The Finnish Summer Experience

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

Written by Charlotte Oertel


When he was sixteen, my boyfriend worked for Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas, a soda and beer producer from Laitila.

Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old me was watching Hamlet on stage, laid out tarot cards for my friend Noah, watched Brokeback Mountain and Addams Family in the middle of the night, empty wine glasses on the table. I wasn’t as goth as it may sound. I spend my free days with friends going for a swim, shopping, doing nothing. Everyone my age did so.

See, German teens don’t go to work during summer, it is a system we don’t have. Many companies don’t want to employ under-aged applicants because of tight child safety regulations that come with employees under 18. In case you are lucky enough to get your hands on a mini job for high school students during your six precious weeks of holiday, that alone is no guarantee that you will receive any payment for your efforts. Young workforce in Germany is still often regarded primarily as – cheap workforce. That doesn’t change a lot for university students.

You might have guessed by now where I am heading with all this. I grew up expecting I would start doing “real work” (full-time, daily, important work) somewhere in my mid-20s and perhaps work some hours here and there as a waitress.

Thrown into ice cold water

My working experience in Finland therefore started with being introduced to an (to me) all new, fully unexpected summer job system. If ever in my life I had been thrown into the ice-cold water, it was in late November 2018 when my tutor at university asked me about my applications for the summer of 2019. I have had no idea that I was expected to apply in the middle of winter for a “real work” job that was to take place half a year later. No one ever really prepared the international students for this task. My personal guess is that the Finnish staff at the university underestimates that students from abroad grew up under different conditions, with different employment and work structures. I didn’t expect anyone to take me by the hand and get a job for me, but it would have been nice to know how the system works. I had no idea what to write in my application in order to get a real, actual, important job. I was a student in my first semester, there wasn’t much professional knowledge yet that went beyond the basics. I didn’t have the experiences of 4-5 years of previous important summer jobs and where should I have them from? Companies like the one my father is working for, that produce and sell machinery parts to industrial customers would rather work one staff member short than employing a 16-year-old student because god knows how fast he or she would manage to blow up the whole company building. I ended up spending the following summer in Germany and worked in a bookstore. Now, that was one great summer, but I was afraid of the following winter and what might happen if no job was offered to me. I felt left alone by the university as they failed to introduce us to the core part of our studies.

This summer I wrote one application after the next, received invitations, eventually signed a contract for Alfa Laval here in Rauma, a global company with headquarters in Sweden. Although the majority of employees at the office in Rauma is Finnish, other nationalities are present as well and my non-fluent Finnish wasn’t a liability; in fact, it didn’t seem to bother anyone at all. Work was done entirely in English, but from time to time one of them wanted to practise their German with me. If one of us missed a word, we would ask the person next to us.

The benefit

Corona of course had an influence, for most of the workers worked remotely at the time I started and only during the last weeks of my employment I got to meet all of them. But more than once I was told that international talent is always welcome and wanted and that’s how it felt for me. All my work materials were available in English, my colleagues were curious and friendly, and they asked for my opinions and valued them. Being treated like this felt great, especially after previous disappointments: At the local tax office for example. It was a horror. I was close to tears. The lady there asked me at least five times for the date of my departure from Finland and for my

address in Germany and it took a second person to make her understand that I migrated to Finland, have no idea if I will ever reverse this decision and that I don’t have another address outside Finland.

I am very sure that more companies would make very positive experiences with non-Finnish workers. The biggest barrier is language, of course, but that usually applies to both sides, because most foreigners I have met in Rauma did not come from English-speaking countries either. Many of them speak some Finnish that would improve if being given the chance to work in a Finnish company. I saw that it is possible and that it can be a real benefit for both employee and employer. To the employers I want to say: Don’t be afraid. If there is a will, there is a way. To all you internationals I want to say: There is a place for each of you here and you WILL find it! And if you ever feel like you are stuck, grab your favourite humans and start a creative project to makes you visible, whether it is an open reading group at the library or a mum-and-wine evening once a week. Hands on!