A guide to Third culture life here for English speakers
You arrive at the airport and find your beloved Finn waiting for you, then you are whisked off to the countryside to enjoy light filled nights, sauna, swimming in a lake in the forest – the whole package. This start to a life in Finland may sound familiar to many of those who came to Finland for love – for a girlfriend or boyfriend they met overseas or in their own country. It is also the opening sequence of one of my favourite TV shows: Welcome To Sweden, a comedy starring Greg Poehler which depicts an American man’s difficulties when he moves to Sweden to live with his beautiful blonde girlfriend.
I love Welcome to Sweden because it makes many of the difficult things about moving to a new country (particularly a Nordic country) humorous – and it makes one feel less alone. Watching the character of Greg Poehler wonder aloud what time it was at 11.30 at night when it’s still daylight, struggle to fit in with his girlfriend’s friends because he can’t speak the language and accidentally wear shoes indoors is so cathartic. What foreigner hasn’t made all those mistakes in Finland, and more? And the scene in which he struggles in a nude sauna with his girlfriend’s family on the first day he meets them is pure gold.
One of the things I love most about Welcome to Sweden is that it gives a cultural reference point for my life in the Nordic region. It shows how a fellow English speaker can suddenly feel totally out of depth in a new society, struggling to find work, to learn the language and to make friends in a foreign culture. The series represents in some ways what the Third culture life of an expat or migrant in Finland might look like. A Third culture is defined as not the first culture of origin, neither the culture of the country you are in, but a new, third culture which is a blend of the two that suits your new circumstances.
Understanding the new Third culture that I inhabit in Finland has helped me enormously, and finding your own understanding of your new Third culture here may help you too. There are disadvantages to trying to ‘blend’ in so much to Finland that one becomes like a native, because your own cultural background is an important part of who you are too. There are also disadvantages to avoiding spending time with Finnish people or learning Finnish by isolating yourself into an expatriate’s lifestyle and only socialising or working with fellow expats or migrants. This kind of lifestyle which includes some level of avoidance of Finnish life can leave people feeling disconnected from the social and cultural environment that they are living in.
It is worth thinking about what your Third culture life in Finland like might look like if you stay longer than one summer. Would you surround yourself with fellow migrants who have the same struggles and experiences? Would you include migrants, expats and native Finns in your friendship circles? The important thing is that you find a lifestyle and social network that makes you feel more at ease in your life in Finland. If you feel like you are alone with your Finnish partner and their Finnish family and friends and constantly feel like you are on the outside, this does not make life easy for you here. I recommend doing anything you need to do to feel more at home in Finland – perhaps even including binge watching Welcome to Sweden whenever you need a good laugh.
Stay tuned for more articles on this topic over the summer!