My Career: From Start to Finnish
Hyunseok appreciates the good work-life balance in Finland
Hyunseok Choi, South Korea. Founder and CEO
If you have ever doubted the power of advertising, Hyunseok Choi can convince you otherwise. He still remembers the Finnish xylitol gum commercial that became a sensation in his native South Korea when he was a boy. Thanks to that ad, most Koreans still know the word ‘hyvä’, which means ’good‘ in Finnish.
But it wasn’t until later that Hyunseok started to consider moving to Finland. He met Finnish friends and learnt about the Finnish education system during a student exchange year in Japan in 2007-2008. Remembering their words and having met his Finnish girlfriend, Hyunseok made the leap and moved to Finland to study in 2011. Since then, he has learnt to love exploring nature and built a career coordinating leisure and business travel between South Korea and his new Nordic home.
I decided to start a company in Finland because… while I was studying, I received requests to arrange meetings, mediate deals, and conduct preliminary research for Korean government organisations and companies with their Nordic counterparts. I realised there was a demand for these services here but no service provider. So I decided to establish a company to provide a professional service.
“I had thought being an entrepreneur wasn’t an option for me before I came to Finland.”
First I needed to change my mindset since I had thought being an entrepreneur wasn’t an option for me before I came to Finland. My father’s business had failed, and it seemed pretty hard for him to get a second chance. So I had been afraid of failure. However, the positive culture and atmosphere of the Finnish entrepreneurial community encouraged me so much that I became an entrepreneur. And now I’m getting less afraid of failure.
What I find surprising about working in Finland is… the flexibility of the academic environment. It allowed me to work while studying. I worked in a biotech company while studying. The working culture left a positive impression on me because of the horizontal structure, flexible work schedules (as long as you complete your tasks on time) and because the company cared about its employees’ mental and physical health. I think this working culture has been built on strong trust among the different members of society.
Another surprising fact is that it’s easy to contact anyone in Finnish society and they are willing to help. Part of my business is to search for Finnish organisations and experts and contact them for further information on different topics. It is great that this simply works by email, and all of them try their best to answer our requests. And if they can’t answer me directly, they connect me with someone who might know better.
If I could change one thing about Finnish working life it would be… the fact that sometimes it takes a bit of effort to arrange meetings or deal with urgent matters as some Finns are strict about their working hours and holidays. However, it has been nice to see many of them willing to be flexible as long as they see the value. This has, in particular, shone through during the pandemic as online meetings have become more common and we have needed to work around the time difference between different countries. Of course, we shouldn’t compromise on a good work-life balance. Still, a certain extent of flexibility would make things easier for everyone.
My favourite thing about Finland is… nature. And this includes how it’s being cared for by the citizens and the public sector. The pandemic changed me drastically because nature became the core of my lifestyle.
I think nature is the missing puzzle piece that completes us. Finland has fantastic pristine nature, but it wouldn’t resonate with us as much if proper care for it was missing. I’m thankful to live in a country where you have access to forest and water (sea or lake) regardless of the area where you live in. Also, thanks to the well-maintained infrastructure, many activities can be enjoyed safely, such as hiking, biking, mushroom and berry picking, cross-country skiing, ice skating…you name it.
The challenges that I have encountered and overcome while adjusting to working life in Finland are… fortunately, I haven’t faced major challenges so far. Still, I can tell one experience that took a while for me to understand. Finns take coffee breaks which are called ‘tauko‘ during work. I wasn’t used to taking a break while working, so I didn’t join tauko initially. However, soon I realised that tauko was more than a break, it was a social thing, so I started to actively participate in them.
Connections are important in Finland. Having a good relationship with people makes your life easier. Tauko is one of the best ways to connect with your colleagues, so I strongly recommend joining in and sharing the moment with your colleagues. And don’t be afraid of silence. It is a part of the conversation in Finland.
Working in the Finnish startup ecosystem has surprised me… in three ways. Firstly, they aren’t afraid of failing. Some even have an attitude of “try fast, fail fast”. Also, stories of failure are welcomed by people. This atmosphere has helped me to become less afraid of failure, and I have developed the discipline to learn from it.
Secondly, people are willing to help each other. What is especially impressive is that it’s so natural for experienced entrepreneurs to help newbies or wannabe entrepreneurs so they don’t make unnecessary mistakes. Having been influenced by this culture, I also try to help others if they need my help. I think this culture is one of the reasons why the Finnish startup ecosystem thrives.
Lastly, people share their ideas freely. We never know what others think unless they express it. I’ve learnt here that sharing ideas gives you more insight and is a good way to get connected with people.
My initial expectations of Finland were… as I didn’t know much about Finland, what I expected was just a quiet and somewhat boring life, and I didn’t plan to live here a long time. However, Finland has given me more than I expected. My quality of life has improved overall. I have started to enjoy nature to relax and do various activities. I have a lot less stress as almost everything in the country functions well, and I have learnt a more sustainable way of living.
What I enjoy most about living in Helsinki is… nature. Even though Helsinki is the biggest city in Finland, its green areas are huge and well maintained. Whenever I’m stressed or need to make major decisions, I run in a nearby forest, which refreshes me. Also, having two national parks in close proximity is such a privilege.
Safety is another thing. A safe environment reduces mental and financial burdens. Third, most things function as promised here. Getting rid of minor uncertainties has helped to minimise stress in my life. Lastly, it’s easy to follow an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle as you can easily find these kinds of options. All of these factors have made my life here happy.
The hobbies that I have really enjoyed practising in Finland are… things that I can practise in nature, as they are the easiest option. I do hiking, camping, running, skiing and paddling for example. And sauna is essential too.
Having hobbies is also a good way to make friends. I have learnt that it takes time to make friends in Finland. I guess it requires time to build trust. However, once you become a friend with Finns, it lasts forever. Shared hobbies shorten the process so you can become friends with a Finn faster. Personally, I’ve struck up friendships from a hiking association I joined, and we share much more fun than merely hiking.