Instead, those looking for an alternative path to citizenship and integration into Finnish society more generally can study Swedish, Finland’s second official language, with 288,000 registered as their mother tongue, even if many more Finns speak it. For this and many other reasons, some immigrants choose the language of the “Swedish path” and immerse themselves in Finland’s vibrant Finnish-Swedish community.
One such person who did just that is Julia Qesteri, an Albanian who came to Finland to study at the University of Helsinki in 1994 and now has Finnish citizenship. Although Julian’s main motivation for learning Swedish came after meeting her Swedish-speaking husband, she wants to highlight the unexpected benefits of integrating into a minority language.
“I handed Finnish for a few years and thought that okay, now is enough,” Julia explained, adding that her previous experience of studying English made the transition to Swedish much easier.
Although he still often speaks Finnish and uses it in professional contexts, he accepts that his “life is now entirely Swedish” and that he can live much of his daily life in the language. From her hometown in Kauniainen, a Swedish-speaking city in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Julia enjoys being active in her own language.
“The Swedish community is only so welcome, more so than the Finnish-speakers,” Julia added, explaining that the small nature of the Finnish-Swedish community creates a “close” culture that facilitates integration.
“They just make so much effort to help you learn and be a part of things.”
Julia, who has turned completely to Sweden, now works at Luckan Integration, a non-profit organization that aims to help foreigners who may be integrating into Finland and who have special knowledge of the Swedish language. Their flagship service is Welcome to.fi a digital platform that acts as a universal portal for all available study, work and housing resources in Finland.
Another newcomer who has chosen to integrate in Swedish is Andrea Brandão, who originally came from Brazil in 1994 and now lives as a full – time Swedish – speaking Finnish citizen, worked as a teacher in Helsinki. Andrea first came to Finland as an exchange student before meeting her husband – also a Swedish-speaking one – and built her working life here in Swedish.
“I think I’ve spent about 20 years mastering the Finnish language, while it took about three years to learn Swedish,” Andrea explained.
Another major attraction of the Swedish route for Andrea is the active social life and strong community offered by the Finno-Swede. When he started studying Swedish, he quickly found himself full of invitations to Swedish-language sports clubs, events and associations.
“They’re really trying to make you feel welcome,” Andrea said, adding that “making friends with Finns takes a lot more time and effort because they may be less open to outsiders.”
For new Swedish-speaking newcomers, Andrea recommends the use Fritid.fi, an online portal that presents all Swedish-language cultural and leisure activities in the Helsinki metropolitan area, including beginners.
“I wish these resources had existed when I started here.”
Of course, integrating the Swedish language is not without challenges. The Swedish-speaking population of Finland has fallen from 297,000 in 1990 to 288,000 today, which worries some about the future of the language. The acquisition of the Swedish language by foreigners may prove to be a key factor in maintaining the community.
Both Andrea and Julia believe that more people would consider integrating into Swedish if there was more information about this option.
Julia explained that “very few immigrants, even those who have been here for some time, know about the possibility of choosing a language and that you have the right to request all public services and official documents in Swedish”.
However, they acknowledge that there are also challenges for those who control Sweden and gain citizenship in this way.
– The opportunity to live comfortably in Swedish depends largely on where you live, Andrea said, explaining that although there are better Swedish-language public services and jobs in Helsinki and Western Finland, those living elsewhere may have difficulty.
“It has been disappointing. Sometimes you try to get into public service and find that there is no one in the building who speaks Swedish.
Nevertheless, both are optimistic about the future in Swedish and strongly encourage other foreigners to continue along the same path, emphasizing that “there is strength in the figures” and the advantages of studying Swedish over learning Finnish.
Julia says that one of the main reasons people approach Luckan to start their trip to Sweden is that they have difficulty getting a job in Finnish no matter how long they have been studying the language.
“The Swedish language can be very advantageous if you want to work for an international company operating in Finland”; he explained.
“It also doesn’t hurt that Swedes tend to be more open to foreigners and interested in hiring them.”
For Andrea, community and social opportunities are her main attraction.
“The small size and familiarity of our community is really nice.”
“You can really build a great life here in Swedish, so give it a try.”
Those born abroad who want to integrate into the Swedish language can find out more at welcome.fi and the hobbies and associations of Swedish-speaking students and speakers at fritid.fi. Swedish-language social and cultural events can be found at Kuturforum.fi
Order in Swedish in Finland, a book on the Swedish language and culture inside Finnish society
If you need help with problems with your integration path, you can book advice from one of Luckan Integrations Advisors at Luckan Integration website.
Adam Oliver Smith – HT
Source: The Nordic Page