When we first got together in 2006 Mel had already planned a trip to Finland. I think she was trying to play it down to me at the beginning. I had never really been overseas before I came Finland. I didn’t even own a passport. We had been around the States and to Canada, but not overseas.
We met when I was first year in College. We had a lot of courses together because of the overlap between Chemistry and Biology. I knew that there was a Finnish diaspora in the upper peninsula of Michigan. My favourite hockey player was Finnish so I was vaguely aware of Finland. I had this abstract idea of this place where hockey players come from. It’s a pretty big deal up there, they have for example Finlandia College. But I mean for my family, Finland, Sweden and Norway are pretty much the same place.
I first came with Mel in 2008 for three months. We stayed with her family, but travelled around. I knew enough when I came that nothing was unexpected. I really enjoyed it, it was not too hot even if it was summer. Not a lot were things I could pin down, but the way that it feels here compared to the US was special. There it just feels loud and crowded, whereas everything is a lot more chilled here. People are more considered here, and things like that make a big difference to me. Everybody takes care of each other here which is opposite to the ‘everyone for themselves’ mentality that we have in the States. You can’t pin these down, but you can feel them.
“People say that Finland is boring, but that’s why I’m here. Finns just live their lives and I really like that. I think that’s what I’ve been looking for”
When we moved I was here on a family ties basis, but I did do some language courses. I felt that I was coming here for good. In some ways all these changes have been really easy for me because I’m not the decision maker in this relationship and I have known Mel long enough to trust her intuition.
My mum has always been laid back about what I do with my life and what my career choices are. Those are not important to her. My dad might have opinions, but he knows I’m an adult and I can take care of myself. He is also pretty chilled. They were a bit sad because they didn’t want me to be so far away. Mum has been here since and she has seen that we are happy. I think they know that we weren’t really at home where we were before.
In the US you never know who has what ideas and if they are going to express those ideas. I mean, it’s a country where they can’t even apply what we would call reasonable gun laws. You never know what might happen. I think you could kinda feel some changes coming, but that’s not why we left. We left because we like it here. I mean, people were saying how great Obama is and these things, but we were a bit unsure. I didn’t feel 100% safe there.
“I had never really been overseas before I came Finland. I didn’t even have a passport”
I have never felt like, “what on earth am I doing here?!” I do miss my family, we are close, so I miss them. In my extended family there are some conservative ideas too, but I love them and they have always accepted me. I miss American baseball, but other than that not much. Someday I will learn Finnish pesäpallo, even if it’s very different from American baseball. Baseball is about the memories of being a kid. I used to play and we used to go to games and stuff.
I think in general the food is way better here. I can’t stand American food. It’s just no good – sugars and corn syrup. After living here American food just doesn’t taste like food. It’s not quality. I mean, we could talk about the political side of corn lobbying, sugar lobbying and soda lobbying. It’s just not made from real food and it does not have a good flavour. It’s just really hard to get good food. The average American is going to McDonald’s to get food, and you have to find specialty grocers to get food that you can stand. I really like Finnish food in general. The only thing that is ‘annoying’ is that breakfast restaurants are not a thing. We can’t just get pancakes or something like that. Finnish bread and fish are good, I love fish. Fresh food is affordable compared to what we are used to.
When it comes to me and Mel it works so that I deal with the money and taxes and Mel does the big picture. I might ask her what we are doing TODAY and she starts to tell about what happens in three weeks. I’m quite numerical. I do a lot of ‘feet on the ground’ kind of work. Working with the customers, cleaning the rooms and stuff like that. Every now and again my dad brings up the fact that I’m a pharmacist doing cleaning, like, “have you ever thought of using your degree?” I’d like to get back into it some day. It’s more an academic idea I think. I like the subject matter and that’s why I studied it in the first place. But I don’t feel any hurry to get into it and I also know that my Finnish skills are not good enough right now, even though I’m looking for advanced-level courses.
“My favourite hockey player was Finnish so I was vaguely aware of Finland. I had this abstract idea of this place where hockey players come from”
I learn a lot of Finnish from reading newspapers and watching TV. The first few months were absolutely terrifying when the phone rang. I think that it’s a reasonable expectation to – maybe not blend in – at least adapt to what’s here. I never thought of using English when it got hard and I was learning. I think even if most Finns speak English it’s wrong to make them do that. Sometimes I question the reasons of people who come here and don’t try and learn the language.
I think Finland is a very particular place and a vast majority of people would not be happy here. People say that Finland is boring, but that’s why I’m here. Finns just live their lives and I really like that. I think that’s what I’ve been looking for. I think the nice thing is that I don’t feel like I have to worry about the future if things keep going the way they are going. Because Finland hasn’t changed its immigration laws then there is nothing to worry about. I mean, I think about what might happen to our kids in the future. But I’m not worried about my own future at all.
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Interview by Peter Seenan recorded in Ii, Finland in 2017. If you wish to support our work in sharing the reflections of people who’ve moved to Finland please like our Facebook page and share Shawna’s story.