When Valéria Pinto moved to Finland with her Finnish partner two years ago, she was looking for opportunities to integrate and network. Originally from Brazil, Valéria has experience in both working as a media coordinator and teaching English. It was during this time that Valéria met Familia by chance during an event with another organisation that at the time had a partnership with Familia.
“I won’t say it was my dream to volunteer when I moved to Finland, but it was something to fulfill the need of doing something and being useful, of meeting people and understanding things a bit better.”
“I wanted to find a way to get more connected to the Finnish mindset and lifestyle, but also to become more employable”, she shares. “I met someone from Familia who was giving me tips regarding my CV and she suggested volunteer work. Her professionalism, her energy made an impression on me.”
This autumn Valéria led workshops about Brazilian music for learners of Portuguese to become more familiar with important cultural moments in Brazilian history. The workshops included exercises and discussion to contextualise these cultural moments through songs of the era. The Portuguese club was part of Familia's language club activities. For Valéria, the best thing about volunteering at Familia was the freedom to develop her own activities. “Familia gave me great freedom to develop my idea […] and was very open to my proposition.”
“What’s the point with my volunteer experiences? Exchange: exchange of experiences and exchange of stories.” says Valéria, “I have lived in 6 countries and I really enjoy knowing different things, meeting different people, listening to their stories and telling my own stories.” Volunteering in Familia was also a way to challenge some assumptions about Finland. “After my experience with Familia, I felt that [Finland] is a friendly environment and I just have to go a step further to integrate. […] I learned that Finns are very open, welcoming and curious about things.” she says, “It’s about sisu!”
This week we are celebrating our volunteers by sharing their stories in the Duo Blog. We are currently looking for new volunteers to run multicultural and multilingual activities. If you are interested in leading activities in your language please fill in the volunteer application on our website or contact Familia’s volunteer coordinator, Camilla Bergman be email at camilla.bergman(at)familiary.fi.
After participating in Familia’s Duo Family Training together, Veronika and Sonja decided to volunteer as Duo Mother & Baby Group facilitators. “When meeting all other pregnant ladies I thought it would be good to keep in touch, because we are in a similar situation”, Veronica remembers. “It was a lucky coincidence that we got to facilitate together, since we were in the same Duo Family Training.”
Veronika and Sonja are both intercultural mothers. Veronika is originally from Russia and Sonja’s husband is from Egypt. Both women gave birth to their first born child this year. “I got interested in getting to know other multicultural families because I know it’s challenging to be abroad and as a family it’s hard to be balanced when the other one is living in their own country and the other one is from abroad.” Sonja shares, “I think it’s important to meet other families in the same situation and struggling maybe with the same kinds of things so you don’t feel you’re alone.”
Familia's Duo Mother and Baby groups are facilitated by a pair of volunteers who are also mothers of intercultural baby families themselves. These groups are meant to be cozy and confidential meeting places for the mothers and babies of intercultural families where they can share their struggles and celebrate positive experiences. Duo Mother & Baby Groups meet for two months at a time for 6-8 weekly meetings.
"The people of course are the most important and the best part."
Veronika and Sonja have shared many good moments together and as a group. "I feel we had a good atmosphereas a group, but also got to know each other personally”, Sonja shares. “For example sometimes we went home just the two of us after the session and shared more personal things. The people of course are the most important and best part."
Even though the official meetings ended, Veronika and Sonja still stayed in touch with the group. “After the official sessions have ended the girls started to initiate different activities themselves. We went to a farm together to see animals”, Veronica shares, ”It was great to see that people bring something of themselves and are volunteering to organise activities.”
The Duo Mother & Baby Group’s structure brought reassurance to Veronica and Sonja as facilitators. “If someone wants to try to facilitate a group it’s a good way to practice because there are two people to share the tasks, two brains”, says Veronika. However, in the end it’s the group itself who makes the experience. Sonja shares: “It’s more like the group is creating the whole thing. We just give starting points and then it’s the whole group together directing it. And the kids enjoy it a lot!”
