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Meet Brett Young

January 28, 2014

In Finland years Brett Young and I are about the same age, landing on these shores for good back in 1998. The circle of Canadians in Finland is pretty small and we have crossed paths many times over the years. Our stories are quite similar in many ways and I am happy to call Brett a friend of mine.

I found an article in the Finnish-Canadian Society’s 1997-2 newsletter written by Brett. I recently shared it with him and he got a kick out of it. He remembers it being a kind of plea for help; and said he just wanted someone to notice him so he could stay in Finland. (Yep, I recall doing the same thing at the beginning of 1999 when I was faced with the prospect of going back to Canada as an unemployed university graduate.)

Brett holds a BA Honours from Queen’s University (History) and a Master’s degree in History from the University of Toronto. His thesis examines the Terijoki puppet government set up by the Soviets during the Winter War. Way back in 2005 Helsingin Sanomat interviewed Brett, highlighting the fact that in spite of being married to a Finn and holding down a full-time job at Nokia with the intention of staying in Finland for good, he was denied Finnish citizenship. Back then this article generated a lot of conversation among the Canadians living in Finland.

I have always wanted to find out how Brett’s story had played out since his arrival in Finland and he agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Below is our Q&A:

In 1997 you submitted an article to the Suomi-Kanada Seura’s newsletter discussing your fascination with Finland. In 1998 you managed to finally get here, how did that happen?

It was quite lucky, in fact. I was living in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in 1998 the government devalued the rouble. Things looked dicey, so I started to look around for work, and Finland was (of course) the natural choice. I cold called the Reuters bureau in Helsinki, managed to get hold of the bureau chief and arranged to meet him in Helsinki. We hit it off well, and he offered me a three-month contract. I managed to get another three-month contract after that, and then I was hired permanently.

A bit about your work history since you came to Finland:

So, during my time in Finland I’ve worked with three employers – Reuters, Nokia and Nokia Siemens Networks. During my time at Reuters I held a number of positions including bureau chief, and at Nokia I’ve worked in Communications.

How did you meet your wife?

I met her after having lived in Finland for around half a year. We met on the evening of the 1999 Eduskunta elections at Klaus K, then called Klaus Kurki. How we met is important, I think, to what has been a wonderful stay in this country. I knew about Finland before coming over, and already had a job when I met my future wife. Thus the country and the language were not foreign to me, I was already supporting myself and so it was easier to adapt and integrate.

Highlights between 1998 and 2005:

  • Getting married
  • Birth of first child
  • Covering some very cool stories in business (Nokia), politics (e.g. Jäätteenmäki scandal) and sports (e.g. World Hockey Championships).

Helsingin Sanomat interviewed you in 2005, highlighting the fact that you were considered the “perfect immigrant” and your application for Finnish citizenship was turned down. Did you reapply for your Finnish citizenship?

The rejection certainly cooled off my passion for a bit. I was rejected because I had the wrong type of visa (B vs A), even though I’d lived in Finland for a long enough period of time to qualify. What irked me was that I already knew this was a problem, yet the person at the Finnish Immigration Service told me to write a letter saying I have a family and the authorities could/would look kindly upon this. Well, they didn’t.

I didn’t think about it again until 2012, when I realised that it would take very little effort to apply. I applied, and got citizenship in the autumn.

Do you remember that article causing any controversy?

The 2005 article not so much, but when I wrote in Helsingin Sanomat in 2011 that Finland needed leadership to stop the shocking outbursts of racism from the True Finns, that caused more of a reaction… 

Back in 2005 you mentioned that there was some overall societal hostility towards immigration in Finland, do you think anything has changed on that front?

Well, take a look at the election results and tell me. In a country insulated by geography and a tricky language, without a history of immigration and with a sputtering economy, hostility certainly hasn’t gone away. The True Finns (I refuse to call them ‘The Finns’) have become part of the political mainstream like a lot of protest parties throughout Europe.

