Expat insights – Lauren Bengston
Lauren Bengston moved to Finland with her husband Matt and their young son in November 2016 from Virginia. Their move was the result of a deliberate desire to move to Sweden, but along the way they were redirected.
“Matt has Swedish ancestry so we wanted to move there, but it turned out that he was one too many generations removed, so that route was closed to us. We still wanted to move to the Nordics and Matt was a big fan of Unity, just the gaming system as it is so he looked and found a job there. In basically two months we had moved to Europe.”
Lauren and Matt also chose Finland because of the quality of life saying, “We were most looking forward to having a better work-life balance of being able to go on vacation and have family time.”
Lauren has been a stay at home mom in Finland, but is ready to start working again. She exemplifies the challenges of accompanying spouses. It’s been one of the biggest challenges to get settled in for her. “I have a degree in Graphic Design and I was working as a Graphic Designer before I had my son. I have started searching for a job again, but if in the United States it was hard… in Finland it’s even harder” she says and laughs.
Although Finland has a reputation as a country where the taxes are high, the reality of the situation still surprised the Bengstons. “We knew that the taxes were higher of course, and that you get a lot for those taxes like universal healthcare, education, for example, but when we got the first paycheck we were still surprised by the number.”
Another surprise was the Finnish concept of personal space. “I was told that Finns like their personal space. I find it a little contradicting because even though Finns do like their personal space, they will also cram into an elevator with three prams and everyone is shoved up against the wall. I thought that was kind of funny.”
Lauren advises people to be well prepared before making the decision to move. “It’s going to cost a lot more than you think it’s going to cost! Also, no matter how much money you think you’ll save by buying new furniture here and selling your old furniture back home — don’t do it. Ship your furniture here. It will be so much less stressful! There was also a small culture shock, but I’ve made new friends — more friends, in fact, since moving here.”
She also has a few words for companies. “I think the local support we got was key. I feel like if we had just been thrown over here like some of our friends, I don’t think we would have transitioned as easily. We got help with getting our bank account and IDs, our consultant spoke with…I don’t even know how many people in Finnish for us. Basically everything we needed to get settled in, we got help with. It was really invaluable. Also, it is important to discuss the cost of living, the more information during the hiring process the better.” This last comment is very important for companies, since it is often a major gap in the hiring process. It can also lead to premature returns, which incur great costs for the employer. Fortunately, this is not an immediate risk with Lauren and Matt.
“Life here is good, we’re adjusting!” she says, smiling.