My integration experience.

Gary Jules & Michael Andrews cover Mad World. The original by Tears for Fears is here. Gary Lambert also sounds very good. You pick the version you want to hear! Or listen to them all and tell me which is your favourite! ***

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: If you are planning on moving to Finland in a permanent capacity DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT attempt to do it this way. It’s wrong and you’ll just cause yourself a whole heap of stress and grief.

One of the Finnish blogs I read on fairly regular basis is Migrant Tales – I don’t always agree with what he says and sometimes the conversation threads that follow the postings get very heated. There’s also a heap of swearing, and while I’m no prude and the eff word (or the vee word in Finnish) has slipped through my lips on the odd occasion, I really don’t see the point of swearing at fellow commenters. I’d be hard pressed to do it in person, unless they were really really really good friends. Even then I doubt that I’d get into it so much. My mum did a good job!

Back to Migrant Tales. Two posts have grabbed my attention lately. The first was about integration, the second was an earlier post about jokes.  Now I wasn’t going to write about politics on this blog, then I put up my two bits about the Finnish Presidential Election. The Beader also reminded me a while back that this blog is about me and my life in Finland. So,  I think that means politics are on the menu. (You’ll have to wait a while for me to post about sex and religion, I have a total lack of one in my life and the other is none of your business!)

Right now immigration is a very hot potato in Finland. There has been a rise in popularity for the right-wing, nationalist party. Australians will remember the rise and rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. Well, we have The Finns, better known as the True Finns. They’re not huge fans of immigration, even less keen on being a part of the EU. They object to Finland’s role in the Euro-zone bailout of Greece. The list goes on. Large pockets of support come from rural areas that are suffering from high youth unemployment figures, or reeling from lay-offs in manufacturing. Or they live in urban areas with large immigrant populations.

I overheard this in the pub the other night: young girl, early twenties was very excited about her upcoming trip to Italy. She was obviously going there to work and for a long time, based on her questions about tax etc. … blah blah … I’m so excited, next week I’ll be in Venice! Will you visit me there? … blah blah, the conversation continues and then turns quite sharply… oh it’s so terrible what the EU makes Finland do. No wonder everybody goes to Estonia and Germany to buy their cars. I think it’s time Finland left the EU. Obviously, she did not get the irony of her statement. The EU has removed many border restrictions when it comes to labour. Had Finland not been in the EU, perhaps her stint in Italy would have non-existent… 

The crux of the integration article is that perhaps the integration should come from both sides, rather than just those moving to Finland. Now, before you say, ‘the immigrant is the one that has to integrate!’ please read on. This is my story. Every immigrant that comes to Finland has their own story and no two will ever be the same.

Finland has an official integration program. Please, just don’t ask me how it works. Even though I’ve never been integrated, I’m a tax-paying, mortgage holding citizen. I suspect I am not alone in this way. First, however let’s go back to the beginning.

September 2001. For those of you aware of (very) recent history, there was a major event that turned everybody’s world up-side-down. Timing is everything as they say. Mr 2.25 and I were staying with MIL, enjoying warm autumn and looking forward to flying to Florida where The Engineer was living at the time. We were scheduled to leave within a matter of days. That plan was off the table. A New Plan was required. I was in the country on a visitors visa, valid for 3 months at a time. Our three months were running out and it’s never a good idea to over-stay your visa. They might get upset and not let you back.

Off to the local police station we went. * We were ummed and ahhed over, then finally a heap of papers passed through the hatch with the instruction to complete and return with fee, passports and passport photos. Okay, no problem, we can do that. Some of the questions were a little odd. Surprisingly (at the time), we’d been given residency application forms. Okay, so you can visit Finland for three months or apply to live here due to having Finnish spouse. At this stage The Engineer and I had been doing the long distance thing and quite frankly, neither of us really know which country we would end up living in…

Forms deposited, passports submitted, fee paid. Little did I know that it be NINE months later before we would see our passports again. It was great opportunity to get to know Finland. Despite my persona non grata status (okay that’s a little harsh – I was a status-less person for those nine months though), I enrolled in the local adult education course Finnish For Foreigners. I helped out the Old Rauma Society, I enrolled Mr. 2.5 into a Finnish kindergarten / play park, where I was befriended by the truly generous A, pretty simply I started living like a normal (passportless) person. I started learning to make Finnish dishes. Sauna quickly became a regular and anticipated part of the week, and remains so today. I experienced my first ever White Christmas. Decent snow cover is the key!

As a paperless foreigner, there were a few things we couldn’t do: open bank accounts, take a Finnish mobile, utilise the neuvola **. Luckily we were in good health and Mr. 2.5 was up-to-date with his vaccinations.

