Visiting home before The Move

Visiting home before The Move

I wanted to take our twins to visit my parents before moving to New Zealand. We have not seen them since last summer and who knows when we are returning from New Zealand and see them again.

I applied for the Danish citizenship some years ago, when it became possible to have dual citizenship in Denmark. My main motive was to be able to vote in Denmark – otherwise, as a Finnish citizen, I had pretty much the same rights as the Danes in Denmark anyway. But now, when travelling during the pandemic, it turned out to be very useful to have both Finnish and Danish passports – easier to get into Finland as a Finn and back to Denmark with a Danish passport. Well, I noticed at the airplane, that I had taken my old Finnish passport with me (the officials did not notice that at the airport though) – but luckily I also have a Finnish ID card, which is enough when travelling inside EU. So no problems with entering Finland.

However, the airplane was small and it took 2 hours (instead of the normal 1.30hrs) to fly to Helsinki and extra 40 minutes with formalities at the border with Covid-19 check. We had negative test results from Denmark (also the twins even it was not necessary for young kids) and delivered documents on our whereabouts in Finland + reason for our visit. All in all, it went quite smoothly. Finentry was helpful and provided all information needed for our visit.

Finnish nature

Usually, when visiting Finland, I have a busy schedule trying to see as many friends and relatives as possible. Now I wanted to protect my parents from Covid-19 and did not arrange any visits with friends in beforehand. And that was good as both me and my mom developed symptoms the next day we arrived… We got tested day 3 days after my arrival (recommended in Finland) and we were both negative – so it was just a normal summer flu. Scary though – the last thing I wanted is to infect my parents with the virus!

We spent the whole time in Finland at my parents. As they live next to a forest and fields, I went out and enjoyed the nature. I realized how much I missed the quietness and being alone in the middle of nowhere. I guess I am still a Finn, after all these years in Denmark😀 The forest was green, the birds were singing (loudly!) and I did not meet anyone – bliss!

When I was running, I noticed this abandoned skate lying on a field. I had to stop and take a picture – only in Finland moment 😂❤ I was thinking of the possible story for this skate when running back to my parents and ended up with this: Rauman Lukko and Porin Ässät are rival ice-hockey teams in the area. Both are small teams and do not win the Finnish league very often. Rauman Lukko won this year (last time in 1963). Porin Ässät won in 2013 (before that in 1971 and 1978). And if Porin Ässät do not win, the worst possible winner is Rauman Lukko. I am pretty sure a disappointed Ässät fan threw this skate into the field after Lukko won – all hope was gone!

Bilingual kids – Finnish and Danish

It was wonderful to notice how the twins started speaking Finnish when in Finland. I speak Finnish to them at home but they usually answer in Danish and I have been too lazy to force them to use Finnish with me.

At the airport the other one got silent, when she was asked questions in Finnish but the other one came to rescue and answered on her sister´s behalf. They need to communicate in Finnish with my parents and as my mom is hearing impaired, they need to articulate clearly with her. After few hours with them, the main language used was Finnish. They make mistakes, typical for foreigners speaking Finnish – we do have 15 grammatical cases in Finnish – but for me that is fine. It is enough for me that they can communicate and survive in Finland with the natives.

I have been reading a book about bilingualism by Francois Grosjean. He speaks 4 languages himself and writes, that his best language varies – based on his whereabouts and people he is communicating most with.

Grosjean writes about a complementary principle which is very much my experience with our twins:

“Bilinguals usually acquire and use their languages for different purposes, in different domains of life, with different people. Different aspects of life normally require different languages.”

My parents are concerned, that the girls will forget their Finnish in New Zealand. I am confident they won´t. I will still be speaking Finnish to them and I have already found Finns in NZ with kids – the twins are forced to speak Finnish with them. Here in Denmark they speak Danish with the Finnish kids – as they all go to Danish schools and Danish is just simply their strongest language.

Back home

After 8 days in Finland we flew back to Denmark. At the airport in Denmark I got tested and had to wait for the result before we could enter Denmark.

No negative test needed before flight

Luckily Finland was a “yellow land” at the moment. That meant that I did not need to have a negative test before flying. The problem in Finland with the test results is, that when you need a proof for negative test at the airport, you have to go to a private test center and it costs 100-200 Euros depending where you are in Finland. Where I was staying in Finland, it would have cost 200€ to get tested and have a PDF document for the test result sent by e-mail. I was very happy to slip that cost.

