“Suspended in time.”
That is the phrase I most often use to describe our little family’s five months in Finland earlier this year. We arrived during the darkest time, navigated weeks of frigid cold, socialized with each other in our warm apartment punctuated by quick trips to the grocery store and playground. Despite our clear lack of social ties, I did not miss life in the states. I did not miss Colorado. I did not miss my home. Operating in our own universe for awhile without the constant chatter and frenzy of American life was welcome.
We read tons of books. We built huge Lego castles. We played dress-up. We spent tons of time in the kitchen. We hiked in the snow and played on frozen jungle gyms and built snowpeople and slid down icy slides. We rode the bus and walked long distances shoving our less-than-Finnish umbrella stroller through the slush. We went sledding at night. We watched cartoons in Finnish. We embraced the Moomin family.
By and large, Finland was an easy place to be for a first foray into international living. Public transportation is consistent and gets to most places. Corner grocery stores are everywhere. Most people speak English well. Buildings were warm. Places are well-lit at night when trying to navigate slick sidewalks. Crime rates are low. Ironically, though, I did not love Finland. It was tough for me to be in a place with so little sunlight. It was difficult (but, ultimately, liberating) to not make eye contact with strangers on the street. It was initially daunting to make professional connections for my research. It was challenging to make Finnish friends and get the insider’s perspective on life in our town.
Paradoxically, with each passing day, I miss Finland a little bit more. Incongruous though it may seem, I really do. Despite the beautiful summer in the mountains, I am wishing that I was exploring the Aland Islands between Sweden and Finland. Despite seeing family and friends, I am wishing that I was foraging for blueberries and cloudberries with kind Finns who invited us along for the day. Despite our daily play in the river and the creeks, I am yearning for the Finnish summer cottage experience complete with sauna and sausages. All three of us, multiple times now since June, have shared the sentiment that we wish we were back in Finland, even if only for a few extra months. I anticipated some sort of reverse culture shock and I was right in doing so. Yesterday at the supermarket I stood dumbfounded in front of three dozen kinds of salsa pining for the corner grocery store in Jyväskylä where I knew that I would have two, maybe three, types of salsa, maximum, from which to choose. I liked the limits of that. I get overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless options of condiments, and everything else, here at home.
While there, I became friends with a woman from New York City who was there on the same grant as I was. She returned to the states last week and I texted her to welcome her home. She wrote back, “We didn’t both dream all of that, did we?”
“I think we did,” I replied.
So I didn’t love Finland and I didn’t miss home. Dream-like. Suspended in time.