In Finland, you can contact a job center (T-Palvelut) and sign up for integration courses. I went to the biggest T-office on Ratapihantie 7 and said that I want to apply, in English, of course, because I knew only a few words in Finnish back then: moi (hello), kiitos (thank you), kauramaito (oat milk) and sipuli (onion).
I filled out a form on a computer. The form was hard to understand even in English. I could’ve asked for help, but I was too afraid, so instead, I just googled all the unknown words.
Then I was invited to a job fair. I signed up for it, but it ended up not happening, because the pandemic started, and we couldn’t go out anymore.
The goal of the courses
After a while, I had an initial assessment of my language skills on the phone, I had some words dictated to me and I had to write them down. Then I sent a photo of the words I wrote and got the result: I was a complete beginner in Finnish. That determined my level and the class I’d be sent to.
I also had a talk with an advisor to discuss my plans on getting a job and education in Finland. I was lucky to have this conversation in my native Russian language. Though the advisor was Finnish, I got a very Russian-like hostile vibe from her. She became my personal advisor and developed my 1,5-year integration plan.
When the preparation part was over, I just had to wait for the start of the courses. And, let me tell you, it was quite a wait. I applied in March, and the courses started only in August. I was told that meanwhile I could try to learn Finnish by myself. However, I decided to pass, as I was sure that I would be taught properly in class, so why bother.
You might’ve already guessed by my tone that it turned out to be a mistake. Please don’t exclusively rely on the courses, start learning the language before moving here! Try to learn something while waiting, talk to locals, be proactive.
During the waiting period I wrote a book called Veganism in Questions and Answers. This book became outdated very quickly, and now I sort of regret wasting my time. I think I should have organized the information a little differently. Then I immersed myself into creating and developing veganrussian.ru, and months flew by.
First part of the courses
I liked the first part of the courses, we had in-person classes back then. They took place in a special center named Live, which was about half an hour away by bike.
Our group consisted of 20 people, but we were divided into smaller groups of 10.
We had to attend classes 5 days a week, each class lasting two hours. One group started early in the morning, at 9 or 10 a.m., and the other one two hours later. We swapped our time every week, so some days you could sleep in while others had to wake up early.
Personally, I think it’s virtually impossible for me to wake up earlier than 9 a.m. (no joke), so no matter how hard I tried to get up earlier to create a decent routine, I never succeeded.
We had lunch breaks, but I never felt hungry in class, as it didn’t last that long. Sometimes I brought some nuts and dried fruit, following the example of a classmate I befriended. Besides, the building next to us was a hospital with a cafeteria that had some vegan snacks.
Studying was hard since everyone knew at least some basics while I knew nothing. I felt embarrassed. While I worked and promoted veganism in Russia, my classmates tried to assimilate and learn the language. To be fair, I pulled myself together rather quickly. I started taking extra Finnish classes, found myself a private tutor on profi.ru, and everything got a lot better.
I liked the structure of the classes. There were no formalities between the students and the teacher, so it was very easy to converse (he wouldn’t answer in English, but you could talk in Finnish about anything). I didn’t have to get embarrassed asking for permission to go to the bathroom, I could just get up and go if needed. We were also allowed to eat and drink during the class.
Our teacher Fabricio asked us different questions, and we took turns answering them. For instance, he asked if we’d ever ridden a horse. I was never hesitant to state my values and say that I am vegan and I don’t do that.
We did a lot of exercises not from just one coursebook (No niin!), we were also provided lots of various handouts. My tutor said that learning was much more effective that way, so I trusted her. However, it was irritating to carry with me a book that we barely used. Good thing we always needed a notebook and a pencil (you can buy them in Suomalainen, a bookstore, or in Flying Tiger, a homeware shop).
My favourite part of the classes was playing Kahoot! I won many times, so I really looked forward to this game each time.
I usually did my homework right before classes with a clear head. It rarely took more than 10-30 minutes.
Two times a week (Thursdays and Fridays), we had lectures about society in Finland. A lot of the information there was focused on finding a job, as it was one of the main goals of the courses, to prepare us for a job search. Those classes seemed utterly dull and impenetrable to me. I wasn’t sure if anyone in our group had a vocabulary big enough to understand anything. That being the case, very few people attended classes on Thursdays and Fridays. To be completely honest, I sometimes skipped them too.
In the end, we had an exam held by another teacher. We were given a couple of hours to complete our tasks in the form of tests and writing. If you worked in class, the tests were not that hard, and also, as I noticed, the grades were slightly inflated.
At the end of the first part of the course, I had a four-week internship. Searching for an internship is not a great way to spend your time even under normal circumstances, so imagine doing that during a pandemic. Nobody was hiring.
I really wanted to get a job at a vegan place or production, but I was either rejected a position or simply ignored.
I had to seek advice on Facebook in a group called «Vegan Helsinki». I was told to apply to WeFood charity shop, where I was eventually hired.
After the internship, the courses were officially over, and we were invited to get our certificates. Because I never shied away from expressing my views, I was gifted vegan chocolate instead of milk chocolate that was given to everyone else. I was really touched by this, and I will never forget this simple act of kindness.
Second part of the courses
Here is where everything went wrong, and I regret wasting my time on this.
My friend from the first part of the course and I got into different groups, and I wasn’t able to make any new friends. We had classes on Teams, and nce striking up a conversation online was not easy (I befriended my previous classmate when I spoke to her after class).
Our lessons were clearly not suitable for online studying. I am convinced that teaching online is a skill to be learned and it’s not easy when don't have any experience in it. Most of the time, I didn’t get anything, I just sat there for 5 hours straight trying to understand what I was being told. It felt like I was wasting 5 hours of my life. Now I’m sure that’s exactly what was happening.
At the end of the second part of the course, I realised I hadn't learned anything new, and the only progress happened thanks to my private tutor. I didn't make any new friends, barely passed the exam and didn’t improve my listening and speaking skills.
The worst thing happened at the graduation. We were all gathered at the students' kitchen at the Taitotalo building (the second part of the course was held by a different school). There, my teacher and my classmates made coffee and tea, cut some sweet snacks, boiled eggs, etc. During the course, I didn’t get a chance to mention I was vegan, so nobody was aware of that.
I sat there stunned for an hour while people around me consumed animals and parts of them. I felt awful. I was so out of it that I was not able to gather my thoughts and ask whether it was okay if I just took my certificate and went home. When they finished, I left as fast as I could and then burst into tears.
To sum up, it’s a Russian roulette, courses may turn out to be useful or not, you’ll never know in advance what to expect. You can try your luck, but it’s quite possible you will just waste your time. If you don’t want any unpleasant surprises, you are better off studying by yourself or with a private tutor.
However, it’s also important to note that for taking this course you can get about 300 € a month in addition to your unemployment benefits.
Text by Marina Yastremskaya
Translated by Arina B.
Edited by Anastasia Sirotkina