Expat, Nomad, Immigrant: Stories from Life Abroad - A Story of Ice and...Sun by The Elephant Mum

Welcome to my new guest post series which gives expats, nomads and immigrants a space to share their stories of life abroad and offers us a glimpse into their experiences.

The series launched with my own post, the story of how I ended up in Mexico all those years ago.  You can read it here:  Stories from Life Abroad - guest post series launch.  Last month's post was The Wrong Coat by Liberty on the Lighter Side.

Each month there will be a new post by a different contributor.  They may or may not be bloggers, they could be from any country, living anywhere in the world as expats, immigrants or nomads.  The idea is to tell as wide a variety of stories and experiences of living abroad as possible, from many different viewpoints.

This series will keep running for as long as I continue to get contributions for it, so if you would like to take part, email me at mummyandthemexicans@gmail.com and I will be happy to send you the details.

Expat, Nomad, Immigrant: Stories From Life Abroad A Guest Post Series

This month’s guest post is by Paola, an Italian expat living in Finland. She is the mother of two toddlers, through birth and international adoption. She is passionate about learning anything new and about parenting.  She blogs about her multicultural family at The Elephant Mum, but you can also find her on Twitter, Facebook , and Instagram .

A Song of Ice and... Sun.

Leaving Italy to Start a Life in Finland

I have never felt Italian. Italy is a fantastic place - no wonder it is depicted as a dream destination - but it's not a great country. I never truly belonged there and since I was young, I dreamt of living somewhere else and I worked hard to make that possible. Of all places, I would have never guessed I would end up in Finland.

When my university advisor suggested it as destination for a study year abroad, I didn't know anything about the place. I barely could point to it on a map. I was not able to name anything Finnish and believed Nokia was a Japanese brand. It was quite a jump in the dark but I am glad I made it.

In 2010 I left for Finland with the idea to stay only one year, but I fell in love with it immediately. Two months in and I suggested to my boyfriend, left behind with the promise "I'll be back", that he would leave his job so that we could move there. He also secretly dreamt of leaving Italy and we decided to start our life in Finland.

It was the best choice I've ever made. Finland is a great place to start and have a family. All pieces of the welfare puzzles are in place. Coming from an extremely sexist society, as a woman I felt like a person for the very first time. Our first child was born here and we adopted our youngest from India through the Finnish adoption system. They are now four and two years old, the oldest is fully bilingual.

Expat, Nomad, Immigrant: Stories From Life Abroad A Guest Post Series

Cultural integration has been hard and sometimes I feel hopeless. Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. However, the latter (and easier) is spoken by a minority, so we ended up having to learn the first, which is the most painful thing I ever had to do in my life (and I pushed out a baby). I speak Finnish for most of my daily interactions, but I prefer to speak English in my workplace. I almost gave up the idea that I will ever be a fluent speaker and I don't feel at my best self when I talk in Finnish. Despite the relatively low percentage of immigrants, luckily the work market is quite open to international employment and finding English-speaking companies is becoming easier.

Finnish people have a very well-defined culture and many societal rituals. I was motivated to learn the family-related traditions, as I want my kids to have a typical Finnish childhood. Living here has given me and my family so much in terms of culture. For starters, I discovered the love of nature. No, I'm not jumping from tree to tree in a hippy outfit - it would mean instant freezing here - but I've learned to appreciate harsher weather conditions and the simple pleasures nature can offer. I grew up in a small town, but still had a city life childhood. Here, I literally have wild forest outside my door. When our parents visit us, I can compare how limited their point of view is with respect to the one I developed here. In Italy you can count on good weather most of the time. If a couple of drops fall from the sky, you cancel your plans to go outside playing. Here you do not have this luxury, but I have learned to appreciate and live to fullest under any condition. In practice this means that my kids spend some time outside daily, something we didn't use to do in our childhood. My children pop into the forest and pick berries to eat as an afternoon snack. They catch insects and closely observe wild animals. They walk, run, swim in lakes, and do plenty of physical activity. And there's no air pollution, did I mention that?