It was not easy to check all the rules and changes day by day so travelling during the pandemic is definitely a challenge. And it is fine with me – I can totally understand it. We managed to follow the rules and had all the documents needed with us (except the old passport of mine) so we got through all the formalities in both countries. But it took a lot of researching!

The next flights will be a bit longer and the formalities and requirements will be something else. But I will write about that when I hopefully sit in our quarantine hotel somewhere in New Zealand…

Missing piece

I had my last day at work last week. It feels frightening not having a job or not really knowing what I am going to do the next couple of years. It feels like a piece of me is missing.

Your job and identity

I would define my professional identity with Before and After Teaching. I studied languages and pedagogical studies in Finland and eventually got a job as a language teacher in a business school. I liked my job and the school and students. A teacher in Finland has a lot of freedom and they are trusted experts. Days were never alike and you got to cry every spring when the classes graduated.

Then I met my Dane and moved to Denmark. I wanted to try something else than teaching – I thought I would go back to teaching once I had learned Danish. Life happened – I never got back to the classroom. I managed to learn Danish but it took a long time and by that time I was no longer a teacher.

The great unknown – career abroad

I have had quite a few jobs during my almost 15 years in Denmark. I even tried working as a substitute teacher in a private school in Copenhagen. I got a job a couple of years ago that I really enjoyed doing and where I felt I was improving and learning new skills every day. I felt the same drive as what I had as a teacher in Finland. And now I had to leave that job and jump into the great unknown.

We (me and my husband) have discussed that my task in New Zealand will be to help the twins to settle and give them the best possible start in the new country with a new language. And I am fine with that – it is a privilege to be able to do that. But knowing our twins I think that they might be fast in integrating and making new friends. What will I do then? I´m afraid I will feel restless without a job.

Redefining yourself – again

So I will have to redefine my professional me again. I have always said I would love to be an entrepreneur. But I was a teacher and being an entrepreneur was just a silly dream, I told myself. Well, now I have a chance to develop that idea, I guess. I get exhausted by thinking of the possibilities but also excited. When you are moving to another part of the world, nobody knows you. I can dye my hair blue and wear hippy clothes and pretend I have always been avant-garde like that? I guess I am not doing that.. However, now is my opportunity to take the time and think: what do I want to do (professionally) in my life? Or do I need to do that?

Karriereverweigerer

German language has a word for a person whose priorities lie somewhere else than in her career. I am not a career person – if career means being ambitious about your title, how many people you manage, how much money you earn etc. But I have always wanted to have a job with challenges and possibilities to grow and learn and it is important for me to do quality work. We Finns are quite similar to the Germans – hard work is highly valued. Nothing wrong with that – if that is what you want. But people who openly say that their values are different, are often considered as lazy.

When I stayed at home with our twins for 2 years, that was pretty damn hard job. I felt (every single day) that if I was in an office, at least I could drink a cup of coffee when it is still hot. But I loved being with the kids and chose to do it (again, we were privileged to be able to do that financially) even though it was not a standard in Denmark and I had to justify it (many Danes told me I was doing my kids harm by having them at home – they would not learn to cope socially with other kids) over and over again.

Now I need to find that same mode again – even though the kids are bigger and they don´t need me 24/7. But I am pretty sure that a new country, new culture and new language will give me a new status at home – a status, which I myself have to learn to cherish.

PS. I had this post as a draft for couple of days. I have already done some research in LinkedIn, applied for a freelance job, found a full-time distance job I am considering of applying… I try to stop myself – this post is something I need to read myself, again and again.

Against the odds

Cross-cultural marriage, twins, long-distance relationship…. Those are the factors that give low odds for a relationship to last. The cultural differences between Finland and Denmark are not that huge, of course – but there are differences. First a couple of them that I found the toughest.

