Puhutaan Suomea Interview - Issue 2, April 2014
Expat-Finland.com is an information resource "All about Living in Finland". Behind the website is Stuart Allt, an Australian who has lived in Finland for 16 years.
Stu, who are you and how did you end up in Finland?
The old story; a girl. We met in a bar in Prague. A year later I came to visit for 3 days and stayed 3 years. We married and moved to New York for a few years, then Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In 2001 we broke up and I came back to Finland for 2 weeks. I'm still here, she's happily married with kids in Tanzania! I stay because of the Finnish culture and people. I believe Finland to be a last bastion of humanity, where freedom is a fact rather than a political slogan, and people are how people should be.
Trying to do simple things at the beginning of the millennium - setting up bank and telephone accounts, getting an apartment etc - was difficult. Not much information was available in English, and Finns at that time were reluctant to speak English. As I worked things out, I had the resources as a Web designer to share that 'know-how'. So the idea for Expat Finland was born; a free resource to help non-Finnish speakers get things done in Finland. The site was launched in 2004. Over the years Expat Finland's focus has shifted; visa and residence information for example is now comprehensively provided by the Finnish authorities, so I try to help in other areas which are not so well covered for non-Finnish speakers.
Expat Finland isn't 'targeted' at anyone; it is not entertaining or sexy, it's just an honest and useful starting point for lots of queries about Finland.
What kind of feedback have you got from the website visitors?
There's not a lot of feedback as such, mostly just requests for assistance. I receive a few emails every year from people who have used Expat Finland to help plan their move to Finland, or get set up here, saying essentially "Helpful site! Thanks!". In 2005 I received an email from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, thanking me for my efforts... which was nice. Unfortunately I can't find it...
In terms of visitors, it's been sad to see over the past decade a steadily increasing flow of traffic to the Employment pages; so many people are obviously desperate for work. I also receive a lot of requests for help in that regard, but there's not much I can do.
What do you love about Finland?
Finns are direct, honest, ethical, sensible. They love to learn; so many Finns study for pleasure, and studying is accessible to everybody - by law! Sexual equality is so normal it's hardly ever mentioned; in Australia that's STILL a raging battleground. Another great thing is that Finns are 'self-regulating'; there's not much crime and no huge drug problem. But not because police are omnipresent, it just 'is' - a rare thing in this world. As long as your way of life isn't hurting somebody, you're pretty much free in Finland. That's the big picture. On a smaller scale, what could be nicer than a summer day at a mökki, having a beer, a sausage and a sauna, and jumping in the lake?
What do you find most challenging here in Finland as an immigrant?
Ironically, one of the same things I love; the directness can be brutal! Aussies are direct too, but I still sometimes feel slammed by Finnish responses. You gotta be emotionally tough in Finland! Also, it takes a long while to be accepted here; you have to prove yourself. That's not racism though; Finns are like that with each other too. Unlike some foreign residents, I don't believe Finland should change to accommodate me. If I can't handle it, tough cookies. I wouldn't change a thing about the Finns.