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.
Vaikka monikulttuurisuus on Johannalle itsestäänselvyys, hän usein kohtaa tilanteita, jossa hän joutuu selittämään muille mitä se tarkoittaa. “Itsellä on tullut joskus sellainen tunne, että minun pitää selittää miksi minulla on monikulttuurinen perhe, vaikka en ole kenellekään mitenkään tilivelvollinen. [Familiassa] ei koskaan ole tullut sellaista tunnetta, että pitäisi selittää itseään.” Viestintävapaaehtoisena toimiminen tuntui luontevalta askeleelta, jolla pystyi vaikuttamaan kotimaan asioihin.
Parasta vapaaehtoisuudessa on ollut Familian avoimuus ja yhteisöllisyys. “Vaikka jokainen meistä vapaaehtoisista tekee omaa toimintaansa omasta lähtökohdasta käsin, se on tosi yhteisöllistä toimintaa” , Johanna kertoo. “Familiassa ihmiset on ollut hirveän kannustavia ja tosi avoimesti suhtautuu ajatuksiin ja ehdotuksiin.”
Vapaaehtoisuus merkitsee Johannalle yhteiseen hyvän edistämistä ja oman osaamisensa antamista muiden hyväksi. “Ei voida tietää kuinka isoja juttuja pienistä puroista syntyy. Minä en koskaan voi tietää kuka esimerkiksi lukee juttuani ja minkälaisia ajatuksia tai inspiraatioita siitä voi saada!”
Tällä viikolla Duo Blogiin on kerätty Familian vapaaehtoisten tarinoita. Olemme tällä hetkellä etsimässä uusia vapaaehtoisia tuottamaan sisältöjä someen. Jos olet kiinnostunut vapaaehtoisuudesta Familiassa, täytä vapaaehtoisten hakemus netissä tai ota yhteyttä vapaaehtoistoiminnan koordinaattoriin, Camilla Bergmaniin sähköpostilla 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?
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
”Riippuvuus puolisosta on nykyihmiselle vaikea rooli”
Oleskelulupaa odottaessa ja ensimmäisinä vuosina uuteen maahan rakkauden perässä muuttanut joutuu usein tukeutumaan puolisoonsa. Suomalainen puoliso kantaa vastuuta taloudellisesti ja monien käytännön asioiden hoitajana. Maahan muuttaneen ammatti-identiteetti ja ihmissuhdeverkostot ovat voineet jäädä kotimaahan. Tämä on monelle kahden kulttuurin parille kova sopeutumisen paikka.
Oleskelulupaa odottavan tuoreen maahanmuuttajan elämä Suomessa on yleensä aluksi kaukana ”vanhasta normaalista”. Vaatii paljon omaa aktiivisuutta täyttää päivänsä tekemisellä sen sijaan, että vain odottaisi päätöstä oleskelulupahakemukseen. Tämä tarkoittaa yleensä vähintään puolen vuoden jaksoa epävarmuudessa.
”Etsin tapoja olla aktiivinen. Lähdin vapaaehtoiseksi Punaiseen Ristiin ja Espoon kierrätyskeskukseen. Olen löytänyt jalkapalloseuran. Ystäviä on löytynyt esimerkiksi Familian kautta. Nämä ovat auttaneet pitämään mielen virkeänä ja terveenä. Elämä sujui oli jo aika normaalisti, mutta sitten tuli koronavirus” kertoo Daniel Builes tämän kevään tunnelmistaan.
Kolumbiasta kotoisin oleva Builes asuu Espoossa suomalaisen vaimonsa Susannan kanssa. Koronan tuomien muutosten lisäksi perheeseen onneksi tuli oleskelulupa tänä keväänä noin viiden kuukauden odotuksen jälkeen. Builes on opiskellut suomenkieltä Familiassa ja käynyt kielikahvilassa kotikaupungissaan.
Suomalais-kolumbialainen pari on matkustanut ja työskennellyt vuoden verran yhdessä Latinalaisessa Amerikassa ennen asettumistaan Suomeen viime vuonna. Builes on asunut jo aiemmin Suomessa suoritettuaan täällä maisterintutkintoon kuuluvan harjoittelun. Hän on kemian insinööri, joka aiemmin työskenteli kolumbialaisessa kemianteollisuuden yhtiössä.
