“I feel like a queen,” says Brazilian woman teaching in Finland, the No.1 country in the world in education

luciana pc3b6lc3b6nen dc3a1 aulas de portuguc3aas em espoo na finlc3a2ndia
luciana pc3b6lc3b6nen dc3a1 aulas de portuguc3aas em espoo na finlc3a2ndia
Luciana Pölönen dá aulas de português em Espoo, na Finlândia
Luciana Pölönen gives Portuguese classes in Espoo, Finland (Photo: Personal Archive)

Note from BW of Brazil: Another interesting category that we like to feature here from time to time is the success and experiences of black Brazilian women in other countries. We’ve already seen a former maid’s “nightmare to American Dream” in the US, a music career that took off in Italy, another former maid create a social enterprise in England, another woman finding race easier to deal with in Germany, and yet another who saw another perspective of herself while living in Canada. Today, we bring another story of a black Brazilian woman who has found success on the other side of the world, this time in Finland!

“I feel like a queen,” says Brazilian teacher in the No.1 country in education

A graduate of UFBA, Luciana Pölönen has been teaching in Finland for three years. Country in Northern Europe has the best education in the world.

By Vanessa Fajardo

A graduate of UFBA, Luciana Pölönen has been teaching in Finland for three years.
A graduate of UFBA, Luciana Pölönen has been teaching in Finland for three years.

The country with the best education in the world, Finland, has among its public school teachers a Brazilian. Luciana Pölönen, 26, was born in Salvador (Bahia), has a degree in letters from the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) and moved to Finland in 2008, in order to take her Master’s. Since 2010, she been part of the Finnish faculty. In the North of Europe, rather than employment, she found the appreciation of the profession of teaching.

Country with the best education in the world, Finland places its confidence in the teacher

Model country in education, Finland has a ‘master’ in technical education

“I feel like a quee

Luciana teacher with her daily Finnish class (Photo: Personal File/Luciana Pölönen)
Luciana teacher with her daily Finnish class (Photo: Personal File/Luciana Pölönen)

n teaching here. Being a teacher in Finland is to be respected daily, as much as any other professional!”, said the Brazilian, who married a Finn, has a three year old daughter, Eeva Cecilia, and is pregnant expecting a boy. “Here in Finland the system is another, the teacher is the pillar of society.”

The comparison with her school experience in Brazil is inevitable. “In Brazil I taught only in courses, but I studied in public school, I know how it is. I suffered bullying, attacked because I said what I saw wrong and teachers didn’t have respect of parents,” says Luciana.

For four consecutive years, Finland was among the first places in the Programa Internacional de Avaliação de Alunos (Pisa or Program for International Student Assessment), which measures the quality of education. During a visit in São Paulo last week, the director of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Jaana Palojärvi said that the secret of success of the Finnish education system has nothing to do with revolutionary teaching methods, use of technology in the classroom or national assessments. The motto is to train teachers and provide freedom for him to work.

Luciana approves of the method. For two years ago she has taught at the Escola Europeia de Helsinque (European School of Helsinki), capital of Finland, at the elementary and high school level and a year  teaching Portuguese at a primary school in Espoo, a city near the capital. “I teach Portuguese because every child who speaks two languages ​​has the right to the teaching of a foreign language in school. That is, all children of Brazilians are entitled to the teaching of Portuguese as a mother tongue.”

To get the job, the Brazilian underwent a transcript evaluation at the university, sent a personal letter setting out her intentions, and endured an interview, a kind of oral test done in English.

“I have complete freedom to assess my students, I have the list of things he must learn by the end of the year, but how I’ll do this is my criterion”

Luciana Pölönen, teacher in Finland
Luciana Pölönen moved to Finland in 2008 and became a teacher (Photo: Personal Archive)

With work in two schools, Luciana earns 2,500 euros, equivalent to R$6,500 (Brazilian reais). Luciana has a temporary contract because she hasn’t finished her master’s degree, which ends at the end of the year, so there is a reduction in earnings of 15% and extra charges.

“I have complete freedom to assess my students, I have the list of things he must learn by the end of the year, but how I’ll do this is my criterion. I don’t need to apply tests at all times, or justify anything to the coordinator”, she affirms. “We have no-cost improvement courses, discounts at various places with the teacher’s card, travel insurance, among other things.”

For Luciana, students learn because there is a commitment from them, the parents and the community. “They learn respect from the time they’re little, honesty comes first. People believe in each other and don’t need to lie. When a teacher gets sick she can be absent up to three days. It works well.”

Map of Finland
Map of Finland

Translation and tuition

Soon after arriving in Finland, Luciana worked as a media analyst. Then, in 2010, before entering the public school system, she reconciled translation work and was a tutor. “If you show up to a job to do cleaning, I would accept it with no problems since it was honest. I sent my resume to some companies, but was never called. I thought of my omitting my graduation [in letters, UFBA] in case I didn’t get anything.”

Luciana returned to work when her daughter was only a month old. It was a translation job that she sometimes did at home or went to the company that was next to her house. She would stop to breastfeed on the coffee break. “Here the maternity leave is three years, people thought it was absurd for me to work with a one-month old daughter. In fact it’s part of their education, today I understand more.”

Respect for others is also something very rooted in Finnish culture. Luciana says that it’s different from Brazil, she never felt prejudice in Finland for being black or foreign. “People here don’t seem to notice the skin color of the other as long as there is mutual respect.”

Cases of violence or bullying are very rare in schools. “There were five cases of violence in the year, but for them it’s absurd, shouldn’t happen. They always have a plan for every type of student, there’s not a single way to the whole class. In the end, all achieve the same objective.”


