By Clare Nauman.
Finland is my new home. I love it for its lakes and forests, the relaxed pace of life, and the emphasis placed on time with friends and family. I found warm, wonderful people here. I credit them with my sense of place and home. But getting to this point came after much turmoil — moving to Finland has been a crash-course in loss, resilience, and the power of connection.
In March of 2020, I was living in Brooklyn, NY, as a freelance event producer. My boyfriend, Jaakko, was 7 hours ahead in Finland. My flexible work schedule allowed us to see each other often for an international long-distance relationship. We were planning our next visit, and my work contracts were piling up for what was sure to be a busy and rich year.
Of course, life changed drastically, dramatically, and suddenly. The borders to the US and EU abruptly shuttered on March 10th, and a few days later all of my work contracts were cancelled. I found myself stuck in my parents’ home in California as lockdowns in the US were announced state by state. Uncertainty reigned. Jaakko and I called each other daily, now 10 hours apart in time zones. We guessed at how long the borders would stay closed. We watched the news closely. We spent five months waiting for something to change.
Connecting with strangers on the internet was new to me, but a need for information drove me to find an online movement called Love is Not Tourism. The movement is made up of partners separated by border closures exchanging information to help each other reunite with their loved ones. I found the subgroup for Finland and worked virtually with a few other Finns and Americans to petition the Finnish government to let in unmarried couples. Finally, in July of 2020, Finland opened its borders to unmarried partners (the US borders remain closed to EU citizens as of this writing.)
Jaakko and I prepared a letter of invitation, proof of passports, addresses, and a negative covid-19 test for me to get past the Finnish border. I packed my bags and flew through eerily empty international airports. After so much upheaval and uncertainty, I pinned my hopes on the promise of novelty and opportunity in Finland.
And so I moved to Finland. We’d discussed my move to Europe in the past, but the pandemic threw our next steps into clear relief. We moved into a sunny new apartment together in Tampere in August, where Jaakko is finishing his PhD. I joined the wonderful program for international partners, Hidden Gems. I now credit Hidden Gems with giving me a major leg up in entering Finnish culture, the language, and introducing me to local groups and clubs. Still unemployed, and with a residence permit application and waiting times to navigate, I focused my efforts on meeting as many new people as I could. I eagerly joined local groups JCI United and International Working Women of Finland. The relaxed pandemic guidelines of the time were a miracle coming from the tense, limited atmosphere of California-in-lockdown. I relished meeting with people face-to-face and making new connections as I wove the beginnings of my new Finnish network.
The pandemic decimated my NYC event and marketing network; most people were laid off or furloughed. There was no work and no sign of when work would come back. I turned my professional sights on my future in Finland, knowing that the pandemic ensured I had nothing to lose. Using knowledge gained from the Hidden Gems program and leaning on my strong experience, I applied and landed a few interviews. But alas, the winter had other plans for me. I got a bad concussion and began 2021 on the couch for 2 months, recovering.
It was a quiet winter. My first in the far north and extreme dark. I waited for my concussion to subside, and to hear if my residence permit was processed. The pandemic reared up again in our area and we rode through another period of lockdown. Jaakko and I both lost family members within a few weeks of each other; one expected, the other not. I grieved from afar, unable to re-enter Finland without my residence permit if I were to return to the States.
Spring crept in and slowly the dark conceded its long hours to light. We heard birds getting louder outside our windows. As my concussion receded, I woke back up to my surroundings and my potential within Finland. However, still no sign of my residence permit. I was soul-weary but determined. Around this time Bloom opened. I felt aligned with its mission of connecting the international community to each other, our city, and supporting our experiences as we learn to call Finland home. I began volunteering and found much needed grounding meeting new people again and sharing our stories. I understood the necessity of creating community with others whose lived experiences mirrored mine. That connection is the place where resilience begins.
Through the hardships of the past year plus, I am grateful for the people who paused and gave me their time. They gave me back my mooring. Their support has looked like introductions to more good people; sharing special bottles of Russian wine; delivering Spanish tapas and treats while I was concussed; hosting me at their summer cottage; making art together; listening to me on my bleakest days; recognizing my strengths and inviting me to the board of Bloom.
Now, in the throes of a dazzling Nordic summer, my determination grows. It grows in spite of enduring obstacles. I am still waiting on my residence permit almost eight months later. The permit is my ticket to working again, traveling to see my family, health benefits, and more. However, I’ve accepted that I cannot influence or change its arrival. Instead, I use my time to invest in the people here. We come together over meals and wine, projects for the international community, and our delights and discomforts in Finnish society. Our time together feeds my sense of perseverance; tells me I’m on the right track.
Despite the challenges, I am still glad to be in Finland. Jaakko and I love living in Tampere for the comfortable day-to-day life and beautiful nature. We are looking to the coming months with hope as my industry comes back and the world opens up more. In the meantime, we push on, bolstered by a flourishing community.
For more information about Bloom, please visit www.bloomtogether.fi