happy/proud/inspired while you achieve it. Not sure where this is going. Just very happy to be bringing my own kids up in an environment where having an inquisitive mind and wanting to show your best is an asset, not an embarrasment. Great blog, keep writing x

    • Hello Anna!

      YES!!! Couldn’t agree more!! Thanks for sharing!

      I have this finnish friend. He’s super good looking, but really terrible at giving presentations. Then I got really curious and wondered why, because I feel that in Singapore and Japan, If one is THAT good looking, he could get away with ANYTHING he says! Plus he actually isn’t talking nonsense and has good English and a great smile!

      So I thought, could he be thinking that good looks is an unfair advantage he has as well? Because in finland it’s all about being fair and you are not supposed to be so shiny! Hahaha!

      Such a weird argument!

      The primary education here is really good though. I couldn’t agree more.

  20. Jade Nanna says

    Hi Wan Wei, I would like to comment about the requirements for foreigners to take English proficiency test. I’m from Asia too. After I read your article about the ALL Asians for English test but exemption for EU folks, I was so angry, I argued with my Finnish boyfriend, for how unfair that Asian being treated in a country with a slogan of “equality”. So I looked up for some informations for postgraduate study here. For example, I assumed US has pretty good relationship with Singapore but when I looked for the English requirements for Harvard university, here (https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/application-process/international-applicants) stated that “A strong knowledge of English is essential for successful study at Harvard, including the ability to understand and express thoughts quickly and clearly. Although you are not required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or other proficiency exams, you may submit your scores if you have done so.”, so I feel there is some hidden requirements that you will only know if you apply the study. For MIT: “All applicants whose first language is not English, not further examples given and MIT prefer IELTS rather than TOEFL score! However, in the University of Washington, “International students whose primary and secondary education took place in Australia, Canada (English-speaking provinces), Great Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, or the U.S. are exempt from this requirement. Students born in one of these countries yet educated elsewhere are still required to satisfy the English proficiency requirement.” I think this is very fair requirement for “English proficiency” instead of my “citizenship”. And I found an interesting thing, In Cornell University (http://gradschool.cornell.edu/admissions/english-language-proficiency-requirement), “Applicants who are citizens of India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, or Singapore, are not exempt from the requirement.”

    For UK, used to colonise Singapore, what do they think about the English Proficiency of general Singaporeans. For example, in Cambridge University (http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/international-students/competence-english/will-i-have-language-requirement), I input Singapore as nationality, Singapore as the country of your most recent course of study, it came out that “You are required to be assessed by the University Language Centre, or you may provide a valid language test”.

    On the other hand, the University of Melbourne gives exemption for citizens of Singapore and some other English speaking countries, who have completed undergraduate studies in English and have subsequently worked in an English speaking country (https://futurestudents.unimelb.edu.au/admissions/entry-requirements/language-requirements)

    To sum up, Australia has geographical advantage for being nearby Singapore if compared to Finland, so this might be the reason they can waive the English requirements for Singaporeans like The University of Melbourne as they know what is going on inside Singapore more deeply if compared to Finland. Some Americans (University of Washington) think more deeper, even you are born in English speaking country like U.S., it doesn’t make your English good, it’s the education you receive that count. So the statements about Aalto for making you to take the English test is unfair. But I agreed with the point of making EU folks special in pursuing education is wrong. EU is politics, English requirement is education. Many Europeans don’t speak good English but pro-caucasian statement you mentioned is a bit racist to me which I don’t think that’s the true purpose for Finnish system, I think they are just didn’t have a good guideline for politics and education. Cheers!

    • Hello Jade! Thank you for your comment. Well two wrongs don’t make a right! Plus, I’d argue that US universities already do speak the native English…so…

      • Jade Nanna says

        Hi Wanwei, I agreed with the point of meritocracy, perhaps Aalto and other universities in Finland should constantly review the admission requirements.

