Perhesiteen perusteella oleskelulupaa odottavalla henkilöllä ei ole työnteko-oikeutta Suomessa ennen luvan saamista. Ulkomaalaislaki (§ 79) määrittelee ne ulkomaalaiset, joilla on työnteko-oikeus ilman oleskelulupaa. Perhesideperusteisen luvan odottajat eivät tähän ryhmään kuulu.
Olimme molemmat henkisesti valmistautuneet ja sitoutuneet yhdessä tiukkaan taloudelliseen tilanteeseen prosessin odotusaikana. Itse ajatteli sen kestävän ainakin vuoden. Tietenkin toivoimme sen olevan ohi nopeammin, saavamme oleskeluluvan, puolisoni pääsisi töihin ja voisimme aloittaa niin sanotusti normaalin elämän.
Tiukka talous vaati suunnittelua, asioiden priorisoimista. Onneksi olin jo vuosia tottunut yksinhuoltajana selviämään pienillä tuloilla. Tärkeimmät laskut huolehdin ensin. Ruokaa varten laskin viikkobudjetin, jolla piti selvitä. Kaupassa yritin käydä kerran viikossa, jotta turhat heräteostot jäisivät pois.
Puolisoni kokkasi lähestulkoon kaikki ateriamme. Pääasiallinen ruoka-aine oli riisi, jota ostimme edullisesti 10 kilon säkeissä etnisestä ruokakaupasta. Joka kuukausi varasin myös pienen summan yllättäviin menoihin esim. lääkkeisiin. Jos yllättäviä menoja ei tullut, säästin rahan perheeni hemmotteluun kuten ulkona syömiseen.
Omat vaatteeni olen jo vuosia ostanut pääasiassa kirpputoreilta, kenkiä ja alusvaatteita lukuun ottamatta. Puolisonikin suosi mielellään kirpputoreja. Haasteena oli merkkivaatteisiin mieltynyt, jalkapalloa pelaava teinipoikani. Puhuin hänelle rehellisesti rahatilanteestani ja päätimme, että hän saa lapsilisät käyttöönsä kuukausirahana. Isommista hankinnoista keskustelimme yhdessä.
Hankalinta oli, kun ei tiennyt miten kauan tilanne kestäisi. Elimme kuukausi kerrallaan ja yritti olla ajattelematta asioita liian pitkälle. Välillä tilanne kuitenkin stressasi ja aiheutti pientä kireyttä suhteeseen. Huolta lisäsi myös pelko negatiivisesta päätöksestä. Silloin otimme aikalisän arjesta ja pidimme treffi-illan kahdestaan hyvän ruoan ja Netflixin kera.
Kun päätös lopulta tuli ja oli myönteinen, en käsittänyt miten paljon se tulisi muuttamaan meidän elämäämme. Vain muutama viikko oleskeluluvan saamisen jälkeen puolisoni oli jo töissä ja kaikki oleskeluluvan saamiseen liittyvä byrokratia eri tahojen kanssa oli hoidettu.
Arki muuttui nopeasti normaaliksi työssäkäyvien aikuisten arjeksi. Parasta oli nähdä, miten toinen ihminen muuttui tilanteen myötä väsyneestä arjen läpi raahautujasta, aktiiviseksi ja energiseksi toimijaksi. Miten hyvältä molemmista tuntui, kun ensimmäisen kerran jaoimme kuukausimenot puoliksi ja itselläni jäi rahaa myös säästöön pantavaksi. Uskalsimme myös alkaa haaveilla tulevista yhteisistä matkoista ja tehdä tulevaisuudensuunnitelmia.
Rinnallasi-hankkeen projektityöntekijä ja kokemusasiantuntija
Oleskeluluvan odottamiseen liittyvä stressi jättää jälkensä. Eteläaasialaisen puolisonsa kanssa Helsingissä asuva Hanna kertoo: ”Kotimaassaan odottavalle puolisolleni oli jo viime vuonna myönnetty oleskelulupa, kun sain ilmoituksen Maahanmuuttovirastolta tulleesta kirjatusta kirjeestä. Sain siitä lähes sydänkohtauksen. Postitoimisto oli siltä päivältä jo kiinni ja jouduimme odottamaan aamuun asti, jolloin juoksin postiin. Kirjeessä olikin vain valokuvat, jotka olimme toimittaneet Migrille oleskelulupahakemuksen käsittelyn aikana ja jotka virasto nyt palautti. Ei siis yhtään mitään, mutta oleskelulupaprosessin aikainen pelko iski takaisin. Pelkäsin, että jospa hänen lupansa on peruutettu tai he haluavat vielä jotakin lisätietoa.”
