I have recently taken part in a project with the aim of creating an empathy from Finnish people towards refugees and migration matters. I have always thought of this as my lucky opportunity, to be a part of a meaningful project, to at least feel like I am making a change. I would keep the details of this project under low profile for now; but I mentioned this since owing to this project, I got to read two papers produced by Joanna Sell and George Simons about the state of being a foreigner in a strange land. Joanna Sell’s work involves directly with life of Frederic Chopin – a famous Polish composer and pianist. Her work reveals the mysterious life of Chopin, through his own words stating in the journal, reflecting about himself being a refugee.
The paper triggered me, providing me background knowledge about acculturation and bilingual people, from a specific single case of Chopin leading to generalisation to a wider population. Her work even inspired George Simon (as my supervisor) to produce a paper of himself, or more as a storytelling and reflection of himself. After reading that, I feel like writing my own story too. It is as if a chain has established, hopefully some of you would do the same, for any chances you might read this post.
I moved to Finland less than four years ago, voluntarily. As I might have mentioned many times throughout my old blog Tumblr, it has always been my dream to go abroad. I do not recall how it started, but I dreamed of being in a foreign plan and the though about exploring new possibilities gave me excited adrenaline ever since I was a kid. I am not a refugee or immigrant (as George described, “someone has decided or at least intended to become a permanent resident of the specific country one has entered“). I am, for the time being, only an abroad student in Northern Europe. But I found many familiar things reading George’s story.
“All of this leads to an exploration of the topic of “what is home?” Those of us who go abroad voluntarily to explore new possibilities, whether as an exchange student. To learn in a new context, or as a laborer or professional to explore new working environment or opportunities.”
I face a phenomenon addressed as acculturation—”the process of cultural change and psychological change that results following meeting between cultures.” I was born and raised in a big city, and the city I am currently living in Finland has way much lower population. In fact, the whole nation Finland does.
When I first arrived in Jyvaskyla, I found myself being scared of the space I was given, the space that nowadays I am actually in need of. Finnish people prioritise their space, and their privacy. Owing to this fact, they normally come off quite cold to people around. This is not to apply to everyone; but only the majority of people I have in contact with. I recalled the challenges I found making an effort to break into a new land, a new group of friends, a new environment with my best; so that I would not belong to the group of foreigners who only stick among the familiar people from the same background. I left my country for a purpose to explore. The effort was not successful. I recognised me doing many new things, quicker before I myself can access whether such an activity is for me. I did the actions because I wanted to fit in. I got exhausted after a while; felt confused by the overload of new changes. I crawled back slowly to a comfort zone with one close friend arriving in Finland, at the same time as me. I still tried now and then though, but not as much forceful as the beginning. I ended up building some connections with a few friends, who could join me in the common interesting activities for both sides. I started to develop my new self abroad ever since. I made decisions more on my own, rater than following a pre-decided path from society or parents like when I was in Vietnam. This was the way pushing me to form who I thought I was. I picked up many new life philosophies or beliefs or advices along the years, and kept the ones closet to my instinct, and my identity. The thing with living abroad is sometimes remembering about your core values. It is easy to be lost among variable selfs I obtain every time I move to a new place.
However so, in some of my writing, I claimed that Saigon—my home city—is still where my heart is. Despite how romantic it sounds, I occasionally question on which scale the statement is true. I came back to my city last year, shortly for a month. One might say the time is rather short, leading the time be filled more with fun and happiness, than irritation and annoyance. You might wonder why one will feel irritated and annoyed being back home? It does actually happen quite often; and academically, it is addressed as “reverse culture shock”. I also suffered from it briefly in the first week in Saigon, being overwhelmed with the crowdedness, the air, the traffic and the noise. They were distracted later by busy schedule I had to meet my friends and my relative fast. Reverse culture shock was not so strong; but the connection with the place was clearly weakened. Most of my friends who used to be so important to me, now got their own lives that are far different from mine. I saw myself not comfortable sharing any European experiences since I was shy away from the possible judgment they might form in their heads. I am not ashamed, but I am more aware of the fact how one may cope with the differences. If you ask me now the reason to return, I might just say it is for the food and for the family. I left four years ago with my own life back there; and up to this point, such lifestyle has been away from me long enough to be considered as “non-existent”.
George even mentioned: “Self esteem and identity. I’m fascinated by the fact that the immigrants often do much better than the locals in performing in school and in tasks, perhaps by but the motivation to survive and succeed in a new environment whereas the local students are comfortable and less challenged”.
I also belong to the hard-working group, which I am mostly proud to say it was due to my culture. In a way, I think my supervisor is right to point this out. Life abroad is harder than one might think, and it is sometimes not the physical sides to notice by eyes. It appears within the values and psychological mindset of an outsider. I always have this whisper in my head that I have to achieve better than my friends who stay in Vietnam, I have to be more hard-working, more patient and more talented to have a job comparing to Finnish students. All of that equals to me in a sense that I have to cope better with situations to survive. I like my freedom abroad. I like my way of living and how I have encouraged to grow and change, through each contact I have with different person I meet. In exchange for these, there always exists a sense in the back of my head “I have to…”. Again, self esteem and identity.
At the end of this post, I am left with two questions from George, the two questions I am suddenly on my way of searching answers again, in the fourth year my abroad journey.
- Cut from roots, how does one regenerate?
- Must this mean learning self generation?