In this week’s episode, Jean chats with Aino, a lecturer at Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences. Jean met Aino in Jyväskylä, where Jean was studying and Aino was teaching.
Aino earned her Bachelor’s degree in social services at Laurea UAS in Espoo. She then went on to work in child protection, family work, and kindergartens in the Helsinki area. She later studied social sciences at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio before moving to Armenia to pursue work in children’s rights.
Aino was recruited to her dream job working at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in Armenia. There, she met her husband and began assimilating into Armenian culture. She felt that her background in social services, which taught her to relate to others, helped her through the process of assimilation.
She is glad to have married someone from an unfamiliar culture, because she feels that it enriched her life and helped her learn more about herself. However, Aino’s desire to connect to Armenian culture eventually made her feel like she was losing parts of her own culture. She realized that she wanted to preserve parts of her Finnish identity.
“It’s a two-way process where we are giving from our culture… but we are learning from the other side as well.”
Upon returning to Finland, Aino experienced “reverse culture shock.” She was caught off guard by Finnish customs and attitudes that used to be second nature to her. For example, she began working at an NGO in Finland, where she spoke enthusiastically in meetings with a strong tone of voice and expressive hand gestures. From the reactions of those around her, she understood that the speech patterns and body language she had picked up in Armenia were startling in a Finnish context.
“I was talking to people, I was opening up and asking how they are. I continued the same way as it was in Armenia.”
Another custom she picked up in Armenia was the tendency to stand in closer proximity to others. People stood close together in Armenia- they might even take something from your shopping basket at the store! When Aino went shopping in Finland, she quickly realized that she was standing too close to others. These experiences helped her reflect on the Finnish customs she had grown used to before living in Armenia.
“It brings something new to your identity,” she said. “It’s interesting how identity is created and how it might change in different situations… like a chameleon.”
She realized that some Finnish social norms did not actually come easily to her, and thought that they might not come naturally to other Finns, too. She reflected on the ways in which intercultural interaction challenged her to grow into a more open-minded person.
However, there is one Finnish custom that Aino still celebrates enthusiastically: Vappu. A western holiday akin to labor day, Vappu is celebrated with marches and festivals throughout the country.
The holiday celebrates the coming of Spring, as well as Finland’s workers and the strong labor organizations that advocate workers’ rights. People celebrate by wearing student overalls and graduation caps, having picnics, and drinking (of course).
Traditional food and drinks enjoyed on Vappu include sima (a sweet and mildly alcoholic beverage), tippaleipä (funnel cake), and munkki (a Finnish donut). Aino notes that you might be surprised at the boisterous celebrations, given that Finns are typically quiet and reserved.
“Who are these crazy Finnish people?” she joked. “Why are they there with funny hats… what happened to them? They were so decent and not talkative, until finally it’s Vappu.”
Listen in to episode 49 to hear Aino answer listeners’ questions; she gave great advice for impressing your Finnish in-laws, as well as important things to keep in mind if you plan on moving to Finland (sneak peak: bring a good pair of boots!)