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?
Isovanhemmuutta saksalaisittain - tyttären rakastuminen suomalaispoikaan ei yllättänyt Suomeen ihastunutta Kreutzin pariskuntaa
1970-luvulla saksalaiset Siglinde Hoffman-Kreutz ja Rolf Kreutz ottivat auton alleen ja matkasivat useasti laivalla Suomeen tutustuakseen maahan. Heille Suomi oli siis jo tuttu ja mieluisa maa, kun heidän tyttärensä vuosikymmeniä myöhemmin päätyi yhteen suomalaismiehen kanssa. ”Tyttäremme rakastuminen suomalaispoikaan ei yllättänyt meitä”, he naurahtavat.
Tytär on asunut Suomessa jo lähes 10 vuotta ja perustanut perheen Suomeen. Vanhemmat ovat vierailleet heidän luonaan muutamia kertoja. Tytär ja lapsenlapset pyrkivät vierailemaan Saksassa kerran tai kaksi vuodessa. Lasten synnyttyä jälleennäkemisten tärkeys on korostunut ja vierailuista tullut melko säännöllisiä. Kreutzit pitävät kovasti tyttären miehestä ja tämän vanhemmista, eikä tyttären Suomeen muutto ole ollut ongelma.
Pieni kielimuuri perheiden välillä on ollut. Tyttären miehen vanhemmat eivät puhu englantia tai saksaa, vain suomea. Silti Kreutzit viihtyivät oikein hyvin heidän luonaan Pohjois-Karjalan vierailulla. ”Yritimme tulkita, mitä toinen tarkoittaa ja otimme lopulta kädet ja jalat mukaan keskusteluun”. Myös parin häissä oli ihmisiä, jotka puhuivat vain saksaa tai vain suomea. ”Yllättävän hienosti kaikki kuitenkin pärjäsivät pienillä sanoilla ja yrittäen ymmärtää toista”.
Neljävuotiaan tyttärenpojan Oscarin kielitaito sen sijaan herättää ihastusta. ”Hän vaihtaa hetkessä kieltä saksasta suomeen ja toisin päin”, Kreutzit kuvailevat tyytyväisinä, ”hän puhuu molempia kieliä erinomaisesti”. Nuorempi lapsenlapsi Matilda on alle vuoden vanha ja hänen kommunikointinsa koostuu vielä pääosin kiljahtelusta ja jokeltelusta.
Tyttären lapset ovat vielä pieniä ja toisinaan Siglinde haluaisi olla lähempänä auttamassa häntä arjessa. ”Jos lapset vaikka sairastavat, toivoisin voivani olla enemmän avuksi”, Siglinde kertoo. Myös suomalaiset isovanhemmat asuvat etäällä lapsenlapsista ja lapsiperheen arkea on pyöritettävä ilman sukulaisverkostoa. ”Kaikki ovat kuitenkin hyväksyneet tilanteen ja olemme oikein tyytyväisiä näin”, Siglinde selventää, ”vaikka kaipaamme heitä, saamme helposti yhteyden WhatsAppissa tai Skypessä ja matkustaminenkin käy mutkattomammin kuin 70-luvulla”.
Suurimpia iloja isovanhemmille on, kun lapsenlapset ilahtuvat heidän näkemisestään. Jälleennäkemiset ovat yhtä juhlaa ja erityisesti Oscarille pyritään järjestämään paljon puuhaa isovanhempien kanssa. ”Ilahduin niin, kun Oscar viimeksi sanoi minun olevan hassu isoäiti”, Siglinde nauraa. Saksassa vieraillessaan Oscar maalaa ja leikkii mielellään isoäidin kanssa ja ulkoilee paljon metsässä isoisänsä ja perheen koiran kanssa. ”Vaikka emme näe heitä kuin muutaman kerran vuodessa, Oscar muistaa meidät heti, eikä ujostele ollenkaan.”