Eventually our passports were returned, complete with residency permits. Mr. 2.5 received 2 years, while I received 1 year. Reason, it would not have been fair to the child not to have granted my residency. Fair enough, although a little odd. We travel to Florida and stay three months, returning at the end of summer to start our new life together. That particular set of hows and whys I’ll save for another day. It’s not relevant to the integration.

Now I’m officially a resident of FInland. We receive our personal identity number and life can begin! I think a couple of politicians sent me a letter welcoming me to the city. I opened bank accounts for myself and Mr. 3. I got my first library card, my first bus pass (I say first because I have lost at least two of each of these – foolish as it costs every time you take a replacement). I’m not on any unemployment register. I cook, clean, drive to and from the airport more times than I care to remember. Mr. 4 and I have a routine, play in the morning, park in the afternoon, other stuff in between.

Eventually I get motivated enough and sign myself up for anther Finnish for Foreigners course. Teacher is nice, although I’m a bit frustrated by the lack of speaking practice. I pass and sign up for the 2nd level. Then stuff gets in the way. I get a job. We go back to Australia. I sign up again, and again stuff gets in the way.

Life goes on. I pay my taxes, have my 5 (yes you read that correctly) five weeks of holiday per year (not counting ‘public’ or pyhä- sacred holidays). Actually, true to form,  I work hard and don’t always get to have the full-time. I can work short days sometimes or disappear during the day to do some stuff at school. Still no integration program or plan for me.

Despite not formalising my language training, I scrape through on the official language test. I apply for citizenship. In the meantime, we’ve bought an apartment. All the time I’m here just living. Nothing special. Not being particularly outwardly Australian. Not being particularly Finnish either. Citizenship is approved. The very first thing I do is cancel my resident permit and apply for my Finnish passport.

So 10 years on, here I am. My integration was driven by me. If I had to go through this all again there is NOT one thing I would do differently. Not even register myself as unemployed and get free Finnish lessons. THe major debate on the migrant tales post seems to focus on how long an immigrant is a drain on society. In my case, I think I was neutral until I started working, at which time I became a contributor back to society.

Now Finland has value added tax, yet people don’t seem to see this as tax or a contribution to society. In all honestly, I’m not sure what people think it is. Yet the more you consume, the more tax you pay! Some things are VAT free (health care for one). Yet, food is taxed (13% or 23%), alcohol is taxed at purchase (23%), and there’s a heap of duty inflicted before it even hit’s the shelves. Any sort of public transport includes 9%. So I was contributing back even before I rejoined the workforce.

Yes, there is probably small percentage of the native population who need integrating back. These are the same people who wildly throw ALL immigrants into the one basket. We’re not all the same, and I for one refuse to accept the label that all immigrants are drain on Finnish society. (Rant over!) One important fact to remember is that immigration into Finland is a relatively recent phenomenon, and society as a whole is only just catching up. We have a very long way to go still.

Personally, I think that the integration is a two-way street. The immigrant should be willing to take on the new country and important aspects that are unique, without losing the essence of their own culture; the citizens should be willing to acknowledge that there are other cultures, and that those two should be able to sit side by side in a person. Asking an immigrant to forsake a major part of themselves and their self-image and then expect them to behave like a Finn is a situation that will never end well. I’m a Tasmanian Finn and proud of it. 

This is the abridged version obviously. It’s super late and I really felt the need to get this published today. So if there are any really bad errors (grammar, spelling etc), please be kind enough to point them out.

* Immigration issues in the first instance are handled by one department of the police force.

** Finnish child care / mothercraft nurses. Look after mother and baby from pregnancy to school age.

*** If I want to dance it has to be Tears for Fears, just for the beauty of the voice I’ll put on Gary Jules and I’d much rather hear Adam Lambert singing If I Had You.

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6 comments

  1. What an odd way to bring a person into a country, and especially to grant your child a longer visitor permit than you. The idea of integration is championed by the Republican party in our country, who want to return to the time when their parents came over — early 1900s. Actually, I think some of those old farts came over in 1900 themselves! My father legally do away with anyone speaking any language but English, if he could. Also, I love Adam Lambert, and I LOVE If I Had You! I’m glad you’ve got this behind you now, so you can relax and enjoy being a Taswegian in Finland. 😎

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    • It was terribly frustrating at the time Judith. I take little comfort in knowing that the system has changed very little in the last 10 years. The wheels of change turn very slowly in Finland.

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    • Thank you! Also thanks for stopping by and reading all the way to the end. It was quite cathartic getting in all down and out there!

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  2. Politicians play to the biggest fears of the widest group. Sadly, too many people pick up on the soundbite without looking at the bigger picture…

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