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A while ago i read this article (in Finnish) about who is worth of being a Finn. The main point of the article was that not everybody is worth to be Finnish because of various reasons: place of birth, outer look (skin, hair, eye color for example), name or accent. At least the most accepted person to be a Finn, as i understood, is ideally if you have Finnish parents or relatives and if you look typically like a Finn, blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin. Which in my opinion is so strict and narrow-minded. I say that because usually excluding somebody from a group, you basically give this strong message that you are different, you are not one of us and you are not welcomed here. When a society makes it clear that you are different and points out those differences, they are basically putting you in a special category, you are the other not one of them.

The person interviewing immigrants from Western countries, which are thought to be more desirable, got answers of the kind that there will always be something, outer look, accent or name that will make one not Finnish enough.

This happened to me several times when people pointed out my outer look (dark hair and nose(!!!)) and my accent. The fact that people ask me where i am from is not a problem but when you get this question several times (a day even!) it becomes very annoying. And then, the most irritating is when people point out your outer look.

It happened to me several times when an older man approached me, started staring and analyzing my eyes and hair and said: “Yes, you have dark eyes and hair but you are too white for a Romanian!”. A girl told me at a conference: “Your nose is so different from Finns.” And once, this one i found it really threatening, a guy interrupted me out of nowhere while i was writing work mails in the university computer room. He asked me in a high-pitched and quite annoyed voice where i am from. I said Finland. He replied you cannot be because you have dark hair. I said i might have dyed it. He insisted that i have an accent and therefore i’m not a real Finn. In the end i told him i want to write my emails in peace and i don’t see the point of this conversation which was quite threatening because he sounded annoyed like i was disturbing him with my mere presence. He then had the audacity to say: “Sorry if i offended you!” on a tone suggesting that i was the nasty one for pretending i’m an intruder in his sacred land.

And one other time, my friend’s neighbor told us: “I can see you girls are from another race.” Yeah, we are White-Caucasian just like you, great you showed some huge ignorance here. I also overheard one neighbor say: “Hope the kids will have blue eyes and blond hair.”

If there are not people being assholes then i don’t know what it is.

If i am Finnish enough? That’s a hard question but there are some points i want to make. For me this question is not as simple because there three aspects i regard here: 1. my DNA 2. my (cultural) personality and 3. my legal status (citizenship).

If i take the first one, DNA, i’m not Finnish because i wasn’t born here and my parents and grandparents are not Finnish, further than that i don’t know, i need a complex DNA test. About the legal status, yes, i’m Finnish. I have Finnish citizenship and i’m completely integrated. My personality, mentality and cultural inclination, i would say is strongly Finnish. Growing up and living in Romania, it was very hard to adapt to their mentality and live by their standards because my personality is very different. I don’t know if being an introvert has to do with that but i felt i didn’t belong into a culture which is very extroverted. I’m not saying that there is something wrong with a culture but sometimes we can’t do anything about it if our personalities just don’t fit there.

Am i Finnish enough? Yes and no. Do i care? Not an ounce. Do i care about these attitudes? I do because they are damaging.

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This is a conversation from a page on Facebook, the initial post was about salary, respect and difficulty for different jobs. I usually do not read comments but scrolling down through them i didn’t help not noticing these two. They are talking about cleaning jobs or blue collar jobs and they assume that if you work these types of jobs, you are automatically stupid.

The first person says that if she (cleaning lady) was smart, she wouldn’t have to clean. She would have more money then and be able to educate herself. He is polite with cleaning ladies but avoids talking to them on complex subjects because they would look at them in a strange way. The second person says that not everybody is smart and must be jobs for stupid people also. But they should be paid decently. (I agree with the last sentence).

This comments left me a bitter taste because as many people do, these two also see things in black and white and tend to simplify life situations a lot. Life isn’t that simple. And to put it straight, working in a blue collar job does not make you automatically stupid. I won’t get into discussions about the present job market and the number of highly educated people who work below their qualifications because they can’t find suitable jobs but they need to make a living. And working in a blue collar job is nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us did it and are doing it in order to earn a living or to pay our studies in hope for a better future. Not all of us are born in rich families or some of us might have the misfortune not to have a family to support us.

