“When I left France for Finland I was not thinking to leave forever, in my mind I was coming back after 6 months because all my family and friends were in France and I kind of had some idea of where I wanted my life to go. But things change, it really depends on what happens in your life, who you meet and what opportunities arise.
I think some of my friends told me that they knew from the time I left that I would never come back. I never thought about this myself but they could feel it. In a way maybe I was ready in my mind to go somewhere else.
Now I’ve been living in Finland for 12 years. I came here for the first time on the 5th of January 2005 as an exchange student on the Erasmus programme. That’s quite a long time, if I think about it, a third of my life has been spent in Finland.
I was lucky enough to meet and mix with some Finnish people from the first days I was in Finland, which I would recommend to anyone. I remember my neighbour was Austrian and she was very active into the Finnish studies and already speaking Finnish before she came to Finland; she was really trying hard to get into the Finnish culture. If you go abroad of course meet foreign people but try to meet locals and to become friends with them and if you’re lucky enough they’ll invite you to their home. That’s something that is fantastic, I mean, that’s the best memory.
That first year I extended my time for an extra month and a half, or two months, because my then girlfriend kind of allowed me to stay with her for the summer in Savo.
It was quite nice to have a real taste of what is the Finnish countryside and be out of my bubble of Erasmus students, it’s something that most of the exchange students around the world don’t get to experience. They all stay as foreign students together in the city and maybe do a few trips here and there but never experience the real thing.
I remember [at midsummer] when we arrived, it stopped raining and it was sunny for the next two days and it was warm, the water was warm, and we had sauna. People got drunk but not in a sad way that can happen sometimes. I just remember everyone being happy, also because maybe my expectations for some things were a bit lower and more simple things made me happier than nowadays – I think that’s the thing, everything happened in such a perfect way.
I didn’t plan at first to stay in Finland, I just planned to experience Finland but then… love for a woman and life is kind of easy here. It’s very easy to make all the administration stuff because people are kind of straightforward and there is a way for everything, so if you don’t go off the path it’s very clear and easy. And plus people don’t make such a fuss about many things.
I’ve just been lucky I would say. You know, when I met my then girlfriend, now wife, and some of her friends and family – it just happened like this. I was lucky. I think when you are with someone – everyone is different – so it doesn’t really matter about nationality. There’s always going to be conflicts.
Having a family means probably that I’m going to spend many more years here and I think it’s a big mistake I made not to learn enough Finnish in the beginning and it’s what you need to really meet more people, people are very nice here. They first speak to you in English, but after some years they get a bit tired to use English just for you.
When my wife got pregnant I went back for some courses because, you know, even if it’s not difficult to understand “Sinä olet idiootti!” I still would like to know when my son is saying “My dad is an idiot”.
So it’s been nice to go back to Finnish and I’ve been going to some kind of intensive courses, and well, I got good enough to apply for the Finnish citizenship, even if – I may admit – the language requirements for citizenship are not that high.
I’m really hoping to get the citizenship this year and I can tell you why I applied: it was not just “Oh well, I have enough rights to get this thing”. It’s not the passport in itself that interests me. I’ve lived here for many years and I’m going to still live here for lots more years I’m sure, maybe all my life. But it’s very frustrating to live in a country and not be able to say a word or take a decision because you can’t vote except for in local elections. And when I hear some politicians say stuff like “Yeah, people should work more, to earn less, because it is the way to save the country”, or if I think about how I would like this place to be in the future I can’t really say a word. I don’t have the feeling that I can really say straight “This is what I would like to do.”
So if I get Finnish citizenship I will get at least the right to vote. And who knows, maybe one day my Finnish will be good enough that I could maybe try to work for the city or to maybe even one day go to the local parliament.”
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This interview was recorded in 2017 in Helsinki by Peter Seenan. If you’d like to be involved in this project please visit our contact page and submit the form.