Finland is certainly off the beaten track on the ESL itinerary, yet for the diligent or curious job seeker offers rewards. Finland is at the top of every index as determined by the United Nations: quality education, standard of living, health care, political stability, economic development, and so forth. Going one step further, Newsweek recently described Finland as the “World's Best Country.” And if that's not enough, Finland was the first European country to give women the right to vote. The cold may be one negative, but the Finns know how to combat the chilly temperature with central heating and many saunas. Finland is not only a great place to teach, but its charms might beckon you to stay a little longer.
Like most members of the European Union, Finnish employers state a preference for EU passport holders, however, this should not be a deterrent as Finland has a reputation for being open to hiring North Americans, and is an exception among the continental Scandinavian countries: Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, whose citizens speak English rather proficiently. When I lived in Copenhagen I had employment in a non-teaching position, but found that ESL jobs were scarce, especially since the Danes speak English almost as fluent if not more so than the English (judging from what I heard on the streets of London). Hyperbole aside, the Danes can teach themselves, thus there is less demand for native speakers, but this is not the case in Finland.
A sparsely populated country of five and a half million, with one-fifth living in the capital, Helsinki, and surrounding metropolitan area, Finland might be the most remote country in Western Europe with the exception of Iceland. The Finnish diet includes reindeer, fish, berries, the Finns are also known for Nokia, and their own synthetic and strange brand of music. If you haven't heard of Finnish artists Tik N' Tak, or JS16 - Jaakko Salovaara, then think of the Icelandic Björk. For the nature lover there are many opportunities to explore pristine landscapes. A third of the country is north of the Arctic Circle, so get prepared for winter activity and long winter nights. The climate can dip to -30°C in the winter, or, converted to Fahrenheit…really really freezing, but the summers are spectacular, and the seas teem with swimmers.
If there is any negative besides cold, it may be the cost of living. According to the Hamburger Index, an odd but surprisingly effective indicator of currency valuation invented by The Economist, a Big Mac in Finland converts to about 3.25 Euros, or a little more than $4 US dollars. However, salaries for ESL teachers are proportionately high. That being said, unless you have a lot of money and are able to afford housing until you have a job, it is wise to secure employment before arrival. US citizens may enter and stay for up to 90 days without a visa, and so the traveler who wishes to find a job after arrival must be ready to pay for initial lodging and expenses. Finland is not Seoul or Tokyo, where you can almost walk off the plane and be asked to teach. The Finns abide by rules, conforming to their formal and perfectionist nature, thus the hiring process is not quick. To attain a work visa the teacher must have a willing sponsor. Many jobs will require a Bachelor's Degree and a certificate or additional degree in TESOL. Salaries can range from 1,000-2,000 Euros, and schools do not provide for accommodation. Airfare or transportation, also, is usually the responsibility of the teacher.
Though not as proficient in English as the other Scandinavians, the Finns benefit from hearing English through media, television and movies, but they have difficulty speaking and communicating. The result is “reverse illiteracy”, or having superior reading, writing, and listening skills, but inferior speaking ability. The Finns' cultural ethic and discipline is evident in the classroom, and the teacher of adults or advanced learners must be able to cross the proverbial T's and dot the proverbial I's, in other words, be able to answer questions about grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Perfectionist tendencies combined with a reserved Finnish demeanor will present the English teacher with unique challenges, but nothing too troubling for the competent teacher.
Below are links to English language newspapers, expatriate organizations, and services. Remember, any qualified teacher will have no difficulty securing an ESL position in Finland. Good luck or…Onnea!
ESL Schools in Finland: