A Fleeting Moment In Finland

I get this question often, and perhaps you have wondered it as well. I have an unusual name, and often when people meet me their first question is where I am from. Now, that’s a trick question, and the answer is quite convoluted. I shall tell you that I am Australian by birth, raised by Finnish parents with Finnish language, customs and foods, raised primarily in Canada and am a Canadian citizen by naturalization, and I make my permanent home in the United States. That makes for four countries to which I could pledge my loyalty.

Now you might be interested in hearing about how I moved to the United States, although the story really is not that terribly relevant to my current visit to Finland. I married my husband at the ripe old age of 20 years, and he initially moved up from the United States to Canada where we lived for the first three years of our marriage. We then decided we were going to move to Arizona, so when our plan came to fruition we packed a U-Haul truck and drove to the border at Detroit, MI. We had two kids at the time buckled in the front of the moving truck with us.

The border agent asked our nationalities, and then asked where we were going, to which we answered we were moving to Arizona. Well, he pointed at David and the kids and said, “You and kids can go, but she can’t!” It hadn’t even occurred to us that I needed to apply for a green card to move to the U.S. David and the kids were American citizens and could of course move into the U.S. However, as a Canadian citizen I needed to get my paperwork processed prior to moving.

Well, you don’t just turn some border crossers away as you might know. We had a van loaded to move to Arizona, including all my parent’s stuff too. We had all their stuff because they were moving down to Arizona also, although they had the appropriate paperwork in order.

We devised a plan. We turned the moving van around at the border and went back into Canada. We rented a car and left the moving van in Canada. We drove the car to the next border crossing station, and told the guard that we were going to go visit in Michigan for the day. My heart was in my throat the whole time as I was not used to telling half truths! The border patrol agent let us through no problem. Then David left me and the kids in a hotel in the Michigan side of the border, and he drove back to Canada, retuned the rental car and picked up the moving van again. This time he had no trouble crossing. And that’s how I became an illegal immigrant. It took me a year to get my documentation.

I like to say that I choose to live in the United States because it is the last bastion of freedom in this world, although more and more I am beginning to doubt this contention. I feel like I have little connection to Australia other than having been born there. Maybe someday if I make it back there I will have a revelation of sorts. Canada is a beautiful and diverse country and I am proud to bear a Canadian passport. However, of all of these countries  I feel my spirit connects with my Finnish heritage more than any of the others. Thus it is that when I land in Finland I immediately feel a sense of calm and belonging.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love the United States even though I am not American in the real sense of the word. I have lived there for most of my adult life. In fact I get tears in my eyes whenever I have been at the kids school when the kids recite the pledge of allegiance. Somehow that always touches me.

I feel that I am home now in Finland. I really don’t know why. I haven’t actually spent much of my life here, just one year as a 5 year old when we moved from Australia, one year as an exchange student, and two years from 1999-2001 when we lived here with our family. Yet somehow my heart seems to belong here. As I mentioned earlier I was raised by Finnish parents with significant Finnish influences that helped shape who I have become.

I think what I so love is the simplicity of life, the unpretentiousness, the natural beauty, the cleanliness, the fresh air, the forests, the genuine people, the feeling of safety and security, the midsummer night sun, the lakes and saunas and cabins. Perhaps it’s how the Finnish people revere childhood and celebrate families, their appreciation for the classic and tradition. I can’t pinpoint precisely what it is that makes me so delighted to be here, but a sense of calm envelops me.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, when I came to Finland as a 17 year old student I had a really hard time adjusting to this land of my forefathers. Despite my very Finnish upbringing in Canada, I felt like a total foreigner in Finland. Perhaps it was my childishness, pure and simple, I didn’t want to be Finnish. I didn’t like very many things about Finland. I was extremely homesick, and was ready to go home early already at Christmas break. Lucky for me my parents came to Finland with my younger siblings for three weeks at Christmas time, which gave me what I needed to stick it out and finish the school year.

Fortunately I stuck it out. My life is so much richer on account of it. I think that if I hadn’t, I may have never felt the urge to go back and to discover how much I truly love the home of my forefathers. I love the history. I love the strength of the people, how they endured through the long, harsh, dark winters to survive and flourish, to become a nation of doers. I love the language, poetic and descriptive. This is a nation of people who believe in putting others first, in serving their countrymen, in honesty and integrity, in education and intelligence and professionalism, in social equality and fairness for people from all walks of life, in spirituality and honor and respect, in duty and responsibility. All these values I hold true and dear to my heart. This country of only about 5 million people has a standard of living rated among the best in the world and its people rank second in happiness worldwide. How can you argue with that?

My dear daughter, Aundrea, and my friend are waiting for us at the airport. I will be here for two days, and then Andrea will take the kids up north to Oulu. As for me, I will be heading off to China for my friend’s daughter’s wedding. It is late when we arrive, and we are all going over to my friend’s house for the night. I don’t take many photos there because they are very private people, so I don’t have a lot to share, other than to say I am very happy to see my friend and her family for our brief visit.

The next afternoon we head off to another dear friend’s home where we will be spending the night. Here too we get treated like royalty. We have dinner and sauna in traditional Finnish style. The kids play and play and play. They have so much fun!

After breakfast the next day we head off to my nephew’s house renovation project. My nephew and his wife have prepared a barbecue lunch for us. My son-in-law is there to greet us. He takes over the barbecue grill. We have a delicious lunch after which we head on over to the airport.

It’s time to say goodbye to my babies….

That’s it folks, just a quick two days in Helsinki, and now I am off to China, which is pretty random. My babies are going to Tampere Finland with Aundrea for a few days and from there up to Oulu. The next week they will be going up to Kuusamo. Somehow I wonder if I should have decided just to stay in Finland instead of running off to China. Oh well, let’s see how this all comes together.