        I agreed with you about the point of the tendency view of “Asia” as one entity based on my experience with Finns and I, personally feel, Finns give exception for Japan from being apart of the “Asia as One Entity”, because they have better feelings towards Japan among other countries in Asia. Please try to discuss with Finns something which is common in Asia or East Asia, perhaps Finns will tell you “well, it is different if it is Japan” (Japan thing is my very personal opinion, many people might not agree). “Good things must be from Japan, bad things must be from China, South East Asia is a region full of 3rd world countries” <— again, my personal experience. Another personal experience from me is my family or friend(s) see ALL Caucasians are same, the cultures, people, habits, ways of thinking are same which I'm sure all of the Europeans will disagree with it. In fact, Toyota’s unintended-acceleration crisis (bad Japanese car example), good Huawei wifi router (good Chinese product) and Singapore as a developed country in South East Asia region. What I tried to say is discrimination is common for all if we have zero or little knowledge about certain thing, human tends to make bias judgment like my family sees all white people are same, white people see all Asians are same. We lack of knowledge about the other side of the world and make us unable to detect the differences one another. This happens not only in Finland but other countries as well, so try not to so harsh on Finland/Finns 🙂

      • Abdelkarim Essalim says

        Hi Wan Wei, I don’t know if this problem only exists in Aalto. I study in Haaga-Helia UAS in a english language programme and there all students were required to take take an english language test, even the Finnish students and/or people who did their high school here.

      • Hello dear!

        YES! Precisely, that should be the way! They should make everyone take the English test!! 😀 Not exclude by nations, because the implicit assumption would then be “some nations cannot speak English, in spite of the FACT that some of the Asian/African nations have English as first language”!

  21. Allan says

    I agree with several of your observations, however you’re looking at it from the Asian viewpoint where success in professional life overshadows everything else. I personally fail to see the point in it if “ambition” means working so much that you don’t have any spare time during which to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

      • Allan says

        Also, since you seem to be disguising this as a matter of how to bring about a “better” society, do you realise that no demographic model is possibly able to sustain a fertility rate of 1.3 found in the most-workaholic countries like Japan and Singapore, where young people simply do not have time (or even will) to start families? What’s going to happen to such a country in the future in your opinion?

      • “disguising”? lol nope, i’m OPENLY saying that we should all have open discourse about a “better society”. Why do you think I’m replying to all comments in English and SEOing this blog?

        TO answer your question: –population is a huge challenge in Singapore too!

        And this is why Singapore, for instance, is reworking its population policy. We are slowing down our import of foreign talent, encouraging more free time in our workplaces, and restructuring our education policy to focus less on grades and more on skills. (feel free to google “skillsfuture”).

        Singapore would be fine for the next 50 years. The question is only to what extent it can live up to its “full potential”. 🙂

  22. samannthatalia says

    I clicked on the link to this article expecting a juicy article full of foreigner-angst trashing the Finnish system but was pleasantly surprised to meet with a logical blow-by-blow of how the writer came to her own personal revelation of what she wants, and where she hopes to go in life. This was quickly followed by amusement while looking through the comments, that turned into bewilderment, anger, disgust, and wry acceptance in quick succession. The comments on this post can be largely categorised into three broad bands on a spectrum:
    1. People who really disagree
    2. People who disagree and barely maintain a facade of civility
    3. People who agree

    Now, before we start looking at the breakdown, we must keep in mind that in this day and age, even though the Internet is a veritable cesspit of keyboard warriors, it still takes a lot of emotion and thereafter, motivation, to galvanize the everyday person to comment on any sort of post that isn’t on FaceBook and requires the reading of anything extending beyond a short sentence. The people who have written in to comment are not the majority of the people. We are a very visible misrepresentation of the general populace. When we write, it is with intent and purpose. So what do all three factions I mentioned earlier have in mind?

    1. People who really disagree: for every nation, every law, there will be people who choose to subscribe, or rebel against traditions or culture. It’s beneficial for identity-building purposes, but it’s also dangerous. Why? Everything is not okay because ‘its always been like that’ or ‘it has always worked’. This group of people more likely than not, treasures what they have (which really isn’t a bad thing), and hope to preserve the status quo. They’ve experienced the benefits of ‘being lazy’ and would prefer to term it as ‘having a good work-life balance’. As what any researcher, or at least well-read person worth their salt should know, statistics isn’t what you should just swallow, hook line and sinker. It’s the presentation of the numbers that matters. Using stats or studies to back yourself up in a debate regarding perception doesn’t make sense. The writer is writing about her thoughts and views on ‘ambition’ and ‘success’. Maybe if you sought to clarify what those terms mean to her, and come to a common understanding of these otherwise intangible terms, would you seem less of a pompous ass.