By writing this i would like to open the eyes of people who think exactly like the above persons, a mentality which unfortunately, is quite spread in my country of origin. I did deal with similar comments from different individuals because i worked blue collar jobs during college in order to pay my rent. Luckily i didn’t have to pay a tuition fee but life in Finland is expensive and besides it felt very good to earn my own money. Besides that i also learned new skills and a totally new perspective on some jobs that are looked down to. I never looked down and still don’t on blue collar jobs and i can honestly say i met several people with bachelor and even master degrees who cleaned, worked at the grocery store or laundry services in order to earn some money.

Or the situation might be that you move to another country, you barely know the language and that’s quite sure they won’t give you a job as a manager. That is also depending on the field you are working in. In my case, it wasn’t that easy, when most of employers regarded my bachelor studies as useless just because they were done in another country and i did not even get the opportunity to prove my knowledge.

And my last point is that in Finland being a cleaning person requires special training which usually lasts for a year and you learn quite lots of stuff from different cleaning equipment, products, materials to basic chemistry. You can also specialize yourself in different kind of areas like for example hospital or office cleaning. I can talk from my own experience but cleaning in a hospital is very challenging and requires lots of skills and attention. You work in a highly sterile environment and you get in contact with all kinds of sick people and bodily fluids.

I did have a week pre-training before starting and i do admit that sometimes i was amazed at the things i learned that never crossed my mind they existed. I am ashamed to say that i came there with the prejudice that i know everything, this is an easy job, just swipe the floors just to leave with a tone of new knowledge about bacteria, infections, prevention, chemicals, how to dispose of hazard waste, sustainable cleaning or customer service.

Never judge the difficulty of a job by its salary or by the skills you think a person should posses for it. Especially if you never worked a day in your life in that job. Yes, some jobs are easier than others. Does that mean the people who are doing them are stupid? No.

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I thought of writing this article after I got fed up with the endless articles about birth rates declining and the constant blame put on women because they choose to pursue higher education. I thought that we left this behind many decades ago but as I can see this is the number one scapegoat most people around here prefer to point at. I won’t get into the importance of education nowadays because when it comes to pursue one, it’s each to its own, I would say it better to have one than none at all.

The ones who are usually barking so much on the subject are men who complain about their poor peers who remain in the countryside, choose to stay out of school or pursue a professional school and then remain single because those “damn harpies” choose careers and move to the big cities. They usually come up with apocalyptic future scenarios of old spinsters, damnation, cats and loneliness. In addition to that they are also complaining that these women are too picky, too stuck up and that nothing is good for them.

My first thought is, then why don’t you go and get an education yourself? Why are you jealous on a person who wants to build a future for themselves and their world doesn’t revolve around yours? Because believe it or not, you are not the center of the universe and no person owes you anything.  You miss the good old days when women were barefoot, knocked-up in the kitchen? Then be prepared to have a super income because nowadays you can rarely manage on one salary. The biggest problem with these people is that they live in the past, in a world of fantasy.

Being dependent and relying on a guy (of one’s free will) is perhaps the most stupid thing you can do. But again, I also guide myself on “the best person to rely on is yourself” philosophy. You never know when the other one will kick you in the curb or you know, misfortunes happen. I was also taught wisely by my parents that it’s better to have your own finances and never rely on anybody.

Nobody stops you from studying and earning a degree if you want. Not in Finland where (for the moment) there are no tuition fees. But some people don’t want higher education and others are not meant for it. Which is fine. But stop complaining and blaming other people for your incapacities or laziness. And stop blaming the system that it favors girls. If you really want to achieve something, no system will stay in your way. I saw proof with my own eyes and of both genders.

Blaming women that they are too picky is rather shallow I would say. As mentioned before, nobody is entitled to like you. These women have their own preferences, own personalities and own minds and they’d better be picky if it is about something so important as sharing life with somebody. It’s better being alone that be with somebody just for the sake of being and then realize you share nothing in common or even hate each other.

