One day in September 2017 I arrived home after the typical workday that had been repeated almost unchanged since 2009. I was working in a highly renowned consulting firm in my country and with a lot of persistence, I managed to reach a high position over the years. I loved my job.
While I was preparing a tea, I received a message: "our visas were approved". That was my husband, who received an attractive job offer as a researcher at a university in Finland.
When he arrived home we jumped with joy, we hugged each other, we couldn't contain our excitement! It was something incredible! After such an emotional discharge, I thought: "what does this mean? It wasn't until years later that I really understood what this move would mean: to give up my job, the one I loved so much, and which had accompanied me for many years, the house we had to leave and which we had worked so hard to build. To leave my family, to give them the news. That day in September marked a before and after in my life.
My intention with this story is to give visibility to the many sides that make up a migratory experience.
As I mentioned before, my husband and I made the decision to move to Finland because we were attracted to this country in the first place. We thought that Finland would represent the possibility of achieving a better quality of life. I was initially very excited about the move. I was looking forward to new experiences and opportunities. However, once I arrived in the country, I encountered unexpected challenges and emotions.
While my husband was adapting smoothly into his job and building new social relationships, I started feeling a sense of dislocation and isolation. Finland is such a beautiful place, and the people try to be friendly, but I felt that it was so different from what I’ve known. I really started to miss my country- Argentina, my friends, my family, and the familiar routines from my home. I started feeling like I was grieving for the life I left behind. What was wrong with me? I initially felt excited about the move- and now this.
In my everyday life I missed something from “back home”. My favorite local coffee place, drinking mate with my close-knit group of friends, the sounds, and overall the way people interacted in my home country. Here in Finland, I felt like an outsider and I started to struggle to adjust to the different culture and an entirely different language.
My husband started noticing notable changes in me. For example, my anxiety was triggered by little things, and I was irritable frequently. Things we loved doing together like going for a walk in the forest, now were not appealing to me anymore. It was like being disconnected from my feelings.
I was tired all the time. Fatigued. Back home we used to cook big meals together on the weekends, but soon I was not even up for it. I lost my appetite little by little. I found myself crying non-stop some days, and many nights I just couldn’t sleep. I often fantasized about what I could have achieved or done had I stayed back home.
After doing some research I came to the term: migratory grief. I started to realize that it's completely normal for such a significant life change to bring about a mix of emotions.
Why no one talks about this here? As migrants we endure the rollercoaster of culture shock and adapting to a foreign environment, we feel displaced, and we question whether our identity is lost. So, what can we do to cope and feel like “ourselves” again?
Experiencing all these emotions when transitioning to a new country-in this case Finland- even when my move was voluntary, is not uncommon. All these things I miss, and the sense of longing for what’s familiar is all part of migratory grief. Grieving for the life I felt behind is a valid response to this transition.
It was crucial for me to first recognize the impact of all these changes on my emotional well-being. That’s when I decided to find help through therapy- remotely with a psychologist specialized in the field of cross-cultural psychology or also known as cultural psychology. It helped me tremendously! We worked together to explore strategies for cultural adjustment, how to build connections (in this case in my city where I live here in Finland), and how to better manage my emotions.
If I can give one piece of advice to other foreigners living in Finland, who are going through the same experience as me is: give yourselves the time and support needed to adapt to this new environment. Finding a sense of belonging in this country takes time, it will come gradually.
I won’t go into details about all the possible strategies suggested by my therapist, but besides the obvious: learning the language (patiently but with lots of sisu!), he suggested learning more about Finnish culture, history, and customs. This helped tremendously in reducing my feelings of disorientation.
I started to connect with locals. I signed myself to activities at my local Kirjasto and volunteered helping the librarians. I practiced my Finnish little by little and I became close with all the staff. Building these kinds of relationships with Finns helped me reduce feelings of isolation. I started to connect deeper with the Finnish culture.
After accepting that my identity was only shifted (not erased!), my favorite coping mechanism has been letting go! Explore your identity in a different culture! Let go of things that do not give you purpose and be open to take on new ideas that help you bloom. It takes time and I am still working on it day by day.
*oRIGINAL TEXT: SPANISH
Haluamme kertoa juhlavuotemme kunniaksi 35 tarinaa kahden kulttuurin perheistä
ulkaisemme 35 viikon ajan 35 erilaista tarinaa, jotka kuvastavat monia haasteita ja mahdollisuuksia, joita kahden kulttuurin perheet jokapäiväisessä elämässään kohtaavat. Haluamme näiden tarinoiden heijastavan todellisuutta ja tarjoavan vertaistukea, voimaannuttavia kokemuksia ja inspiraation lähteitä sekä lisäävän tietoisuutta kulttuurienvälisyydestä ja monikielisyydestä Suomessa.
For 35 weeks, we will be publishing 35 different stories that reflect the many challenges and opportunities intercultural families face in their everyday lives. We want these stories to reflect reality and serve as an accessible peer support, source of empowerment and inspiration, and increase awareness of Interculturalism and Multilingualism in Finland.