    2. Then there are those who outwardly seem to be sitting on the fence. They say they agree to some, but not to others. Yes, Finland could do better, but you as someone here by our grace should show some gratefulness and bow to our way of life or just get lost. And I wish you the best in your future endeavours, yada yada. You want others to think that you’re being logical, reasonable and nice, to push home your more critical intended comments. Well, niceness isn’t going to cut it, bitches. Learn how to make a good argument, and maybe you wouldn’t need to hide behind a mask of false niceness.

    3. People who agree. These people have felt the same way for a long time, and have good things to say of the article. By the time you’ve gotten to this part of my essay you would be expecting me to fully be on the side of these people, wouldn’t you? Wrong. This is also a bad sign. People who have felt this way for ages, haven’t bothered to speak up against these things on their own. These silent dissenters bear grudges until someone somewhere cares enough to voice their concerns, which they then ride on. Where would society be headed toward if people who see what’s going wrong don’t say anything about it?

    Read with an open mind. Use that mind. Think about what you’ve read. Question, but don’t attack.

    Well done Wan Wei, for freeing these otherwise unheard voices.

    • Hey Samannthathalia, thank you for your wise response! Yeah the comments are interesting, aren’t they?

      I think each comment is highly revealing of the character of each poster. 🙂 so don’t sweat it– you are someone who can understand logical reasoning and context and I appreciate that. :p

  23. Annie says

    Hi Wan Wei. Thanks again for putting this article out there. I would have few years back also condemned this article as I had not yet grasped the concept right. After living in Finland for 8 years….unfortunately that long…. I finally got it and took off before it will one day be too late or live in regrets. When I moved to Finland things were much easier for foreigners but still the majority of people came with real ambitions only to have those crashed, not necessarily due to the language barrier, even that being a major concern, but the fact is even after getting the citizenship you will never be treated equally.

    But sticking to the point this is about the system, you are right and point is Finland is a DESTINY ROBBER. I have seen people come to do a bachelors in business but job frustrations they then take a second degree in nursing just to get job security. But most end up in Old people’s homes which for sure this is not what the envisioned themselves to be doing. Another thing is Finland has a perfect social system that takes care of the whole society, free education, medical etc and most people stay because of this amazing benefits, but again, just as some people have pointed, there is lack of the a social life, excellent professional life etc. So why stay in a society doing things you don’t love to do unless you want to live an average life? So yes my personal opinion is its a place for average people not ambitious people. If you are living a great social life, excellent professional life in another country with great pay you will not consider cheaper day care in Finland for 250€ and unemployment benefits etc as that is not the level you are living in and thinking on.I was lucky to graduate and get a great job in my field of business but even my boss who is a Finn told me several times the system in Finland really encourages people to think one way, it’s a right to just go to work do ONLY your job and can not think outside the box (not in job description) unless you are getting extra pay for it. He has his business globally and he has reference points when saying this. So for those foreigners who are saying they are happy with this system they should compare the quality of life of their peer groups in other countries back home and other first world countries and maybe they will just realise they are living in a comfort zone and they are just happy to be average people. The real thing is the system creates a roof over your head while out there the sky is the limit.

    • Hello Annie! Thank you for sharing your experiences.
      Yes, I felt like that recently, and I guess it’s really hard to battle against this system. It’s probably all about the level of benchmark. I like your last statement –“The real thing is the system creates a roof over your head while out there the sky is the limit.” Very eloquent. ^^

  24. Migrant Tales says

    Hi Wan Wei, and thank you for that insightful posting on ambition and migrants in Finland. Would it be possible to repost it on Migrant Tales? Best regards, Enrique

  25. Pingback: Suomi, Will You Marry Singapore? | Kristabology™

  26. Hello Wan Wei!
    I think you are partly right, because it really is difficult to get rich and successful in Finland because we prefer everyone to do okay instead of some doing very well and others really badly. I can’t tell if that’s a good thing or not.