That said, I believe that deep down most Finns want to do the right thing, and they often do. You hear the odd case where some local True Finn (or Conservative) politician says something shocking or silly, but you get that in every country.

What will be interesting is how much the main parties like the Conservatives, SDP and Centre will try to steal the thunder of the True Finns as the 2015 elections approach. The  Conservatives and SDP in particular have said/can say things that smell a lot like something from the script of the True Finns.

I’m happy I can now vote in the elections and make a difference!

What has happened in your life since 2005?

A nice mix of personal and professional things, including a second child and work at Nokia getting very interesting. I cannot complain!

You manage very well with the Finnish language, do you feel like you have integrated into Finnish society?

I feel very comfortable here, but I don’t think I’ll ever be mistaken for a Finn: if it’s not the language that trips me up, it’s the looks. That said, as long as you try your best to speak the language things should work out OK.

Do you still feel as passionate about Finland now as you did back then?

Well, 15+ years is a long time to keep sustained passion. 🙂

This country means a lot to me, and I am happy and honoured to be able to live here.

Is there something you don’t like about living here?

Not really, no. This is a great country with many good things going for it.

Tell me about some of your favourite places in Finland.

Oh geez … Tampere, Turku (especially in the summer), Lappi (in the winter), plus exploring the vibrant café scene in Helsinki when time allows.

What kind of advice would you give to foreigners coming to Finland these days?

Do yourself a favour (and the locals too) – familiarise yourself with the country before coming here. Knowledge of Finland or Finnish – any amount, really – will endear you to the locals a lot more quickly.

Finally, Canada vs. Finland in any sport: Who do you cheer for and what is it like in your household during those times?

You saved the toughest question for last … I tend to cheer for the teams that show the most pluck, so in many sports it’s Finland. At the recent World Juniors Championship, I was rooting for Finland, in fact. Over the years I’ve found the Canadian attitude in hockey to be a little too arrogant for my liking.

Luckily, with 2 passports I now have two teams I can cheer for!

Brett has been an enthusiastic Mobro participant the past few years, helping raise awareness and money for men’s health issues as part of the global Movember movement.

Brett has been an enthusiastic Mobro participant the past few years, helping raise awareness and money for men’s health issues as part of the global Movember movement.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Sonia permalink
    January 29, 2014 1:26 am

    Very good interview and well-thought insights – including the blog post from 2011 (it’s not controverse in my opinion, but it’s a typical reaction when a foreigner dares to speak up). For me, nothing but facts. Perhaps except of “immigrants being new to Finland”. In a way yes, but it’s comfortable to hide behind this. Fact is that there were foreigners long time ago who contributed to what Finland is now: think of Fazer, Roberts, Hackman, Stockmann, Sinebrychoff, Kiseleff, Nybius, Pacius, Engel, the fathers of Fiskars and the list is long. Those and others brought to Finland chocolate, coffee, potatoes, sugar, beverages, industrial design, music, retailing, architecture, photography, etc. The believ that current foreigners just “come to take” from Finland is a myth produced by the media and parties like PS. Finland’s immigrant share is tiny in European comparison and less than one-fifth are refugees or “problem foreigners” causing rather costs than gains.

    Probably any foreigner in Finland can see the difference between the newly internationalized Finland after joining the EU back in the 90s and the poisoned climate now. Sadly, no consequences of such a behavior and insults can be seen in the politics. It’s a punch in the face of foreigners and makes me lose trust and confidence in Finnish politics.

    • January 29, 2014 8:22 pm

      They tried to get some nurses from SPain to work here. Most of them
      returned back to Soain or got a job in Germany etc.
      So what’s the point draggin more immigrants to hate there life in here.

      • January 30, 2014 10:59 am

        Life in Finland is what you make of it. I think you have to want to be here, rather than forced to come here because economic circumstances – or other circumstances that puts one’s life out of control… It is far easier to be here if you like it and *really* want to be here.

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