The air is so sweet! I can taste it.
That was the first thing my mother remembers from the time she arrived to Finland nearly 30 years ago. She could remember the humidity and heat when she left her country. But here in Finland, the air was fresh. She arrived at the airport wearing summer clothes and sporting a rather pleasing appearance overall. She met with her husband-to-be, my father, who brought her from the airport to the small town where they were to settle down in the beginning and start building a life together.
My mother had left her country with excitement and thrill. She studied books about Finland in an international library and attended a cultural event organised in her local community by the ambassador of Finland. She remembers being escorted to the airport by her friends and feeling like it was the beginning of an adventure.
On her arrival and during the bus trip from Helsinki-Vantaa airport, my mother recalls some of her first observations from Finland. She realised the bus had a lot of space inside and people tended to choose seats far away from each other. After arriving to their destination, she noticed how only few people were walking on the streets. Interaction between people appeared strange as everyone seemed distant from one another: people were somewhat cautious and very silent, and seemed to avoid direct eye contact with each other.
My mother noticed how having dark hair seemed to draw certain attention. Once she decided to go outside for a walk, but felt that everyone was staring at her wherever she went. This felt so unnerving that my mother felt discouraged to go outside alone.
It was tough in the beginning. Back in her home country, my mother had a respectable job, a college degree and plenty of social circles and friends. In Finland, she experienced a sense of captivity and isolation. She knew no one, didn't speak the language and every day, my dad left for work leaving my mother to figure out how to occupy her days sensibly.
Little by little, my mother started to challenge her mind to look at her situation from a wider perspective. Having her first child soon after moving to Finland kept her busy and filled her time. This gave her a sense of fulfilment. Yet, from time to time, she felt the need to connect to other people, especially her kind.
All these experiences and struggles took place nearly 30 years ago. Much has changed then, most importantly the increase of the number of immigrants in Finland and the arrival of internet and social media. I asked my mother to reflect on her coping strategies on being an immigrant in Finland. She provided me with the following:
Respect cultural differences
This means keeping an open mind. Being the stranger in a new country, you should introduce yourself to the culture and focus on the challenging tasks that lie ahead, such as mastering the language. In a different culture, it is important to acknowledge the limits of what is acceptable and expected social behaviour. Even it there is something you don't fully agree with, you can take it with humour.
It is customary in my mother's home country to go to church every Sunday. Throughout her difficulties my mother found strength through her faith. She also found new connections through church. This leads to another very important factor that helps you to cope with daily life: peer support.
Relating with other foreigners and sharing their own respective experiences makes it easier to deal with the day to day challenges in life. When you are lonely, your friends provide you with emotional security and support. My mother's new friends knew other people in the community, and soon her friendship circles started growing.
So, after nearly 30 years, what has my mother got to say from her journey in Finland? Now, she feels like at home here. She has noticed how there is more multicultural openness in Finland in comparison to the times when she first arrived here. My mother also mentioned this about Finland: ”I admire the bureaucracy here. It works. The law applies to everyone. It doesn't make any exceptions to the offenders based on their social status. There is no corruption.” My mother also thinks that the Finnish government takes care of its citizens. Finns can openly criticize politicians, unlike in her home country where people are afraid to voice out their real opinions because the country has known to have a heavy history with dictatorship. In Finland, people know about their civil rights and hold on to them.
In the end, my mother states, it is all about your attitude and the mindset you choose. You need to be ready to consider your goals and adjust your mentality to cope. Today, my mother looks back at these years with pride of what she has accomplished. She looks forward to the future when she can embrace more free time to explore life's opportunities. After all, life is full of blessings when you know how to focus on noticing them.