This week we are celebrating our volunteers by sharing their stories in the Duo Blog. We are currently looking for mothers to lead and participate in Duo Mother & Baby groups next year. If you are interested in the Duo Mother & Baby Group please fill in the volunteer application on our website or contact Familia’s volunteer coordinator, Camilla Bergman be email at camilla.bergman(at)familiary.fi.
Komal, Noel and Celine are part of Love is not tourism -movement, that has been actively campaigning for partners and families that haven't been able to see each other this year. Global pandemia has caused travel restrictions especially from the third countries to European Union. These are the stories from the people that are desperately missing their partners and family members.
Me and my husband are both Indians but were residing in Finland since 5 years with A type residence permit.
We came to India for a short trip in February 2020 and got stuck here due to pandemic. My husband managed to return to Finland in May 2020 but me and my daughter’s residence permits expired so we could not return.
We are desperately waiting for the embassy in India to reopen visa services so that we can reunite with my husband. Our daughter is desperately missing her dad and missing her school and education.
My fiancé lives in Lebanon and it’s getting tough to get him a visa since the visa center in Beirut is closed. I found out that in Turkey they’re partially open but I’ve been calling them and they haven’t answered.
We are planning to see each other in Istanbul next month but not sure if we will be able to get there, if there will be flights. Now I’m trying to get him a visa to come to Finland in December. We were planning to meet many times during spring and summer but because of the restrictions, everything was always canceled.
We were planning to get married in February 2021 but now I think that’s not gonna be possible.
I’m an Indian citizen. My husband and I have been separated since June 2020. He is new to Finland and has a A type resident permit. He is alone and finding it difficult mentally to manage alone. He also got severely sick and has no one to take care of him. I contacted the Finnish Embassy in New Delhi several times, more than 10 calls since June. Their response every time was that they can’t provide any type of visas or travel documents unless Finland lifts its travel/visa ban.
Once I called Chennai consulate. They said that our personal relationship doesn’t matter. They only do what the government decides. I told the embassy that my husband is sick in Finland with no one to take care of him, and they replied that’s “not their responsibility”. How cruel...
Being separated too long affects us both physically and mentally. Please help. What’s the point of declaring family reasons as “essential travel” if they don’t give us visas to enable us to travel? Is it so much fun for the authorities to see the struggle of separated couples?
We decided to move back home after our son was born. I couldn't wait to be back in Helsinki closer to my mother and relatives. I knew we were doing the right move especially due to the fact that my kids would be in much better schools.
Little did I think of my husband, my Bahraini husband, who has only ever just visited Finland for the holidays that were filled with fun, excitement and free of worry. Those visits that every relative and friend of mine tries to meet us before we would leave again. Finland was an exciting, fun and very friendly place he always thought.
My husband was raised in a huge family. He, his six brothers and all 40+ cousins were constantly together. His parents were always available for support and advice, and so were his elder brothers, aunts, uncles and even his cousins. No one was left behind without all the support, to help them up again on their feet.
"During the most difficult days, I remind myself of what my mother taught me; don't give up, always believe after every fall there is a rise. When you reach the bottom, there is only one way left to go, up." - Ali Dadi
I moved to Finland sometime before my husband as to get an apartment and so our elder daughter would start school. When my husband moved, he was so happy to know he could spend six months with our baby boy before he would turn three and join the education system. My husband expressed his amazement, for a country to give such an opportunity, being able to reconnect and close the distance that grew between him and his son whom he had missed while he was away.
Soon our son was at day care, my husband was placed with an unsuitable group by the Employment Office (TE-toimisto) and he started drifting away in front of my eyes. He was absent minded, tried to join conversations but was too sensitive to talk about anything, and turned from a healthy race driver into a very poor shape. He was a walking dead man who looked like my husband. I was never so worried as I was then.
Before summer he managed to find a suitable integration study program and convinced the Employment Office to let him take a part in it. Suddenly he was with similarly educated people from all around the world. He started to get out of that scary place. He was also called for few races in Morocco, France, Italy, Dubai and Oman, so he got to see his racing buddies.
By mid-summer my old husband was back and we were able to talk at last. He tried explaining the feelings he had. He started crying and explaining that he is so disappointed in himself for being so weak. That was the moment that it hit me, how many men are raised up to think that feeling is weak. My beloved husband needed to know he was the most amazing man but he is a human being too.
