What I’ve learned from living in Finland about adapting to the local culture

Allow yourself to be changed by a new culture. Work with yourself even in the most vulnerable moments. The most beneficial change happens when you find a way to combine the old with the new.  

According to UN, there are about 244 billion people – 3.3% of the global population – who live in another country than the country where they were born. Some of these global trotters move in search of better economic and social opportunities. Others are forced to live their native places to save their lives.

I moved to another country for the sake of the relationship I was in. Soon after that, the professional life became the reason for living in Finland. Years passed and now, the main reason for being here is my bicultural family.

It’s been an emotionally sinuous journey that shook me up to my core. The reward for the bumps on the road are the lessons, which make me say wholeheartedly that I love my life.

Learn to be flexible

Human beings are made out of habits. We absorb behaviours from the people around us. Each culture has preferred habits. What are the preferred habits of the people in the local culture? Which ones can you see yourself adapting to? Which ones can you influence? Which are the ones you can’t influence but you can accept?

Flexibility is a valuable skill if we want to adapt, love and contribute with something greater than us to the local society.

Start something new

Keep your heart open to new friendships. Keep your mind open to new education. Indulge yourself in new hobbies, etc. Gradually, we build new habits around the activities and people we meet.

There is untapped potential in each one of us, i.e., interests, passions, talents. All we need is a supporting environment. Back in the home country, we may have missed some opportunities that could make us understand how far we can go. Maybe in your home country, you didn’t have snow and have never had the chance to try out your inclination for cross-country skiing. Give it a try in the long days of Winter in Finland. You may like it. If you don’t, what other opportunities would you like to try?

Be open to new experiences. You may not like it when you feel stretched, you may feel tempted to quit. If you persevere, you may be rewarded with a sense of being truly alive. If you persevere and fail, look for a new experience.

Avoid cultural stereotyping

Feeling irritated with the behaviour of the locals is a normal stage of cultural shock. It can be healthy to let some steam off with some friends who are emotionally close to you. Yet, try not to make too big of a deal out of the negative interactions with the locals. In the end, everyone is entitled to an opinion and acts to the best of their judgement. Instead, focus on developing relationships with the locals and other intercultural people who respect and appreciate you.

Stay grounded

Embrace the core home cultural values that are beneficial to you. Revisit sweet memories. The people back in your country of origin who love you and guided you are your safe haven whenever you may feel confused about your living abroad.

Exert Kindness Across Borders

Think good thoughts, for the greater good of humankind. Seek for the good in others. We all feel the need to belong to a place and to someone. Above all, we all belong the the human race.

When you can’t think good thoughts, imagine how it is to be the other one.

I’d love to hear how the living abroad has changed you.


A home across two countries

Moving to another country can change the perception upon important aspects of life, such as the meaning of home. In time, you understand that one side of you belongs in the country of residence whereas the other side has never left from the country of origins. Reconciling both sides is very important for maintaining your authentic self.   

According to the travel writer Pico Iyer, there are 220,000,000 people around the world who live outside their home countries. I am one of these people. When I moved to Finland, I thought I would experience the Finnish way of living for two years and then I’d return back home.

The working environment based on trust and creative freedom made me stay longer. Twelve years after, my residence is still in Helsinki.

When I travel, people usually ask me, “Where are you from?” I may strike them as a strange person when they see me slightly confused and taking a deep breath before answering.

Sometimes I go ahead with the popular saying, “Home is where I hang my hat.”, so I reply “Finland”. Some other times, I reply “Romania”, because that’s where I find my inner peace and I feel closer to God.

The Finnish language, the emotional distance between people and the architecture of the buildings are a reminder that I am an alien to the city where my life is. Thanks to family and friends, I am an alien who is warmly welcome there.

Yet, now and then, I feel the need to retreat to the place which is my true home. Over here, I feel in alignment with the nature.

I watch the sun hiding slowly behind the horizon and I think, “This was a beautiful day!”

Late at night, I look at the starry sky and my heart beats calmly as if it tunes in with the eternity.

The sounds of birds waking me up in the morning are an inspiration for the day about to start – “There is life out there, wake up to feel it!”.

Over here, I stumble upon some people with an incurable joy of life. Talking with them is the best therapy for the soul.

But after a while, this home of mine feels too small. I feel the need to go back into the big and challenging world and discover uncharted sides of my true self.

Living abroad put into light a new meaning of home – Home is the people and place my soul feels to be around, for a while. My home is my soul.

How about you? What is home for you?