    There is one thing you wrote that bothers me; I must say that I question your ambition a bit. If I were to interview you to a vacant job position and when asking you why you haven’t studied Finnish, you’d answer “I’m not that linguistically-inclined” I would think that you lack ambition, that you are lazy and if something is difficult for you, you’d rather just give up than challenge yourself. Language is the key to any culture, maybe you would think in a different way now, had you had ambition to integrate to this country. They say you have to give to get.

    • Ana, let me ask you a question:

      Assume that you and your colleague have a job x respectively. Assume that you are also more ambitious and capable. You can finish job X twice as fast as her. Would you do double the work during office hours, given that you and the colleague have the same pay for the next five years?

      This is the main point of my post: nothing to do with ambitious characteristics of the individual; all to do with systems. When you asked me the question, you are thinking in terms of individual, but my point is really about the system. 🙂 that is, the welfare state system and the system of a Finn always being expected to do the “right thing”–fear of success AND fear of failure.

  27. Jussi says

    Hello! A Finn here who hasn’t lived in the country for the last 5 years. Thank you for a great post (found this on /r/Finland), it was very interesting to read and I have to say I agree. Glad to see that there is a lot of discussion here too!

    Actually, some efforts are being made to change the so-generous welfare system, such as forming a research team for implementing a basic income scheme: http://www.basicincome.org/news/2015/10/finnish-government-research-team-design-pilots/

    It will be interesting to see if such a system ever goes live. Countries that have implemented a basic income scheme have shown success, at least. As and when this happens, we’ll see how the Finnish mindsets and values blend in with that..

  28. Xenophobic_introvert says

    For me as a foreigner, life in Finland is all about any kinds of pity bullshit! Unemployment, Xenophobia, Racism, Rural culture, Depression, Alcoholism, and a very dishonest manner toward foreigners which has a route in a low-class culture and a super-communist style of life. I personally as a foreign graduate from Finland am doing my best to leave Finland in less than half a year. And of course I am totally happy with my serious decision about moving out.

      • Hey guys, thanks for your comments. A nudge though–This post is NOT about “Finns, the nationality”…!!

        This post is about:
        1. Finnish macroeconomic + political system (check out “sote”, the recent “healthcare” issue that turned political);
        2. prevailing risk averse attitude in Finland as a direct result of living in a welfare state/sheltered environment + policy of putting Finns first in employment (which is logical);
        3. unnecessary bureaucracy when it comes to entrepreneurship in Finland.

        Also, I’m not sure if it’s wise to ask if the foreigner is grateful or not. I believe one can be grateful but still angry and disappointed. It’s probably a good idea, however, to ask why the foreigner is feeling the way xenophobic_introvert does. Can integration or communication be done better, for instance?

        Not all Finns are “xenophobic and racist” like some factions of the PS/Finns Party obviously–but having said that, we don’t know what PS will do if they get their way.

        Let’s be kinder to each other, shall we? I believe xenophobic_introvert just posted a rant comment.

    • Xenophobic_introvert says

      Well, let’s say it was a rant comment. but, there are so many facts in my comment that are so sensible for some foreigners. However, I confess that it was better to not express them considering the local and traditional society of Finland as it is not appreciated.

      By the way, I paid 6 years tuition fee in my home, and of course I did not come to Finland just because of free education. I honestly regret too much for the time and energy that I lost in disappointing home of Finns.

      Finland is amazing, as you should be thankful for the most primitive basics of life! No inspiration, no excitement, no progress, no motivation, no integration, no communication … all repeating the most repetitive things multiple times, and this boring cycle never stops until the great moment of moving out which is a golden start. I personally think that more than 30 years time is needed for accepting multiculturalism in Finland. My Swedish friend thinks exactly the same as me. Our life ends if we try! I do not try, I move out instead of trying.

      • I’ve lived in Sweden, and yes people are more talkative, more open, but that’s all fake…
        It’s like the stupid american small talk culture; nothing but pretending.
        At least Finnish people are honest.

        And what about racism?
        I, myself live in Asia and get treated as a second-class citizen, but I don’t mind. It’s natural, and happens everywhere!
        And by the way, racism is raising it’s ugly head everwhere in Europe right now. Wonder why that is…

        Still, year after year Finland is one of the top countries when it comes to education, healthcare, quality of life, safety, lack of corruption, equality. Everyone has the opportunity to do great things in life. The social democratic system of the northern European countries is best there is.

