Kotoutuminen: Honest Review of Finland’s Integration Program

When I moved to Finland I had heard from other expats and immigrants about Kotoutuminen also known as Finland’s integration program. 

Everything I heard was word of mouth through Facebook groups or random people I met in Turku. 

Finding information about this topic is usually vague and if you find anything it lacks a certain depth of personal experience. 

That’s why I wanted to share my honest review of Finland’s Integration Program. I am currently still in the process of the program as it usually lasts for 3 years. 

I am writing this article to share with you my experiences. This article is also going to be from the perspective of a person who got married to a Finnish citizen and lives in Turku who went to Arffman school. 

Every city and municipality in Finland does this differently so situations may differ based on that. Please reach out to your local TE-Office if you have any more questions. 

What is Finland’s Integration Program?

Finland’s Integration Program is provided through TE-Palvelut and your local TE-Office in Finland.

The basic goal of the program is to integrate you into Finnish society by teaching you the language and from there you can decide if you want to continue with going to school in Finland (typically ammattikoulu) 

Don’t worry, we’ll talk more about this later. 

Alternatively, if you feel like your language is developed enough you can start looking for jobs. 

Who Can Apply to Finland’s Integration Program?

According to the TE Office, you can apply to the integration program if one of these applies to your situation:

-You are an unemployed jobseeker

-Your first residence permit or residence permit card was issued no more than 3 years ago or

-Your right of residence was registered no more than 3 years ago

-You are able to participate full-time in measures and services promoting your integration and employment.

Overall, if you want to go through this program then you will need to show that you aren’t able to find a job in Finland due to the Finnish language requirement.

You can find out more about Finland’s Integration Program here on Suomi.fi

Photo by picjumbo.com

How Long Does the Finnish Integration Program Last?

Technically you have up to three years after contacting TE Toimisto to complete the Integration Program, but as always it depends on you. 

There were some people in my class that stopped after they reached a certain level and moved on to the next course. 

Some stopped because they didn’t feel like this was the right path for them others stopped because they wanted to go into a class that was slower-paced. 

It’s important to remember you can tailor this experience to what you need. The goal of the program is for you to integrate into Finnish society by learning Finnish.

Why I Chose to do the Finnish Integration Program

In the US I was a Physical Therapist, and in order to do that job here in Finland, I would need to be at least B2 level in Finnish.

If you are new to the levels, try to think of B2 as being able to talk like a high-schooler. 

When Tuomas and I were talking about me moving to Finland I realized that I would have to prioritize learning Finnish if I wanted to do the same career here, or if I wanted to change careers later on. 

Not to mention, I am living and starting a life in Finland with Tuomas. So if I am planning on living here for the rest of my life… 

because the US is always looking like a dumpster fire these days. 

…then I would have to learn Finnish. 

I also want to be able to talk to Tuomas’ family, since I started the language classes I have been able to talk to his Grandfather more, and that alone is worth it to me. 

11 Things You Should Know Before You Start the Finnish Integration Program

You Need to Have Your ID Card Before you Start

Before you can even contact TE Toimisto you need to get your ID card which is different from your Residence Visa, and it’s always helpful to get your KELA card as well. 

Getting the ID Card can be a little tricky because you first need to register your municipality through Digi and apply for a KELA Card.

We have heard from different people that you can start this process as soon as you move to Finland. I started after I got my Residence Permit because I was changing my last name to Tuomas’ last name. 

After you make an appointment and register your municipality with Digi, and have waited for Digi to upload it to their database, you will then need to make an appointment with Poliisi.

This whole process took us up to 6-7 months but I also moved to Finland in 2020 so the times may be different now.    

You Get Paid… Well Kinda

Because the integration program is provided through TE Toimisto Unemployment Services you are able to get access to KELA unemployment benefits. You would typically get paid around 800€/month to go to school.

And you will also get paid during the holidays or whenever school is out. 

Or if you already have a remote job or a job in the evening then you can totally work and go to school at the same time. 

