Coming To America - Helsinki, Finland

Citizens Journal Ventura County

Citizens’ Journal is proud to present the Coming to America series of immigrant related interviews conducted by Ventura resident Dr. Kathleen S. Roos. CJ publishes a new story each Sunday. These stories describe what life was like in their native country, the whys of wanting to come to America and what they have found here. It is the hope of each interviewee that those born in America, who have not had these experiences may reflect on what it means to be an American by these immigrants. Many have risked their lives and their families to come to America. Some have had an easier road, but the desire to be free, to make choices and what it means to become an American is a thread found throughout these interviews.

In current news today look at the young man Enes Kanter, the Boston Celtics basketball player speaking out about human rights and comparisons to China and the companies who do business there! He is from Turkey and Muslim and his family is paying a price for his decision to speak out.  He is also taking a lot of heat from others here in the U.S. to risk his career to take such a stand.  A very decent guy who makes a great example to Americans. He is well-known and appreciates the U.S. and our freedoms and deplores the atrocities in China and other parts of the world relative to abuse and lack of human rights. Most of these interviewees are not well known, or famous but their stories matter. All the varying perspectives of the interviewees are presented. Each one is their own story.

For the Citizen’s Journal readers who want to go back and view previous interviews we have included a list of those already published which can be located through the journal’s search engine box by typing in Coming to America, and the name of the Country. These include interviews from Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge through Cambodia: The Next Generation (installments 1-3), Oaxaca, Mexico (4), Santiago, Chile (5), Aligarh, India (6), Santiago, Cuba (7), Cambodia: years later told by an American dental professional (8), Jalisco, Mexico (9), Bagdad, Iraq (10), Bulacan, Philippines (11), and United Kingdom (12).

This week’s installment CJ is presents Mark Lai’s story from Saigon, Vietnam. Future interviews will include; Plauen, Germany, Rimmanapudi, India, Great Urswich, UK., Helsinki, Finland, Tehran, Iran, North Korea, Riga, Latvia, and Dr. Roos’ story from her travel and experiences.

Interview with Milla Leino July 2021

Where are you from and when did you come to the U.S.?

I was born in 1983 in Helsinki, Finland and came to U.S 2018.
Milla Leino hiking in Simien Mountains national park in Ethiopia (7 months pregnant).Milla Leino

Have you become a U.S citizen?


Why did you want to come to the U.S.? Or did you want to come to the U.S.?

Me and my husband moved to U.S because of my husband’s military orders. I had been living in Ethiopia since 2012 before moving to U.S.  My husband and I met through common friends in Ethiopia in 2015, we were both working there at the time.

Above photo of me hiking in Simien Mountains national park in Ethiopia (7 months pregnant). I have been lucky to be able to visit some of the most beautiful places on this planet. Life in African cities can be very chaotic but when you leave the city, nature is just incredible.

How do you perceive the U.S. today as compared to when you first came here? (Especially during these times of change).

Since I’ve been here only for 3 years, I haven’t seen a big change.

Are your parents and family here or in Finland? How do they perceive the U.S.

My parents live in Finland. I’m sure my parents find U.S. a fairly good place to live (keeping in mind I was living in Africa before moving here). They get their information mostly from news and sometimes we discuss some things together that's happening in this country. They have also visited me here.

Do you see parallels of things happening in your Country compared to U.S. Good and bad?

Like it is happening everywhere in the western world, also in Finland’s far right political movement has unfortunately become stronger with racist undertones. On the other hand, there has been a strong counter movement too. At the moment, women lead all the five parties in the coalition government and the Prime Minister is a 34-year-old woman, and a mother of a 2-year-old girl.

Do people own guns in your country? Did they ever and were they confiscated?

Gun ownership in Finland is among the highest in the world, although crime rates remain among the worlds’ lowest. According to some sources I researched online, the levels of gun ownership are very similar in Finland and U.S., about 35 percent of households have a firearm in both countries. But in Finland, the firearms tend to be hunting rifles and in U.S handguns. Moreover, in Finland guns tend to be located in hunting cabins or vacation homes, which are plentiful in Finland and Scandinavia.

You mentioned that you have free medical and education in Finland. That sounds great. How is it paid for?

Public healthcare in Finland is not free (unlike for example in UK), though charges are very reasonable. Public healthcare is the responsibility of municipalities (local government) and is primarily funded by taxation but also by patient fees. 