Intercultural communication – Direct Finns

The worst one for me has been this: We Finns are more direct in our communication than Danes. This has caused me some challenges both at work and in private. At work I had to learn (read: still learning, still not natural for me) to “decorate” my mails and messages. With decorating I mean polite beginning and all greetings and wishes etc. at the end. Possible claim or negative feedback also needs to be said indirectly – or at least not as bluntly as I probably would do it in Finland. In private I have kept my more direct way of communicating – mostly because my husband´s family and our friends know who I am and what my intentions are and do not (I hope) think I am obnoxious or arrogant. Or maybe they do but do not know how to deal with me and my finnishness…

Party-loving Danes – more socially distanced Finns

The Danes love to celebrate everything. Mother´s cousins auntie´s 57th birthday needs to be on your calendar and the whole family is expected to participate. After moving to Denmark you soon realize none of the weekends are just yours – there is always at least one social arrangement that you absolutely need to attend. If you want to have a weekend without social engagements, you need to work for it (before Covid-19 anyway).

Then there are some bigger milestones that were new for me. The confirmation party (for confirming your religion) was a shock for me. In 2016, according to the bank Nordea, the average Danish family spent 30.375 Danish kroner (around 4000€) for the food, present, clothing and party for the teenager (who at the time is around 14 years of old) and they invite, in average, 37 guests. You need to plan a year ahead if you want to find the perfect location, catering, the right dress for the girls…

The next surprise was copper-wedding party. That is a party for having been married for 12,5 years. Could not find statistics for finances for that but I´m sure it is at least as big as the confirmation budget. I have attended only one of these myself but it was like a wedding, just without the priest and the church part. The one I attended was at least for 50 guests, everyone invited over night at a hotel with dinner and breakfast next morning. The day also includes traditions like friends and family waking up the couple with brass music etc.

I have learned to like socializing and throwing parties and inviting people to our house. What is not natural for me is, that at the beginning and at the end of any social event (within family or outside) you go through every guest and shake hands and say hello. I still find it uncomfortable. I try to be on time and one of the first guests (nobody to shake hands with)… As a Finn, I am always trying to be on time (or 5 minutes early), so that helps a lot. Danes are not as punctual as we Finns – bless them.

Twins and marriage

We survived the long-distance relationship period in the beginning, cultural differences and eventually got married and had kids. Well, twins. Parents of twins are more likely to get divorced than parents of singleton babies. And moms (probably dads as well, just less researched) have more mental health problems. I have to say I cannot remember the first year with the babies that well, although my husband was at home for 3 months with us. It was tough, mainly surviving day by day, but our relationship got stronger, not weaker. I stayed at home for 2 years with the girls and really enjoyed the second year.

Heading New Zealand – challenge or threat – or opportunity?

I read this article about relationships and moving abroad. I am anticipating the same kind of stress test for our relationship as the twins were. We have beaten many odds by sticking together and our family, so I am optimistic about this next step in our life and that it will bring us more positive experiences than negative. I am optimistic by nature and a risk-taker. When things get too secure and predictable in life, I get anxious. That´s why I didn´t really think twice when the opportunity to move to New Zealand was ahead of us.

How to prepare a child to move abroad

Our twins are around 10 years old and not (at all) alike. The other one has been heart broken about us moving away, her missing all her friends, not being able to speak and understand the local language… just to name a few. Now that we got the border exemption, flights and the quarantine hotel booked we decided to contact the school here in Denmark and also all the parents of the twins´ classmates.

Find the pain

The more troubled twin seemed almost like a new person when she came home from school after all the adults had gotten our e-mail about us moving. She had been talking to her friends about our plans but had not really had any adult in the school to support her and apparently some of the kids thought that it would not be possible for us to move. She was relieved that “now the others believed her”. It has always been a big thing for her to be believed – that she does not lie. So maybe that was the trick? To get the adults in school and around other kids´ behind us to support her?

One morning she told me that sometimes she is almost happy about New Zealand. I asked her why, and she said that when she got the date for our move, and found out that she would still have time to go to a new club at school (starts 1,5 months before we move) and that she could still get the computer (she would have gotten a computer from school after summer), she said that she feels better. These things were never mentioned when she was really unhappy and crying – the the issues were about friends and family forgetting us while we are away. They have also talked about that at school – that we will keep contact with the class and that everybody would love to be in our shoes and move to New Zealand.

