"You're from Finland? But isn't that like one of the best countries in the world? Why on earth would you move somewhere else?" You can't imagine how often I've heard this. I'm so used to explaining my current whereabouts it has become like a mantra created solely to make people understand my motives for emigration. So what pushed me to leave Finland and seek life elsewhere?
THE MYTH BUSTER
The most common misconception coming with the question posed in the first sentence of this post is that somehow moving away from a country has something to do with personal hatred, disappointment or even a feeling of not belonging. My emigration from Finland somehow resonates back to people as "Finland, you failed me and we're done". Of course this can be the case, and it should be perfectly acceptable in itself - there surely are places where the state can't possibly offer its citizens the safety and economic stability they would need to establish a life there. However, as a citizen of a western welfare state with free internationally praised education, free universal healthcare system and number 5 on The World Happiness Index 2016 I can't argue that, in my situation, the reason for my emigration lies somewhere in there.
In other words, the whole affair becomes personal really fast. The two countries - your place of origin and the country of immigration - become binary opposites and are put to a position of confrontation, against one another. It's like a competition of one being better than the other. Emigration is easily taken as criticism towards your home country, which is why some Finns might get insulted from the idea of one of their own abandoning the ship and hopping the border. At the same time some locals of your new home country might find it odd you've decided to leave a place with so many virtues. "Do you think it gets any better than that in here?"
Emigration isn't criticism, not always. My emigration isn't. It's not criticism towards Finnish culture, Finnish society or the geographical area called Finland. I have no problem with the darkness, long winters, the cold, the silence of people. I never left because Finland, as a nation and as a culture, somehow failed me or disappointed me. I didn't pack my bags in anger and turn my back to it, I didn't leave as a rebellious protest accompanied with a fanfare as I boarded the plane.
As a kid I thought I would. Because yes, even at the age of 19 I still thought Finland was boring and life would surely get so much better somewhere relevant, like London or Paris. I cared much more about other people's "Finland, where's that?" than I cared about things that actually matter: economics, healthcare, safety. I honestly loathed people who would move abroad and then turn into "little Finnish wussies" missing things back home and trying to tell me how moving away makes you appreciate things in Finland. I didn't want to see or hear any of that because they proved me wrong - that moving abroad isn't magic, and secretly I still loved Finland. I was disappointed how so many expat Finns were not at all like me, who "totally wouldn't ever miss anything and I wouldn't care if I never got to speak Finnish again". And let's face it: this is probably what you expected to read from this post, right?
I was naive, and this naivety is in the core of the question at the top of this post. "Did you move away because you hate Finland?"
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
I moved away because, guys, there are things we can't learn by staying. Living abroad is like a bootcamp to surviving life: the daily struggles you face while travelling the world or immigrating to a new country are like kicks to your crotch, and with every kick you become a little stronger and a little less wimpy. In order to grow as a person you need to take hits, you need to struggle, because at those moments of anger, desperation and hopelessness you may face while being lost in the Australian bush you're face to face with your strongest possible self because you have no other choice.
That strength is something I want to train. I grew up shy, scared and almost mute. I was afraid of everything: people, house plants, loud noises, being alone. Eventually, as an adult, my life reached a state where I couldn't possibly go on the way I had, and after three years of hitting the lowest I have ever been I became angry at myself. I promised I would never be afraid like that again: afraid of disappointment, loss and confusion. I wanted to know what it would feel to be normal, to be an extrovert who isn't afraid of taking the leap and sinking into the unknown.
So I moved to Leicester. By distancing myself from Finland and jumping into my first terra incognita, the land unknown, I gave myself a chance to explore my fears related to losing control - because let's face it, moving abroad can be a pain in the ass! As time went by and I kept facing one struggle after another (missing supporting documents, wrong forms, not knowing how to pay bills for god's sake) I became used to it, and I knew to expect it. Slow and steady I learned to handle disappointments and solve problems instead of sitting down and crying about it.
I moved abroad because I needed it - many of us do. I needed to face the people, speak foreign languages, fail and then try again. We all have our own life-changing moments, and one of mine is definitely that time I sat down to my seat on my British Airways flight with a one-way ticket to London, at 05.30am in the morning. I was heading to a life of uncertainty, unpredictability and discomfort. I had no idea what I was doing and that's exactly what I needed to do.
Finland is ranked as one of the most equal countries (SOURCE) with one of the highest per capita incomes (SOURCE) in the world. Finland has incredible scores regarding freedom of speech and freedom of press (SOURCE). In this light, it might seem odd for foreigners that someone in the possession of a passport and citizenship to this Scandinavian shangri-la would voluntarily choose to move elsewhere and turn their back to all these international statistics.
I did because, despite Finland's many virtues, there's a whole world out there. There are places to be and people to meet, immigration forms to fill and trans-Siberian trains to catch. Emigration doesn't have to be criticism or trying to find greener grass from the other side of the fence: sometimes it's all about self exploration, leaping into the unknown and hunger for more life.
Will I ever move back? At this point in my life I have no clue. If I do, despite everything I've seen and done during the past three years, it will be the bravest thing I will ever have done.
Have you moved abroad? Why? Share your story in the comments below!