”Oleskeluluvan odotusaikana olin äkäinen ja se aiheuttaa tietysti pulmia suhteeseen. Välillä mielessä kävi, että pitäisikö lähteä takaisin kotikaupunkiin, jotta saisi entisen elämänsä takaisin.”
Identiteettiä pitää rakentaa uudessa maassa uusiksi niillä spekseillä, jota siinä tilanteessa on käytettävissä. Odotusaikana työtä ei saa tehdä ja oman alan töiden löytäminen vie maahanmuuttajalta usein pitkän aikaa.
”Kun on ammattilainen ja taitava siinä mihin olet kouluttautunut, on turhauttavaa olla sidottu kotiin. Sitten tietysti purat turhautumisesi ensimmäiseen lähellä olevaan ihmiseen, ja Susanna on joutunut tulemaan sen kanssa toimeen”, Daniel Builes kertoo ja lisää, että oleskeluluvan saamisen jälkeen olo on ollut vapautunut ja mieli myönteisempi tulevaisuuden suhteen.
Parisuhdekeskus Katajassa asiantuntijana työskentelevä pari- ja perhepsykoterapeutti Kaisa Humaljoki työskentelee esimerkiksi sellaisten parien kanssa, joiden elämään on tullut jommankumman puolison sairaus. Hän sanoo, että parisuhteeseen ilmaantunut epävarmuus herättää paljon tunteita ilosta epätoivoon sekä haastaa puolisoita kestämään ja jakamaan näitä tunteita keskenään. Epävarmuuden sieto on oleellinen taito tilanteessa.
”Ja mielialathan vaihtelevat. On erilaisia päiviä – hyviä ja toiveikkaita tai epätoivoisia. Kumppaneilla nämä saattavat lisäksi mennä eritahtisesti, mikä tuo lisää vaikeutta suhteeseen. Toinen saattaa olla masentunut ja toinen haluaisi ottaa jo kevyemmin, nautiskellen ja eläen tätä päivää”, Humaljoki kuvailee.
Asiantuntija muistuttaa, että kumppanit ovat lisäksi erilaisessa asemassa. Ulkomailta muuttaneella on koko maahanmuuton iso prosessi läpi käytävänä, vaikka se olisikin mieluinen ja haluttu prosessi. Myös suomalaisen puolison elämä on mennyt uusiksi uuden siipan myötä ja arki pitää saada sujumaan.
Raha ja riippuvuus toisesta ahdistaa
”Danielille on ollut vaikea hyväksyä sitä, että minä hoidan kaikki kulut. Raha ei minulle ole mikään iso tai tärkeä asia. Hänelle se taitaa merkitä enemmän. Välillä hän on sanonut, että kokee olevansa kuin loiseläjä ja minä olen muistutellut, että älä huolehdi, tämä on väliaikaista”, Builesin vaimo Susanna kertoo.
Mies haluaisi käyttää taitojaan yhteiskunnan hyväksi, mutta ei oleskeluluvan odottajana oikein pysty sitä tekemään. Työnteko-oikeuden Suomeen tullut saa vasta oleskeluluvan myötä.
Vaikka maahan muuttaneella olisi kotimaansa oloissa huomattaviakin säästöjä tullessaan Suomeen, täällä pelkkä bussilippu maksaa todennäköisesti kymmenen kertaa enemmän ja säästöt kuluvat nopeasti.
Kaisa Humaljoki sanoo, että sukupuolella on usein vaikutusta siihen, miten tilanne koetaan. Perinteisinä pidetyt sukupuoliroolit voivat kääntyä ylösalaisin. Nainen saattaa päätyä perheen elättäjäksi ja mies hoivaajaksi tai vastaamaan kotitaloudesta.
”Vaikka länsimaisessa yhteiskunnassa sukupuolirooliodotukset voivat olla vähäisempiä, kyllä ne silti usein vaikuttavat”, Humaljoki arvioi.
Arki tulee suhteeseen
”Jos puhutaan työikäisistä ihmisistä, riippuvuus toisesta voi olla hyvin vaikea rooli omaksua”, Humaljoki sanoo. Uuteen tilanteeseen sopeutumiseen vaikuttavat toki monet yksilölliset tekijät, kuten perimä, temperamentti ja se miten on elämässä aiemmin pärjännyt vastaavissa tilanteissa.
