“Olen turhautunut”. How many foreigners want to answer that every time someone asks them, politely, how things are going in Finland?
I am frustrated.
Hear me out. I am not frustrated by the impossibly long integration process. I am not frustrated by the bureaucracy. Not by the cold, the darkness or the job market situation. And not even by the mämmi that my Finnish partner stocks up in the fridge and tries to make me eat.
I am facing the worst frustration you can imagine. The one that so many foreigners, immigrants, intercultural family members feels. The hardest one to tackle because it is so personal and challenging. And yet, the one that everyone, immigrants, partners, NGO’s and government should invest time and attention in: being frustrated with yourself.
First, when it comes to do and observe the basic things of life.
That Finnish mechanism, that makes it impossible for you to open the window as you would like to. The bus machine. How the weather changes and you never know if you should wear two coats or not. How you wont find wine in the supermarkets. Or how, really, you can’t use your sauna as a drying place.
All those little things, that you don’t even think about when you live in your own country become a real hassle here and endanger your own well being and self-esteem. It may sound odd, but I promise that a daily struggle with a simple window does make you feel really helpless.
Second, by your inability to actually know and understand people.
In your home country, you know at what time it is the smartest to send an email. You know if you can call again without being rude. Whether or not to smile, answer with words or body language. You know when to tell your joke, the topics that are off limits with strangers and close ones.
But how does an immigrant get to know all these things in a new country? Having a Finnish spouse helps immensely. But even though, how do you grasp the nuances that will make you go from clueless and frustrated to fitting and at ease?
It’s only after having made a bad joke and smiled in the lift to your neighbour, spent 3 or 4 winters in Finland, that you can learn. That frustration, caused by your own limits has another source, often extremely difficult to face : time. Integrating and adapting takes time and accepting that you don’t have any power on it is frustrating.
Third, every time that you can’t communicate.
You dreamt about verbityypit yesterday and you don’t even bother anymore to answer when a Finn says “Finnish is so hard. Did you think about maybe learning Swedish?”. Because yes, of course you did. You downloaded Duolingo, and felt so empowered when you recognised immediately that “äpple” was apple and “banan” was banana. And yet, here you are, afraid to open your mouth at Alepa because you know the second the cashier hears you, he will switch to English.
It is frustrating. Because it takes so long. Because you don’t see any progress. Because you question wether you really need it or not. Because you constantly forget that one word that you use li Here you are, frustrated immigrant, unable to plan, kind of hating yourself more or less all the time. Sending application through the TE website without even believing it would work. Asking your Finnish friend to read your cover letter and seeing the anxiety in his eyes while he reads. Because he doesn’t know how to explain that there is a difference between “työ", “töissä", and “työssä”.
The most critical phase regarding frustration in the integration process is that moment towards adaptation, when you won’t feel clueless anymore in most of the situations. Until then, you might feel frustrated when you face a situation that feels new but that you have already faced before. You’re frustrated with yourself because you are not adapted but feel like you should be.
Therefore, to deconstruct self-frustration, here are my 5 advice:
And guess what? Frustration is a - healthy- sign that you are actually learning and going forward. Instead of the Finnish language, let's take my favorite example : the beloved Finnish window.
Here are briefly what the four stages of competence are:
Unconscious incompetence: I don’t know that I can’t do it. I move in my new home, I like my big windows and how they bring in so much light.
Conscious incompetence: I know that I can’t do it. The sun shines. I want to open them and get fresh air in. It is blocked. I spend 15 minutes trying to understand how that lock works. I fail pathetically and ask my Finnish partner to open it for me. Which he does, in 4 seconds.
Conscious competence: I know how to do it if I am focused. After having observed my spouse doing it a thousand times, I can open the window. If I take my time. And if I’m in a good mood. And if I move slowly.
Unconscious competence: I know how to do it and don’t even think about it. It’s warm - try to picture it for the sake of my demonstration-, I go to the window, open it, end of story.
Now, notice that frustration appears at stage 2. This is the critical moment where many people give up, don’t have the tools to keep observing and trying.
They drop it because they don’t take the time to understand that frustration is part of the whole process of integrating.
We are all, as immigrants, in the 4 stages of competence at the same time. Use these 5 tools, and let us know what are your frustrations and how you deal with them!
And until then, if you see me walking towards a window, get ready for a lot of swearing.
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