Interview with Matthew Roblin – Ties between Finland and Canada

Originally from Aurora, Ontario, Canada (about 40km north of Toronto), Matthew now resides in Finland. Through his personal experiences and take on Finnish culture, environment, unique education system, and way of life, he’s discovers the uniqueness of Finland unlike any other. As a Canadian, he feels that there’s a special bond between Canada and Finland and explains why he considers there to be potentially very ideal enterprise business partnership opportunities for both countries looking to seek growth and establish strong relationship ties between the two.

Matthew studies in Finland and will be soon to be a graduate from Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Porvoo Campus, with a degree in Tourism, specialization in corporate travel & meeting management. Throughout his studies, he has worked in organisations for The United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) as a travel assistant, a project assistant for ToolBox-Travel Marketing & Consulting, and also with his close knit class conducted research projects for real companies throughout his degree programme. Matthew is someone who loves to share his ideas, experiences and is a hungry learner. His time living in Finland has truly helped shape who he is today and is grateful to have had the experiences while living in Finland and more to come.

Here’s an interview with Matthew…

Where are you originally from?

I was born in Canada and grew up in Aurora, Ontario, a town about 40km north of Toronto. Like many others from that region, i’m a second generation Canadian. My mother is from Northern Ireland, which makes me a duel Irish/Canadian citizen, although I do consider myself more Canadian than anything else. Having two passports certainly helps me get around though!

How long have you lived in Finland and how long are you planning to stay?

I’ve lived in Finland for 4 years now and I intend to stay here. Canada will always be home, but right now i’m quite content and would like to establish more here in Finland. However of course, I am alway open to opportunities abroad.

Why did you move to Finland and what do you do?

Going back 6 years ago, I had met my Finnish girlfriend Hanna-Riikka (now fiancé) while living in Australia. Initially, we met in Brisbane and had been there for a year, then decided to take things a little further and live in my hometown in Canada. After a year spent there, we then decided that it was best for us to move to Finland and apply to university.

While my fiancé is studying for a 3,5yr degree programme in Aviation Business at the same school that I had studied at. I’m currently a student and soon to graduate as of June, 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Tourism, specialization in corporate travel & meeting management from Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Porvoo Campus. Though not limited to, I am looking to join international companies to work in areas such as marketing, sales and development.

On the side I also do freelancing, working with digital marketing such as SEO, content generation, web content layout and more.

Why did you study in Finland and how would you describe your study experience?

This is a topic that I enjoy telling people about as I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to have the opportunity to undergo such an educational experience. Although studying in Finland wasn’t the main reason why I moved, Finland is internationally well known for high quality education and innovational learning. Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. I loved the fact that there was no feeling of hierarchy and that each student brings something unique into the learning environment, each taken personally. You have the freedom to create and think outside the box while in very practical way. Teachers don’t necessarily give you the answers but rather help to find the solution, create the framework, and together create the knowledge.

At my school’s campus in particular, we conducted various research projects commissioned by real companies and worked closely with them. We as students were the ones designing our own framework and collaboration for the projects. We learn valuable skills that are most relevant today and important for the future workplace. Our focus was emphasized on extensive team work collaboration, self-leadership, self-management, and inquiry learning.

Another important aspect i’d like to mention is the learning environment that was at my school. The building facility and classrooms are very transparent, there are no basic dull coloured 4 walled rooms, but rather an open glass room concept where students can see what everyone is doing (including teachers). I would say that this sort of environment actually brought more productivity and less anxiety to students than what you’d maybe assume is a place where you’d get more distracted because of its openness and relaxed atmosphere, but this is not the case. Furniture was always moveable and we always had access to meeting rooms when our teams wanted to get down to work or present something.

(Click the video link below to find out more about Haaga-Helia, Porvoo Campus creative learning)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONSKhHuHu40

To organizations interested, partnerships are possible for commissioned projects as well as recruitment of interns to your company during and or after the degree programme studies.

How do you find Finnish lifestyle and cultural ways? What are some similarities between Canadians and Finns?

When people ask me this sort of question I always say, well Finland just reminds me of home in some ways, so I feel like i’ve adapted well here. We both love our ice hockey, we have neighbors that we have to put up with, and we both have to deal with the freezing cold and snow six months of the year!