If you are working more than 4 hours a week or making greater than 500€/month you will not have access to the unemployment benefits.  

Personally, I wanted to concentrate on learning Finnish and taking the time to study it. I worked during my years in college and knew how much it affected my studies then so I really didn’t want to repeat a past mistake. 

Photo by KELA.fi

Stay On Top of Your KELA Benefits 

If you are in the integration program through TE Toimisto and you are learning Finnish 5 hours a day for 5 days a week then you should be getting KELA benefits.

At this point learning Finnish is your job and you deserve those benefits. 

There are some exceptions of course, like if you already have a job or doing remote work then you might not qualify for benefits.

But if the only thing you are doing is going to school then you deserved to get paid for doing it. 

You will continue to get benefits as long as you are in the program and that includes during holidays and your work practice. 

As soon as you stop the program your benefits will also stop. 

TE says they can help you set up the benefits but I would strongly advise you to do it yourself through KELA’s website.

The TE Office has its own problems to worry about  😤

The TE Office Can Be a Pain in the Ass

If you are reading this and you work in the TE Office, I am sorry. I know y’all work very hard.

TE is the biggest pain in the ass ever, I was not lucky with my first officer, she was rude and never followed through on anything.

For example, she told me that I should look for therapy jobs in Finland… when I can’t speak Finnish or have taken the exam that would allow me to practice here. 

Make it make sense 🥴

I didn’t even know that she left her job, I found out through a classmate, and I still don’t know who my new officer is.

Don’t expect to hear from your officer, and only contact them if they need to know something. Most of the time your teacher can contact the office for you but don’t expect them to do anything other than getting you into that class. 

If you have an officer but are having a hard time getting into the class or having a hard time explaining your situation to them then call the main number for your local TE-Office. Keep calling until you get what you need. 

In my opinion, TE needs more employees, to find a better system or people that can specialize in immigrant integration.

At the same time if it wasn’t for the TE Office I wouldn’t be in the classes now so I am very thankful despite being annoyed by them.  

Turku, Finland during fall

Classes Will Typically Start in the Fall

In my current program, we started studying Finnish in September 2021, and continued until March when we had our work practice (työharjoittelu, more on this later), then resumed until the last week of April 2022. 

It is safe to say that during that short amount of time we learned material from A0 to A2. 

Depending on your level and teacher availability the classes can start at any time. For example, people that had prior Finnish language learning experience joined our class after it started. 

Additionally, there was a class that started in December too but that again was because there was a need and Arffman in Turku had teachers available for the class. So it all comes down to availability. 

The School Test Your Level Before You Start 

Before I started the course we were tested on our ability to learn a new language. The test itself is really cool and immediately reminded me of a cognitive assessment test.

My physical therapy background was fangirling so hard over this test 😍

I don’t know if there are different versions of this assessment, so instead, I can tell you more about the one I took. 

The assessment contained 3 parts. In the first part, you were shown a picture and were told to list what you see in the picture in Finnish. 

Then during the second and third parts, you are shown different forms of verbs and have to recognize the similarity and differences between them. 

The assessment lasted about 20 minutes and afterward I was told what level I would be going into. The language schools, there are typically 3 levels slow, normal, and fast-paced classes. 

For reference, I was in the fast-paced class, though I wouldn’t have minded being in a normal or slow-paced class. 

The fast pace class is starting from zero so if you have done the Suomi Measteri book beforehand things might feel repetitive. 

That being said it’s always good to practice the basics, you might learn something that you missed the first time. 

The Class Will be Fully Immersive 

People have insisted that the best way to learn a language is to be fully immersed in that language. At first, it was very stressful, I cried because I had no idea what was going on around me and it always seemed like everyone else knew what was going on. 

In reality, we were all thinking the same thing and no one had a clue what was happening 😂 

But over time you start to learn and understand more, and then out of nowhere, you’re like omg I can understand Finnish. 