Pidemmän päälle parisuhteessa tulee eteen ns. eriytymisen vaihe, jossa kumppanit kaipaavat omaa itsenäisen aikuisen elämää omine harrastuksineen ja kiinnostuksen kohteineen.
”Vaikka eletään parisuhteessa, on tärkeää olla oma elämänalue. Joku oma identiteetin kohta, ettei ole aivan sataprosenttisen riippuvainen toisesta”, Humaljoki muistuttaa.
Eriytymisen vaiheessa kumppani muuttuu todelliseksi ihmiseksi ja varsin arkiseksi olennoksi. Ensin viehättävänä seikkailuna näyttäytyneet kulttuurierot voivatkin alkaa ärsyttää. Tässä parisuhteen vaiheessa neuvotellaan siitä, millaista kahden itsenäisen aikuisen yhteinen elämä on.
”Arki haastaa ristiriitojen ratkaisukykyä. Eriytymisen vaiheessa toisesta löytyy myös rasittavia, ei niin toimivia puolia. Näitä vaikeita kohtia suhteessa pitäisi pystyä yhdessä ratkaisemaan”, Humaljoki sanoo.
Teksti: Sanna Rummakko
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.
Toiset asiat elämässä ovat vakioita. Monikulttuurisissa perheissä ja -parisuhteissa nämä vakiot voivat toisinaan olla toisten mielestä erikoisiakin — ja joskus niitä täysin tavallisia asioita. Sellaisia, joita esimerkiksi kahden samassa maassa kasvaneen ihmisen parisuhteessa ei ikinä käsiteltäisi.
Sillä aivan kuten voi kuuluu leivälle ja maa kiertää aurinkoa, kuuluu monikulttuuriseen parisuhteeseen kuin -perheeseenkin kokonainen tunteiden kirjo iloa, kaipausta, riemua, turhautumista ja syyllisyyttä.
Monikulttuurisuuden positiiviset puolet ovat monesti esillä, eivätkä syyttä. Onhan minunkin puolisoni antanut minulle paljon, niin monella eri tavalla! Olen päässyt tutustumaan aitiopaikalta aivan erilaiseen maahan; sen tapoihin ja kulttuuriin. Mutta asioilla on myös nurja puolensa — on syyllisyys. Jos minua ei olisi tai emme mieheni kanssa olisi tavanneet, asuisi mies todennäköisesti tälläkin hetkellä Utahissa, kotonaan. Lähellä kaikkea itselleen tuttua — perhettään, ystäviään, tuttuja maisemia ja ruokia — kaikkea sitä, mikä on lähtemätön osa hänen identiteettiään ja käsitystään tavallisesta.
Arvokkain lahja, jonka voit antaa on aikasi
Aika on kuitenkin maailman arvokkain asia annettavaksi, eihän sitä koskaan saa takaisin. Mies on tehnyt valinnan antaa aikaansa minulle — asuuhan hän nyt pysyvästi Suomessa, minun takiani.
Hänen vanhempansa eivät tästä enää nuorru, eivät sisaruksetkaan. Perhepiiri ja ystävät juhlivat syntymäpäiviään, itselle tärkeät ihmiset menevät naimisiin, ystävät pohtivat tuomisiaan illanistujaisiin ja suvun nuorimmaiset täyttävät vuosia. Yksi kuitenkin puuttuu joukosta — siksi, että mies valitsi minut.
Puhelut ja viestit ovat kelpo korvike, mutta läsnäoloa ei korvaa mikään
Erityisesti kriisitilanteissa olo on avuton. Toki, olemme monessa suhteessa tavallaan onnekkaita — kun vain tilin saldo on riittävä, pääsee jopa pallon toisellekin puolelle vuorokauden lentorupeaman päätteeksi. Olemme kuitenkin vain niin... Kaukana. Kun jotain tapahtuu, me emme ole paikalla ensimmäisinä. Huonoimmassa mahdollisessa tapauksessa kuulemme kaikesta vasta tunteja myöhemmin. Tästä käy kiittäminen kymmenen tunnin aikaeroa Kaliforniaan, jossa valtaosa mieheni perheestä asuu.
