“I am Pati, I am from Poland and I have been living in Finland for three and a half years. I came to Finland because I wanted to learn Finnish. That really was the main reason. I can’t explain it, but I was interested in languages and at some point I simply thought, “I don’t know what group Finnish belongs to”. So I checked and it turned out that it didn’t even belong in the Indo-European languages.
“I have to find out more” I thought.
I actually studied Finnish a bit in Kraków before I came to Finland. I had a Finnish teacher and he was a super person, but at the same time he was a bit like a stereotypical Finn: very shy and he avoided looking us in the eyes when he was teaching. I had a break for one year before I came to Finland but on my first day here I was speaking Finnish. Not very good, just some simple stuff. I remember going by bike to the centre and it wasn’t my bike, so I didn’t know that the brakes didn’t work and I almost ran a guy over. He said “Perkele” and that was the only thing I could understand that first day. But I was happy anyway because I understood and I said “Anteeksi” to him, that was very easy.
I came to Finland through a scholarship programme for young teachers. The thing was that the school was chosen for you and it could have been anywhere in Europe. But on the form they asked for country and I wrote ‘Finland’. They also asked what the most important criteria was, and I wrote ‘country’. Just to be sure I would definitely be sent to Finland.
I had prepared my parents for some time because in Poland family is close and maybe it’s also more difficult with girls. I knew it would be tricky to move to another country. One day my mum said, “You know Pati, it is so tricky in Poland for young people. Maybe you can move somewhere else, maybe even Frankfurt” so I seized the moment to tell her I was planning to move. I also told my dad but it must have slipped his mind because when I got the scholarship, I called him and said: “Dad, I’m moving to Finland!” After a long silence, he asked: “Do you speak Finnish?”
In the beginning I lived with two Finnish ladies. First we had to speak some German because my Finnish was not good enough, but we would only switch to German when something was really important. It was the home of the former principal of the school and she lived with her twin sister. They told me that I could stay with them until I found something else.
A month went by and I told them that it was such a great place and I would be sorry to leave. But they told me that I could stay for the whole year with them. Before I came to Finland I had this dream that I would stay in a traditional Finnish house. That was of course a bit funny because people don’t rent rooms in such houses – but then I actually ended up living in one.
In Finland I got really into this outdoors way of life, so I bought a sleeping bag and I was testing it on our terrace. I stayed outside over night, checking the temperature to know when I was getting cold. The ladies were understanding. They had done a lot of hiking too, but once they were doubting me. It was one Sunday afternoon and it was raining, the weather was really bad. I went to sleep in the national park, but it was really rainy. I was going to get off the bus, but I couldn’t bring myself to press the stop button. The bus stopped anyway, so I left the bus and I walked about two kilometres. Then I turned round and went home. The ladies thought it was a good decision.
Later I lived in Haukilahti and there I would sleep on the beach without a tent when I figured it wouldn’t rain in the night. It’s great, you just wake up and see the nature, hear the sea. It’s a funny thing, because often when I stay in the nature or in a hut I wake up earlier and I’m not tired. I’m an outdoors person. I like that there are not that many people… and the nature. In Poland you are not really allowed to sleep in a tent in a national park unless it’s next to some shelter. In Finland there is much more freedom with that and many more places to go to. There is just so much space for everyone here.
When I was in Helsinki I realised that I had to find some friends. Out of the teachers I was the youngest so everyone had their family and own lives. They didn’t hang out much after work, they had their families. It took me about half a year to find friends.
It was funny, one Friday evening the ladies were out. I thought I’d spend my evening with them watching TV, but they were not there. I checked all the people that could possibly go out with me, but no one was available. Then I found on Facebook this game event organised by an expat group and although I was not into games I went anyway. I was a bit stressed because I didn’t know anyone, but actually it was organised in a nice way because there were some tables and they were playing different games. A host would greet everyone and tell you that you could sit at any table. It was not that bad actually. Someone said hi to you. I decided that I would try to make the most of it. I managed to make one friend that evening.
I don’t have that many friends in Tampere and it rarely happens that I meet someone by chance. If you find someone by chance it is like you kind of belong to that place. So I wouldn’t mind having more friends here. I’m still torn between Tampere and Helsinki and I go to Helsinki to meet my friends. Often when there is an event in Tampere, there is also something going on in Helsinki. Overall I have the impression that there is less going on in Tampere.
Once a month there is a Polish mass here in Tampere. I choose the hymns and try and teach people how to sing and get them to sing with me. The Polish mass is held at the Catholic church. It is very small. The first time I went there, I didn’t even notice it even though I was standing in the same small street. I used to go to church more back at home. Before I came to Finland I spent most of my life in my hometown and there I was in the church choir so I would go to all the obligatory masses and I was going with my family every Sunday.
I have listened to metal music since I was 13 and Finland is a good place for metal music. There are so many metal concerts and festivals. I have not been to that many because I’m afraid of people who drink for three days and keep banging their heads with long hair. I prefer to listen to music from a safer place. But it’s not that bad in Finland. Last year I went to an Iron Maiden concert and there were even small children there and they were safe. It was not wild. A fun fact about Polish metal fans is that many listen to the Finnish disco band Tanssiorkesteri Lossimies. That’s because there was this low budget movie where every important male character was called Andrzej and that is a special name in Poland. It used to be neutral but now it means someone who is a bit weird in a funny way. The music was used in this low budget movie.”
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This interview was recorded in 2017 in Tampere by Peter Seenan. If you’d like to be involved in this project please visit our contact page and submit the form.