We moved to Finland from Hungary three and a half years ago, in the summer of 2014. The decision was triggered by a job opportunity that I got at the University of Jyväskylä. We were full of hopes but at the same time fears: changing countries around the age of 40, making two children leave their home, school and friends behind to start a new life in a foreign environment.
Originally, it was Janos, my husband’s idea to move to Finland. I do not remember when his passion for Finland started. He spent most of his childhood in a boarding school and there was a poster on the grey wall facing his bed at that time. He had cut it out from a magazine and put it on the wall. He realised only recently that it was a photo of Finland, showing the Finnish nature of green trees and lakes. Janos does not believe in the law of attraction as such, but now he says that there might be some truth in it.
Years before our move, Janos was reading books about Finnish history and education, which made him so enthusiastic about this nation that he began learning the Finnish language on his own.
He also launched his own ‘project’ of collecting postcards that depicted Finnish churches. Every night, before he went to bed, he sent out five emails to parishes and newspapers in Finland and asked them to send him postcards. To our great surprise, he got over 800 postcards within a year. It was wonderful to see how quickly and willingly the Finnish people replied. Some of them even disclosed their identities.
“Originally, it was my husband’s idea to move to Finland. I do not remember when his passion for Finland started.”
There was, for example, a painter who sent postcards showing his own paintings, and a collector who sent some old special cards. The collection featured a variety of church buildings, including traditional wooden churches and modern ones as well. In 2010, a selection of this collection was exhibited in the Hungarian city of Pécs. Jari Vilén, Finland’s ambassador in Hungary also visited the exhibition and asked Janos to arrange an exhibition in the Finnish embassy in Budapest. Eventually, the embassy bought the exhibition, and the money was offered for a Hungarian foundation to support ill children. Janos continued his project by asking for similar postcards, but this time from the Hungarians. A selection of his Hungarian and Finnish postcards was exhibited in the Main Post Office in Helsinki in 2012.
The best thing right after our arrival in Finland was the support we got from my new colleagues. I do not know how we would have managed without their help. When we arrived at the train station in Jyväskylä, the head of department (my new boss) was waiting there for us with her car and a bag of Finnish groceries. This was such a nice welcome! We had only four suitcases, so all of our stuff could fit into her car. We had to start everything from scratch, which was not easy. Thanks to my colleagues, who gave us some household items, and also thanks to the Finnish system of second-hand stores, we managed to furnish a new home in a relatively short time. During the first academic year, I was lucky to share the office with a wonderful Finnish colleague, who became a friend of our family.
I was extremely worried about how our children (who were 11 and 8 at that time) would settle in their new school, but luckily, things went smoothly. They learnt the Finnish language in less than a year and got enrolled in Finnish education. It was interesting to see their growing desire to be seen as a Finn and not as a foreigner. Being close to teenager-age, their wish to share identity with the Finnish kids was understandable but at the same time hard to accept as a parent. After a couple of months, for example, they told us not to use the Hungarian language in the street and on the bus, because this revealed that we were non-natives. They also wanted us not to differ from the Finnish parents, for example in the types clothes that we wear. The situation has improved since then: they are proud of their Hungarian roots and do not get embarrassed when we use the Hungarian language in public spaces.
“In Hungary Janos launched a ‘project’ of collecting postcards that depicted Finnish churches. Every night before he went to bed, he sent out five emails to parishes and newspapers in Finland. He got over 800 postcards in a year.”
Finding a job as an immigrant in Jyväskylä is hard unless one speaks the language fluently. My husband used to work as a journalist, a writer and a PR manager in Hungary, so his working skills were dependent on the Hungarian language. The level of Finnish he had acquired was enough only for low-skilled jobs, such as cleaning. Janos worked for a couple of months at a social institution, where he helped with whatever he could, like shovelling snow, and also saw the less sunny side of Finnish reality. Once, he had to clear up the mess after the suicide attempt of a person living there. Despite his lack of success in employment, Janos has not regretted moving to this country. He loves the way the values of equality, tolerance and democracy permeate different aspects of life here. He still hopes to earn a living in Finland, but now his ideas are more around starting his own enterprise instead of working as an employee.
For me, working at a Finnish university as a lecturer has been a way of finding my voice and professional identity. It is a new experience for me that my suggestions are listened to even though I am “only” a woman and not even a professor. I am more active, for example, at staff meetings than I used to be in Hungary. However, it is also true that I work here more. I have more responsibilities, but I am not complaining since this shows that they trust me. Hopefully, one day I will be fluent in Finnish.
I hope that in 10 years’ time I will be working at the same university and my husband will be running his own enterprise. I love teaching Finnish students as they are hard working and also interested in their studies. It is great to see that knowledge, skills and hard work are appreciated among the students. Their aim is not to earn good grades by cheating at the exams, but to learn and thus develop during their university years. I am still impressed how well my Finnish students can collaborate in small groups and how nicely they divide the tasks. At the same time, I am a bit worried as more and more university students are suffering from anxiety or depression and need to have a break or even drop out from education.
“Our children told us not to use the Hungarian language in the street and on the bus, because this revealed that we were non-natives.”
We travel to Hungary once or twice a year. My sons often have Skype chats with their Hungarian friends, and this is also how we communicate with my parents. I even managed to make Skype calls to the nursing home where my grandmother lives. We celebrate both Finnish and Hungarian festivals and holidays. It means, for example, that we have Mother’s Day twice in May. At home, I usually cook Hungarian food with spices and lots of red pepper in it. However, there are certain traditional Hungarian ingredients, such as poppy seeds or chestnut puree, which are hard to access in Finland.
Finland is a well-functioning country, built on the values of equality, tolerance and hard work. However, there are serious social problems that one can easily notice, such as heavy drinking or even poverty. It is also strange to see how limited certain services are. Banks and most shops open only at 10.00 am, whereas in Hungary they are open from 8.00 am or even earlier. It is also disappointing to see that shops are closing down in some of the Finnish suburbs, leaving huge urban areas without any services. On the other hand, there are so many hairdressers, at least in our town, that you can find one in almost every street in the city centre.
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