I am an immigrant. Temporarily, but anyway, a stranger in a new culture. A ”gringa” in Ecuador. Everyone who gets the chance should try being an immigrant in another country. It’s made me understand a bit better how an immigrant in Finland must feel.
Of course my situation is different. I come from a developed country to a developing country, from Europe to South America. I’m white, blonde and tall, just like the beauty ideal on all the commercials and magazine covers in this country where a lot of people don’t resemble that ideal. And I know that I’m going to go back home soon. It’s easier for me than for many of the immigrants coming to Finland.
But I’ve gotten a little bit of insight in what it’s like to leave your family and friends on the other side of the world, coming to a place where you don’t know the language, don’t know any people and don’t have any countrymen to hang out with.
All though that last point usually doesn’t apply in Finland, and that could be one of the reasons if the integration into the Finnish society is slow. Here in Machala I’m the only Finn, and that’s helped me integrate. There’s no one to speak Finnish or Swedish with, no one to discuss the annoying aspects of the Ecuadorian society with, no one to talk about Finland with, no one who understands a joke about Matti Nykänen. And that’s good. It means I have to speak Spanish, learn what Ecuadorians think is funny, learn why things work the way they do here.
And friends are the best integration method! With them I speak Spanish, they answer all my questions and tell me about the country’s history. With them I listen to Latin American music, learn to dance the merengue and cook with plantains, yuca and maize, they take me around the country on the weekends. I tried to learn Spanish before I came here, but it didn’t help me a lot. The dialect is different and the speed of speech too, and you can’t learn that out of a book. After three months I finally started to understand, but I wouldn’t have done that if I could have spoken English with everybody.
It’s been easy to make friends. My colleagues have taken care of me so I won’t feel lonely. They want to show me their country, their music, their food, their history. And they want to learn about my country. Every day, even after half a year in Ecuador, somebody asks ”and how does it work in your country?”. We keep learning about each others’ cultures. I hope it’s as easy for immigrants in Finland to find Finnish friends. Because friends are the best integration method.