2021 has been the most eventful year of my life so far. Coming from an extremely uneventful year where I spent almost all of my time at home on lockdown, the year started off with me getting accepted into the University of Oulu, Finland in March. I got infected with this virus called COVID-19 (not sure if you’ve heard of it) and went into quarantine on my birthday. I resigned from my first ever job as a Senior Software Engineer at WSO2 after working there for almost 4 years in June. I Traveled to India for a few days for my Residence Permit to Finland in September. Finally, I ended the year with moving to Finland, and starting my new life on the 1st of November.
As hard as it may be to believe, moving to another country during a global pandemic is not easy. On top of that, moving to another country from Sri Lanka was stressful. The cherry on top of this stress cake was the fact that I had to move to a city 300km away from the arctic circle in the middle of winter. Here’s a 2 minute video I made of my journey to Finland and experiencing winter for the first time.
There’s a lot of things to get ready for when moving to another country. Coming from Sri Lanka, which is a tropical country with temperatures that average to around 27 C, moving to Oulu, Finland, where the temperatures go as low as -30 C during the winter was going to be a challenge. Because of that, the main priority was clothing.
I spoke with a bunch of people, and most of them suggested not buying winter clothes from Sri Lanka because they may not suit strong winters. However, having experienced temperatures of -25C, it has not been much of a problem for me so far. Many suggested buying winter clothes from House of Fashions, which is where I got a winter jacket, thermal socks, and some thermal underwear from. However, I did end up getting another Jacket after coming to Finland, because the one I had seemed to be a bit overkill compared to the jackets everyone else was wearing. Anyway, I have a solid jacket that I could use if it ever gets unbearably cold.
I could not find any winter shoes anywhere, and ended up getting a pair from Pettah for 3000 LKR (€13). They were surprisingly solid for the price, and I was able to comfortably handle temperatures of around -5C. But I ended up buying a better pair of shoes after I got here.
Banking and Finances
It turns out that if you are going to live on your own, you will need something called “money” (pronounced “monkey” without the ‘K’), which is used in exchange for goods and services. However, there were two problems here. Because of regulations by the EU, it takes ages to open a bank account in Finland. At the time of writing this, I am still waiting for my bank account to be opened. I will talk more about opening bank accounts in Finland in a future blog.
The next problem was the fact that the Sri Lankan government started putting up tight restrictions on the amount of money that can be sent abroad. This meant that I had to go through an entire process of making something called a “student file” that allows me to send my own money to my own account in another country. Apart from that, there are limits on my credit cards where I could only spend a certain amount per week.
Finding an apartment
Compared to everything else, the process of finding an apartment is relatively easy. As a student, I was able to apply for student apartments in Oulu through an apartment provider called PSOAS. I wanted to live by myself, close to the university. I applied through their website sometime around August, and I got an apartment offer a few weeks before arriving in Finland. I had to make a down payment of €400, which was fun, because of the Sri Lankan spending restrictions, but managed to do it in time to get the apartment I was offered.
Once everything was sorted out, all that was left to do was start packing. I booked a flight with Qatar Airways Student Club, which gave me 35kg of check-in baggage allowance. However, once I started packing, it started becoming clear that I would not be able to bring everything I wanted with me.
Finally, I decided that I should prioritize packing things that I would need immediately after arriving, so that I can survive the next few weeks. Although I was excited about the winter clothes I picked out, I soon came to realise that they are quite heavy. But I ended up packing them anyway because I needed them. Although my jacket helps keep myself warm, it came at the cost of being very heavy. Therefore, I ended up taking it with me throughout my flights to Finland.
I spent the next few days parting ways with a lot of the things that I owned. All of this made me realise that my entire future depends on these 35 kg. The whole thing ended up being slightly over the limit, but lucky for me, it did not become a problem.
I have been preparing for this all year, but the fact that I was actually leaving didn’t hit me until 2 days before I left. I was going to move to a country where I don’t speak the language, and I don’t have any friends and family. The fact that I would have to figure things out on my own really started to set in.
The final days were tough, because you spend most of your time saying goodbye to your friends and family. I was sad and scared, but knew that if I didn’t do this now, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
In the early morning of the 1st of November, I headed to the airport with my parents, said my goodbyes, and off I went to start my new life!
There was a long queue at the check-in counter for my flight. I was waiting in line for over half an hour. This was the weirdest moment of my life. I have been thinking about this moment for many years, and now it’s actually here! None of what was happening felt real to me. I felt as if I was dreaming.
I checked in to my flight and off I went to my connection which was in Doha, Qatar. Everything went smoothly here, and I was able to get myself to my next flight to Helsinki. After a long 6 hour flight, I landed in Helsinki.
Going through immigration in Helsinki was a breeze. They went over my vaccine certificate and Residence Permit, and let me in. After taking a few steps, I have arrived in Finland, my 9th country!
My next, and final stop was Oulu, 600km away from Helsinki. Instead of taking a flight, I booked an overnight train. I arrived in Helsinki in the afternoon, and my train leaves at 11:00pm, which meant I had plenty of time on my hands.
Adventures in Helsinki
I was only in Helsinki for about 8 hours, but I had some adventures while I was there. The first order of business after arrival was to get a sim card. I got a prepaid card at the airport. However, I was looking at getting a subscription as I was going to stay in Finland for a while.
