Designing a pretty life: From Guatemala to Finland

  • An expat in Finland
Interview
Published 6 months ago

Omar is from Guatemala and arrived in Finland eleven years ago as the singer in a heavy metal band. Ever since, many things have changed — the group split up, Omar obtained the Finnish nationality, and he has created a loving family. Follow us on this exciting journey of a designer, musician, and avid traveller from Guatemala to Finland. 

Hi Omar, please introduce yourself. Where are you from, what are you doing in Finland, and what were you doing before you arrived?

My name is Omar Escalante, and I am from Guatemala. I work in the marketing department for an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) and blockchain company as a graphic designer. Before coming to Finland, I was working in a bank.

What brought you to Finland? How long have you been in the country?

I came to Helsinki, Finland eleven years ago as a musician with a metal band to try our luck in a country where the metal genre was thriving.

What is the process of moving to Finland?

First, I got a visa as a musician. Later, I switched to a student visa, and some time ago I obtained the Finnish nationality after passing the national Finnish language exam.

What is your favourite thing about Finland, and what is your least favourite thing?

Finland is a very safe country and everything — from the public transport to public services and education — works very well for everyone’s benefit. My least favourite thing is what else? The weather. Winters are long and cold, and from December to April temperatures can be at minus degrees.

How would you describe Finland in one sentence?

Finland is cold.

Snowed bicycles in Helsinki
Image by Omar Escalante

What has surprised you the most about Finland?

The long days of light in the summer and the long days of darkness in the winter. In the middle of the summer, we get up to 19 hours of sunlight in the south.

How is today’s expat job market in Finland?

The job market is too competitive. It is difficult to find a good job in Finland even if you are a local; for expats and immigrants, it is twice as difficult. Many people with a master's degree, for example, work in cleaning services or do jobs, which are irrelevant to their field of study.

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in Helsinki, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?

Rents in Helsinki are very high-priced, and usually, the apartments are tiny. When you are house-hunting, you are usually after the same place with 30 or more other candidates. To be chosen by the owner, you have also to be very lucky.

What are the biggest holidays in Finland?

Midsummer is the biggest national holiday in Finland, which is also known as Saint John's Day. It is a celebration of the summer solstice, of the white nights, and of the beginning of summer weather. On that day, the Finns usually escape the city and go to their summer cottages with family and friends for barbecuing and fishing. They also light bonfires and bathe in saunas.

Picnic in Helsinki
Image by Omar Escalante

How do you find the lifestyle in Helsinki?

The standard of living in Finland is quite good. Finland has one of the best education systems in the world, and families with children are helped a lot with the financial support of child benefits and parental allowances.

How is the transportation system in Helsinki? How do you move around?

The transport is a bit expensive, but it is excellent. Think that even in heavy snowstorms, there’s always transport.

Do you feel that you have adapted to your new life?

I think yes. I have adapted to the Finnish lifestyle, but there is always a part of me which feels that I am not from here.

What do you do in your free time?

I spend time with my family, and sometimes I draw.

Skiing in Finland

Are there activities for people who enjoy nightlife?

There are many places in Helsinki to party and entertain yourself.

What new habits have you developed in Finland?

I am now on time for my appointments and meetings, and I have changed my etiquette in public spaces.

And what old habits have you quit?

Eating guacamole.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Helsinki?

The most expensive thing in Helsinki is your rent — a studio apartment can cost up to 850 Euros. The bus card costs 100 Euros per month; beer in the centre of Helsinki in a regular bar costs about seven Euros and bread costs between 2,50 and three Euros.

What is something that you would like to do in Finland but haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?

I would love to give my metal music another try.

Live performance in Helsinki

Share your most memorable experience in Finland.

The first concert I played in with my band, which made us the first metal band from Guatemala to play in Finland.

If you could do the move to Finland all over, what would you do differently?

I would have studied the language in advance, before my move.

What are your favourite local dishes?

My favourite local dish is salmon.

Fishing in Finland

What do you miss the most about your home country?

The weather. We have two seasons; the rainy (winter) and the dry (summer) season. During both seasons temperatures are pleasant.

Have you had a moment where you almost felt like leaving Finland? How did you overcome that? What kept you there?

Yes, I have had several occasions when I was ready to go back to Guatemala. But following the news about Guatemala is enough to change my mind. Finland is a safe country for my children to grow happy and my family to exist in peace.

Can you give some useful tips that soon-to-be expatriates in Finland might benefit from.

It will always be difficult to live as an expat. For me, the key is the adaptation.

What are your plans for the future?

To see my children grow.