He never realized that he had the right to look at his own feelings, his own happiness and well being. And that does not make him any less manly nor weak. We discussed and he agreed that he might need help before next winter. As a Finn who has lived most of my life outside of Finland I did not know other than the healthcare centre to seek help for him.
"The most difficult thing for me was, that I did not know how long will this take, but I did know it has to end sooner or later." - Ali Dadi
My husband was raised in a psychologically smart family, so he never needed a professional psychologist's help. When his friend died in a burning race car in front of his eyes, he found all the support he needed to bounce back from that trauma. When my husband was stuck under a car and burned 2/3 of his back, his family's support helped him through that too. He always had help naturally, spoke of his pain and was supported with no fancy disorders names that physiologists give. He did not even know what depression really was. Until that winter in Finland.
He entered the doctor's room. He said: “I suffered from depression last winter, and now as winter is approaching, I want to prevent falling back to the same depression again. All I need is a counsellor to talk to because I feel lonely, and I feel that I have no one on my side.“
To which the doctor replied: “You can't know what you need, if you had depression and are talking about it, it means it was a very mild one and so I can describe you something you take if you feel depressed next time.”
My husband refused the medication and came home to tell me what happened. He felt attacked when his psychological intelligence was disrespected. We diced to try to find other ways to find him help. We got to the GYM together, I listened to him whenever he needed to talk, and we tried to survive that winter together. He did face difficulties, but it was much better than the winter before. Before the end of the winter we attended Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training course. That course proved to him how psychologically educated, smart and aware he was naturally.
He was one of the strongest people in understanding that course. Everyone saw it and praised his intelligence.
"All I need is a counsellor to talk to because I feel lonely, and I feel that I have no one on my side.“ - Ali Dadi
Now as a wife, I have to stand and shout as loud as I can "Men's mental wellbeing matters too". I see communities so busy caring about the children's mental wellbeing and the mothers' mental wellbeing and divorced women's mental wellbeing but rarely have I heard of men's, they do exist but rarely heard of and when needed we didn't know how to find them. Don't get me wrong, I think everyone's mental wellbeing is important, but we should not forget the men. Men have been taught to be strong, not cry, work hard, not complain and many have been taught to not get weak and ask for psychological assistance. We have to change this stereotyping. We have to embrace men as human beings, not as robots programed to keep it together and fix every broken thing at home. Because sometimes it's him who needs helping to fix something broken, and there is no shame to allow him to ask for that help.
"I was never ready to give up my love to this amazing man, so I knew we had to find away through this!"
From the experience I learned to listen to him instead of only talking and asking him to listen to me. I learned how to be patient and give him time to figure out the feeling he is going though. And learned how to read his need of a hug or a touch when he needed that too. He moved to Finland for me and for our children so this is the least I could give him in return, be there for him.
My husband is all good, and almost got used to the Finnish style of life, and he made few friends, which helped him a lot. But I wish we knew about the peer support groups that are offered. I found out about father's group that gather in Familia ry for years, just few weeks ago. That would have been just what he needed in those lonely dark days.
"We have taken this decision to walk through life together, so we have to always remember to wait for the other one and hold hands on the rough surfaces."
Men's mental wellbeing matters too.
Imagine being asked, What is being heard? "Mitä kuuluu!"
And the response, Good. “ Hyvää, Kiitos.” Thank you.
But the question, “Mitä kuuluu?” is “What hears?” literally. "Entä sinä?" And, you?
"Ihaan hyvää, kiitos." Yes, perfectly well, thank you. Like saying, one hears good things.
Except, that they are not responding about the functionings of their auditory senses, but, they are telling you that they are doing well. Which is what they asked you about in the first place…
“Mitä kuuluu?” Do you hear well, What is being heard?
Also, in the olden days, when calculators helped people do their math, a calculator was also called an aasin silta. Maybe, just maybe, because the user could not make the connections between those unrelated numbers?
