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There and Back Again (not a Hobbit’s tale)

October 8, 2014

This is Lim (right) and his wife V and their son H. Originally from Malaysia they have called Finland home for six years, except for the year that they lived in Australia.


I wanted to tell you about Lim and his family because they were immigrants to Finland who left… and came back. Thank you for graciously accepting the challenge of being featured here. This interview took place in May 2014.

A bit about you and your family, where were you born and raised and where did you live prior to moving to Finland?

Lim: We were all born and raised in Malaysia. Our son was born in Malaysia and he was seven years old when we moved to Finland. Prior to that I had studied and worked in America, I was there for eight years.

I grew up in a small town in the southern part of West Malaysia, about 200km from the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. I have a brother and two sisters, all older than me; our parents were both teachers. My childhood memories include cycling all over the town and into rubber or oil palm plantations, making and flying kites, reading comic books from Hong King, and basically enjoying childhood.

I had the opportunity to study in the US, so I attended the University of Oklahoma and studied Computer Science. Soon after graduation, I found a job developing DOS programs and later for Windows and OS/2. After about eight years, I decided to move back to Malaysia to be with my family and I also wanted to do my part to help Malaysia move towards becoming a developed nation.

Why did you move to Finland?

Lim: It was a job offer I couldn’t refuse – to work in the HQ of my employer as an expat. So in 2008 I took the opportunity to move to Finland and work here. My wife and I thought long and hard about it, and the decision was more difficult to make because we had just received permanent residence visas from Australia. Ultimately, we decided to move to Finland, as it was a unique and once in a lifetime opportunity.

V: For me, I was tired of the lifestyle in Malaysia and I thought if I didn’t take the opportunity to move abroad, I knew I would end up in the same cycle that I couldn’t get out of.

One good thing that came out of it was that I learned to cook!

What was the biggest shock for you (back then)?

Lim: It’s so quiet everywhere – in the supermarket, at the bus stops, etc.

You left Finland, why?

Lim: In the summer of 2012, my wife and I decided to move to Australia so that we would be closer to Malaysia and it would be easier to maintain family ties there; plus, our visas were expiring. People from many countries are trying all sorts of ways to move there, legal or otherwise; we had permanent residence visas, so it was something we had to try. Our family and friends said we were brave, they probably thought we were crazy; I called it “brazy”. We had to give it a shot before it was too late and we didn’t want to regret passing up the choice later on.

The move went smoothly… I had some experience with big moves; so we were able to settle down quickly in a suburb of Melbourne. After several months of living there, we realized that we didn’t find what we were looking for. It was then I started talking to my employer here in Finland about the possibility of returning later in the year; it so happened that several positions had opened up and I was given the chance to apply for them. I did, and I came back, ready for new challenges.

V: A few reasons for that:

  • I was a bit doubtful about staying in Finland when I’m older or retired. I think the winter here is too harsh for me.
  • I thought that it will be nicer to be closer to our families if we stay in Australia, especially that our parents are quite old and in case they need us to be there to take care of them.
  • I think it will be easier for my son’s tertiary education since everything in Australia is in English. I was not very confident that he could get into a Finnish university, since the English courses are very limited.
  • Our neighbor complained about our piano playing.
  • Above all, we were still holding Australian PR (which is hard to get these days), so we still had a choice. But the visa was going to expire soon so we had a make the decision.

And then you came back!? How did you feel when you came back?

Lim: The apartment was one of the main factors, the other was a new opportunity in the company I had worked for for more than 10 years, I wouldn’t have returned to Finland for any job. The job I have now is in a new area and it is an interesting challenge.

In talking to Lim I understand he jumped right back into life here, his family followed a few months later. Many of Lim’s friends commented on how happy he seemed after getting back to Finland. V and H arrived a few months later after ironing out issues related to H’s education. It was almost as they had never left. V got many of her former clients back and H was able to rejoin his former classmates at his school in Helsinki. V called it luck – most definitely!

Lim: I rekindled my childhood passion of cycling after moving to Finland and it became more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle for me now. (And he jumped right back on his bike in August 2013 when he moved back! The cycling opportunities in Melbourne were apparently not the same.)

V: Well, for me, it felt a little ‘foreign’ on the first day arriving at my own home here in Finland, even though everything looked just the same as before. I suppose maybe it was because I stayed in a different place for one whole year so I was kind of just starting to get used to things there. But then the familiarity came back to me soon after that.

I think the only setback comes from my own perspective. Perhaps I am a pessimist by nature and tend to think more negatively when things don’t work out. I did really feel a big sense of failure even after I returned to Finland and was still pretty upset about it for a while. The financial burn was a cruel reality that I had to accept. I knew it will be worse if I had too much free time. Hence I signed up for intensive Finnish course which began soon in February, so that I had something to occupy myself with and wouldn’t have too much time to think about the bad things. It worked! I met more friends in the course and got some students again, and before I knew it, I was really busy. Now everything seems to be back on track. I managed to pick myself up and look ahead in life. I think it’s still a blessing that I’m able to make a U-turn in life and moved back to Finland.

Lim and V said that the timing was just not good for going to Australia, in spite of meeting helpful people and having a support system on the ground (friends and family from Malaysia).

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

Lim: The bureaucracy, everything is so “by the book” here. The inconvenience of some services is also an issue and the cost – for example car washes and locksmiths. Lim mentioned that he has learned to do a lot of stuff on his own in order to keep the cost down.
Socially it’s so different. Finnish people come across as really cold, but he learned that he just has to ask something and then people open up. Finns really respect other people’s space.

Lim and V: The harsh winter.

I made a joke about cross-country skiing and Lim said that he had already tried it. (I think now that they’re back they should try again! ;))

Tell me about some of your favourite places in Finland.

Lim: Porvoo, Naantali, Nuuksio National Park, Iso Vasikkasaari, Suomenlinna, and the island area between Espoo and Helsinki.

Is there some place you’d like to get to?

Lim: Rovaniemi and Lappeenranta.

What do you miss about Malaysia?

Lim: Family and the food culture.

V: Food, people, convenience of services and a chance at establishing my own career.

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

Our advice for foreigners coming to Finland is quite simple – just accept the environment (climate, people, system) in Finland as it is and learn to enjoy all the good things Finland has to offer (nature, peace, stability, etc).

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2014 2:07 pm

    Wow!! Mr Lim & family did had some serious thinking to do when they moved to Finland from Australia. Making a choice is not always easy when you have two equally lucrative choices. However, whatever choices we make, we should try to stay happy with them 🙂

  2. Sonia permalink
    October 8, 2014 8:51 pm

    Great story, “brazy” decisions, Lim & familiy! I always admire people from really far away living in Finland. Not only because the cultural gap is bigger, but the chances to visit “home” are less. I do feel “home” here in my environment, but not being able to travel back often – very often – would upset me. I am trying to visit Germany every 2-3 months, mainly because of having a very sick Mom, but it is refreshing for me in many other ways too (things you mentioned, away from the silence, the reserved people, the high costs, the rigid systems).

    I would be pleased to provide you an insider tourist tour in my home town Porvoo, whenever you and your family are around 🙂

  3. Marjaana permalink
    October 9, 2014 10:54 am

    Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it with us! Hope our country will serve you well as a home.

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