By Masuma Naorin

I believe immigrants are natural entrepreneurs. Cross-cultural experiences may increase individuals’ capabilities to identify promising business ideas. By living in different cultures, people encounter new products, services, customer preferences, and communication strategies, and this exposure may allow the transfer of knowledge about customer problems or solutions from one country to another. By applying this kind of arbitrage, a temporary or permanent migrant can decide to replicate a profitable product or business model available in one country but not in another.

Cross-cultural experiences may also stimulate creativity. Interacting with two or more cultural contexts can help immigrants combine diverse ideas, solutions, and customer problems in order to create something entirely new.

Sleepless nights, self-doubt and a steep learning curve — these are all experiences common not only among entrepreneurs starting new ventures but also for immigrants embarking on a new life in a different country.

Whether migration is a choice or a necessity, those who decide to migrate will be different from average in a number of respects from their personal circumstances to their personalities. This has been demonstrated in a number of studies, which link personality characteristics such as openness to new experiences with the decision to migrate.

The qualities that help immigrants adapt in their adopted homelands mirror those that help entrepreneurs succeed: a frontier spirit, a strong dose of grit and a unique perspective on gaps in the market.

Successful businesses are those, which continually adapt to the world’s changing environment. Similarly, immigrants must adopt an adaptable attitude as they leave their home to travel to new countries.  In these new settings, immigrants are required to adapt to new cultures, new markets and new laws.

Moving to Finland as a Migrant Woman

Moving to a new country is like the beginning of a new life especially when the new country is thousand miles away from the homeland. I was equally excited and scared thinking of moving to a new home in a new country leaving my parents, siblings, and friends back home. Thankfully, today’s technology makes it easy to keep in touch with them, but it was quite a test for me to get used to the Finnish way of living.

For me, it was not the most significant cultural difference like going to sauna naked with others, put me into a test. Instead, it was hard to grasp the small details of daily life such as how much space should I keep while talking with others or standing in a queue, how to treat my teachers or supervisors, what is the office hours or market opening hours and most importantly the lunch hour. To me not complaining about a burnt pizza, standing in a queue without showing any sign of displeasure while other customers are served even for unusually long-time, and not honking the car horn are some unique features of Finnish society that is hard to understand from outside.

Another big surprise was the different duration of sunlight during the winter and summer. Growing up in a tropical country, I have always experienced pretty much 12-hour day throughout the year. I could make a good guess about the time of the day just looking outside at the sunlight, which is quite impossible to do in Finland. During the bright summer months or the dark winter months, it is hard to differentiate between early morning and evening hours. Once a friend of mine told me, she mistakenly woke up at 2 a.m. and thinking it was 2 p.m., she hurriedly got ready to go to the school. The use of a 24-hour clock makes sense in Finland which appears to be nothing more than fancy in my native country. Recently, I came to realize that sunshine fills me with joy and happiness- a feeling that was quite uncommon to my earlier life. The desire to enjoy the sun during the summer vacation fuels me to work hard through the winter months.

I realize that having a job makes the experience of moving overseas more comfortable. When I came to Finland, I had no idea where and how to apply for a job using my previous experience and education. I have met with migrated women with many years’ of working experience and higher education degree who are unemployed or under-employed. Additionally, language barriers make this problem severe. However, when I joined the adult education program to learn Finnish, I started to have some idea of how to search for a job. Finding a job is the biggest hurdle that I face as of today.

Initially, it felt like a gulf of difference in lifestyle between Finland and my home country. With time, I learn how to work, live and make friends in this strange new world. To be a member of Finnish society I accepted the cultural differences, and in turn, it made me more tolerant of other people and their customs and behaviors. I found that this process liberated me from dogmatic thinking and teach me to embrace diversity. Today, I am not any more scared about the new and unknown instead it feels like a door of new possibility has opened for me.