In 2020-2021 the maximum out-of-pocket fee for treatment to see a doctor at a health center, is €20.60 (around $24.50) this may be charged a maximum of three times per year. Fees for public healthcare have an upper limit per calendar year, beyond which clients are no longer required to pay. In addition, there is an upper limit on annual medicine expenses. In 2020 the threshold was €577.66 (around $686).

How does the education system work?

Education from pre-primary (kindergarten)  to higher education is free of charge in Finland. Schools up to the university level are almost exclusively funded and administered by the municipalities by taxation. 

The education system in Finland consists of daycare programs (for babies and toddlers), a one-year "pre-school" (age six), a nine-year compulsory basic comprehensive school (age seven to age sixteen), post-compulsory secondary general academic and vocational education, higher education and adult education.

Finland has consistently ranked high in the PISA study, which compares national educational systems internationally. One of reason for the success is that the teachers are highly educated. Both primary and secondary teachers must have a master's degree to qualify. Teaching is a respected profession and entrance to university programs is highly competitive. A prospective teacher must have very good grades and must combat fierce opposition in order to become a teacher.

Municipalities are responsible for providing early childhood education and care for children under school age. The early childhood education and care is high quality and inexpensive. The fee is determined on the basis of the family’s income and size and the time that the child spends. What I personally like about the Finnish early childhood education and care system is that it focuses on teaching the kids to “learn how to learn”. Instead of formal instruction in reading and math there are lessons on nature, animals, and the “circle of life” and a focus on materials-based learning.

It is strongly believed that when children develop learning to learn as a life skill and see the real-life applications of the knowledge they gather, they will become lifelong learners. In other words, the children are given the opportunity to learn by playing and having fun and the teachers’ job is to feed their natural curiosity for exploring new things.

The comprehensive school starts at the age of 7 and consists of 9 grades. At the end of the comprehensive school, each young person must apply for post-comprehensive school education. Compulsory education ends when the person reaches the age of 18 or when they complete an upper secondary qualification (high school or a vocational school). Graduates are eligible to apply for further studies at universities or universities of applied sciences. They are all tuition-free for students coming from EU/EEA countries and Switzerland. Non-EU/EEA students enrolling in English-taught degrees are required to pay tuition fees.

There are only few private schools, but I happened to go to one of them. When I was 8 years old my best friend was applying to a German School, so I told my parents that I want to do the same. Hence, I took the test too and got in, and went to a German School from 3rd to 9th grade.

How does the public health and medical system work?

The aim of Finnish health policy is to lengthen the active and healthy lifespan of citizens, to improve quality of life, and to diminish differences in health between population groups. The child mortality rate in Finland is one of the lowest in the world; the infant mortality rate is below 4%. The life expectancy for women is 81 years, for a man, 73 years.

Primary healthcare in Finland is described as follows: Finland is divided into some 450 municipalities. Each municipality is responsible for arranging healthcare for its inhabitants. Primary healthcare is provided by health centers established by a single municipality or jointly by neighboring municipalities. Municipalities have the right to buy services from other municipalities or from the private sector. Health center services include medical consultations and provision of dental care, preventive care and environmental healthcare. Health centers run maternity and child health clinics, and arrange school and occupational health services.

Finnish municipalities have switched from a primary healthcare system to a family doctor system. Each family doctor is responsible for about 2,000 patients. The aim is for a patient to be able to contact her or his doctor and have needs for treatment assessed within three working days. This system has proved very successful.

Benefits of long-term treatment relationships include a reduced need for hospital exams and reduced healthcare costs. Outpatient care is also provided by occupational and private healthcare units. Employers are under an obligation to arrange occupational healthcare for employees which can be arranged through municipal health centers or private practitioners. About 4% of Finnish doctors work in occupational healthcare, offering both preventive services and primary healthcare.

Finland is divided into 20 hospital districts, each providing specialist consultation and care for its population. Local municipal authorities are responsible for funding specialist treatment for inhabitants of their areas. Each hospital district has a central hospital with departments for main specialties. Finland has five university hospitals. These provide the most advanced medical care, including highly specialized surgery and treatment for rare diseases. The university hospitals are also mainly responsible for the clinical training of medical students, and for medical research. In comparison with the situation in other countries, the number of hospital beds in Finland is fairly high.

Health services are available to all in Finland, regardless of their financial situation. Public health services are mainly financed from tax revenues; partly municipal, partly state tax. Central government’s contribution to municipal healthcare is determined by population numbers, age structures and morbidity statistics. A number of other factors also affect its computation. Finland spends less than 7% of its gross national product on healthcare, one of the lowest among EU member states. The public sector finances 76% of total healthcare expenditure, users of services 20% and others 4%. Other contributors include employers, private insurance and benefit societies.