As for the profession part, these “critics” must live underground because lots of us are not hunting for a profession. For me it is a deep insult to hear that I’m a stuck up academic bitch who doesn’t even look at blue collar workers. Profession has never been an issue when I connect with another person because I look at that person as a human being not at a profession. One of my top priorities is mutual respect. If that is missing, I’m sorry to say but it won’t work. I never looked down on any person because of their profession (sadly I can’t say that was mutual, I’ve been humiliated many times while working blue collar jobs). Professions can change but the dynamics between two persons is much more complicated and I doubt that a profession or education has so much to do with it. My partner didn’t even attend high school and I have two MA’s and I must say that it would be quite a shock for these people who can do nothing more but judge. It’s true, I did hear nasty remarks from some that how can I be in a relationship with such a person, pointing out the fact that I’m superior because of my education. Needless to say I cut any ties with these people. If you can’t respect people I care about, I don’t have any obligation to respect you. An MA diploma doesn’t make me superior in any way but the fact that I respect people the way they are and not judge them like you do, yes, that makes me superior to your judgmental ass.

And before blaming women that they are like this and like that and don’t pay attention to you, take a look at yourself first. Do you think somebody would like to be with a person who does nothing but blame others and likes to dictate how others should live? Because I wouldn’t. Before demanding things from others take a look at yourself. Are you worth it?

 

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Then he approached me so much, I could almost feel his breath on my face: “Yes, you have brown hair and eyes but you are way too white.” Said this dude after hearing where I am coming from.

“I can see you girls are of another race”, says my friend’s neighbor while we were walking together in the neighborhood. We are white Caucasian just like this neighbor.

“Are you Italian? You have brown hair and the shape of your nose is weird”. I hear at a seminar. No I’m not Italian, but close enough. I really don’t want to make conversation with you because you are rude. You just don’t comment on a random person’s outer appearance.

Plus the countless questions of where I am from and what I am doing here, some followed by suggestion to dye my hair blonde so I could be more like the locals. The fact that I speak the language fluently and I had no cultural shock whatsoever upon moving to Finland does not count. Now I should alter my looks. What next? Am I supposed to spend few thousands euros to get that weird nose fixed, too?

I am well aware of the fact though that my skin complexion worked in my favor here because otherwise I would have got nastier remarks and I think even faced violence as some of people I know did. But was negatively amazed to see how far people’s ignorance and stupidity can go. If you have a problem with the simple fact that a person has brown hair and most of people around are blonde then you don’t deserve the slightest drop of attention. To me this mentality of “change your outer appearance to blend it” is the most obvious form of following the herd. And I’ve never been good with that. It never crosses my mind to ask people about their background when we first meet and it’s definitely out of the question to make comments on their outer appearance. There are plenty of other subjects to open a conversation with and saying one of the above denotes lack of imagination.

Yes, I heard the excuse “but we are a small country and blah, blah”. That excuse would have worked maybe 50 years ago. It’s 2017 so snap out of it. People are moving around and I really hate to hear somebody playing the naive card “but what are you doing here?”. There are very few reasons why a person would choose a country and I’m definitely not interested in any of them. If they mentioned it fine, but I wouldn’t ask. Because it’s not my business.

As for dyeing my hair blonde to “fit in” let me tell you something: I would definitely hate having blonde hair. First, I really love my natural brown hair and I rarely dye it because there is no need to. If I choose so, then I would choose a color which is close to my natural one because blonde doesn’t fit me at all. Second, dyeing my hair blonde would take a significant toll on it because of the bleaching treatment, not to mention that I need to do that every time my hair grows because it looks hideous to have it half of two colors. I really don’t want to pour chemicals on my head and destroy my hair because of some people’s ignorance.

 

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I’m writing this to document my struggles “switching” to a new field and to remind myself that some people are not worth listening to. In fact, they are worth nothing. I don’t know if I will follow this path, I do doubt myself a lot sometimes and some of the people around don’t make it easier either. But one thing is sure, I will never look at my abilities and determination, the same way again after these studies are completed.

Let’s start from the beginning. I started studying chemistry in the sixth grade. Before that, I discovered some of my dad’s old chemistry books. I fell in love with it because it seemed like a fascinating world. I couldn’t wait to start the classes to learn more, to enter the lab and do all those experiments in the book. It was a subject that unlocked the mysteries of the world around me, it would make me understand the world to its tiniest core up to complex phenomena.

This is not how things went. Our teacher didn’t really care to teach, to make us understand. There was no passion and even worse, when I did ask for clarifications I was called stupid: “I said it once, why weren’t you paying attention/are you stupid?” Obviously if I didn’t get it in a second, I was automatically stupid. I had no support in solving exercises and even if I tried but failed, I got the usual scolding…you are so stupid, how can you not understand a thing so easy? No support, no encouragement and as a child I believed it. I was too stupid, that was too difficult for me. I gave up. I didn’t pay attention anymore, I started skipping chemistry classes and I declared an eternal hate and disgust for this subject (along with maths and physics – secondary school physics teacher was horrible). Never again. I was done.

