I moved to Finland in 2009. I am totally integrated and had the opportunity of building a very good life I am very proud of. My adaptation, though, was not so easy as people might think.
Since I receive a lot of questions about it, I decided to briefly analyze a bit of my journey. Needless to say that everything you will read is based on my own experiences and conclusions, and the opinions of other people might differ a lot from mine. Let´s go!
Process of adaptation: was it easier for being half-Finnish?
In many senses of course. If we consider bureaucracy and papers I didn´t have any problem, it was pretty much save money, get on the plane, and move.
Another thing that certainly helped is that I didn´t decide to move permanently to Finland out of the blue just for having a citizenship. I already knew Finland. First time I came here was in 1996 and I spent almost 6 months with my relatives; and this is the second point which made it easier: I have relatives here and we are very close. I also came to spend holidays a couple of times after that and during all these comes and goes of course I made friends; another really important thing to support me during the adaptation process.
But one thing is a fact: it´s never easy to leave a life behind, never. I came here with nothing certain and I left a very nice home, a good career, amazing friends. Why I did it is another story but I didn´t come out of a miserable life without expectations. It was extremely hard for me to leave my comfort zone and start a life from nothing.
Finnish citizenship, a Finnish name and Finnish appearance: people see you as a Finn
This assumption is a huge mistake.
Finnish people don´t see me as a Finn, at least not the majority of them. Of course at first sight and reading my name nobody would doubt it but from the moment I open my mouth everything gets completely different. I have an accent and even though I speak quite ok Finnish nowadays, my language skills are not perfect and during my process of adaptation I had many problems of being accepted because of it. Sometimes I felt as a real intruder and thought it would be much better not to look like them or have a Finnish name. It seemed to be unforgivable for some people the fact that I didn´t speak the language and had a citizenship. This was even more evident two years later when I started to look for a job, even though my language skills were a thousand times better. I sent hundreds of CVs, many times people called me but I could feel immediately the disappointment in their voices when listening to my accent and realizing my foreigner background. It was always the same: “We´ll call you later”, but the phone never rang and most of the times I didn´t even get an email “thanking for the interest”.
I think this situation regarding the language is a huge problem for most of the foreigners moving here. It creates a barrier and a lot of difficulties in one´s integration process because chances are always little in getting a job even if you have an excellent CV and a B2 language level. Since I moved here I think nothing has frustrated me more than being considered “less good” for having an accent or for not speaking Finnish 100% well. Even having done the national exam and getting a very good result (B2.2) it has never helped me.
I have a very good job nowadays but I´ve never had the opportunity to work for a Finnish company. And of course, how can one really improve her/his language skills without being able to have a routine speaking it?
Are Finns biased?
I don´t see prejudice as a characteristic of Peoples. For this reason I could never assume Finns are biased. Prejudice unfortunately is a dark side we all have and most of it comes from ignorance, for feeling threatened by differences we don´t understand, for traumas, for arrogance…
This should be one of the main concerns for every educator since the only way to reduce prejudice is through education and information, and I think Finland is doing a great job with the new generation. The previews generation though, is not doing so well, unfortunately.
At this moment there has been violence and problems because of racism and prejudice in a higher level than before. Most of it because of the refugee crisis but I should write a whole post about it later. This topic is too complex to be summarized. However I think it´s important to say that racist and fascist groups make a lot of noise and do terrible things but they are not the majority here.
In 1996 when I first came to Finland, population was under 5 million people and there were less than 80 thousand foreigners living here. Now, in 2016, this number is close to 230 thousand and the population is around 5.4 million. So if the population grew a bit over 500 thousand and there are 230 thousand immigrants here, immigration is responsible for something between 25% and 30% of the population growth in the last 20 years!
In 1996 you wouldn´t see many foreigners even in Helsinki, and I can say that most of the ones I met were Europeans. In the countryside I met – and still meet – people who had never seen a foreigner before. I know people who were born and raised in very small villages and have never left the place, not even to go to Helsinki. This “isolation”, attachment to “your own land”, “your own place” is a Finnish characteristic, and it helped me to understand the ball of confusion cultural changes can make in places where people are not used to changes at all.
I´ve heard politicians trying to brand Finland saying “it has always been a multicultural country”but this is far from being true. Multiculturalism is a new thing in Finland, and it looks scary for many Finns who feel “invaded” having their beloved culture distorted.
Another thing I see clearly: there are two Finlands: the one from Helsinki, Tampere and Turku, which are more metropolitan and international cities, and the Finland from the villages, the North and the countryside, much more isolated.
Does it bother you that they don´t see you as a Finn?
What really matters to me is how I feel and not how people feel about me, and I feel totally part of Finland. I am a very proud Finn who loves this country deeply.
My identification with Finland has always existed, it´s part of my genes and part of my cultural background. I have the advantage of being born in Brazil; a melting pot, a country where people don´t have a specific face, where you find all kinds of differences, all kinds of prejudice, all kinds of reality so I know there isn´t such thing as “the perfect place”. Every place in Earth is developing because every human being is in constant process of development. The problems I see in Finland are problems I can handle and live with and I actually believe I have a lot to contribute. I see a society changing and I feel part of this change, Finland is in the middle of a huge change and for this we will see a lot of reaction, positive and negative. But this is how it goes in every society.