In Finland, teachers are prohibited by law from touching the student. Not even to give a hug. Luciana learned that during an English class, during an internship, in an activity where students must demonstrate feelings in a kind of theatrical staging and she touched a student. The whole class was frozen in amazement.

Today, Luciana has gotten used to the culture. “I think I got used to it, I never liked to hug people if there wasn’t’ a very important reason for this. Maybe that’s why I have become accustomed here.” The cold also doesn’t bother her, even the temperature of 25 degrees (Celsius below zero, 13 below Fahrenheit) that she’s experienced. For the baiana (native of Bahia), there are no problems since as appropriate clothing keep her body warm.

Plans for Brazil

At the end of the year, Luciana will enjoy the holidays to return to Brazil to visit her family. During the two-month season she plans to do workshops in schools about the Finnish education system. “I would like to help teachers in some way, with training, it’s what I must do for my country. My part is to try to help in any way I can.”

For her, Finland’s recipe having a 10 education system, based on simplicity, would work in Brazil if “people would stop expect government actions and act with their own hands.” “I would like my daughter to see my country different and I didn’t have to pay a monthly 2-3 thousand reais [in case I lived in Brazil] in a private school to offer her a quality education.”

If the embrace that is so habitual in Brazil doesn’t make her miss it and the cold doesn’t bother her, Luciana misses laughing with friends, raving about her mother’s food, talking to her grandmother, listening to music with her aunt and watching Formula 1 with her father. “We killed the longing via Skype or when some relatives visit Finland.”

Source: Meira Fernandes

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. I must say, that Finland is one of those places that looks great on paper, but I can’t really look at the Scandinavian countries as anything other than big cities with homogenous populations (see lots and lots of white people and nothing else), that don’t really contribute to the world at large. I was rolling on the floor laughing at
    “… she touched a student. The whole class was frozen in amazement.”

    And I agree 100% when she says this
    “Finland’s recipe…would work… if “people (in Brazil) would stop expect government actions and act with their own hands.”

    It is a shame that Brazilians so often act on their best behavior when they are in white societies but give their worst and complain about the government when they are at home.

    I have wondered for a while now why Brazilians are so excited to go to Finland, as I know several people who have also gone to university there. Hopefully, those who are reprogrammed in other places can bring their knowledge home and apply their new “higher” standards at home.

    • Hi Bama,

      Yes, I agree with you in part. But things in Scandinavia are changing (society getting more mixed) and the racism is also growing along with the changes. However, my personal impression is that things are not getting worse at the same pace as their are changing.

      Regarding this woman however, I think we need to cut her some slack. While many parts of Scandinavia (small cities) are still very homogenous, my personal guess is that even there she does not suffer a fraction of the racism she suffered in Brazil.

      I think the experience is different for wannabe whites who behave like shit in Brazil and need to take a reality shock in Spain being identified as anything but Europeans and being put in their “latino non-white” places. These are the Brazilians that need to learn a lesson and come back better human beings.

      Kudos for this woman, is not easy to get a job in Scandinavia (really any job.. the minute money is the question, Scandinavians usually take it seriously).

      “why Brazilians are so excited to go to Finland, ” .. I think most Brazilians know jack shit about Finland, but hej, it’s Europe, it’s white, it must be good, you’re living in Brazil you know the drill.

      Just my 2 cents on Scandinavia…

      • Hi Brazilian –
        Yeah I can see your points. As an American living in Brazil, I just have a different perception of how “bad” things are in Brazil compared to other places. I see Brazil as a place ripe with opportunity in almost every field, coupled with a lot of people and companies that want to pay people for their talent. But I also see it as a place where you have to really study to master the “game” of the place. When you come into that mastery, a lot of doors open fairly quickly and at a sustained level, because there are just SO many areas where they need people with different skill sets. I just don’t understand the over-reliance on government and” leaders” to do things for many of the educated people that they can do themselves. And this woman teaching in Finland is not earning more, relatively, than she would earn as a “concoursada” teacher in Brazil. If she were working to teach Portuguese to foreigners privately, or continue to educate herself as a teacher with courses, she would earn even more in Brazil.

        I also take issue with the idea that Finland has the “best education system in the world” because I rarely hear of Finnish people doing anything of consequence in the world. They seem to produce a lot of people who can read, but who lack inventive ingenuity or creativity.

        And I recently spoke to one of the regional directors of CNPq, and he basically told me that ALMOST ALL proposals for projects and studies were approved to receive governmental financial sponsorship because they receive so few proposals each year!! They just need people to send the proposals and they are basically almost guaranteed to get money for them! But, you need leaders who are willing to create studies and projects needed here, write the proposals, and request the money. I’m guessing that most people can’t be bothered with all that “extra work.”

        I can also see that there is a class of professional student here who seems to spend the bulk of their lives getting scholarships to “study” in other places, but who never come home and apply what they have learned in Brazil. I guess I just get frustrated with how places like Amsterdam or Finland are painted as the holey grails of opportunity and luxury, because I just see them as somewhat boring socialist countries that are very average-looking physically, and that are not doing anything particularly groundbreaking in any area. Well, Amsterdam has weed and prostitutes, so I guess that’s something! They just sort of seem like places to go if you want to be 100% sure that your trash will collected at the right time on Mondays and Wednesdays.

        Brazil, on the other hand, is a place that does require more people who can think critically, solve complex problems, and who are willing to lead in some area. Everyone cannot be a follower in life! Everyone cannot be of the mind that “because the country is imperfect, I need to leave it!” I could understand that sentiment for those living in war-torn countries or totalitarian regimes. However, in Brazil, I guess I just see a HUGE difference in how many – not all – Brazilians perceive the place, versus what it actually is.

        In any case, your 2 cents is appreciated!

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