Especially central Finland, such as Jyväskylä area, It looks so similar to our environment if you were to drive a couple hours north of Toronto. We also have many lakes, tons of trees, similar wildlife like moose, and summer cottages to escape to in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, the only thing Canadians miss out on is sauna and delicious home cooked seasonal traditional Finnish foods. But when we talk about social culture, it’s a little different and it’s taken me awhile to get used to. Of course, this is been apart of my own personal experience though.

In some ways, Canada has many similarities, but on the other hand Finland is, well, very Finnish… Bare in mind that Canada has adapted to a lot more immigration for a much longer period of time than that of Finland which is still yet very traditional in so many ways, like many other European countries.

I’ve learnt that Finns really appreciate their national traditions and embrace their strong cultural identity and own ways. They do what’s best for their people. Certainly not a bad thing, in fact this is something I’ve learnt to appreciate and respect and i’d say is one of the reasons why Finland has such an economically stable, safe and clean environment. I consider Finns to be very structured people, they are highly collaborative by doing most things in teams, they stand strongly for equality and highly value trust in others.

In away, this also relates to business culture. I find that our level of connection between a Canadian and a Finn is that in characteristics, we are both very humble, modest by nature and prefer to be more quieter or reserved when in social settings, (Although, Finns tend to be a little more reserved than Canadians, at least in the beginning…).

How would you describe the difference in the way Finns and Canadians communicate in business?

In business communication, I would say that Finns and are actually very closely related in how we behave and do business. For example, like Finns, Canadians often display characteristics of having a combination of being formally spoken, courteous, compromising, good listening, factual, and decisive planners. As the stereotype has it, we can be seen as overall polite and friendly, and slightly more reserved than our southern neighbours.

One thing that I found quite interesting from my studies in university is the ‘The Lewis Model of Cultural Types’ and as you can see from the image below, Finns are actually quite close to Canadians on the diagram model.

What are some characteristics of Canadian business etiquette and behavior?

Canadian business people are more conservative in manner and in speech and dress attire. Business customs are similar to that in the U.K or the U.S, but etiquette is important. Also, Canadians do not like to be mistaken for Americans and this this can be offensive. Canada is a distinct country with its own unique history, culture, and characteristics.

Here are a few points on business culture characteristics:

  • People do not have authority simply based on their name, status, social class or gender. But rather a person’s authority is related to his/her position and responsibility.
  • Canadians honor commitments and value those who do what you say you will do.
  • Be open and friendly in your conversation. If you are naturally reserved in your behavior, you will appear confident and credible. If your natural tendency is to have a lot of arm gestures, try to restrain yourself when meeting and talking with Canadians. French Canadians tend to be more laid back in this respect.
  • Give firm handshakes with eye contact. Men will usually wait for a woman to extend her hand for a handshake.
  • Personal space and body movement or gestures vary between the English speaking and the French speaking provinces and cities. In English speaking areas, body movement and contact is usually minimal. Distance between others should be about two feet (24”). However, French Canadians tend to be more expressive with gestures and stand closer together.
  • Loud conversations are generally frowned upon.
  • When meeting, gifts are not routinely given. However, gifts are often given to celebrate finalizing a project, contract, or negotiation. An appropriate gift could be bottle of wine, or liquor.

Why do you consider Canada as a good opportunity for Finnish enterprises to seek partnership opportunities or vise versa?

Finland and Canada have many things in common, such as shared values, it’s northern climate, highly educated population, economical and political stability and even similar mentalities as mentioned previously. Finland is also known and highly regarded in Canada. In fact, there’s even a large number of Finns and Finnish communities living Canada, especially in Ontario.

I mentioned that Canadians are also very collaborative people. We value building relationships and in a cross-culturally context. As a Canadian, I can honestly say that we warmly welcome internationals in Canada and we strive at building ties between others. Whether it be business partners, immigrants or tourists visiting. Canada is truly a place of diversity and prosperity in many aspects.

There is plenty of opportunity for foreign investment, especially for Finnish enterprises interested in seeking partnerships. There is especially a need for innovation and technology and a need for trade between for Finnish know-how on several sectors in Canada, such as forest technology, bioenergy and environmental technology, Arctic know-how and of course travel trade (my personal interest and educational background).

With the findings below, these facts stand as good reasons for enterprises investing and looking to create business partnership.

According to International.gc.ca, here is why Canada would be a good business partner for enterprise companies.