I chose a humanities class in high-school and ignored science classes completely. We had bad science teachers there also. They were not interested, no passion and the usual – those humanities dumb heads, not that they would understand anything. But there was a spark. In my first year of high-school, we had a very cool physics teacher, I enjoyed hear explanations and her way of teaching. I understood things very fast and at the end of that year I got one of the best grades in physics. She left. After that, I stopped studying physics; her replacement did not live up to the standards.

Fast forward 13 years. After years of studying in humanities, and specializing myself in museum studies I fell in love with a branch of museum profession called conservation. I said that nothing will stop me to study that. Bad luck…chemistry was needed. Only the first high-school course but still. I cut my ties with chemistry right at that very beginning; it was like I never studied it. Because I never did, actually. I skipped most of the classes and barely passed. I wasn’t interested. I went to the library and took that book, opened it and tears came into my eyes. I didn’t understand anything. It seemed so difficult. But I said: YOU WON’T GIVE UP! And I didn’t, I bought the book and started studying chemistry on my own. First months were hell. There was nobody to help me, nobody I could ask. Swearing, frustration, tears, ripped pages with exercises. But time went and I started understanding. I was so happy after few hours of struggle to understand and even solve problems on my own. And at one point I realized, with amazement that I started liking it.

After going through just one chemistry course (out of five), I signed up for university. Chemistry. One of the craziest, if not the craziest, thing I did in my life. No background studies and there I was, sitting in a class with people who had a strong background in chemistry. I realized what I have done one week before I started the classes. I panicked so bad that I almost puked right before my first chemistry class. How could I keep up with these people? They are so advanced, I know nothing. You have no idea how many times I cried after classes because I couldn’t understand almost anything. But I studied on my own and in one month I went through the whole 5 high-school courses, at basic level, at least to understand the concepts. (thank you opetus.tv!) Until now I am proud to say that I have passed all courses with a very good in Chemistry of the Environment. And I think I’m falling in love with chemistry to the point of thinking to switch completely to science and start my studies all over again.

Things aren’t so easy, however. I did mention the struggles and certain people in the beginning. Let’s put it straight: chemistry, like any other subject, is not easy. Especially when you are crazy enough to sign up for university courses with no strong background. But that’s not the point. You can learn it; I’m a living proof of that. What makes it worse, are the people around you. In my case, it started with the teachers. A bad teacher will make you hate a subject or if you are lucky, you’ll be just indifferent to it. I can’t complain now, my present chemistry teacher had always had the patience to explain the most stupid questions I asked him. And that’s what makes a good teacher.

But what is worse, is other people’s attitudes. I was told that this is useless because if I don’t understand things right on the spot then I have no talent for it. Have these people heard that work is required in every field? You don’t wake up overnight and get top grades. Everything requires hard work and passion. Chemistry is not like singing, you have the voice or you don’t. Even singing requires lots of work. Very few people are born with extraordinary talents. The rest of us have to work. Giving up is not an option.

I was told that I’m at that age when you are too old to study and as a woman I should have other normal priorities (read lifescript), not dreaming of a career in a STEM field. To be clear, lifescript has never interested me. It might suit others but I always found it extremely boring. If an activity is not intellectually challenging or has a certain degree of difficulty, I drop it. I love studying, reading, thinking and solving problems a lot. Am I 100% at this point that I want to go into STEM? Maybe not 100 but I’m strongly considering it. I do love my job a lot and my present field but studying chemistry will never take me away from cultural heritage field. On the contrary, I will become one of those multidisciplinary persons with a wide understanding of various disciplines and enhanced capacity of solving problems and be innovative.

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Yesterday, I had a brief talk with my flatmate about her study period in Finland and from one subject to another we started talking about things one hears hundreds of times while studying or moving here. I don’t take these things as an insult but after hearing them so many times, it gets tiring and at one point not all people have friendly intentions when they ask you about your background and motives for being here.