Private medical treatment is provided by municipalities and the state. Particularly in cities, many doctors, dentists, and physiotherapists offer private care. There are also a few small private hospitals. Only about 8% of Finnish doctors earn their living solely as private practitioners. However, about one third of doctors run a private practice in addition to working in a hospital or health center. Most private practitioners now work in group practices.

Everyone in Finland is covered by obligatory sickness insurance, funded through taxes by the state, municipalities, employers and the insured population. The sickness insurance scheme reimburses fees paid by patients to private doctors, costs of medicines prescribed, and transportation costs arising from treatment of illness. By far the greatest expenditure in relation to health insurance is compensation for sick leave and parental leave. All licensed Finnish doctors are covered by the reimbursement system, which is administered by the social insurance institution. (Source:

You mentioned that we in America don’t have all the “crazy freedom” we think we do? Can you explain in what ways?

I guess the question of freedom depends on how you define it. I understand that for many, freedom means to be free FROM something, for example from government control. On the other hand, you can think freedom as being free TO do something, for example everybody should have the chance to pursue better life for themselves. I think one of the problems in today’s U.S is that the latter is not true anymore. According to statistics, U.S is not any more socially mobile. If you are born poor, there is higher and higher probability that you will stay poor. Here I would like to quote Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin. She told to The Washington Post: "I feel that the American Dream can be achieved best in the Nordic countries, where every child no matter their background or the background of their families can become anything, because we have a very good education system," Marin said. "We have a good health-care and social welfare system that allows anybody to become anything. This is probably one of the reasons why Finland gets ranked the happiest country in the world."

What things do you like most about the U.S.?

My favorite thing in U.S is the amazing nature. There are so many different landscapes and natural habitats, everything from deserts to mountains to beaches. I like the multiculturalism too.

What thing do you miss most about your Country?

I miss the most the ability to walk or bike anywhere (because of the sidewalks and designated biking routes in the cities), the public transportation system, and much cheaper and better mobile and Wi-Fi network services anywhere (in very remote areas too). In addition, I miss the security, no need to lock your house doors or fear to walk alone in the night.

What do you dislike most about U.S.?

I don’t like the gun violence and structural racism. In addition, I’m concerned of the growing socioeconomic polarization and income inequality. The women right’s situation in some states makes me angry and very sad.

What similarities do you see between the two Countries and or other countries you have been to?

In the end I find Finland and U.S very similar, life is more or less the same in these countries (compared to Ethiopia, where the real difference lies. Unlike Finland, Ethiopia has been under communist/socialist regime and only recently started to open up a little bit, though now the ongoing civil war has probably ended any progress, sadly.)

How does the Finnish market work? Largest industry, agriculture, imports and exports (if you know)?

Finland has a highly industrialized, largely free-market economy with per capita GDP almost as high as that of Austria and the Netherlands and slightly above that of Germany and Belgium. Trade is important, with exports accounting for over one-third of GDP in recent years. Finland is historically competitive in manufacturing, particularly in the wood, metals, engineering, telecommunications, and electronics industries. Finland excels in export of technology as well as promotion of startups in the information and communications technology, gaming, cleantech, and biotechnology sectors. Except for timber and several minerals, Finland depends on imports of raw materials, energy, and some components for manufactured goods. Because of the cold climate, agricultural development is limited to maintaining self-sufficiency in basic products. (Source:

 Does Finland secure its borders? Can someone just come in from some country and take up residence in Finland?

If you want to move to Finland, you have to apply for a resident permit based on work, studying or family ties, or if you are an asylum seeker, you have to apply for asylum. If your application is approved, you can stay.

Can you describe some instances or personal experiences that happened in US that would be different in Finland or vice versa?

When I had my baby, I was lucky to be working for the Finnish government at the time (in Ethiopia), because I had 10 months of employee paid parental leave. I could have returned to my job after my leave, but we had already moved to U.S before my son was born. Also, if we were living in Finland and having a baby there, my husband could  share the parental leave with me. The new gender-neutral policy grants nearly seven months of paid leave to each parent, for a total of 14 months of paid leave.

Are you glad to be in America? Why/why not?

I am very happy to have the chance to live in America. I see the life as an opportunity to explore the world and get as many experiences as possible. I have had the chance to live in very different kinds of places and met people from all cultures and backgrounds. Every one of these experiences has taught me so much that I’m forever grateful for them. I don’t know where we end up later in our lives but I’m looking forward to all the adventures that are waiting for us!

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