Ajassa taaksepäin menemällä voi kuitenkin alkaa asettaa asioita paremmin perspektiiviin. Kun siirtolaiset lähtivät Euroopasta kohti Amerikkaa, heillä oli edessään pitkä laivamatka ja määränpää oli lähestulkoon tuntematon. Kirjeet tulivat ja menivät — hitaasti. Kun kotipuolesta lähetettiin tieto vaikkapa läheisen sairastumisesta, tieto saattoi saavuttaa kuulijansa vasta aivan liian myöhään. Toisaalla taustalla jäyti varmasti myös tieto siitä, että paluu omaan kotimaahan ei välttämättä koskaan olisi todellinen vaihtoehto.
Vaikka olemmekin fyysisesti kaukana, on meidän nykyään helppo pitää yhteyttä miehen perheeseen, pitkästä välimatkasta huolimatta. On ilmaisia nettipuheluita äänen kuin videonkin kanssa, tekstareita, kirjeitä ja valokuvia. Niin, ja ne sujuvat lentoyhteydet! Maailma on kutistunut jo sadassa vuodessa enemmän, kuin kukaan olisi voinut varmasti edes kuvitellakaan.
Uhraukset ja kompromissit ovat monikulttuurisen parisuhteen kulmakiviä
Silti, en voi olla potematta syyllisyyttä — mieheni valitsi minut, eikä tämän valinnan hinta ollut halpa. Hän asetti minut, meidät ja parisuhteemme tärkeysjärjestyksensä kärkisijalle.
Erityisesti niinä synkempinä päivinä olen usein punninnut asioita mielessäni. Miettinyt sitä hetkeä, kun halasin miestä Helsinki-Vantaan tuloaulassa kesäkuussa 2015 — kuinka se hetki oli monella tavalla käännekohta meidän molempien elämissä. Aina siitä hetkestä eteenpäin aloin kantaa sisälläni syyllisyyttä siitä, että olin repinyt niin monelle tärkeän ihmisen luokseni monien tuhansien kilometrien päähän. Useimpina päivinä olen asian kanssa sinut, sillä tiedostan, etten pakottanut miestä Suomeen. Ja sitten taas, toisinaan... Toisinaan syyllisyyden tuska on todella raastavaa.
Monikulttuuriset parisuhteet vaativat uhrauksia, aina. Ja toisaalta, ehkä juuri näissä lukuisissa uhrauksissa ja kompromisseissa on monikulttuuristen parisuhteiden liima — oman puolisonsa läsnäolo ei ole koskaan ollut itsestään selvää.
Asta Buchanan on suomalais-amerikkalaisen perheen äiti, matkalla tasapainoon kahden kotimaan kuin -kulttuurinkin välillä. Koti sijaitsee nyt Suomessa, kaipuun Kalliovuorten kupeeseen kulkiessa rinnalla. 'Kahden maan kansalaisia' -blogissaan Asta kirjoittaa arjen monikulttuurisuudesta ja siihen liittyvistä ilmiöistä sinivalkoisten lasien lävitse — mutta alkaako joukkoon sekoittua myös punaisen sävyjä tähtineen ja raitoineen?
Voit tutustua Astan blogiin 'Kahden maan kansalaisia' täältä!
“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.”
“Olen turhautunut”. How many foreigners want to answer that every time someone asks them, politely, how things are going in Finland?
I am frustrated.
Hear me out. I am not frustrated by the impossibly long integration process. I am not frustrated by the bureaucracy. Not by the cold, the darkness or the job market situation. And not even by the mämmi that my Finnish partner stocks up in the fridge and tries to make me eat.
I am facing the worst frustration you can imagine. The one that so many foreigners, immigrants, intercultural family members feels. The hardest one to tackle because it is so personal and challenging. And yet, the one that everyone, immigrants, partners, NGO’s and government should invest time and attention in: being frustrated with yourself.
First, when it comes to do and observe the basic things of life.
That Finnish mechanism, that makes it impossible for you to open the window as you would like to. The bus machine. How the weather changes and you never know if you should wear two coats or not. How you wont find wine in the supermarkets. Or how, really, you can’t use your sauna as a drying place.
All those little things, that you don’t even think about when you live in your own country become a real hassle here and endanger your own well being and self-esteem. It may sound odd, but I promise that a daily struggle with a simple window does make you feel really helpless.
