I was born in 1990 in Jyväskylä, although my Finnish passport says I’m Italian. That’s because we moved to Italy with my family when I was 2 months old. I grew up in Italy, Toscana, but my mother is Finnish. She kept up my Finnish language. My dad was Italian. I lived in Italy until I was 8 years old and then we came back to Finland in 1998.
I stayed in Finland 2–3 years and went to school here. For half a year I was in a ‘mamu-luokka’, a class for foreign people. There were people from Poland, Iran, China, Thailand, Japan– different places. I made very good, international, friends there. That’s also where my international interest grew. After that I was in a Finnish class and then in 2001 my parents decided we would go back to Italy. In Italy I did my middle and high school. Of course, I moved back and forth to Finland in the holidays, to meet relatives and friends and I also had a Finnish friend visiting Italy sometimes.
“It was not an easy decision to leave friends and family in Italy, but in 2013, I took my father’s car, packed it and drove 2 days from Italy to Finland”
The interesting part is how I’m now back in Finland. In high school I got a letter from the Finnish government, asking me if I wanted to do the military service. I was very curious, I thought it would be like in the movies. I asked my relatives and friends in Finland who had done it, how it was. Some said it’s nice and interesting and makes you a man. So I decided to go and skipped one year of high school in Italy – but it was worth it. Finnish people kept asking me why I would come from Italy to do the military service, since for me it was not necessary. My answer to them was that I wanted to do it for the service and to re-attach my contacts with Finland and the language. With my mum it was on a basic conversational level, but here I noticed I can keep up with people and there was only a small barrier.
The funny thing is that when my mother visited Finland, before I came to the military, she happened to go to the police. The police asked her if she was my mother and then they asked about me. They had been looking for me since they did not have a record of my whereabouts. I was an army service fugitive, without even knowing it!
My mother is still in Italy and my father passed away three years ago. My father would be 86 years old now. He was 60 when I was born. I know that my mother gets nostalgic about Finland and she wants to come back, but she would have to sell the house and it’s not easy right now. She has been in Italy for almost 30 years. I always wonder if she would get used to Finland even if she is Finnish. She is very outgoing. She was more strong-willed than my dad. She told me that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I finished high school. I owe and love my parents a lot.
“My mother has been in Italy for almost 30 years. I always wonder if she would get used to Finland even if she is Finnish. She is very outgoing. She was more strong-willed than my dad”
In the military we first did the basic training and then we had to choose what we wanted to do next. I wanted to be a truck driver, but they didn’t provide the specific license, so that wasn’t possible. I applied to the military police, to be a medic and something else, and eventually I went the military police route. I did the training in Kauhava (Southern Ostrobothnia). It was interesting and very demanding. I liked it. I thought the hardest thing would be the physical activities, but then during officer training, when we went on the 40-kilometre march, I realised that it’s not only the physical side – even if it’s important – but also the psychological and mental thing. Can you be out in -30°C all night and can you endure it? Yes, I can, if my mind allows it, no matter the physical condition. Since then, I always relate to the hardships of military service when I face a problem in my everyday life. It really helps a lot.
After the military service I went back to Italy to finish my high school. I started to look for jobs and I had already worked in fruit harvesting, very seasonal stuff. I could have found some jobs, but that would basically have been it. If you don’t have a family business or very good contacts in Italy it’s quite difficult to find a steady job. But somehow in my mind I wanted to go to Finland to re-attach my connections to my second home and I also wanted to be independent. That was maybe the Finnish side in me, I wanted to do stuff on my own.
It was not an easy decision to leave friends and family in Italy, but in 2013, I took my father’s car, packed it and drove 2 days from Italy to Finland. I drove without stops, my car was fully packed so I just wanted to get there quickly. I took a ferry from Stockholm to Turku. I wanted to go to Jyväskylä, because it was more familiar to me than Helsinki. I stayed some time at my uncle’s place in the countryside and then I managed to get a job through my cousin in a coffee shop. I had some hiccups with Finnish at the beginning, but I was not afraid of making mistakes. Sometimes they were funny too, I just translated something from Italian into Finnish. It made sense in my head, but not always for Finnish people. I found a job a month after I came. The coffee shop was opening at the time and my cousin told me to ask the owner. I felt very excited, I had never done customer service jobs. I stayed there for a few years and I learned a lot. When I started, the owner said she could only pay me the lowest salary, so I asked what that was. I had washed dishes for free in Italy before. To my surprise it was almost 10 euros per hour, so I was okay with that. It was almost double compared to wages in Italy.
I lived with that money. I had a car and an apartment. I did notice especially how Finnish women are very strongly willed. Much more than the Finnish men. So when we changed flatmates – when the girls left and boys came in – it became harder to do stuff. There was not much communication, not many clear things. We had to clean the house and divide the chores. With the women it was easier to agree and they were cleaner.
I have many good friends in Finland and many of them are foreigners. When people ask me if I feel more Finnish or Italian I find it difficult to relate only to one side. I think when I was in Italy I behaved more like a Finn, since Italians are more provocative and social. They did the talking so I didn’t have to. But here I noticed that people don’t talk so much so I have to be the active one. That’s a big difference between Finland and Italy. In Italy, when you go to, for example, a bank, they will do the things for you face to face. They don’t push you to do internet banking. There is also more physical contact. In Finland they don’t want the physical contact. For me the Italian way is usually more natural, since I grew up there, but I also show my Finnish side on some occasions. When I worked in the coffee shop, because of my accent, people often thought that I was Estonian.
“I was an army service fugitive, without even knowing it”
In the last year when I was working I thought I could do the job forever, but then I realised I only did it for the money. I decided I should study something. I thought of my younger years when I was playing with my computer and I decided to do IT. I applied to Jyväskylän ammattikorkeakoulu and I didn’t get in at first, but then I did the open studies and got accepted. In 2016 I became a full-time student after I completed all the open studies. I also started to develop a computer game, called Fade Away. I’m making it with my Finnish friends, we are a team. It has been very interesting, but time-consuming.
The fuel for me is to discover something small every day, to learn about different cultures. Every one of the small things adds up, you know; African friends, people from the US, Asia, South America, Russia. That’s what keeps me going, to discover. One of my best friends here is half-Japanese. We met in school. The Japanese culture has had a big impact on me, the manga and anime culture is huge in Italy. And then through that I got to know some Korean people.
I didn’t know much about Korean culture, except that they kicked our [Italy’s] asses in the 2002 Soccer World Cup, but I started studying the language and now I can read and write some things in Korean. I applied for exchange and I got accepted, so I will be going to South Korea. I plan to stay there for one year and maybe even work there if I can. I want to blend into the culture and try to understand it, as well as the Asian mentality behind it. I think I want to be in Finland if I have a family one day, it’s one of my home countries after all, but for now staying in one place is not for me.
Interview by Peter Seenan recorded in Jyväskylä, 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 Juliano’s story.