Office secretary Rahmie Özcan
Rahmie Özcan studied ceramics in Bulgaria but never got the chance to work in that line. In Finland she is an office secretary for the social services and is also studying. It is wise to train because organisational changes in the city administration are not uncommon.
Rahmie Özcan, 39, works in income support payments at the East Helsinki Social Services Centre.
When a client receives a favourable income support decision Özcan makes the practical arrangements for payment, arranges the cash transfers, pays the bills and rents or writes out payment commitments. Payments are made in the morning; the afternoon routine involves postal and other office work.
“The end of the month is the busiest time. I deal with people’s money matters, so you have to think about what you are doing. You need to be accurate and conscientious when making payments. I work independently so I have to know about a lot of different things and put up with a lot of pressure.”
Özcan began working for the City of Helsinki in 2001. She did a traineeship to familiarise herself with office work. That was followed by jobs for which an employment subsidy was paid and later standing in for other employees.
A permanent post became vacant in 2005. Before she embarked on her career, Özcan studied Finnish and did a course leading to a professional salesperson’s qualification lasting a year.
“A positive attitude helps you cope and enjoy your work.”
Özcan arrived in Finland from the Bulgarian countryside, from the small locality of Kliment. Her family belonged to a Muslim minority which suffered discrimination under the communist government.
In 1989 a large number of Muslims escaped the country, and Özcan’s family dispersed. Her parents fled to Turkey, and Özcan and her husband got to Finland. The family lived at the Mäntsälä reception centre, and when she obtained permanent residency she moved to Helsinki.
“Adjusting to a new country and Helsinki took time. Luckily we met our fellow countrymen in the residential area we lived in in Vuosaari. There are few Bulgarians in Finland, but with the country’s membership of the EU the number is growing.”
Like other social services employees in Helsinki, Özcan attends her employer’s training programme and in her studies specialises in customer service and marketing. The training comes as a form of apprenticeship. Two days a month she studies at college, and the rest of the study work is done as distance learning.
“If everything goes well I will complete my studies in a year. It is sometimes hard learning Finnish, but I’m really satisfied with my progress. The studies are directly connected with my present work. The work is always open and visible and we discuss it. Apart from subjects for work I am also studying mathematics and languages. Actually, I didn’t have to learn Swedish because I can speak Russian.”
At the social services office Russian and Turkish clients can thus avail themselves of the service in their own language. Özcan thinks highly of the people she works with, and on the staff there are a few other immigrants.
“The staff at the office are already used to me, but the clients might react when they realise I am a foreigner. I no longer really feel like an immigrant, though. I’ve now lived nearly half my life in Finland.”
Text and photograph: Anu Likonen, Jukka Vuolle and Nanni Akkola
The Ministry of Employment and the Economy