Expat, Nomad, Immigrant: Stories From Life Abroad A Guest Post Series

My cultural integration strategy is "they'll learn to love me". I appreciate most of the Finnish customs and definitely this is the place where I feel most at home. However, on some things I truly believe that "Italians do it better" and I'm... educating them. I try to bring some positive aspects of my culture into theirs and my personal experience is that they truly appreciate it. It's a delicate balance and a dance I have learned to practice. It is something I value in my children's education as well. I encourage them to learn the local customs, but teach them to value their cultural heritage and unique perspective. 

If I stop to think what I miss about Italy... food! Finnish people are growing a palate and a taste for international cuisine, but I miss the Italian food culture, which permeates the whole society. I feel lucky my husband is Italian, as we can feel free to live our culture to the fullest at home and it doesn't feel like a minority culture. Traditional Finnish foods are... peculiar. The underlying idea of their cuisine is proving your endurance. Their top-sellers include a dessert which looks (and tastes, I would add) like poo-poo and a salty liquorice that kills your taste buds.

I miss the sun. Winters in Finland can get really dark. We live in the Southern region and still have to endure weeks with five hours or less of sunlight a day. I realized in time that it does affect your mood. No wonder the most popular Finnish cartoon character tries to kill itself in the very first episode (a taste of Finnish optimism exclusively for you, readers). Also, Finnish winter tries to kill me in many ways and especially with ice. A winter day in here is a lesson in humbleness and the caducity of life, I guess.

Expat, Nomad, Immigrant: Stories From Life Abroad A Guest Post Series

Our plan is to grow old here. To be honest, I would like to experience working somewhere else for a short time, but I am afraid my children would lose Finnish language and culture. Maybe I will do short residencies when they are older. Beside that aspect, Finland has grown to be my home and I don't plan to leave it ever again.

Find Paola at The Elephant Mum and on TwitterFacebook  and Instagram .

I hope you enjoyed this post - please share it or leave us a comment below! 

Expat, Nomad, Immigrant: Stories From Life Abroad A Guest Post Series

Next month I have another fantastic guest post by Prabs of Absolutely Prabulous. Subscribe to my blog or the newsletter to make sure you don't miss it!

Photo credit: Antique globe turned to Mexico by Adolfo Félix on Unsplash

Tale of Mummyhood Cup of Toast


  1. What an interesting read! I knew nothing about Finland until now. It seems like the perfect move for you guys! Thanks so much for sharing with #Blogstravaganza xx

  2. What a great guest post. Finland is on my list of places I'd love to visit. Thanks for joining #bloggerpinparty

  3. Wonderful post. I love your "they will learn to love me" attitude!

  4. this is very interesting to me. Here in the States there are regional differences of course, and people move often, but the differences between European countries from each other seems much more pronounced without having to travel very far #KCACOLS

  5. I had no idea about the experience of living in Finland and how it might compare to Italy so this was a really fascinating read. Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging

  6. This was a really interesting read. I've learned a lot. 5 hours of sunlight per day in the winter sounds really hard, but otherwise Finland sounds like somewhere I'd definitely like to visit. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time.

  7. I enjoyed reading this, thank you! Having grown up in Sweden, Finland is a fairly familiar country to me. We used to take a ferry across to Helsinki or Turku/Åbo sometimes when I was a kid, but we never stayed long, the ferry would usually leave for Sweden again within 24 hours or less.
    I've tried Memma (the dessert you mention, right?) and thought it was okay, but not something I'd rush out to buy more of :-)
    And the lack of light in the winter, that's similar to around Stockholm, where I'm from, and part of why I'm very thankful to now be living in the UK (and about as far south as possible here). I can't stand the cold, dark, long winters... xx

  8. The no air pollution bit got me and picking berries. It sounds so grounded and lovely. I can almost smell the fresh air! #kcacols

  9. I love reading about different cultures and why people have migrated. I love this series #kcacols

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