  1. Where are you from?

I hear this one almost all the time. In my first years here it was normal as I was studying in an international environment and met people from all over the world so we did ask each other a lot where are we from. Nowadays people ask me where am I from because of my accent. Sometimes they don’t even bother and take a wild guess: are you Russian or Estonian? Or some start talking to me in Russian all of a sudden which make me have a complete block because I don’t speak nor do I understand Russian. Other guesses regarding my nationality were Italian and Spanish. I think the closest is Italian.

I do not mind the question but given the nasty reputation that Romanians have (lots of thanks to Finnish media for that), I do have some hesitation when answering, also depending on whom is asking. The nastiest reactions I got were from older people when upon finding out where am I from they stopped talking to me and ignored me completely. I remember in particularly two cases, an older lady and a man, who looked at me so disgusted, if spitting was allowed, I think I would have gotten a phlegm on my face. Once an older guy, after hearing my country of birth, he got so close to me, started staring at my face analyzing every feature: “Yes, you have brown eyes but you are too white for a Romanian.” In fact, my eyes are hazel and yes, Romanians are white unless you don’t mean a certain minority and I guess he meant just that.

  1. Why did you come here? Why did you choose this country? What are you doing here?

It’s quite difficult to reply to these questions because, besides family ties, I do have other reasons I am here but I really don’t want to explain them to strangers, they wouldn’t listen anyway. My Romanian friend told me that some persons ask with a kind of annoyance in their voice which implies “oh no, again a foreigner, what the heck are they doing here?”. I didn’t really pay attention to it but it might be very well be. They usually shut up when I mention family ties.

  1. You speak Finnish so well!

I do take this as a compliment but sometimes it goes too far. For example, I barely manage to say “hello, nice to meet you” to a stranger and they immediately jump to the conclusion that I talk Finnish very well. I know they are trying to be polite but it’s just ridiculous. Wait until we talk about life’s deep philosophical matters and nuclear energy. Then tell me how god my Finnish is.

I do know though that I make mistakes and my language is not as good as some claim. There were at least three persons who criticized my language skills. One of them did it in a very constructive manner and I appreciated that a lot (she is a teacher afterall). The other two were just being assholes. One of them cannot speak anything else besides Finnish and the other just English but for him is perfectly ok to make fun of people who are trying to learn other languages than English.

  1. Do you like it here?

Of course, I do otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

  1. What do you think about Finland?

Again if I start a long endless discussion about things I like in Finland (and there are lots of them) my interlocutor would probably get bored so I just say “it’s nice”. End of story. If they want to know more, they can ask. I’ll gladly answer.

 

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Regarding my last post and some of the claims that students get too much money and they spend it on going out and drinking, I decided to write about living on student financial aid. The student financial aid includes the aid and some help with the rent – which depends a lot on the rent. Also the aid is given taking into consideration the degree so you might have it for 36 or 25 months or for another period of time depending on the length of the studies.

It is a while since I got my student aid but as far as I remember it was for around 25 months and about 450-460 euros per month. The rent was about 235 euros per month in a student apartment. Now, let’s do some simple math: after paying the rent I was left with 225 (given that the aid is 460 euros, rent includes water, electricity, internet + other administrative expenses). Finland is one of the most expensive countries in EU area and the food is quite pricy.

What can you eat with 225 euros per month? If you take the lunch at the student cafeteria it costs 2,60 euros. Let’s say you eat one lunch almost everyday at the student cafeteria – that is about 80 euros. So, you are left with about 145 euros. You also need to buy food for breakfast and dinner and one may assume that vegetables, fruits, meat (a generally balanced diet but nothing extravagant) would cost about 20-30 euros per week – 4 weeks = 80-120 euros.

You are left with 25-65 euros. There is also the phone to pay, I have a cheap operator so I pay around 10 euros per month. What’s left? 15-55 euros per month.
And here I didn’t include: products of personal hygiene, clothing items, kitchenware, books, office supplies, bus card, medicine, electronics and other items that one uses in their everyday life.

So I wonder, where do these people get the idea that 460 euros is enough to go clubbing and get drunk? This sum is barely enough to survive if parents don’t help you and if you don’t have any job. Many students do work during the summer if they are fortunate enough to find a job and save money for the school year. That was also what I did.

Of course, I’ve heard the ones who blame young people that they don’t take blue collar jobs because they are lazy and entitled. My observations show exactly the opposite but unfortunately not even these jobs are enough for everybody. It’s not that we are lazy and entitled – it’s just that even these jobs are hard to find and get. But that’s another story for another time.

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