        However, most Finnish people understand that there are more important things in life than competition, money, endless economic growth, social status and all the rest…they don’t want to have the modern day slavery with no minimum wage, no freedom of speech etc.

        There is also lot of innovation among the young people.
        Now we are going through difficult times, but let’s see where we are in 5 years time.

        The only thing that sucks (other than the long, cold & grey winter) is the difficulty to start your own business. The endless paperwork, the rules and regulations that come with it, taxation etc.

        I know foreigners who love Finland, but It’s not for everybody though. Many people (especially the older generation) are quite introvert, and it takes a while to make real friends.

        And yes, your message xenophobic_introvert was nothing but a rant. “Low class culture and super-communist way of life.” WHAT? What the fuck are you talking about? Explain a little bit!

  29. @Jaakko:

    1. What do you think about the Finnish political situation in the next 5-10 years? My concern is that in spite of many Finnish innovations, the political situation might still be less than ideal, leading to a worse economic and entrepreneurial environment. Just look at the recent “sote”–it is the epitome of politicians putting party’s (i.e. Keskusta) interests before country’s interest, in spite of clear independent experts advice, and two other political parties in the coalition. Will this not lead to a prolonged austerity in Finland? What are you basing your optimism on?

    2. Which part of Asia are you living in, and may I ask why you are still living there despite being treated as–in your words and I quote–a “second-class citizen”?

  30. Keskusta and Kokoomus both suck, so nothing good will be done, as long as they are in power. Actually, I don’t really trust any politicians, since it’s a dirty game based on lying and manipulation, but least we have a democratic system, instead of one party dictature.
    Right now there is huge pressure to change things around, since many firms are moving out of Finland, so the change will come.
    My optimism is based on what I see and hear; lot of talented young people out there. Good examples might be Rovio or Supercell, but there are hundreds of others as well.

    In 99% percent of the countries, you will be treated as a second-class citizen, if you’re not a native. Maybe you didn’t get it so much in Korea and Japan, because you are Asian. It’s a different thing if you are Caucasian.
    But like I said before, I don’t mind, since I think it’s natural.

    • Hey Jaakko,

      Thanks for sharing your views. Yea I agree that if you want to stay long-term anywhere, it’s natural in the eyes of the law to be treated as second-class. I would go further to argue that it is also logical.

      But bear in mind that Asian countries never did once claim that they are “equal”. finland on the other hand claims that the nation epitomizes noble ideals of “equality”.

      Also you see, your optimism is still that “talented young people” can beat the less than ideal political system. I don’t think people can ever beat systems! If they do, they have to fight, and in finland the fight might mean 50+ years at least, if anything even changes? But what is certain that by then, your youth is gone.

      In fact I think more of talented finnish young people and graduates will just leave Finland eventually, because these politicians can’t create jobs for the economy. This is logical, because talented people need challenges and opportunities elsewhere to thrive, which increased mobility and globalisation can bring.

      And I’m not optimistic about the bureaucracy surrounding entrepreneurship in Finland being changed soon because politics here is not even based on what is good for the country, but what is good for the party, PLUS politicians don’t even bother hiding this fact! Why should Finnish politicians in power take the additional effort to make life better for talented people or entrepreneurs?

      No matter how terrible any political system is, I think for most countries the premise for continued power is job creation. But for Finland’s case kesusta has been in power for so long– just think Kekkonen too.

      Keskusta “won” this sote thing under the premise of (fake) “austerity”, which means that in future, more of finland derived tax revenue is going to be diverted to countrysides. It troubles me because it doesn’t look like Finland is going be more “global” in terms of attitudes and outlook. And you didn’t talk about Perussuomalaiset. 🙂

  31. Perussuomalaiset are done, and so should be Keskusta. it’s 2015, not 1985.
    The problem is, that they have a lot supporters in the countryside, so populist decisions are made just to get votes…
    Kokoomus is only working for the big, multinational companies. Their agenda is to privatize everything. They don’t care about the entrepreneurs.

    However, the system consists of people, and when there is enough pressure, (hopefully) the right things will start to happen. But like I said before, I don’t really trust politicians, but we do have better options than the 3 parties, that are currently in power. I’m pretty sure, that the heavy bureaucracy will go through some big changes in the coming years.

