Hi! I’m Kimberly – a Filipino student here in Finland from Davao City. I’m currently studying in Vaasa as a Cook and planning to complete my studies in Restaurant and Catering Services in June 2021.
FINLAND VS NEW ZEALAND
I was thinking of studying in New Zealand before but eventually chose to study in Finland because my husband wanted to be together with her sister who is currently living here in Finland with her Finnish husband. We heard about this vocational school that offers free tuition and we got interested because the school offers a culinary study program. Studying a culinary program in the Philippines would entail a huge amount of money (around PHP 100,000+ per year). We thought of it as a great opportunity, so we grabbed it.
ARCHITECTURE TO CULINARY
I’m not considering it as a career shift – instead, I am taking Culinary as another career path. I still practice Architecture with my sister (whose also an Architect) doing collaboration projects together in the Philippines.
Studying culinary arts was one of my childhood dreams. I was passionate about cooking since I was a kid and I can say my Dad was my greatest influence because he was a great home cook. I always wanted to pursue cooking as a profession but didn’t got the chance because it was so expensive. Coming from a middle-class family in The Philippines, pursuing a career in Culinary Arts meant that you also have the resources to build your own restaurant and become an entrepreneur in the future and we just couldn’t afford it.
STUDYING IN FINLAND AND EXPLORING EUROPE
Studying in Europe has been a surreal experience! Sometimes I just have to pinch myself to see if I’m still dreaming or not. Every season, all the scenery changes into something you usually see in the movies. Travelling to other European countries has been a lot easier and more convenient. If you are studying in Finland, we have a student visa and it enables us to travel to other EU member states – that way it’s easier and practical to travel to nearby countries.
SMOOTH STUDENT APPLICATION FROM HOME COUNTRY
Visa Application process for me was quite easy. I just sent my application together with other required documents by the school I was applying to. After 2 months, I got the result that I was accepted. But it sure wasn’t an easy process for the school – out of 200 applicants only 60 got accepted. After I received my acceptance paper, I then processed my Student Visa. That time, there was no Finland embassy in Manila. I needed to go to the nearest embassy which was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The most challenging part of the application was providing the financial documents, e.g. the required amount for a year stay in Finland as a student (or as they call – show money). Once all your visa requirements are complete, and you can prove to the Migri that you can support yourself during your stay in Finland – they will grant you the student visa.
Studying in Finland is really flexible and practical. You don’t need to sit for so long in a classroom for theory classes (e.g. memorize lessons during your studies). Here in Finland, teachers allow the students to learn at their own pace. Classes are so relaxed in setting that students don’t feel any pressure and in return they become more efficient and productive. One important thing to remember though is you have to be serious in attending your classes and be time conscious – you should NEVER be late in any appointment (time is greatly valued by the Finns).The teachers will check the progress of each student along the way. The style I guess seems more encouraging and gives the student more flexibility.
I’m studying the Culinary Program which is a total of 2.5 yrs according to their curriculum. Every semester is divided into 9-week study terms – during this time frame, the program prepares you for your working life. After studying a year, we can already apply for part-time jobs relevant to our course since we already have a good working knowledge on food preparation and we have spent 9 weeks practicing in an actual restaurant.
The biggest challenge would be the language barrier. First, we didn’t know how to speak Finnish and Swedish. In Vaasa, mostly Finns living in the area are Swedish speakers because the city is near Sweden. We also have language classes at school but it wasn’t enough to the point that we can converse in a short manner of time. Most of the people are speaking Finnish and Swedish in all work places so I was forced to practice and to even take additional language classes after school. The second challenge would be Winter season – winter season in Finland is from November to March so it’s cold half of the year. As the temperature often drop to -20 °C – it’s really challenging to walk or ride a bike. Public transport like buses don’t come often – once you miss the bus the next one will come an hour after. My school is just 30 minutes away by walking and 10 minutes by bike. Our usual mode of transportation are bikes – it’s more convenient than taking public transportation.
POLAR NIGHT AND CULTURE ADJUSTMENT
Filipinos adjust more easily, there are frequent gatherings during this time. As for me, I usually work on my Vlogs and hobbies at home. It’s easy to adjust to the weather if you are kept busy and have friends to talk to. Some are having challenges like being depressed or irritable. As Finns also relate, everyone is a bit gloomy during this season as the sun rises for just 2-3 hrs a day.
STUDYING IN FINLAND AMIDST COVID-19 CRISIS
Most schools in Finland (if not all) have subsidized meal programs provided by the government. In our school, we have free lunches at the cafeteria. Since the pandemic started – all schools and cafeterias have been closed. Our school launched a program to convert the lunch budget to weekly groceries for students who signed up for it. We were one of the students who got food bags for 8 weeks. Inside the food bag would be food items such as eggs, ham, bread, milk, cheese, vegetables and fruits. These food bags would sometimes last us for 2 weeks instead of just a week so it was helpful for us.
Most of the students were furloughed and some even lost their part time jobs because a lot of restaurants and business establishments closed during the lockdown. Gatherings of more than 10 people were prohibited but wearing of masks were not required. A lot of people don’t wear masks here because the population is quite small and social distancing was also not a problem since Finns love their personal space and respect others’ too.
ADVICE FOR FOREIGN STUDENTS/WORKING PROFESSIONALS PLANNING TO STUDY IN FINLAND OR EUROPE
If you plan to study in Finland, you need to be financially prepared, so be – stay patient and humble. You can find a part-time job even if you are a student, and you can work 25 hours/week. Also, you can find plenty of work opportunities that can support your living expenses during your stay in Finland. Other than that, make friends and reach out to everyone.
More Filipino student stories here.