“On vaikeaa elää erossa. Jos toisella on vaikeaa, sille ei voi tehdä mitään puolin eikä toisin."
Oleskeluluvan odottamiseen liittyvää pelkoa ja epävarmuutta on vaikea ymmärtää, ellei itse ole ollut samassa tilanteessa.
Osa ulkomaalaisista puolisoista odottaa oleskelulupapäätöstä kotimaassaan. Osa elää jo Suomessa puolisonsa kanssa yhdessä. Tämä on saattanut tulla Suomeen alun perin esimerkiksi turvapaikanhakijana tai jollakin muulla perusteella.
Hanna ja hänen puolisonsa Abdul ovat tavanneet Suomessa, jossa IT-alalle valmistunut mies oli vaihto-opiskelijana.
“On vaikeaa elää erossa. Jos toisella on vaikeaa, sille ei voi tehdä mitään puolin eikä toisin. Toisaalta, jos meillä olisi ollut täällä jo koti ja kaikki yhdessä rakennettu, pelko kaiken sen menettämisestä olisi saattanut olla vielä pahempi”, Hanna sanoo.
Abdul kertoo, ettei hänen odottaessaan päätöstä kotimaassaan ympärillä ollut ketään, jolla olisi vastaavia kokemuksia.
”Sain olla oma terapeuttini. Minulla on sukulaisia, jotka asuvat Lähi-idässä, Afrikassa ja Yhdysvalloissa, mutta ei ketään, jolla olisi kokemusta Euroopasta tai mitään käsitystä oleskelulupa-asioista täällä. Olen perheeni ensimmäinen ulkomaalaisen kanssa avioitunut. Odotusaika oli ahdistavaa ja nukkuminen vaikeaa, kun ei voi tehdä mitään eikä tiedä mitä tulevaisuudessa tapahtuu.”
Valmistauduitteko henkisesti siihen, että päätös voisi olla kielteinen?
”Olen asunut miehen kotimaassa puoli vuotta ja vaikka siellä on ihanaa käydä tapaamassa hänen perhettään, en voisi elää siellä. Menettäisin kaiken minkä eteen olen opiskellut ja tehnyt työtä täällä. Minua pelotti, että päädyn kotirouvaksi hänen kotimaahansa, mies on töissä 13 tuntia päivässä emmekä ikinä näe toisiamme ja minä masennun”, Hanna kertoo. Hän sanoo odotusaikana keskittyneensä täysin siihen päivään, jolloin päätös tulee.
”En paljonkaan ajatellut mitä tapahtuu, kun mies lopulta muuttaa tänne. Nyt huomaa, ettei olekaan helppoa vaan muuttaa aivan erilaiseen maahan ja järjestää kaikki asiat. Näyttää siltä, että paperisota jatkuu, vaikkakin eri asioissa.”
Abdul kertoo ymmärtäneensä muutaman Suomessa eletyn kuukauden aikana, että kielitaidon ja työpaikan hankkiminen sekä todellisten ystävien saaminen uudessa maassa vaativat kaikki aikaa eivätkä käy niin helposti kuin monen maahanmuutosta haaveilevan kuvitelmissa.
”On todella vaikeaa olla kilpailukykyinen Suomen työmarkkinoilla tai missä tahansa kulttuurisesti erilaisessa maassa. Täytyy vaan hiljalleen murtaa esteitä”, hän miettii.
Kuukaudet tuntuvat vuosilta
"En aikaisemmin koskaan kuvitellut joutuvani tilanteeseen, jossa pitäisi todistaa omaa avioliittoaan aidoksi. Kukapa sellaista ajattelisi? "
Oleskelulupaprosessin vaikeus tulee monelle suomalaiselle yllätyksenä.
”En aikaisemmin koskaan kuvitellut joutuvani tilanteeseen, jossa pitäisi todistaa omaa avioliittoaan aidoksi. Kukapa sellaista ajattelisi? Vasta vuoden 2015 pakolaiskriisin myötä maahanmuuttoasiat tulivat tietoisuuteen”, Hanna kertoo.
EU-kansalaiset voivat rekisteröidä oleskelunsa Suomessa eikä heidän tarvitse hakea oleskelulupaa. Kun ulkomaalainen puoliso tulee EU:n ulkopuolella olevasta maasta, oleskelulupaprosessi on monimutkaisempi, pitempi ja kalliimpi kuin arvaakaan.