Ylirajainen isovanhemmuus ei ole aina helppoa ja kaipauksen hetkiä tulee. Nykyaikainen teknologia auttaa kuitenkin isovanhempia paljon. Kaipausta merkityksellisemmäksi nousee yhdessä vietetty aika, joka on mittaamattoman arvokasta. ”Olemme iloisia, että tyttäremme tuo lapsenlapsia vierailemaan luonamme Saksassa”, Siglinde toteaa, ”eikä Suomi ole loppujen lopuksi kovin kaukana.”
The air is so sweet! I can taste it.
That was the first thing my mother remembers from the time she arrived to Finland nearly 30 years ago. She could remember the humidity and heat when she left her country. But here in Finland, the air was fresh. She arrived at the airport wearing summer clothes and sporting a rather pleasing appearance overall. She met with her husband-to-be, my father, who brought her from the airport to the small town where they were to settle down in the beginning and start building a life together.
My mother had left her country with excitement and thrill. She studied books about Finland in an international library and attended a cultural event organized in her local community by the ambassador of Finland. She remembers being escorted to the airport by her friends and feeling like it was the beginning of an adventure.
On her arrival and during the bus trip from Helsinki-Vantaa airport, my mother recalls some of her first observations from Finland. She realized the bus had a lot of space inside and people tended to choose seats far away from each other. After arriving to their destination, she noticed how only few people were walking on the streets. Interaction between people appeared strange as everyone seemed distant from one another: people were somewhat cautious and very silent, and seemed to avoid direct eye contact with each other.
My mother noticed how having dark hair seemed to draw certain attention. Once she decided to go outside for a walk, but felt that everyone was staring at her wherever she went. This felt so unnerving that my mother felt discouraged to go outside alone.
It was tough in the beginning. Back in her home country, my mother had a respectable job, a college degree and plenty of social circles and friends. In Finland, she experienced a sense of captivity and isolation. She knew no one, didn't speak the language and every day, my dad left for work leaving my mother to figure out how to occupy her days sensibly.
Little by little, my mother started to challenge her mind to look at her situation from a wider perspective. Having her first child soon after moving to Finland kept her busy and filled her time. This gave her a sense of fulfilment. Yet, from time to time, she felt the need to connect to other people, especially her kind. All these experiences and struggles took place nearly 30 years ago. Much has changed then, most importantly the increase of the number of immigrants in Finland and the arrival of internet and social media. I asked my mother to reflect on her coping strategies on being an immigrant in Finland. She provided me with the following:
Respect cultural differences.
This means keeping an open mind. Being the stranger in a new country, you should introduce yourself to the culture and focus on the challenging tasks that lie ahead, such as mastering the language. In a different culture, it is important to acknowledge the limits of what is acceptable and expected social behaviour. Even it there is something you don't fully agree with, you can take it with humour.
It is customary in my mother's home country to go to church every Sunday. Throughout her difficulties my mother found strength through her faith. She also found new connections through church. This leads to another very important factor that helps you to cope with daily life: peer support.
Relating with other foreigners and sharing their own respective experiences makes it easier to deal with the day to day challenges in life. When you are lonely, your friends provide you with emotional security and support. My mother's new friends knew other people in the community, and soon her friendship circles started growing.
So, after nearly 30 years, what has my mother got to say from her journey in Finland? Now, she feels like at home here. She has noticed how there is more multicultural openness in Finland in comparison to the times when she first arrived here. My mother also mentioned this about Finland: ”I admire the bureaucracy here. It works. The law applies to everyone. It doesn't make any exceptions to the offenders based on their social status. There is no corruption.” My mother also thinks that the Finnish government takes care of its citizens. Finns can openly criticize politicians, unlike in her home country where people are afraid to voice out their real opinions because the country has known to have a heavy history with dictatorship. In Finland, people know about their civil rights and hold on to them.
In the end, my mother states, it is all about your attitude and the mindset you choose. You need to be ready to consider your goals and adjust your mentality to cope. Today, my mother looks back at these years with pride of what she has accomplished. She looks forward to the future when she can embrace more free time to explore life's opportunities. After all, life is full of blessings when you know how to focus on noticing them.
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