Second, by your inability to actually know and understand people.
In your home country, you know at what time it is the smartest to send an email. You know if you can call again without being rude. Whether or not to smile, answer with words or body language. You know when to tell your joke, the topics that are off limits with strangers and close ones.
But how does an immigrant get to know all these things in a new country? Having a Finnish spouse helps immensely. But even though, how do you grasp the nuances that will make you go from clueless and frustrated to fitting and at ease?
It’s only after having made a bad joke and smiled in the lift to your neighbour, spent 3 or 4 winters in Finland, that you can learn. That frustration, caused by your own limits has another source, often extremely difficult to face : time. Integrating and adapting takes time and accepting that you don’t have any power on it is frustrating.
Third, every time that you can’t communicate.
You dreamt about verbityypit yesterday and you don’t even bother anymore to answer when a Finn says “Finnish is so hard. Did you think about maybe learning Swedish?”. Because yes, of course you did. You downloaded Duolingo, and felt so empowered when you recognised immediately that “äpple” was apple and “banan” was banana. And yet, here you are, afraid to open your mouth at Alepa because you know the second the cashier hears you, he will switch to English.
It is frustrating. Because it takes so long. Because you don’t see any progress. Because you question wether you really need it or not. Because you constantly forget that one word that you use li Here you are, frustrated immigrant, unable to plan, kind of hating yourself more or less all the time. Sending application through the TE website without even believing it would work. Asking your Finnish friend to read your cover letter and seeing the anxiety in his eyes while he reads. Because he doesn’t know how to explain that there is a difference between “työ", “töissä", and “työssä”.
The most critical phase regarding frustration in the integration process is that moment towards adaptation, when you won’t feel clueless anymore in most of the situations. Until then, you might feel frustrated when you face a situation that feels new but that you have already faced before. You’re frustrated with yourself because you are not adapted but feel like you should be.
Therefore, to deconstruct self-frustration, here are my 5 advice:
1. Address the “to do” frustration by dealing with your own perception of time.
2. Address the “to know” frustration by working on your goals.
3. Address the “to observe” frustration by observing … yourself first.
4. Address the “to communicate” frustration by focusing on your achievements.
5. Understand the meaning and use of frustration.
And guess what? Frustration is a - healthy- sign that you are actually learning and going forward. Instead of the Finnish language, let's take my favorite example : the beloved Finnish window.
Here are briefly what the four stages of competence are:
Unconscious incompetence: I don’t know that I can’t do it. I move in my new home, I like my big windows and how they bring in so much light.
Conscious incompetence: I know that I can’t do it. The sun shines. I want to open them and get fresh air in. It is blocked. I spend 15 minutes trying to understand how that lock works. I fail pathetically and ask my Finnish partner to open it for me. Which he does, in 4 seconds.
Conscious competence: I know how to do it if I am focused. After having observed my spouse doing it a thousand times, I can open the window. If I take my time. And if I’m in a good mood. And if I move slowly.
Unconscious competence: I know how to do it and don’t even think about it. It’s warm - try to picture it for the sake of my demonstration-, I go to the window, open it, end of story. Now, notice that frustration appears at stage 2. This is the critical moment where many people give up, don’t have the tools to keep observing and trying.
They drop it because they don’t take the time to understand that frustration is part of the whole process of integrating.
We are all, as immigrants, in the 4 stages of competence at the same time. Use these 5 tools, and let us know what are your frustrations and how you deal with them!
And until then, if you see me walking towards a window, get ready for a lot of swearing.
It could be a cultural thing, it could be a regional thing, or it could just be me, but here’s the thing: there’s been so much I didn’t expect during pregnancy. Where I grew up, women are reminded daily - if not hourly - that it is our purpose in life to have kids. Forget about how that decision can affect all areas of your life, some of these not very positively. People insist on how lovely it is to have kids, how much of a societal need it is… and they conveniently leave out how harrowing the whole process can be.
So, here I am telling you about my own experience with the matter, trying to be honest about what surprised me and what didn’t. For the courage to do this I have to thank the honesty of other mothers that came before me.
