NRI Voice: Cold Winds, Warm Hearts and Other Finnish Charms

Finand-based PhD student Janani Fernandez talks about the adjustments and excitements that comprise life in a Nordic country.


One of the biggest adjustments that Janani Fernandez had to make when she moved to Finland three years ago involved the weather conditions. “My first winter here I refused to leave my bed,” says the 25-year-old PhD scholar. “I just stayed there with a warm blanket, sometimes two. Sent someone else to do my shopping. The nest winters were easier.”

Tiruchirappalli-born Fernandez, who is pursuing a doctorate in audiotechnology at Aalto University in Espoo, takes Vitamin D supplements during Finland’s dark winters. “Winter sickness or seasonal sickness is a thing. Without a UV lamp, I’m useless in winter.”

The endless sun in summer poses a different kind of problem. “In summer, I find my sleep is lighter when the sun is up, which leads to a different kind of tiredness. Life without blackout curtains at that time is impossible,” says Fernandez, who is exploring the application of psychoacoustic techniques for cochlear implant and hearing aid users, and other alternative hearing protection techniques.

Fernandez tells Little India about the other perks and challenges of living in a Northern Europe country:

Quirks and Culture Shocks

The weirdest feeling for me since I came here in August 2015 has been that the light switches work differently here. What in India is the ON position is the OFF position here, and vice versa.

Although people here are very helpful, they are incredibly reserved. For a shy person, getting help can be extremely difficult. However, if you get over your hesitation and actually talk to people, they will even go out of their way to help you. Once when I was trying to go from the airport to my flat at 2 a.m. and was so sick that I could barely stand, two Finns guided me to a bus, told me when to get off, and called a taxi to pick me up from there and take me right to my flat.

Janani Fernandez

I’m lucky enough to be in a university environment, so I face less racism. However, several people assume that I would be a vegetarian. A former flatmate of my boyfriend told me, while inebriated, that he had been afraid when I started staying over at their flat because he had beef in the fridge. He thought I’d kill him in his sleep. And he was only half joking.

Many people are startled by my Portuguese/Spanish surname, and one person kept asking me where I’m “really from.”

Judgement from Subcontinent

I sometimes face more judgement and stereotyping, or just plain sexism, from people from my own subcontinent than from the Finns. During my first week here, two Pakistani men assumed I would be down to make food for them. I had never offered that nor did I know them for longer than two minutes at that point in the conversation. Later on that same day, I met a group of Indian men and one woman. I hung out with them for a while, and noticed the woman let them take the lead. I left their company when the men tried to force the same on me, trying to prevent me from having a conversation with two Finnish men as well as openly passing comments when I had a beer. They also tried to stop me from participating in some games at the welcoming party for the new students at the university.

One weekend, I had two separate encounters with Indian men, one in the lobby of my apartment block and another on a bus. Both conversations were the same. They asked where I was from, what I was doing here, then asked if I was here with my parents, or with a husband. When I told them I was here on my own, they were horrified that my parents “allowed me to do this.”

I have also noticed a few dirty glances when I am out with my British boyfriend. Once, in a grocery store, a couple of South Asian men stopped talking to me when my boyfriend walked up and put some groceries in our basket. Indians rarely approach me when I’m in his company. Only one Indian did that — a woman who needed directions.

Education in Finland

One definite thing that is wonderful about Finland is the importance they give to education and students. PhD students in Finland are paid handsomely, even as compared to other parts of Europe. Undergraduate and postgraduate students get amazing benefits, both from government and private organizations. Even in supermarkets, students earn twice as many points with a membership as do others. Banks give discounts to students for services, and even a particular credit card for university students.

Life in Nordic Country

Finland gives me freedom — I am allowed to do whatever I want as long as I obey the laws. I don’t have the same feeling of social pressure here as I do back in India. What I do miss about India is the three Fs — family, friends, and food! Also, my cat. One of the not-so-great things about Finland is the food, so I make it myself as much as I can.

However, the downsides are complemented by great things such as the public transport system, which gives easy access to any part of the country. When I get time I go out with my coworkers and friends to a pub, or a cat cafe.

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