Next Steps

We decided to involve the twins as early as possible so that they would have time to get used to the idea. The next steps will be:

  • Getting them involved: “house hunt” online together online and make lists of things that they would like to have in our new home.
  • Language: I told them that we will drop the Finnish lessons they have been having every other week. Instead, I will teach them English. We will start once a week and see if we can practice at least 2-3 times a week the closer we get to the move.
  • Get to know our new home town online together: We will find out together what Christchurch looks like, what do they have there, how the climate is etc.

I am planning to start this next week. The other twin does not seem to be concerned at all and is talking about the move to everybody. The other one, however, is still quiet about it sometimes and prefers not to talk about the moving too much. I think I need to get them involved separately, because the happy twin will get the other one even more shut down with her positive approach.

It is not easy and my mother´s heart is sometimes aching for the silently grieving little girl. I can only hope this will turn out fine and that we all will get the experience of our lifetime.

Second thoughts

I have always done this, my whole life. I get excited about something big and get dedicated and do not give up before I have turned every stone to achieve my goal. Then I start hesitating and second guessing after succeeding – like now.

Moving to the other side of the world with kids

My biggest concern is our twins. The other one is very happy-go-lucky and does not worry too much about the next day. The other one, however, is very unhappy about moving to NZ. Listening to her thoughts is tough and makes me think if this is the right thing to do. Am I going to make my kids´ life a misery. Taking them away from their friends, home and everything they love here in Denmark. What if they don´t learn the language, have problems getting friends, hate New Zealand… What if, what if.

How to make the move easier for all of us

If we did not have the pandemic, I would hire a tutor for the twins to get some extra help with English. Maybe that will be possible in the spring, I really hope so. Otherwise I will start the tutoring myself.

We will arrive in NZ with 4 suitcases in the middle of the night, local time. We need to find a house where to live in Christchurch. I will try to narrow down the areas in the city – but it is hard when you know so little. My most important criteria are a good school for the girls and a solid house or flat on the ground floor that does not fall apart in case of an earthquake (omg -cannot even think about those). It should be close to my husbands office so that he does not have to commute a long time and also close enough some kind of center with shops and city life. Sounds simple but when you know very little about the town and country you are moving to, you end up searching and reading very controversial opinions given by people you don´t know.

We only live once

Every time I start thinking about the scary things about moving and second guessing our decision I find it comforting to asking myself: If you decided not to move because of being scared – would you regret not taking the chance? I know I would – we would regret the rest of our life not giving the opportunity a chance. So after all, the decision was not that hard. We only live once – and we have been lucky to have this opportunity to explore the world and show our kids that the world is full of possibilities.

Moving to New Zealand gets real

In the beginning it was just a dream

Quite a few years ago we visited New Zealand and fell in love with the country. The same time my husband was contacted by a headhunter, who asked if he could think of moving to Australia or New Zealand. Well, after the trip to North Island we definitely could think of that!

However, the timing was not right and we stayed in Denmark. Years went by, our twins got older, economical situation changed and suddenly it could be possible for us to think about moving to the other side of the world. But hey – shit happens – or virus – and we did not think it was possible to move anywhere.

New Zealand and Covid-19

The Kiwis did what the rest of the world could not – they beat the virus and found out the way how to control the possible outbreaks. We were offered professional help in case we wanted to move to NZ and decided to accept it. Suddenly we got a mail that we had been granted a border exemption. Now all we needed to do is to book a quarantine hotel and flights. Sounds easy but it was not. The hotel rooms were booked for the coming 3 months and that´s it. We checked the page regularly and one night – early morning in NZ – they had added more months and dates for hotel booking. We had to act fast and also book the flights as you needed to give those when booking. The dates disappeared as we were booking so it was very lucky that we saw the dates before going to bed that night. Only after having booked the rooms and flights we looked at each other and said – we are moving to New Zealand!

Long list of things to do for moving from Copenhagen to Christchurch

Although we have had this dream for years, we kind of gave up a little after the pandemic and did not think about the practical things. Now, as the reality of the moving in few months hit us, we have a long list of tasks to do. Rent out our house, sell our car, finish the changes we started last spring in our garden, find out where to put our stuff that we are not taking with us… I do not mind the list – doing stuff you know how is easy. I am more worried about the things I cannot control, don´t know and can only see once in NZ. But that will be the topic of my next post.