In this interview, we sat down for an interview with Shanarah and Maria, two Kindergarten teachers who work in Finland. Although they have vastly different backgrounds, they both moved to Finland for love and became early childhood educators. We have transcribed the interview below, adjusting questions and responses for brevity. To hear the complete interview, please give episode eight a listen. Enjoy!
Tell us about yourselves. Where are you from, and how did you end up in Finland?
Shanarah: I am from Brisbane, Australia and I moved to Finland in 2016 with my partner, who is Finnish. We met at university in Australia.
Maria: I am originally from the Philippines. I moved to the Falkland Islands when I was 10, and then to St. Lena, then England, then Libya, and finally to Finland in 2013! I met my husband, who is Finnish, on holiday in the Philippines.
What did you know about Finland before you arrived?
Maria: I had no idea what to expect! When I got here I thought, “For a city, there are so few people!” Now, I really appreciate it.
Shanarah: That’s true! If you talk to a Finn from the country, they think Helsinki is NYC or something. It is quite busy compared to other places in Finland. I had visited Finland twice before, in the summer and in the winter. I found it relaxing and calm compared to Australia. It is easy to just be here.
Did you experience any culture shock when you moved to Finland?
Mar: When I meet my bf's friends there is no kissing on the cheeks or giving hugs: best friend he actually hugged me with feelings! (Had a few drinks) but when he did, it was more meaningful.
Shanarah: At first, the weather was shocking. The first winter was hard because of the darkness. Now, I see it as a time to stay home and relax.
Maria: So far, the winter doesn’t bother me; I'll go on holiday if it does someday, like my Finnish friends who leave for the winter. If you make an effort, give yourself a fighting chance, it will be okay.
What do you appreciate about living in Finland?
Maria: I appreciate some things that I found odd before. For example, if I’m on holiday, I am not as keen to meet new people now. I get really awkward on elevators! I just look down. These customs are part of me now, I adapted without forcing it. If you plan to stay here, you have to.
Shanarah: I appreciate how much easier it is to just be yourself here. There is less pressure.
What is difficult about living in Finland?
Shanarah: I began living here in a more rural place. I moved from Kouvola to Jyväskylä to Helsinki, and I found out the hard way that it is not true that everyone here speaks English. My boyfriend’s family doesn’t!
You both came here with your partners. What was that process like?
Maria: I met my spouse on holiday in the Philippines in 2011; his name is Jeffrey. We visited twice to get to know each other better before I moved in with him in Finland in 2013. The process of completing the paperwork was very quick, and the embassy was friendly and helpful. They already had my information on record from when I had applied for a tourist VISA, so my residence permit was approved in about a day. I do know it is much more difficult now, and it would take quite a bit more time to process. For one thing, I didn't have to show any proof of income or sit for an interview. After we married, I applied for a type A residence permit and found a job within one month!
Shanarah: welfare system.. I was granted a Type A permit on the basis of family ties. I had lived with my then-boyfriend for two years before applying for a VISA. After living in Finland for one year, I applied for and received my Type A permit. It is due to expire in a year! I plan to apply for citizenship in April, and I would like to hold dual citizenship in both Finland and Australia.
You both work in the same kindergarten. What does a day look like at your school?
Maria: Each day, we work on developing language skills, social skills, and respect. Monday through Thursday, we have circle time, then freeplay, and then breakfast. We then split into two groups, and spend 10-15 minutes helping the children learn to properly dress with care before going outside. Next, we have lunch, naptime, quiet freeplay, snacktime, and more freeplay!
Shanarah: I am working and in school. I assist Maria with one of her younger students, and I am enrolled in a bachelor’s program. I hope to become a kindergarten and preschool teacher. What I like most about the curriculum in my program is that it covers social sciences and issues like racism and sexism. Rather than avoid these topics, we are encouraged to be aware of how these issues present in Kindergarten settings and how they should be addressed. We work with vague curriculum rather than strict standards, encouraging children’s natural curiosity. I also enjoy the program’s play-based pedagogy — it includes teachers, too!