It is nice to see how they use English words and add an “i” to the end of some words to make it their own. So, logically, hotel is hotelli, bus is bussi, and so on. But, you can’t extrapolate a word and think you know the meaning, especially when “porkanna” is not pork but the humble carrot.
How about trying to say kaHvi for coffee (make sure you aspirate the “h”, tough one ain’t it?) and then having to say kofeiniton when you want caffeine-free? The suffix “ton” meaning “without”. That ton of logic beats me. Why not simply say “koffii” instead of making poor English speakers gasp for air while struggling to get the “h” aspirated.
It does not help either, that the word for the pope is not aspirated and is just a long paavi. One has to pronounce the “aa” diphthong. If one doesn’t, there is not much else to distinguish it from its less-worthy cousin, the word for cardboard, pahvi. And listeners be-warned, especially, if I have not done my breathing-out exercises.
"Yeah, I have the vain glory of being the one to make people think I am making pontifical statements, when all I was referring to, was some poor piece of cardboard that was in the rubbish bin!"
Or, how about going into a burger joint and being greeted with Tuuna burgerisi?.. which I quite innocently thought meant “D’ya want a tuna burger?” Only to realize it was their clever usage of English, though not in the way you’d imagine.
And, so my days in this land are days of discovery and laughter. There is always something that can “Tul-la pus-kis-ta.” Something can come out of the bushes, a surprise that can get sprung on you.
Just like when I did a double-take — when I was told that what I had proposed -- fitted like a fist in the eye! I thought they meant that I had given them a sock in the eye!
Seems, I could relax after all. All it harmlessly meant was that the proposal suited them perfectly. And that is perhaps, how I came to be with my Finnish man. Yes, the proposal suited me fine, just like a fist in the eye, sopia kuin nyrkki silmään.
Mary Ann Alexander
Published in Duo blog with Mary Ann´s permission
First published in Mary Ann´s personal blog
Tänä syksynä Familiaan saapui uusia kasvoja! Tutustu Camillaan, Familian uuteen vapaaehtoistoiminnan koordinaattoriin.
Olen Camilla Bergman, Familian uusi vapaaehtoistoiminnan koordinaattori. Koulutukseltani olen melkein valmis ranskan kielen FM ja aloitan yhteisöpedagogin opinnot HUMAKissa tänä syksynä työn oheessa. Lisäksi minulle on kertynyt neljän vuoden kokemus nuorten vapaaehtoisten johtamisesta, globaalikasvatuksesta ja kansainvälisen vapaaehtoistyön kehittämisestä esimerkiksi AIESECissa, Taksvärkissä ja EYPssä. Suomen lisäksi olen asunut ulkomailla Ranskassa, Perussa ja Romaniassa. Vapaa-ajallani tykkään ulkoilla, kuunnella podcasteja ja leipoa.
Innostuin alun perin järjestötyöhön, kun olin 2 kuukautta vapaaehtoisena Perussa. Järjestötyön monipuolisuus antaa puitteet kehittyä monella eri tavalla eikä järjestöissä ole koskaan tylsää päivää. Familiassa minua kiinnosti erityisesti järjestön merkityksellinen missio ja mahdollisuus saada aikaan kestävä muutos pieneen järjestöön.
Mitä tuut tekemään?
Tulen toimimaan Familian yhteyshenkilönä kaikkeen vapaaehtoistyöhön liittyen joulukuun 2020 loppuun asti. Lisäksi tulen rakentamaan Familialle uusia toimintamalleja ja kehittämään vanhoja. Minuun voi siis olla yhteydessä vapaaehtoistyön aloittamiseen, toiminnan järjestämiseen tai toiminnan kehittämiseen liittyvissä kysymyksissä. Uskon, että järjestämällä ja kehittämällä Familian vapaaehtoistoimintaa voimme vaikuttaa positiivisesti monen ihmisen elämään!
Ota yhteyttä! :) Camillaan voi olla yhteydessä sähköpostilla osoitteessa firstname.lastname@example.org tai puhelimitse 050 502 1039.
Who am I?