I needed to make my way from the airport to the Helsinki Central train station, which is where I was to catch my next train. I needed to take the metro for this. Once I made my way to the metro station at the airport, I had to figure out how to get myself to Helsinki Central. At this point, I had spent the last 24 hours or so traveling, and I was very tired. I could not figure out how to get a ticket. Lucky for me, one of the staff at the metro took the time to show me how to get a ticket on the machine. She was really nice, and we spent the next few minutes talking about the things I could do while in Finland, until the train arrived .
After that, I got into a metro train, and off I went to Helsinki Central. Since I had some time on my hands, I decided to explore the city a little bit. The only problem was that I was carrying two suitcases, carrying things my life depends on. On top of that, it was 8 degrees outside, which was nothing compared to what was to come, but it was the coldest temperature I have been exposed to in my entire life.
I went into a store of a cell phone carrier in search of a subscription connection. As it turns out, they do not give subscriptions unless you have lived in Finland for a year. After that, I walked around the city for a bit more, got myself something to eat, and went back into the station. After that, I waited there and got some work done while I waited a few more hours for my train.
During this time, I observed the people that walked around. There were a lot of really interesting characters. One guy came up to me while I was watching a recording of one of a lecture and asked if he could practice a presentation with me. He seemed like a university student around my age. He showed some slides on his phone, and did a presentation on the Bible. To be more specific, he made an argument claiming that God is a woman. I really don’t know much about the bible, but his presentation sounded interesting.
While I was working, I had another interesting feeling. I spend most of my time on the computer. Back in Sri Lanka, the air coming out of the cooling fans in the laptop was hot. But I noticed that the air from the fan in Finland was surprisingly cold. Not exactly a noteworthy thing to mention, but it is one of my first core memories in Finland, which I thought was interesting.
On the train from Helsinki to Oulu, I booked a berth, which meant that I had a whole room to myself. I had a safe place to keep my luggage, and a comfortable bed to sleep on. The whole ride from Helsinki to Oulu was 9 hours. I had a decent sleep, but woke up a few times, and spent a few minutes looking out of the window even though it was dark.
I arrived in Oulu at 8 in the morning. The next thing I needed to do was to get the keys to my new apartment. For that, I had to go to the PSOAS lounge, which was in my university. I took a taxi to the university, got the keys, and decided to walk to my apartment. The building was close to the university, so it was just a short walk from there. However, the route that Google Maps showed put me through some areas that were closed. So I ended up spending around half an hour finding my way to the new apartment. Keep in mind that I’m lugging around two big suitcases this whole time.
I finally found my building. Got inside, and found my first ever apartment. This was a huge moment for me. Here are some photos of the apartment immediately after I went in.
I don’t know if it’s noticeable, but there no furniture. Because apparently student apartments in Finland are unfurnished unless you are an exchange student who is only staying for short periods of time. So the next thing I needed to do was to get furniture.
But before that, I had an online lecture. So here’s me keeping my laptop on top of a suitcase, sitting on the floor and listening to the lecture.
I was fully aware that the apartments will come unfurnished. Because of that, I came prepared. The main thing I needed to survive the first night was having something to sleep on. There is a Facebook group called Oulu Sale Point, where people living in the area sell used items. Lucky for me, there was someone in the group who was selling a mattress 2 days before I was supposed to arrive in Finland. I messaged them and reserved it for myself.
They lived relatively close to my apartment. So I walked over there after the lecture and picked it up. They were actually nice enough to offer to take it to my place in their car. I was so glad because it would have been a pain to carry all by myself. At the same time, they gave me a small lamp. So now I had a bed and some light to survive my first night.
This is what the first night of my new life looked like.
Apart from the Facebook group, some other Sri Lankans living in the area had also got in touch with me before I arrived in Oulu. Lucky for me, they had a bed that they were not using. They were actually nice enough to give me the bed for free, and now I have a full bed… almost.
I needed pillows, pillowcases, bedsheets, and something to keep myself warm. Other than being close to the university, I was also lucky enough to find a place very close to a supermarket and a department store. The department store was called Tokmanni. They had almost anything related to household items. I took my large suitcase with me and bought myself some bedsheets, pillows, and a duvet. I also got some groceries, put everything in the suitcase, and took everything with me to my apartment.
While I was going to my apartment, I also noticed that someone had thrown away a perfectly decent chair. So I snagged that, and brought it up with me along with the suitcase. After all that, this is what my second night looked like.
After a few days, I went to a second hand furniture store in the city and got myself a table to work on, a kitchen table set, a lamp, and a microwave. The great thing here was that these were also delivered. I ended up spending €215, which is a pretty good deal. I also bought myself a sweet 32 inch monitor. This is how my apartment looks like after being furnished.
I'm also planning on getting a couch and a TV sometime in the future. Until then, I'm happy with what I have right now.
Experimenting with cooking
On the second day of coming to Finland, I bought some cooking equipment at Tokmanni. Keep in mind that I have never cooked unsupervised my entire life. So, I spent most of my time messaging my mother on WhatsApp asking what kind of pans I should get.
I followed some basic recipes, and made chicken and fried rice as my very first meal. I was so sure that it was going to be a disaster, but it came out surprisingly well.
This went on for a month or so, and after a bit of trial and error, I think I got the hang of this and I have become a surprisingly decent cook.
What else have I been up to?
In the one and half months I was here, I also had the chance to travel around the country and attend various events. A major highlight of my stay was that I went to Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, where I also crossed into the polar arctic circle. Anyway, take a look at some of the photos that I have taken so far!
That is all for now! I am planning on writing a blog series about survival tips on moving and living in Finland. So stay tuned for that. Until then, moi moi!