Traveller by heart – Belgian Sam Pintens leads a family-oriented life in Joensuu

People who migrate to new countries do so for different reasons. For some, such as Belgian Sam Pintens, the move to Finland sprung from unexpected necessity, but the transition was easier and more pleasant than expected.

Sam Pintens is a Belgian migrant. The best moniker to describe the man would likely be “citizen of the world”. Sam is originally from a village of some 20,000 people near Antwerp, a city of roughly half a million people. A would-be sports teacher turned instructor turned manufacturing worker, Sam has been through many countries and career changes. His passion has always been in travelling, and he had imagined ending up in either Spain or Southern France most likely, which eventually led him to work in the holiday industry. He met his Finnish girlfriend while working in Spain.

“We were both working for a hotel company as sports and fitness instructors. We had a season there, and when our contracts finished, we ended up travelling, and we had to settle somewhere.

It was what would eventually lead Sam to move to Joensuu. After Spain, the couple made a two-week pit stop in Joensuu before embarking on a three-month trip through Asia. It was during the trip that the couple found out they were expecting their firstborn.

“Suddenly it was rather urgent to settle somewhere, so we went straight to Joensuu, mainly because of the social network my girlfriend had here” 

Although change was somewhat abrupt, Sam appears to have gotten well accustomed to Finland. His biggest concern outside family affairs was the climate, but he has grown to like winters over summers in Joensuu. He also found work in about two weeks since moving in, and has since worked at JP Suojapeite, which manufactures PVC covers and other large covers for different industries. 

It was a superfast process. Of course, I came here with a very open mind. It was like, I want to get a job, kind of whatever job. I’m actually very happy there.”

Sam started as an all-around helper, but quickly moved on to more specialised tasks. Nowadays he is constantly working on bigger projects and products. His language skills have also made him the company’s unofficial international liaison. 

Being an EU citizen, Sam’s move to Finland was rather easy. Of course, having a Finnish girlfriend to boot also played a part, but Sam has been able to settle down with relatively little hassle. A quick job find relieved him from having to deal with unemployment benefits, and the family has since found a reasonably priced house. You could say he was off to a good start. That is not to say that some things have not taken time to get used to. In Finland, everything is both nearer and further away.

“I know Finnish people consider long distances very different than I do. Here it’s quite normal to go and visit somebody in Helsinki, and you’re gonna be on the train for four hours and a half. If I’m in Belgium and I travel two hours in whatever direction from where I live, I’m always in another country.”

Of the three points of comparison, Sam appears to like Finnish working culture the best – for him, it fits the right balance by being more family-oriented and relaxed, but at the same time not too relaxed. Outside of work, Sam leads a very active lifestyle, and hopes to get back to kiteboarding. While the city certainly does not lack opportunities for a sports enthusiast, the things Sam likes the most about the city are its size and spaciousness. Everything important is close by without the hustle and bustle of a big city.

“I always imagined cities to be super crowded, super busy with much traffic and stuff, and what I like about Joensuu is that it’s pretty much a village in my opinion, but it really has everything that you would expect from a city… It’s like literally everything is near, and it’s not the busy city life even though on a weekend or whatever, if you wanna go out or something, you still get the city vibe but in a nice way.”

That is not to say that Sam is planning to stay put forever. Sam is very much a traveller by heart. Both him and his girlfriend have imagined themselves living in warmer climates, and at least for Sam, it’s also about a way of life. 

“I’m very okay living here and I could see myself living here for another maybe ten years or something. I think that eventually we will probably move out again… I think the moment we can and are allowed to, we will start travelling much more again, and yeah, I think the main reason why we work is to be able to travel, and not necessarily to be wealthy now or something.”

For now, however, things have settled down, and at least for the foreseeable future Sam will be leading a family life here. When asked directly where there might be room for improvement, Sam mentions the talk floating around Joensuu as something that might needlessly discourage migrants from coming here.

“I think that the vibe around Joensuu is that it’s slightly demotivating to come to Joensuu, because kind of everybody thinks that it isn’t a good place for internationals to find work… That’s really the vibe I got when I arrived here, and I do think that it’s still so.” 

The best way then to attract international talents is to have confidence in your community and businesses and to let it show.

“That is definitely something, pretty much just promoting and Joensuu business people being more convinced that they are internationally worthy.”

Text: Lauri Vuori