  • A business environment that’s welcoming According to Forbes, Canada is the best country in the G20 to do business with. Source: Forbes
  • A strong growth record Canada has led all G7 countries in economic growth over the past decade (2006–2015). Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
  • Strong market access Due to CETA taking place, foreign investors in Canada will have assured preferential access to both EU and NAFTA – a market with combines GDP of nearly US$37 trillion, or nearly one-half of global output of goods and services. Source: The World Bank
  • Highly educated workforce  Canada’s workforce is is one of the most highly educated among members of the OECD. Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
  • Low business tax costs  Tax costs in Canada are one of the lowest in the G7 and 46% lower than those in the US. Source: KPMG
  • Financial stability Canada’s banking system is one of the soundest in the world. Source: World Economic Forum
  • A great place to invest, work and live  One of the most multicultural diverse countries in the world, renowned universities, universal health care system, safe, clean and friendly cities. High standard of living. Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

If you could give brief advice, things to do, or personal insight for Finns moving to Canada or for Canadians moving to Finland, what would it be?

For Canadians:

Well for Canadians visiting or moving to Finland, i’d say embrace Finland for what it is. Finns are known to be reserved, but they’re not rude. You’ll discover that they are actually very nice, genuine and honest people. Everything in Finland works very efficiently and is properly done in an orderly way. From my personal experience living here, the bureaucracy of things can be a little frustrating but it’s also explains why things are so formal and secure here.

What to do: Enjoy a steamy sauna. Remember, sauna is a finnish word and invention! It’s simply a must-do while in Finland as it’s the favourite pastime for Finns to relax after a hard day’s work.

Many workplaces in Finland have private sauna for employees to use and relax in. A healthy work life balance is indeed valued here. So while you are visiting for business, It’s common to be invited to have sauna and drinks afterwards. It’s simply a part of Finnish non-mandatory costumes!

Also, try Finnish foods, especially things that come out only at a special time of the year. My personal favorite is Christmas foods or Finnish “street foods” like Muikku (a small bodied white fish) usually pan-fried or smoked. It can be in a soup, have with potatoes and herbs or eaten by themselves like you’d eat fish’n’chips in a small tray on a warm summer’s day. Do try Finnish cold smoked salmon “kylmäsavulohi” it’s to die for!

Another piece of insight while in Finland, learning the language is extremely difficult but certainly is an advantage and with it you understand the culture better. But just about every Finn speaks and understands English quite fluently, even if they’re shy to use it. For the most part, English is also the common language used in the workplace. So to sum it up, embrace the peaceful nature, traditional foods and relaxing sauna!

For Finns:

As for Finns visiting or moving to Canada, well, be prepared to be asked if you like ice hockey and asked how much snow you get in the winter, as if it’s a competition! Whenever people in Canada meet for the first time, there’s often the inevitable conversation where someone asks where they’re from and there’s always the unquestioned acceptance of cultural difference. It’s quite rare someone would feel defensive about their background or be annoyed if having a difficult name to pronounce. In fact, as a Canadian watching so much ice hockey on tv, when we see any last name usually ending with ‘nen’ such as Salminen, we’d probably ask in excitement, ‘hey! Is that a Finnish last name?!’ It’s true that Canadians love to meet others from around the world and welcome you warmly.

Being a Finn, you should also have no problems with coffee consumption as Canadians will tell you that they are the ultimate coffee fanatics, but you can prove them wrong! You’ll get to know our “on-the-go” coffee shop brand named Tim Hortans. It’s kind of become apart of Canadian identity. Canadians are generally quite friendly and easy going, so making networks and friends should be easy and likely to establish some genuine personal and good work relationships. Our climate and weather is very similar (unless you’re in Vancouver where it’s more mild), so no problems adjusting there!

As for business culture (mentioned previously) we do have many similarities based on the similar values, etiquette and behavior. So, another reason for strong ties and connection between us.

Now that you’re graduating from University, what are your future plan?

I mentioned previously that I live here with my fiancé who’s Finnish and also undergoing her bachelor studies. My partner and I are always open to different opportunities. However, right now I intend to stay in Finland. Though not limited to, I am looking to join international companies to work in areas such as marketing, sales, and development.

How can you be contacted for further advice or enquiries?

I’d be more than happy to connect. Best way is by email or phone and of course I’d love to connect with them on Linkedin.

You can reach me at:

Email: connect.mroblin@gmail.com

Phone: +358 44 242-0914

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-roblin-960ba07b/

Thank you for the opportunity to write for FINNCHAM – Kauppayhdistykset – Trade Associations

Matthew Roblin participate in a meeting organized by the Finnish-Canadian Business Club.