I want to start by saying that I consider myself an educated woman, one who loves reading and entered this situation willingly. That is, my partner and I chose to have a kid. And this is where it starts: choosing to have a baby makes me part of the 36% of people in South America who plan their pregnancy. So apparently, I am at least aware of family planning (thanks, mom and dad!). Yet I was still not very well instructed on how difficult pregnancy can actually be. I knew of cases where people had to stay in bed for 3-6 months, but I mostly thought that only happened in extreme circumstances. I was hoping to have a normal pregnancy, one where I could still do what I needed to do: do lab work, write and publish papers, and do other kinds of work. I was actually able to do some of those, but not all, and not for long, and definitely not for lack of trying. So, here’s a bunch of stuff I expected, and some I didn’t.
I was expecting nausea, as this is fairly common during pregnancy. It happens to around 60% of women so I thought this would be my case too. And boy did it begin soon, during the second week already. It is commonly believed that this only happens during the first trimester, so when the first trimester and nausea ended together I was quite happy with myself. Turns out, it can come back! And it did in the third trimester. Not too happy about that one! Luckily, in my case, it is mostly a morning thing and in the third trimester it has not been as strong as in the first one.
One of the first things I noticed when I suspected we were successful in conceiving was how my nipples changed colours. I had read that it can happen, and it did in my case. What I did not know was that other parts of the body change color, too; that was interesting to see! The most obvious one I noticed was the hair line, the one that goes from in between the breasts all the way down to the navel and ends in the pubic bone. This line darkens during pregnancy, and it can also become a bit hairier (luckily not between the breasts, though).
When my half sister was expecting she was quite swollen. I was hoping that came from her mom’s side of the family, and that maybe I had inherited a luckier set of genes. Nope! It seems my mom also had swollen feet during her pregnancy. Of course I only found this out now, because people ::couhgMOMcough:: for some reason ::coughgrandkidscough:: never discuss how bad their pregnancies were before you are pregnant – so I was not very lucky in this department. Soon I realized this was related to me standing for too long, so of course it meant I had to reduce the amount of time I was standing and therefore no more long lab work time for me. In the last trimester though, I woke up some days and my feet are all swollen and I just have no idea why it happens seemingly randomly.
EXPECTED BUT DID NOT HAPPEN
It is funny that one of the most characteristic anecdotes people have from their pregnancy is how much their cravings affected them and their relationships. It is also funny that this did not really happen to me. During the first trimester I wanted spicy Korean soup -Ramen- more often than not but I was not dying to eat them constantly either and since I do love Korean spicy soups anyway this was not the disgusting combination of food I was told to expect to want to eat. I was expecting some weird craving like olives, mayonnaise, pickled onions and blue cheese – things that I detest – yet this never occurred. Quite the opposite, I hated them even more and as little as smelling or seeing them made me gag.
I was told by many that I at some point I could become quite angry, either at friends or my partner. Curiously enough, this also did not happen. At least until now my husband was saved from being yelled at randomly by me. I do feel more sensitive to some feelings though.
When I first started to feel the fetus move I had some trouble sleeping. However, in time I regained my sleep and it might be related to the fetus having some change in sleeping patterns that allow me to sleep more or just being lucky in this department. There are days when I wake up a bit too early and I do hit the bathroom quite often, as expected, even during early hours of the morning but mostly I can go back to sleep afterwards. I think that something that helped me sleep was that I bought baby pillows that I used to place my belly in a comfortable position at night.
Socially expected feelings
The narrative is that, when pregnant, a woman is inundated with overwhelming joy and love. A kind of love never before experienced. I have been suspicious of this narrative for a while, especially after reading about some mothers that felt nothing like that, which caused them to feel very discouraged and guilty. They would blame themselves for being such horrible people for not feeling these things that apparently everyone else does. I felt that these were traditional ideas of womanhood being imposed socially, and that there may not be any truth to them. Perhaps women have felt the need to say it out loud to be socially accepted. However, once a friend that is not a very traditional or religious person confided in me that she did feel that when expecting - I believed her because she mentioned this in private, with no one around to prove anything to. This led me to reading a bit more about it and concluding that some may feel this love and some may not. And that is fine. At around the same time, something else made me curious: reading in a blog of another very unconventional woman that she only started developing a relationship with her baby once the baby was born and realizing that meeting the baby was like meeting any other new person in her life. So I read more about different experiences and concluded that this too is a possibility, and that this is fine and I am in no position to judge how a person feels about their pregnancy. I have to thank all these brave women that I was lucky enough to meet and that were honest about their feelings regarding their children, however taboo the topic might be. They helped me and now I do not feel bad at all for not feeling the “overwhelming love” that I am supposed to feel. I am content with my pregnancy, but I do not feel this fairytale type of love and I welcome openly any form of feeling that happens onwards, however the delivery goes and whatever I feel when I look at my child once they are born.
