Sid, The Philippines
Many of us go abroad to work because we don’t have a good economic situation in the Philippines. But we are not afraid wherever we go, because just one Filipino in the community is enough to make you feel at home. That’s why I felt moved by Apple’s story. A small Filipino community with no direct family ties helped her visit her father back home for the last time.
I visited Finland three times before I moved here to start a new life with my husband. I was a nurse back home and finishing my Master’s in genetic counseling. I feel safe and accepted here. Even though it’s a totally different culture, I haven’t had many problems immersing myself in the Finnish way of life. I find it exciting, I’ve relished the differences, enjoyed the positive ones and tried to ignore anything unpleasant. It is home away from home, maybe because the family of my husband is so loving and they have embraced me as their own son.
Talking about my integration, of course I adapt. I am up to the challenge of being a Finn. I made it. It’s not the Finnish people and the society who will adapt for me and I realised that social adaptation and integration depends on what kind of mindset you have. You cannot expect Finns to change for you. Being aware of this, it really made my integration so fast, it felt so normal. Of course there were challenges, like the difficulty of the language and trying to figure out the social demeanor of the people, but I made an effort to learn everything by heart. You can’t put into words how beautiful Finland is. You have to experience Finland, set aside your prejudices and biases before making a judgement, and when you get here you have to interact.
SID: “You have to experience Finland, set aside your prejudices and biases before making a judgement, and when you get here you have to interact.”
I started learning Finnish on my own back home so when I met my family here for the first time I knew how to speak basic Finnish at least. It was very important for me because it allows a connection and improves family dynamics. Early on my husband had to leave Finland for a conference so I went to the summer house with ‘mama’ and ‘papa’, my parents-in-law. They don’t speak or understand English, but I survived one week with them with only my basic Finnish. I learned that it’s not just about the spoken or written language, but paying attention to non-verbal body language and gestures. You learn how to understand and it is really an uplifting feeling – “Oh wow, I managed to do that.”
Life back in The Philippines was economically difficult, but I was lucky because I had a degree. When I came here, I no longer had goals. Finland brought about the realisation to live each day rather than focussing on what tomorrow might bring. My husband taught me a lot of lessons about accepting the life you have, no matter what it is. Live life each day, go with the flow of time and most importantly stay positive and avoid whining. When things went in a different direction I tended to be upset, but when I reflected on the situation then I realised how lucky I was to be in a safe and peaceful place, with a loving and accepting family, I had a place to work, decent food to eat and good health.
When I started living here I was amazed and fascinated by how humble and equal the society was. Finns don’t judge you by the way you dress, or by the work you do. Back home, people can degrade you by your job, for instance, if you’re a cleaner. There are exceptions, but respect flows from your job. But a job here gives you dignity and it doesn’t matter what job it is as long as it’s an honest one. People will not look down on you and this is important to me because I can do what my heart desires.
SID: “When I came here, I no longer had goals. Finland brought about the realisation to live each day rather than focussing on what tomorrow might bring.”
There are countless reasons why I love Finland. I like the simplicity of life here, and waking up to the sound of birds on the lake, sunrise above the pristine water and the smell of morning mist at the mökki [summer cottage] is one of the best mornings you will ever have. The summer house is very close to our heart because my husband grew up there while papa was in the process of building it. We consider it a sacred place and a retreat after work. I help there in my own little ways to maintain the coziness and cleanliness, chopping wood, gardening and lighting the sauna. Sometimes they tell me this is not a labour camp, but knowing I can help in simple ways feels good and I have nothing to complain about because I love to do it. Who would have thought I would love the mixture of riisipuuro [rice porridge] with lihapaisti [meat stew] or maksalaatikko? As we always say when we travel around the world encountering the chaos in each place we visit, our heart is longing for the silence and peacefulness of Finland.
Each person who has landed in a new place has a unique story to tell and what I want people to know is that my thousand-mile journey to be here started with a heart full of hope and enthusiasm that someday I will be in a place where I can be myself, while also becoming a productive member of society. Integration is a process. Take your time, listen, interact and be brave to make a difference each day until you get there. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be thankful that Finland has embraced you as its own and protects you more than any other place you have been before. When you come to another place, you are a stranger till a specific point in time but it doesn’t go on forever.
Interview by Peter Seenan recorded in Joensuu, Finland in 2017. If you wish to support our work in projecting the voices and achievements of immigrants in Finland please like our Facebook page and share Sid’s story.