My name is Camilla Bergman and I am the new Volunteer Coordinator at Familia. My educational background is in French language and I am about to start a new degree as a Community Educator at HUMAK UAS. I have 4 years of experience leading youth volunteers and working with global education as well as developing international volunteering activities in organizations like AIESEC, Taksvärkki and EYP.In addition to Finland I have lived in France, Peru and Romania. In my spare time I enjoy walking in nature, listening to podcasts and baking.
I became interested in working in NGOs after I spent 2 months volunteering in Peru. I love the variety of NGOs that allows you to develop yourself. There is never a boring day working in an NGO! I was drawn to Familia because of its important mission and the possibility to make a lasting change on a small organization.
What will I be doing?
I will be working as the contact person for Familia’s volunteers until end of December 2020. In addition to this I will be developing old and new frameworks for volunteering with Familia. You can contact me about any questions regarding starting volunteering, organizing or developing activities. I believe that by organizing and developing Familia’s activities we can make a positive impact on many people’s lives!
Get in touch! :)
You can contact Camilla by email at email@example.com or by phone at 050 502 1039.
My internship at Familia has come to an end. I am happy that I had a chance to be a part of Familia and contribute to meaningful work. As a part of my responsibilities, I met 14 different people, both Finns and foreigners, who shared stories about their paths on employment, integration, and well-being in Finland. We discussed what getting a job in Finland means for integration, what are the best ways to expand one's network, how to master the Finnish language and much more. You can find the Path Ambassadors articles here.
I must admit that I got many insights during my internship, both from the people who participated in the interviews and my observations. This was my first time working at a Finnish office and I would like to share the main takeaways:
These were the most important points that I wanted to share. I hope you find some of my observations and notes helpful for your own job search in Finland.
We make mistakes because we’re human. How we choose to react to and handle these mistakes, however, builds our character and our relationships for better or for worse. I do not claim to know what is best for all multicultural relationships but the advice I give below are the lessons I have learned over time through my own personal experiences.
Don’t always assume you know what your partner is “really” saying
Words can have many meanings culturally as well as personally. The language we choose to communicate with should be considerate of the other person and sometimes, especially in multicultural relationships, you will have no idea beforehand that something you said, which you thought was harmless, could cause such a negative reaction. People can often be quick to react or feel hurt by certain words or phrases that evoke past negative experiences or feelings. We then cling to those specific elements and forget to listen to understand. We’d rather only listen to respond. This communication breakdown fails to resolve the issue. Without open and clear communication, we stay lost in translation and without compassion, we often fail to give our partners the benefit of the doubt.
As an American woman, I feel the English word “sensitive” can be very loaded and is often negatively used to belittle or to make others appear as weak. However, when my partner once used the Finnish word “herkkä” to describe me, which loosely translate to sensitive in English, my response was unnecessarily explosive because in that moment I could not consider how that word could be anything other than negative or even seen as a positive trait in Finnish language. We both had to exercise a lot of patience and compassion to overcome our misunderstandings and better understand one another.
If you feel upset by what your partner has said to you, it is important to explain how you feel but to also patiently and compassionately listen to their explanation. Maybe they meant something else entirely or even misused a word, particularly in a language that is not their native tongue. The best advice is to assume less and communicate more.
Don’t be unwilling to compromise
All relationships require compromise. In our romanticized modern societies, compromise is often seen as the antithesis to romance. However, as Alain de Botton, a modern philosopher, insists (somewhat tragically) that “choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would like to sacrifice ourselves for.” We, as humans, all have our complexities and we only fully start to understand them when we try to love and live with another complex individual. Often these complexities can be polar opposites.
Compromise is about learning to negotiate inevitable differences with a more kind, forgiving, and even humorous perspective. If we are not flexible in such a way, relationships will eventually break rather than learn to bend.
Don’t lose your curiosity (in your partner)
This advice will apply more to couples who have been together for a long time. Our culture, our upbringing is second nature to us and more often in multicultural relationships we frequently learn what is completely normal to us is often entirely foreign to our partner. In the beginning of any relationship we eagerly listen to our partners stories and want to learn everything about them. However, at some point in the relationship we wrongly assume we have done enough “homework.” We believe we have figured out our partner and have very little more to learn. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are always learning, and people change over time. The person you know and love now is not the same person you met years ago. This reality is so easy to forget but vital to remember.