It is a process, and the process itself can feel a bit degrading. In your own language you are smart, capable, driven, fearless, etc but in the Finnish language you are a baby and no one wants to be a baby again.

But looking back, I am glad I stuck with it and I’m planning on going back to school in Finland, in Finnish because I feel more capable now. 

However, if you’re feeling stuck and you need help then ask, these teachers want you to succeed so you can speak Finnish. 

I am also checking my privilege because I had an amazing teacher that would clarify things for us in English if we were really stuck. I have heard that some classes require you to wait after class to ask a question in English. 

All you can do is ask. 

Photo by Andy Barbour

There Will Be People in Your Class that Don’t Want to Be There

There are going to be spaces in all our lives where there is someone who clearly doesn’t want to be there. At the beginning of my class, we had a handful of people who were constantly saying how we weren’t going fast enough…

We were 🙃

They were treating us like children/idiots…

They weren’t 🤨

Or this is stupid why do I need to waste my time here…

You don’t have to be here 😒

I had people like that in my jobs, on sports teams, and at parties. They’re always going to be someone who is unhappy in their own life so they feel the need to project it into an area that they have some amount of control over. 

I also found that people like that will eventually go away. 

If you start a program and you are starting to hear those people whine and complain I encourage you to find those in your class or who want to be there. Those people will be the people that you will make it to the end with. 

For me, one of those people is a woman from Russia. At the beginning of the class, she spoke some English but not enough to have a meaningful conversation with any of the English speakers in class. 

She had also studied Finnish previously as a kid so when she was speaking so well in the beginning and able to understand things I thought she was amazing. 

I wanted to be her friend because of how good she was at Finnish. So I started talking to her more and more in Finnish and over time it helped me improve my Finnish as well. 

She inspired me to do better and try harder not just for myself, or my relationship, but to deepen my connections with the world around me. 

That’s why I encourage you to find that person in your class, one that encourages you to keep going. Of course, I had other great classmates that made such a positive impact on my life, but she really inspired me. 

We’re still friends by the way and probably will be for a long time. She’s the first friend I made in Finnish, writing this out sounds a bit sappy but my heart feels so full thinking about our time together in class and walking home from class. 

I know during breaks you will want to speak in English or another common language you have with your classmates but I strongly encourage you to muddle your way through in Finnish. 

It’s going to help you out so much in the long wrong, and everyone is going to learn different words that are important to them so talking to others will help expand your vocabulary. 

Don’t Sleep on Your Työharjoittelu (Work Practice) 

Let me say it again.. don’t 👏 sleep 👏 on 👏 your 👏 työharjoittelu 👏

The work practice or työharjoittelu is a part of the program that whenever it comes around no one feels completely prepared for it. 

In that aspect, it’s just like any internship but now it’s in Finnish 🤷‍♀️

Your teacher might say they can help you find a spot but not every teacher is going to find you an awesome place.

Think about your teacher as a person too, they have their own networks and connections. If your person doesn’t have a good network then it is what it is. That’s why you need to also try to find a good spot.

The people in my class that had the most rewarding työharjoitellu were those that went to daycares. 

Now before you roll your eyes and get defensive, hear me out. 

This is where you want to be, you are essentially on the same language level as some of the kids. You can actually see how a daycare works in Finland.

And the teachers there are super patient and used to dealing with people who are learning Finnish as a second or third language. 

I live in Turku and were are a very vibrant city with a lot of different cultures, we may not be as big as Helsinki but we have a thriving immigrant/expat community.

If you are still adamant about not going to a daycare then try to find the lowest level of a job that you want in Finland. 

For example, a classmate of mine from the Dominican Republic wants to be a seamstress, so her työharjoitellu was at a store that sells handmade clothes, there she was able to extend her vocabulary and learn more behind the scene stuff that she wants to do in Finland.  

And she got a lot of one on one attention.

Another classmate from Ukraine wants to continue doing marketing in Finland, through our teacher’s connections and a sprinkle of the right place right time, she was able to find a start-up needing help with their marketing plan. 