Prosessin voi käynnistää sähköisesti EnterFinland -palvelussa, mutta käsittely lähtee käyntiin vasta henkilökohtaisen tunnistautumisen jälkeen. Etelä-Aasiassa monet prosessin vaiheet on ulkoistettu VSF Global-nimiselle alihankkijayhtiölle. Suoraan Suomen lähetystön kanssa ei enää voi asioida. Hanna ja Abdul kertovat, että alihankkijayhtiön asiakaspalvelu on erittäin heikkoa eikä yhteydenottoihin tai tiedusteluihin saa vastausta. Abdulilta prosessi vaati neljä eri käyntiä maan pääkaupungissa, jonne matkustamiseen kotikaupungista menee kokonainen päivä. VSF Global laskutti myös yli sadan euron ylimääräisen maksun, josta ei ollut mitään ennakkotietoa.
Hakijalle oltiin ensin varaamassa haastatteluaikaa Suomen edustustosta, mutta lopulta Maahanmuuttovirasto peruutti sen ja teki myönteisen päätöksen kirjallisen selvityksen perusteella. Kumpikin puoliso oli vastannut viraston lähettämiin kysymyksiin kirjallisesti. Oleskelulupa myönnettiin lopulta noin viisi kuukautta hakemisen jälkeen, mikä on normaali prosessin kesto oleskelulupaa perhesiteen perusteella haettaessa. Hanna sanoo, että odottaessa kuukaudet tuntuvat pikemminkin vuosilta.
"Kysymykset tulevat hyvin henkilökohtaiselle alueelle, kysytään esimerkiksi mikä puolisossasi viehättää sinua. Niin henkilökohtaiset kysymykset tuntuvat kuin hyökkäyksiltä itseäni vastaan."
Perhesiteeseen perustuvaa oleskelulupaa haettaessa puolisot joutuvat vastaamaan läheisintä ihmissuhdetta koskeviin kysymyksiin. Päätöksentekijä pyrkii varmistumaan siitä, että hakijat ovat todella jatkamassa perhe-elämää Suomessa.
”Kysymykset tulevat hyvin henkilökohtaiselle alueelle, kysytään esimerkiksi mikä puolisossasi viehättää sinua. Niin henkilökohtaiset kysymykset tuntuvat kuin hyökkäyksiltä itseäni vastaan. Ymmärrän sitä paremmin nyt, kun on vähän etäisyyttä asiaan”, Hanna kertoo.
Myös Abdul sanoo, että ymmärtää tarpeen suojella omaa valtiota, mutta kysymykset tuntuivat hyvin henkilöön keskittyviltä. Hän oli olettanut sen riittävän, ettei hakijalla ole rikostaustaa. Hänen kotimaassaan sen selvittäminen on helppoa.
Hanna sanoo, että prosessin kuluessa eniten apua oli vertaistapaamisista. ”Ilman samassa tilanteessa olevia vertaisia ei olisi ollut ketään, jonka kanssa reflektoida tunteitaan. Ihmistä, joka todella ymmärtää tunteitasi. Mielestäni se on parempi tehdä jonkun muun kuin oman kumppanin kanssa, sillä hän on ihan yhtä stressaantunut.”
Haastateltavien etunimet on muutettu.
Haastattelu: Sanna Rummakko
Sanna Rummakko toimii projektipäällikkönä Familia ry:n Kuljen rinnallasi -hankkeessa.
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!
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.”
“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.
Over the five years I have been living in Finland I have been in contact with the TE-office for four. I have some very conflicting feelings and experiences from all of that. In the beginning everything was good, and I had a very nice and understanding official with whom I made the social integration plan to study Finnish language and culture. For the time I have lived here I have moved several times and I have been communicating with several different officials each one being a worse experience than the previous.
After my language studies had ended I felt like the officials weren’t really listening to me and my wishes but instead they were pushing their own to me. I made plans together and yet I got assignments that overruled my own wishes. For example, I had been searching for courses by myself and when I found one the TE-office had found one by themselves too and I had to take the one they had chosen not the one I had found even if that one would have been filling the TE-office requirements as well.
Worst part has been my last two years because my TE-office official is an immigrant as well. Our conversations have been mostly over the phone and in Finnish. She has a very strong accent that makes it very difficult for me to really understand all she says and the letters I have received from her have had some bad grammar mistakes. During the conversations I have had to ask her to repeat herself many time to make sure that I have understood what she had just said and that made her very impatient and she often had very vocal sighs of frustration.
