After travelling around the world me and my ex-wife decided that we wanted our children to grow up in Italy. My ex-wife is American and I’m Italian so our two boys are bilingual. After few years in Italy, the economic crisis became quite severe so we decided that for our family´s future Finland was a great option. Our family moved to Finland from Italy in 2012.
Our oldest son at the time was 9 years old and the little one was 3. The choice to move was not an easy one, we were worried that the kids might have a hard time in a country where neither of us had any cultural connection, so we decided that to ease the integration process for the boys we would send them to the International School of Vantaa (ISV).
I had a meeting with the school principal in which I familiarized with the Finnish school curriculum. I was quite impressed and the fact that the school had a Finnish as a second language class reassured me that eventually the kids would learn Finnish.
My oldest son was 9 years old when he started 3rd grade, he was very enthusiastic about the school and the teacher, but after 3 years we realized that his Finnish was basically only a passive language and his vocabulary was extremely limited.
The fact that we were not speaking Finnish at home and that with all his friends he was only speaking English were the causes of the problem. Also, I realized that most of the kids at the school were bilingual in English and Finnish and that only few kids were attending the Finnish as a second language class. The school had little interest in the outcome of these few kids nevertheless knowing that they would never pass the matriculation exam to get in to Lukio.
After a difficult negotiation with our son we were able to make him realize that moving to the Finnish school was the best idea, but definitely a difficult one at 13 years of age.
For the little one the situation was even worse because in the English kindergarten Finnish was not encouraged, so considering the age of children and their knowledge of English, when outside in the courtyard he was mostly playing alone.
So, my advice based on my personal experience would be that if you are an intercultural couple with children and neither of you speak Finnish or you do not speak it at home, even if difficult at the beginning the best choice for your children is to go directly to the Finnish school, eventually maybe lose a year of school but giving your child a better chance to integrate in the long run.
Written by: Babbo
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