My name is Anna. I come from the warm South, a place where the first heatwave already made its appearance, only to make people more excited about going to the cool sea, Greece.
Coming to Finland was one of the easiest, most natural decisions I have ever made in my life. I knew I wanted to move and explore this beautiful country from the first month that I set my foot on it. There was something in the air, in the nature, in its melancholic atmosphere during a rainy morning, which attracted me like a strong magnet.
My experience as an exchange student in Joensuu, my meetings with wonderful people, who, luckily are still my friends, and love’s calling is what made me say “I’ll be back”, you know, just like Arnold. Quickly after my return to Athens I finished my practice and thesis and graduated a few months later, only to take a 2-month summer break before packing my most important belongings in a couple of suitcases and get ready to set my life in this new place.
The first thing you need to realize as you move somewhere is that you are no longer a student. Which means that a)social interactions are different, and perhaps more difficult to establish, b)if you don’t have a relationship or a really strong friendship you don’t have the support needed for the first months, c) you haven’t gotten past the several cultural shocks, which you thought you had already gone through during your first stay in the country, d) you need to adapt in the society, meaning that you need to support yourself financially, and learn the most vital factor to survive in a longterm stay: the native language.
For the sake of this blog’s theme, I will focus on the last part (d). While an Erasmus student, I was of course in a beginners’ language class, offered by the Karelia AMK. To tell the truth, it was fun at first, but due to (more) exciting meets (and eventually, dates), and of course workshifts, I eventually dropped it and stopped going to the courses. I can’t say it would have been that important even if I had been there in the first place. At least, I think so.
While in Greece, my Finn boyfriend tried to teach me the language with the help of a book and his own creative exercises. Since he had no prior experience of teaching, and due to the distance and lack of time to learn via Word docs and Skype, I had many gaps and false ideas about how basic grammar works.
The result was that I hadn’t learnt anything all these months, until I actually had to search for a normal course. I tried “Refreshing my finnish” at the Kansalaisopisto and once again realized that I was even worse than a beginner. Luckily, only one month after my move, I got accepted in a finnish language and culture educational program, called “Kielitiellä eteenpäin”, held by the North Karelian Profession School, in cooperation with the TE-toimisto. It was a chance given by the office, as a last resort, because I was in the age limit to attend that course, while it was still August.
I remember attending one of the first classes, which was about speaking. Both student groups that had just started and those who were already 1 year at the school, were together as an experiment in this class. The teacher talked vividly in finnish, making gestures, laughing, making more and more questions at people, and giving instructions on how to answer.
I doubt I understood more than 5 words that she said through the whole time. When it was my time to answer a question, I panicked, not knowing how to say anything. English was almost forbidden to use in any class. Only one teacher would use it at the start as a supportive language for our vocabulary, but everything was written and instructed in finnish.
The first months were torturing. I came home crying or being furious at myself and at everyone else, because of my lack of knowledge or confidence to continue. I struggled a lot and had to study even more at home every day in order to get even a tiny step further with the language.
First I developed the reading skill better than the others. My pronunciation was already good, so I didn´t have trouble with that. Then, I started writing better. I experimented a lot with the use of grammar, since things like the partitive and genitive were (and still are, sometimes) very confusing in use. Listening and speaking were the hardest parts of learning, and the truth is that if you don´t eventually get out of the school environment, you will never learn how to listen and how to speak.
Like a baby, I started listening to others, copying and many times guessing how to use their words as my own. When winter passed, I had already seen quite an improvement in myself. However, I was still escaping to using english when I would find difficulties in my expressions. That was over once all students were arranged to have practices at a workplace for 4 weeks. This was the greatest opportunity to meet the finnish culture and communication outside of the safe bubble you learned in. It was really hard, but you had to cope with it, ask over and over again, and get out of your shell once and for all.
The greatest thing happened in spring, just after the end of my practice, and before our graduation.
I realized that I spoke much more, also easier, with more confidence, faster even, without fear and stress. I knew the mistakes I made, recognized them immediately, but would not stop for anything.
Something locked in my brain, after all the knowledge I received, which instantly improved everything in my communication. I even wrote a small speech for our graduation ceremony.
Of course, I know that the effort must continue. I have to study harder in order to get further, and chase any opportunity which can get me closer to my interest for a job, and to my dreams. There are people willing to help the immigrants, like the JoMoni multicultural association, by holding free language courses, or even students, like the Finnish Language Cafe, with so many participants every semester. The Kansalaisopisto might also be a decent choice, even though I strongly recommend chasing the educational programs from the TE-toimisto, in case you really need to work on your finnish, since those are everyday lessons, and not only 3 hours a week.
My advice is to not have fear for something new. There is always a reason why we should try, even if we do not achieve something great right away, even if it seems hard and exhausting sometimes. If you really like Finland, then it is worth to try to be a part of it through its language and culture, and along the way you will find the support you need, and you will impress, and even inspire, those around you.
And my final advice, is to enjoy the finnish summer. It is rather short, I hear, but wonderful.
Anna Adamopoulou (Anna Adams)