Finding Home: Ukrainian in Finland

By Yana Basenko

As Heraclius said: “The only constant thing in life is change”. It is ingrained in us. It is an inevitable part of our life cycles. It is unavoidable and quite essential. You are not the same person you were a year ago; tomorrow will mold you into a new “you”. Circumstances, people, events, experiences – all leave a mark that in one way or another changes your reality and perception.

Travelling often takes it to a whole new level, where you get a chance to not only develop yourself but also dip your toes into the understanding of a completely different culture and way of living. The upbringings, surroundings, economic and political influences – have all shaped you into the unique individual you are today. The habits and norms vary from one part of the world to another making cultural integration a challenge for those who decide to leave outside of their home country.

Being raised in Ukraine and now having lived over 5.5 years in Finland I can say that it has been the most powerful time of self-discovery I have lived through. Coming here at the age of 17 has definitely made it a lot easier to adapt to the local way of living as all the existing beliefs still had space for adjustment. I have never seen the world as black and white, instead, I’ve always made sure to allow myself to notice and appreciate a different life perspective.

When immigrating to a different country, one often runs into an existential dilemma of how to adapt to a whole new culture while also maintaining part of your upbringing. How do you integrate the two and to what extent do you do that? I don’t have the answers to that and I don’t think anyone truly does. These experiences are so unique, unmatchable almost like fingerprints.

In the past years, I’ve learned to take the best of both worlds and mold them into one. The “best” parts are, of course, incredibly subjective – we all see things through a completely different lens. However, what I’ve gained from the experience is the beauty of integration, finding the balance between the two. Finns value personal space, while Ukrainians love being close. One culture is more individualistic, while the other one focuses more on the community. In Ukraine, small talk with strangers is an essential part of everyday life, while in Finland people tend to avoid it and communicate when necessary. At first, such an approach took me by surprise but having lived and adjusted accordingly I’ve found the balance that works quite well. The extremely loud and outspoken extrovert has now grown to enjoy solitude and silence. The Finnish slow living and comfort come hand in hand with the hassle and excitement of my Ukrainian soul.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to find a place I could call home; is it in Ukraine or Finland or elsewhere? Having taken some time to reflect and assess, I can firmly say that home is not an actual place – it is a feeling. I haven’t fully reached it yet but with each passing year of integration and acceptance, I feel the warmth and comfort that comes with the sense of belonging. If you search for the differences you are guaranteed to find them but if you take a little closer look           – you will start seeing the similarities that we all share.

Yana Basenko is a talented young Ukrainian writer who came to Finland to study and work just 5 years ago. She has just started as a new columnist for FinnishNews and as readers will discover, she is an excellent writer with a good command of English. She comes with that refreshing approach of a younger people full of positive expectations but with a steady eye for detail about us Finns. Your correspondent, also an immigrant from the early 1970’s, feels more like a Finn today than the rather shy lanky guy who arrived on the Baltic Steamship Line’s MS Krapskaya in June 1967! One wonders what Yana will be like in 53 years’ time…

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