Raised in the countryside of city Changshu, an hour drive from Shanghai, Yafang Huang saw how wealthy families sent their children abroad to study.
She first studied a vocational degree in chemistry in her home town and worked for a while for the Finnish UPM. In 2000 she decided to travel to Finland to study a BBA degree in International Business in Kouvola at Xamk (then Kyamk).
“When I left for Finland, China was still quite a closed society. In Kouvola we formed a tight study network with mainly international students from Asia and Russia.”
Finding work rather easy
After graduating in 2000, she decided to learn Finnish in order to work with the Finns. So she started studying Finnish full-time for 8 months and worked over holidays.
“I was then looking for a steady employment anywhere in Finland. My first working place was in Tornio and the next one in Lahti.”
Huang has specialized over the years in raw materials purchases from China. Her first employer imported souveniers from China and the second one made private label textiles. For the last 12 years she has been buying raw materials for UPM, a globally operating biofore company that has roots dating back more than 100 years in Kuusankoski, the paper capital of Finland.
“Returning to Kuusankoski was easy. When they were recruiting, it was the right time for me to shift to next job and I was a suitable candidate for the job. I work in a team that is responsible for all raw materials purchases for UPM factories in Finland. My team is really international and we have staff working all over the world.”
Cosy family life
She has continued her studies at Xamk for a master´s degree and is looking for the right time to do her thesis work.
“I started further studies before I had my two boys who are now 7 and 4 years old so it has been pretty lively now.”
Yafang Huang lives with her husband and sons in Kouvola, 8 kilometres from her work.
“It is very safe to live here with kids and all services are close by. I grow garden products at our summer cottage close to home. Gardening is therapy for me after a brain-working day.”
Surrounding nature has become very important for her. Her family likes to fish at their cottage and golf is another important summer activity for the family.
“I pick berries in the forests in the summertime and collect mushrooms in the autumn. I cook ordinary Finnish food during the working week and make something Chinese during weekends. I have also learnt to bake here.”
Potential for co-operation
When visiting her family in China it takes her a week to get used to the number of people and noise.
“When I return home in Finland, my mind finds peace again. I think that Chinese people would appreciate our clear skies, clean waters and the peace and quiet that we have.”
She believes that there are still interesting fields of competence where co-operation could benefit both countries.
“The Chinese high-quality health care sector could provide professionals for Finland. On the other hand, the Chinese could learn from the Finnish dental hygienist education that starts from a baby. If I could start a company from scratch in China it would be related to dental hygiene.”
Opportunities for Chinese students
Yafang Huang sees that contemporary China is even more developed than many parts of Europe. However, young Chinese face severe competition related to study and work. Therefore, she has been trying to encourage her nephew to come and study in Finland.
“Finns study beneficial skills for working life and get tools for solving problems. They are encouraged to express their opinions and improve things at their working places.”
From her own experience she is convinced that living abroad makes young people more independent.
“As a result of the single-child policy, the number of young Chinese is low so families help them with everything in life. However, Chinese young people are now very confident. When I first arrived here, I was like a white sheet of paper and back then our state did not encourage studying abroad.”
She thinks that living in Finland is not as expensive as in big European cities.
“You manage with less money even if there are tuition fees these days. And if you realize that you did not choose the right degree programme, it is possible to switch easily to another one unlike in China. There is lots of information online about options that Xamk offers so it is easy to get a good idea of what it is like to study and live here.”
Over the years she has seen how Europe needs young professionals to work. She thinks that studying abroad could be a good way to experience living in a foreign country.
“If you then think that you can cope and integrate, you could stay and learn the language because there are lots of opportunities available here.”
Text and pictures: Päivi Kapiainen-Heiskanen