    Anyway, you have good points, and I agree with you on most things you brought up.
    You seem to be genuinely interested in Finnish culture, and have pretty good understanding on our society.
    That’s inspiring!

    Let’s see where we are in 5-10 years time…

    All the best,


  32. @Jaakko,

    Haha, don’t forget that Finns are passive/passive agressive too. There seems to be a huge discrepancy between “what is’ in Finland, and “what should be” (the latter which of course, a lot of people are vocal about). It seems that too often, people equate the two.

    People say “yes this will change, that will change”, but being passive, is much done? But sure, let’s see where we would be in 5-10years time 🙂

    All the best too, in Asia! 🙂


  33. Johnny says

    I’m from Finland and I lived in the U.S., for many years,
    I’ve been back Fin for few now and HAVE NOT LIKED IT AT ALL!
    I really had a great life in America and I was treated so well by the American folk!
    It has been a big mistake to come back here……reasons.
    I so wish it hadn’t happen, I rally lost a lot!
    It’s too much to list reasons for not liking it here in Fin.
    Lucky you who are living in the U.S!
    Do anything and everything to end up making the same mistake I made!

    Sincerely, Johnny

  34. brownangel says

    She is not in the USA la she’s back in her Sinkapore.

    Hi Soh, I’m from Sinkapore too, I found your article and persona funny on many levels. First was your delusion that you’re an native English speaker. Me reckons you ought to go check what native speaker means. You had not even been out of Asia until you met some guy like a typical spg (ahhh how common) and that was your first time heading to Europe. You sound ultra lame.

    Err another thing Philippines isn’t a British colony. You’re such a retard.

    • Hello Cheryl,

      According to the Cambridge dictionary, this is the definition of a native speaker:

      “native speaker

      a person who has spoken the language in question from earliest childhood.
      “native speakers of English”

      So >90% of our younger Singaporeans are native English speakers, evidenced from our primary education since the age of 6, in the English language medium, even if they don’t speak English at home. 🙂 Or do you claim to know better than the Cambridge dictionary?

      Actually, I’m now back in Finland because I want to contribute to both nations. A lot of things changed since this viral ranty post. You obviously didn’t read the rest of this blog LOL!

      And thank you for your compliment about me being like a SPG! 🙂 I wish I were–always thought they are super hot.

  35. Hi ww,

    I applied to Aalto University for Masters without submitting language test scores as I thought I didn’t need to take one (I’m from SG btw). Then admissions emailed me to tell me that they strictly require their accepted language test scores and gave me a deadline to submit it which is impossible for me since I’ve never taken any. Do you mind sharing with me what you’ve written to the higher folks at Aalto? I feel a dire need to write to them as much as how obstinate they seem. I don’t think I will find any other school that requires those language tests, which are meant for non native speakers at large, from students coming from English medium universities.

    • I had the exact same problem and wrote to deanS, the communication department, they forwarded to international directors etcetc.

      All I got in return was silence, so I HAD to take the English test. Failing which my application will not be considered. BTW, I graduated from NUS with a bachelor degree with honours, and even that was ignored because NUS is not based in a EU/EEA country. LOL–that was a mega humble-pie eating experience for me.

      Don’t get me wrong, some deans/ professors are really nice at Aalto. However, this rule really seems to distress a lot of people.

      Let me know how your feedback goes! =)

      P/S. Hanken doesn’t have the English test rule, so you might want to consider applying there too? 🙂

      • It’s so expensive to take any of those English tests LOL. And Hanken doesn’t have the programme for my major. When did you take the English test? I am told to submit my non existent test scores by 9 February. So much for hanging on to my nordic dreams 😥

      • I think my deadline was Feb 15 and i took a last minute test on Feb 3! I didn’t take TOEFL, it was some other approved English Professional smth smth test which was like PSLE standard. All the best! I hope you make it for this year’s application!

        Eh don’t you need to pay school fees for this year’s??

  36. Yea I heard international students will have to pay tuition fees from this year. There are currently no available test dates before 9 Feb OTL. I have no choice but to convince them to scrap the language requirements for Singapore students if I desperate wanna study there?

    • haha!! don’t bother, it won’t work. Trust me–I’d tried!
      Maybe try next year? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s