Kathrin Deter, Helsinki

Who are you?

I’m Kathrin! I’m originally from Luxembourg but I have lived in Helsinki since 2010. I’m self-employed, I work in Event and Influencer Marketing and PR, developing campaigns and concepts mainly in the tourism and outdoor industry. On my own blog I share my passion for lifestyle and travel in the north, as well as on Instagram, and hope to show my readers and mainly local expats, to look beyond the stereotypes of their home.Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I left Luxembourg straight after I finished high school to study in Germany in 2007, but I also spent a good chunk of time in Montreal, Canada. My study program took me to Helsinki for an exchange year, but I liked it so much that I stayed.

What challenges did you face during the move?

My proper move, when I decided to stay in Helsinki permanently, was after my exchange, so that’s what I really count. After that year, I found an internship and an apartment, but the majority of my friends from my exchange were gone from one day to another! That was a bit challenging, to kind of “re-integrate” even though I had already lived there for a year.

Are there many other expats in your area?

More and more, yes. Helsinki is considered the European hub for the start-up and gaming industry, so with both of those growing steadily, there have been many more expats coming to Finland. It really started about 5 years ago, when you could feel the shift.

What do you like about life where you are?

I love the Finnish lifestyle, which is very laid-back, open and trustful – and all of that is also reflected in the business environment. I recently wrote an article about the work environment and the differences to other countries I’ve worked in.

Helsinki is wonderful for its proximity to nature and the up-and-coming food scene, its creative people and the flexible and reliable way to get around. I personally like the winters as well, I’m not great with heat – but it’s not for everyone. The gorgeous Finnish summers make up for it though.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I still, after all these years, struggle with the language. Finnish isn’t a language you can learn in a year or two next to work, and I know only few expats who can actually use Finnish in their professional life. I understand well and I get around in daily life, but it can be an obstacle in certain projects with local clients. It’s nothing that should keep anyone from coming here – you can make it work, but you have to adjust your expectations.

I also hate the non-existent spring-time! There’s a few days between winter and summer, but it’s pretty much a black-and-white world until mid-May.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

Probably the way of communicating with each other. What strikes many as a reserved and quiet nation is in fact just pure understanding of the value of conversation. If you have nothing to say, shut up. There’s no meaningless small-talk, but interactions are relevant. Silence is something that is appreciated and being quiet is not perceived as something negative. I have learnt to acknowledge that as something positive, after it can be difficult for some, I believe the sheer understanding about why this is such a big part of culture, already helps others to comprehend this as well. Nowadays I get headaches from the constant chatter around me if I’m abroad!

What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

Food is another thing I’ve learnt to love and cherish, I am now as happy with my rye bread and my cured salmon as many Finns, berries are all I eat in the summer months and baked buns without cardamom feel weird.
There’s nothing I dislike more than terva, which is basically tar. For some ungodly reason extracts of tar are put in so many things around here (both in food and drink) and it’s just the worst! It tastes like eating a campfire and the smell lingers forever. This is just beyond me.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Have realistic expectations as to what you want to achieve with the Finnish language. I wouldn’t recommend coming here without a job and “just trying it here”. This can be extremely difficult and even though there are many institutions that offer help with the job search, if you are serious about making it work for you here, you need to have employment or a proper plan. Otherwise you will struggle a lot.

What are your plans for the future?

I love what I do and who I do it with, and mainly I want to keep doing that and keep getting better at it every day. At this point I focus on developing professionally and growing my network in order to be able to reach full potential in what I do. I’m really happy and grateful that I really have found what I want to do with my life and I have no intention of changing anything!

You can keep up to date with Kathrin's adventures on her blog, Luminoucity, and on Instagram.

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