After nearly six years together, my partner and I have certainly made our fair share of mistakes, but we always try to follow the advice above. We continuously recommit ourselves to building a relationship we both want to last.
De Botton, A. (2016, May 28). Why you will marry the wrong person. The New York Times.
Retrieved from: nytimes.com/2016/05/29/opinion/sunday/why-you-will-marry-the-wrong-person
I am an American and a recent graduate from the University of Helsinki currently living in Helsinki with my Finnish partner and our lovely dog, Luna.
My Spanish-Catalan-Finnish-Colombian combo has now been living in Finland for about half a year. We moved from a town near Barcelona to a town in southern Finland, close to my parents. We’re enjoying the snow and the reasonably mild winter weather. We have had our ups and downs, but mostly it has been smooth sailing. Our children seem to be adapting to their new environment with relative ease. They miss Spain but life in Finland doesn’t seem so bad either - not for now, anyway. Our lives are somewhat uneventful but right now we’re happy that way.
Perhaps the biggest event for us in the past few months was Christmas. Our son got a set of collectable football cards for Christmas. Each card has a picture of a player, their skillset, team and home country. The other day, as we talked about where each football player was from, I asked our 6- and 7-year-old children where they themselves were from. My question in Finnish was “Minkä maalainen sinä olet?” which literally refers to nationality and country rather than origin. Still, their answer was clear as day: both said they were Spanish.
Now, here’s the thing: our children don’t have a Spanish passport. They were born and, until half a year ago, raised in Catalonia, Spain, but officially they are not Spanish. Even in Spain, they were foreigners, born to a Colombian father and a Finnish mother. Did that matter to them? No. Home as they know it is in Spain, so that’s where they’re from.
In saying they were Spanish, my children made me both delighted and a little bit sad. Delighted because clearly they have an idea of self, home and roots. Sad because I feel that our transition and integration to Finland has gone well, that the children’s Finnish is improving in leaps and bounds, and that they have made friends. This winter they have even started to learn all the seasonal quirks Finnish children have to deal with - how to slip almost effortlessly into a snowsuit (“Äiti, I look like an astronaut!”), how to stay up on skates and skis, how to sing more than one or two Finnish Christmas carols. Surely these experiences are proof that they are starting to feel at home in Finland? I held onto these small victories as justifications that we had done the right thing in moving countries.
I was also a little bit sad about my children’s answer because I too have felt that home is somewhere other than where I live, and I know it’s not always easy to deal with such a complex feeling. I badly want them to feel at home where they are. But 6 months is a very short time in a new place - it can take years to start feeling at home in a place, even for children who we tend to think adapt to change quickly. I should know - I lived abroad as a child and I’m still unsure of where home is.
Your home is often defined by a document saying where you are from. These documents may give you certain freedoms, or restrict where you can travel. For many official purposes, these documents do matter. They also matter in politics, whether you want them to or not. A passport can also give you a sense of belonging - an idea of where home is. But right now, and perhaps for the rest of their lives, what defines home for my children is the place they first knew as home, even if they were born foreigners to that place. It’s not a new phenomenon and it’s not unique to my family. People have moved across borders throughout history. Diasporas, refugee camps and multilingual families like ours provide continuous proof of that.
How, then, can we support our children who have left their home behind? I wish I knew. In our case, we are trying to keep up their Spanish language skills, stay in touch with their friends and, when the time is right, we'll visit our former hometown. But will that be enough for them to feel like they are connected to their Spanish home? I don’t know. Fortunately, my daughter has a backup plan: she says we could transport our old home in Spain to Finland. So if push comes to shove, maybe we’ll just have to do that.
“Is there anything in particular you would like us to know about your children?”
We had recently moved to Finland, and were visiting our children’s new school, both excited and anxious about having them start in the prestigious Finnish school system. The teachers were giving us a tour of the state-of-the-art facilities, when they asked us the question. There were plenty of things I wanted the teachers to know about our 6- and 7-year-old children and about our family. But I hardly knew where to begin.
