Oulu expats have hard time to find whom to vote in elections as many candidates lack information in English
The key elements for successful social integration in a new country are language skills, a job or a place to study, an apartment and a daycare or a school for the kids, if you are a parent. Maria Anca Catana, 28, has lived in Oulu since 2016 and is about to graduate from Oulu University this spring as a teacher.
Finding a job after graduation defines whether her family of three will stay in Oulu in the future.
“We moved to Finland from Romania because we love nature, winter and cold climate. We’ve lived in Rovaniemi, Levi and Kuopio, before we decided to settle in Oulu in 2016”, Anca Catana explains.
Anca’s husband learned the Finnish language during the integration courses. Last year he graduated from OSAO as a chef and has worked as an agency worker in various restaurants in Oulu ever since, even though corona restrictions affected the branch. Since the Finnish language was not part of her degree, Anca Catana took all the optional language courses offered by the University of Oulu. She also attended some Villa Victor courses last spring, in preparation for the YKI test.
“I wish I would have started my language studies earlier when I moved to Oulu. My curriculum at the University is in English and I thought that together with my B1-level Finnish language skill would be enough to find a job in the international school, but it seems it is not enough”, she tells.
Anca might continue her Finnish language studies to C-level, if the job search does not bear fruit this spring. “I didn’t know I have to become a proficient language user in Finnish in order to get employed, when I applied to the University for this program. Maybe I would have chosen differently, if I’d known this”, she regrets.
Language barrier affects everyday life
Over the years Oulu’s public sector has improved in providing information in English, but there is still work to be done in this field. When Anca became a parent, she got a pile of instructions on how to take care of the baby after giving birth at home – all in Finnish.
“I didn’t have energy to start translating the papers, but luckily the maternity clinic was very supportive and helpful afterwards - also in English”, laughs Catana.
Oulu’s expat community is steadily growing. In 2021 over 9300 foreign people were living in Oulu and the University is the reason to be here for 1100 of them. University has special services dedicated to international degree students such as career advisor and Talent Hub-project that helps graduates to stay and work in Finland after studies. However, a lot of everyday activities are still in Finnish and the integration of foreign students and native Finns remains limited – especially during corona restrictions. “Which can lead to segregation and even in indirect discrimination”, she adds.
“For example Oulu University’s pop up venue in the city center has most of the events only in Finnish. If the University and Oulu in general wish to track more foreign students and employees, they should focus more on providing information and activities in English”, says Anca Catana.
Personally, she would keep the University premises at Linnanmaa.
“I really like the infrastructure and the area around the University. Nature is just a few steps away and the area is beautiful, compared to the Raksila - area.”
For foreign students it might be also difficult to find reasonably priced apartments from the city centre, which would mean that the expat community would be even more scattered around the city. Anca and her husband have found their friends from their school, most of them are expats.
“Of course I’ve seen over the years how the city of Oulu and the University has improved their services for expats, but for example it is very difficult to decide who to vote for in the upcoming elections. Only a few candidates bother to translate their agendas in English”, she explains.
Expats are being active in finding ways to integrate the local society, but some areas, such as politics and high paid public positions demand still proficient language skills.
From language education to degree studies
Many expats come across to Villa Victor, when they move to Oulu. People visit Villa Victor for multilingual guidance, counseling and Finnish courses.
“Due Corona restrictions all Finnish language teaching is through Teams only at the moment, but still over 500 people study language every month. Before Corona, 850 people were participating in the language courses monthly. In addition, Villa Victor provides S2- language education at the University of Oulu and Nokia Network’s staff”, explains Antti Koistinen, service manager at Villa Victor.
Oulu-opisto and Upper Secondary School provide as well Finnish language studies for adults. Language studies in Finnish can be found from Oulu all the way to a doctor's degree, but if you want to study a professional degree in English, your options are limited.
For example Oulu Vocational College OSAO offers vocational qualifications in English only in Business Management. Oulun Lyseo provides upper secondary education. Principal Raija Perttunen from Oulu International School admits, that the limited amount of education choices in English is a risk in Oulu.
“We have an increasing number of students from primary years to middle years and for the first time in our history, some classes are so popular that students end up in waiting lists. City of Oulu has limited the amount of students we can take in and we simply don’t have room for all the students”, says Perttunen.
Another concern is, how students can continue with their studies after the 9th grade, if their Finnish language skills are not developed enough.
“Risk for social exclusion is high if the students can’t find a suitable way to continue their education path. Situation at the moment is difficult, but we are working on it”, Perttunen adds.
Oulu University of Applied Sciences (Oamk) has two Bachelor’s degree programmes and The University of Oulu has 23 degree programmes in English. If the future plan for Oulu is to increase the amount of foreign students in town, the amount of English degree programmes must be increased as well. National board of education controls the degree programs in Finland and to kick off a new English degree program can take time and bureaucracy.
OSAO, Oamk and the University are doing their share to increase the repertory of English degree programmes in Oulu but municipal politicians can have an impact on expats' lives in Oulu: simply increase the limit of students in Oulu International School. In a few years time, Anca and her husband might need a place to study for their son.
Mun Oulu is an online media that is out and about Oulu and its people. Stories that interest the expat community in Oulu we publish in English. Mun Oulu is published by the city of Oulu.