When I entered the classroom she thought –“why is she wearing full make-up matching her flamboyant clothes and high heels for a university lecture at midday?”-. The first time I saw her I couldn’t stop noticing her deep black hair which she clearly dyed to blend in Nicaragua. - “Who is this chela (blonde in Spanish slang) trying to fool?” Certainly, first impressions could be misleading but Varja and I managed to overcome culture clash and find each other as friends. Time, distance, and life situations have tested our friendship which have lasted over 15 years. At this point, it is worth recapping some our experiences.
We met in 2006 in Managua-Nicaragua when she was doing her university exchange program. I was a student of International Relations. Even though we took classes together and attended same traditional dance lessons, at the very beginning Varja and I were nothing more than acquaintances. This girl from a faraway country called Finland was so exotic to me. All I knew back then was that Finlandia was the brand of a very popular spirit served at a nightclub we both enjoyed going.
Varja left Nicaragua and I continued with my life. In 2011 my professional journey took a drastic turn when I was offered to take a job in Helsinki and move to the other side of the world in less than one month. I accepted the challenge full of worries and anxiety concerning how to start in a country so different from mine. However, a light of hope came from social media: Varja was that Facebook friend I never kept in touch with. I quickly contacted her, and she rapidly offered to help me once I moved to Finland.
Ever since, Varja has been an angel to me and I cannot detail all the big and small things she did to help me settle in Finland. For example, she helped me find a place to live when the lady who rented me a room kicked me out due to our generational and cultural gap lifestyles. What about my free time? I knew no one in Finland and very soon I felt the heaviness of the dark and cold months. Luckily, Varja little by little introduced me to her Finnish friends. Some of them became friends of mine too and l was winning the battle to loneliness. Finland opened to me like the best place to live!
I will stop here to say that a good part of integration in Finland happens through intercultural friendship connections. Formal organizations and programs are crucial, but they may fail to force relationships where there is no chemistry and common ground among participants. Without Finnish friends, foreigners could end up living within their foreigner bubble isolated from Finnish society. In absence of biological family, friends in Finland are in many cases, some sort of extended family.
Mastering Finnish language is difficult, and that’s where a Finnish friend works as a mentoring person who answers everyday questions, gives you a clue how to network and find solutions to all sorts of problems. Intercultural friendship is a two-way street. What I mean with this, is that my friendship gives back to her a sense of belonging to a cultural background she feels identified with. And just purely said, a bit of company for each other is all we need.
Varja was my wing-lady the day I randomly met my husband in a restaurant downtown Helsinki. Starting an intercultural romantic relationship took away time from my intercultural friendship. But that is OK-ish. Varja, also moved out for a while from Finland and found love abroad. When the future father of her child came to Finland, it was natural to welcome that special person to her who also shared similar cultural background of mine. We were a Finnish-Latino double couple hanging around now!
Another interesting coincidence is that we were both pregnant around the same time. Our friendship has not always been a happy story, but surely, our life as mothers of third culture kids represents without doubt the chapter of our life with most challenges.Even though I feel more comfortable in Finland after living here over a decade, peer support from a fellow mom comes in need to understand and deal with expectations and opportunities to raise a kid within an intercultural family. I am so glad to have playdates where our little ones can speak Spanish and Finnish, and where I can also, as a woman, as a worker and a mom, continue my friendship with Varja.
My ending words would encourage Finnish people to keep open mind and let people into your world who are from a different background. You never know how rich and exciting your social circles can become. Ask them for a coffee, introduce them your friends, help them to learn Finnish! And for us, who found a new home in Finland, please stay positive and mindful about our complex dynamics. Be the one who also nurtures trust and loyalty to your Finnish friend, and that treasure is yours forever!
blogi - blog
Ajatuksia ja kokemuksia elämästä kahden kulttuurin keskellä.
Reflections and experiences from the life of intercultural families.
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