Her case is rare and exceptional, and even she will tell you how much of a blessing it was. It was also very hard, my Ukrainian friend’s level of Finnish is one of the tops in our class. 

For me, well I did my työharjoitellu at a business I knew doing their social media. I honestly think I bit off more than I could chew. 

Mostly because social media marketing is a career shift and I haven’t had any formal training. What I know is what I have learned from others and observation from my own experiences. 

Hello, imposter syndrome 👋

But it was a great experience regardless, even if I did a lot of work outside the työharjoitellu to prepare for the next day.

In hindsight, I would’ve gone to the daycare, but it is what it is and I learned a lot regardless. 

My classmates that hated their työharjoitellu were the ones that went to the grocery store. They said they spent their time stocking the shelves and not really talking to anyone or developing their Finnish any further, it just felt like they were free labor. 

I know I said a lot and your työharjoitellu will be a long way away so no need to feel pressure in the beginning. Just at least think about what you want to do and make an effort to get there and you’ll be good. 

You Might Be Judged By Others 

Just like how there are always going to be people that don’t want to show up, there are also always going to be haters. 

People have their own perceived notions and biases about things thanks to their surroundings and what they have heard from those in their circles. 

For example, there was a person in my class whose family and friends were against the program in its entirety. They never had anything positive to say about it, and when they showed up to class they never had anything positive to say either. 

They then proceeded to drop from the course because of the harsh judgment from those around them and their own things going on in life. 

On a separate occasion outside of school, I was talking to some women in a public sauna 

(because an American in a public sauna in Finland always manages to strike up a conversation) and I was telling them the usual, why I moved to Finland and that I was in the integration program.

Granted this woman was in her 40s so she’s from the generation of Finns that first saw a lot of foreigners and even refugees come to Finland, so no shade against her. Immigration is still very new here. 

Because of her experiences, she had nothing positive to say about the course and even called it a waste of time. 

Like I said in the beginning there are always going to be people who say that. I personally do not think it was a waste of time, I have learned so much from this program and when this conversation occurred I told the woman I thought she was wrong and how much I enjoyed being there. 

You can’t always change someone’s mind, but you can give them a new perspective. What matters most is how you perceive your own life. 

Photo by Riccardo

You Can Survive in Finland Without Going to the Program

As much as I have enjoyed the program so far, not TE itself because whew child they need some work, but their Integration program for me has worked well. 

I have learned Finnish and I am able to have conversations and do more things on my own in Finland thanks to learning Finnish in the program. 

Is it absolutely essential that you go through this program? No  

You can totally live in without going through this program but I strongly encourage you to learn Finnish because you are only limiting yourself from learning more about the world around you. 

I had prepared myself to go through this program when Tuomas and I were still long distance. I knew that I was going to be making a career change and starting over from zero. 

It’s true that depending on where you live in Finland you won’t need much Finnish you can survive with just English. 

Was it Worth it? Well For Me it Was

At the end of the day it comes down to you and what your core beliefs are as a person. Give yourself time to really weigh the pros and cons of going through the program and do what is best for you.

When you listen to what other people have to say about the program, look at life from their perspective, and think about what type of person they are. Develop empathy for them and through that lens, you’ll be able to judge if it’s a right fit for you.

Don’t get me wrong this program is hard work, and you’ll feel like you’re in school all over again. It will feel degrading and soul-crushing at times, but that’s also part of the immigrant experience. 

I hope my review was able to show you an honest inside look at what this program entails and what it has to offer you for your future in Finland. 

As for mine, well I recently got accepted into an Ammattikoulu and will continue studying Finnish there and will take classes in Marketing after the language classes. 

You will never feel fully ready, there is a fear of the unknown and trying new things. But all you can do is try and see if it works out for you. 

Personally, I rather live a life where I keep trying and forging a way than to regret and wonder if I should’ve done this one thing. 

I wish you all the best in your Finnish studies and for your future in Finland and thanks for reading. 

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