We had left our home, friends and life in the Mediterranean for new opportunities and closeness to family in southern Finland. Our honeymoon period in Finland was just ending after a couple of months of enjoying an unusually warm Finnish summer. We had eaten copious amounts of ice-cream and strawberries, swum daily in the nearby lake, and we were even getting used to the sound of Finnish silence.
When we first started to seriously consider moving to Finland, it seemed like a no-brainer: the Finnish education system is possibly the best in the world, Finland is a safe country - we adopted many of the usual arguments that families use to convince themselves to moving to Finland. We had visited Finland regularly enough that, although our children and my husband had never lived here, settling in to a town we knew from our holidays didn’t seem like too dramatic a change. Of course, the thought of leaving our friends and the Mediterranean way of life made us sad and occasionally even doubt our decision. But we found ourselves reasonably content in Finland from day one, largely thanks to my parents who helped us settle in.
So, although I was a little disappointed that my son hadn’t immediately fallen in love with the taste of blueberries yet or that my daughter didn’t love red currant juice (all those vitamins!), I could deal with the small cultural glitches. We had discovered that people weren’t as cold and distant as everyone claimed they were - we had already had several lovely encounters with strangers on the beach and in the park, which reaffirmed my belief that we would all find friends eventually. Nobody seemed too taken aback by my husband’s dark beard and loud (by Finnish standards) voice. Even though most people still responded with a blank stare when I greeted them on my morning walks in the forest, it wasn’t a problem - I’d made it my mission to make them eventually come around. Even the tedious task of sending out numerous job applications and the prospect of perhaps having to start my career from scratch didn’t seem too daunting.
What I was concerned about was language. Before moving to Finland, our children already spoke reasonably good Finnish, considering they had never lived in Finland and had no Finnish-speaking friends in Spain. Only days after moving to Finland, they started absorbing funny little expressions like tavallaan (“in a way”) and toki (“certainly”) from those around them. However, their strongest languages in Spain were Spanish, their father’s first language, and Catalan, the community language. Also, they were exposed to English at home every day as it was the language my husband and I spoke to each other. How were they going to keep up all the languages? How were they going to keep up their Catalan when even their Spanish was slipping only after a few weeks? And what about their English - we didn’t want them to lose what they already knew, but my husband also needed to start learning Finnish - how were we going to juggle the potpourri of languages? Was it even worth it?
There were plenty of things I wanted to tell the teachers about my children’s language skills and cultural influences, but what exactly?
Should I tell them about the language thing - that our children were - for lack of a better expression - trilingual and a half? Or perhaps bilingualish?
Should I tell them that so far they had been growing up between at least four or five different cultures - Finnish, Colombian, Spanish, Catalan and that of an international immigrant community?
Should I tell them that they knew the song “Sata salamaa” almost word for word but they didn’t know if Vesa and Aino were a boy or a girl’s name, or that I had to explain what välkkäri and lukkari were? Or that they knew how to use the expression sikahyvä but also struggled to correctly conjugate everyday verbs like tykätä and lukea? How was I to tell the teachers about the mishmash of languages and cultures that constituted our family without putting them to sleep?
I didn’t know, so to keep it simple, I just told them that they were bilingual and said we would love for them to do extracurricular Spanish, and if they needed to do S2 instead of the usual äidinkieli, that was fine. I don’t know if omitting the details really mattered in the context of a Finnish school. It mattered to us, but it seemed too complicated to get into. I decided that I could always bring up the language-thing during our first official parent-teacher chat later on.
Language is complex. Even though people often say that children are sponges and learn languages immediately through immersion, even they have to readjust. Our children are still learning to differentiate between kärpänen, ampiainen and hyttynen. Their go-to language when they play together is still Spanish - at least for now. As a multicultural and multilingual family, we’ve only just begun the process of adapting our communication as we settle into our new lives in Finland. We still don’t know how our children’s relationship to their various languages will evolve over time.
So, yes, it’s complicated. But for now, I take comfort in the caption under our 6-year-old’s self-portrait on his eskari wall. His teacher interviewed him and wrote down what he wanted to tell others about himself. The caption states our current language situation perfectly. It says: “In my family, we speak Finnish, Spanish and English - tavallaan.”
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