Of course the fetus moves inside me, but I was not expecting the baby to have hiccups. It was quite obvious that was happening because of the rhythm. I immediately read that it’s normal, and also asked the nurse and doctor and they reassured me it is fine, I have nothing to worry about if the fetus is having hiccups. It is just that I was not expecting it.
Pain during baby movements
Normally when people talk about baby movement there is this aura of awe and happiness about it, and people love to mention how magical it is to feel the human-to-be move and such. I was waiting to feel it, and it happened a bit earlier than expected for a first timer. However, as the baby grows and runs out of space, these movements become amazingly uncomfortable. By the time they are more visible, the pain is quite strong and hard to ignore. This makes writing very difficult, if not impossible. It does feel like the baby is either doing yoga or karate inside and it is not fun or enjoyable in any way. “Can you feel the baby move? Awwwwww” It’s more like “yes, and ouch”.
My vulva hurts!
As the baby grows and the belly becomes heavier, I’m starting to feel an increasing pain in my vulva. I asked and checked and it is apparently normal and related to the weight of the belly and having my vulva endure all that weight. Although it sounds quite logical, I was never told this could happen and never heard a woman complain about this before. Needless to say, I was not prepared for this. Something that can help with this is getting a pack (kylmä/lämpöpakkaus) from the pharmacy, freezing it and placing it in your private area, it can be quite relaxing!
Although a part of me knew I would be tired I did not expect it to be this level of tired. I find it harder and harder to walk, move, or even sit as the pregnancy advances. I am more comfortable laying down but at the same time my head will not be convinced that I should be like this the whole day. I try to go for walks at least but doing all the yoga, exercises and things that are supposed to be helping my body get ready for delivery seem like a daunting effort I am not going to be able to make. I am sure some pregnant people can even run during pregnancy -or play and win tennis matches- yet each pregnancy is different, and I think that one has to be realistic about one’s limitations and try to avoid comparisons.
Feeling bad about my body
The status quo is feeling uncomfortable about one’s body. Very rarely do I find a person – in particular a female identified person – who feels happy with their body. I am more or less at a stage in my life that I learned to accept how my body is even when I tend from time to time to look at older pictures and wish for “that body” rather than the present body I now have. Pregnancy made the awkwardness worse. I am aware of the fact that luckily, I do not need a “perfect” body for my line of work. I am not a model or actress, or singer and I do believe women and other people of different genders have no need whatsoever to comply with current and unrealistic standards of beauty. I am also aware that being beautiful itself is no indication of worth and there is no need to make any effort to be beautiful. A person is worthy regardless of their physical aspect.
This does not mean that I am impervious to the media’s push to have a particular type of body, in particular when trying to find something that could fit me while my belly is growing. I am a Latina and with a good-sized butt – and proud of it, mind you – so I was horribly frustrated trying to find pants that could fit me even at the mommy section of shops that for some reason was now full of skinny jeans. I just could not fit in those things and could not understand who could possibly want to be made even more uncomfortable than what one already is at this particular moment in life.
Finding clothes during pregnancy is hard, in particular if one is not very much into what is considered feminine. Too much of the pregnant people clothes tend to be too “sweet” and “pure” and have a kind of “virginal air” and this is not at all my style and I did not feel comfortable with it at all. I am aware that this stage is short lived and that mostly my body will change once the baby is born, however I can’t help from having these feelings, so I rather acknowledge them and share these experiences than pretend they are not happening.
Every pregnancy is different. Some people will have it easier than others, so this is just what happened to me. A positive thing in my case was that I am mentally in a better state than before and hope to continue being so, despite the difficulties that may rise once the baby is here. Even regarding the detail about the painful baby movements, I can say I quite enjoy my partner’s reaction when the baby kicks and he feels them. It is really cute in a way even if the kicks can be super strong.
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