During these two years I have studied myself a new profession here and I was expected to report the progress of my studies to the TE-office which I did. How ever I did have to keep asking if the official had received my reports to which she often replied with a delay of well over a week. Same thing was happening when I asked for help and clarification, I had to wait for a long time for an answer. I am not expecting them to answer to me right away, they do have hundreds of people to manage per person after all. I would appreciate some acknowledgement that my emails have been received.
Now that I have graduated there was time to update my plan of employment. Again, all I got was a phone call not a face to face meeting. During that phone call I was briefly interviewed and quickly asked what kind of work I would like to look for. I didn’t get a change to really express my wishes of what I would like and would not like to do because the occupation I studied qualifies me to do many very different kinds of work. All I was able to say was that I would like to do office work and that pretty much concluded the call. After that I started receiving the work offers that mostly had job description of customer service over phone. Exactly the kind that I do not like to do. The jobs seem to have almost always a requirement for fluent Finnish which I do not have.
The situation for me is very frustrating and I am certain that I am not the only immigrant facing these issues. For me it would be very important and helpful if I would be able to have face to face meetings where to really go through the plan and where my hopes and wishes are listened. I would like to have an official who would acknowledge me and my questions in a reasonable time. Most of all I would like to have an TE-office relationship where at least one of us was fluent in Finnish. These decisions made in and with TE-office do have a big impact on my personal economy and wellbeing.
This year my husband and I decided to settle in Finland. In the early spring, we moved to Helsinki, one of the greenest capital cities in Europe with greenery covering well over 40 % of the city’s land surface. One thing we love to do is wandering around in the city. It is so clean and fresh everywhere. Another exciting factor for me is that Helsinki is surrounded by the Baltic sea! I love fresh seafood. I love going to a local fish market, pick up some fresh seafood of the day and cook it in a way that suits it best.
I come from an island country, Taiwan. Seafood plays an important role in the Taiwanese cuisine. Traditionally, a family of 4 or 5 people will share 4 dishes along with rice. The dishes must be served together, not course by course. As far back as I can remember, we have always had at least one seafood dish on the diner table. Most of the time it’s fish, squid, cuttlefish or clam. Shrimp and crab dishes are less frequent but not rare either. For us islanders, seafood means fish, crustacean and mollusk dishes.
Different varieties of fresh seafood satisfy our daily craving. They are caught in our neighboring seas and sent to the market within one day. Because they are so fresh, we like them simply steamed or pan-fried with moderate amounts of spice; never too much spice or sauce, we love them the way they already are.
Maybe I got the impression from reading about Norway, that I imagined there must also be various seafood options in Finland. Only after a while, I realized fish are the clear favorite in the Finnish seafood culture. Here the word seafood is almost synonymous to fish, be that sea fish or lake fish. (By the way, I love muikku! The first Finnish word I remember how to spell and pronounce.) Fresh crustaceans and mollusks can only be found in the market occasionally, and are mostly unshelled or cut already. They don’t seem to be a very popular choice for Finns. My experience tells me not to buy frozen seafood. Also, I rarely purchase processed or prepared ones (like cooked, unshelled or cut). So I haven’t really got to taste too many varieties of seafood since I moved here.
One lucky day, I surprisingly found a bag of cockles in Ruoholahti Citymarket. I was excited and asked if the cockles had been purged of sand beforehand. The sales clerks at the seafood counter didn’t seem to understand my question, and finally admitted they have never cooked cockles, so they don’t know the process. Ok, maybe they don’t like them? Anyway, I still bought 1kg of those cockles. That bag of cockles looked still able to survive for a day or two, worth to give it a shot!
Back home, after purging the sand out of the cockles, I steamed them with white wine. I used the soup extracted from the white wine and cockle juice to stir rice, onion, garlic, some tomato paste, and surely the cockles. It was so delicious! My husband loves all kinds of seafood as much as I do, and we were delighted and content with the fresh taste of the cockles. This is not always the case though. Another time we bought cockles from Stockmann and thought the taste simply wasn’t good. So it really seems to be by pure chance whether you get good fresh seafood ingredients in Finland or not.
So we don’t always find fresh seafood (other than fish) as we hope, but we keep on looking. Do you know where to buy fresh shrimps, crabs, clams, squids, and cuttlefish in Helsinki? How did you cook them?
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