What it’s like to return home

What it’s like to return home

Guest columnist Anu Partanen sees the beauty in moving back “home” after living abroad for a decade.

Perspective

One spring I vacationed in Sicily. A guide took my friend and me on a horse ride. At a picturesque spot we stopped to let the horses feast from a fruit tree while we admired the view: the sea, the sun, the meadows.

La Sicilia, è bellissima,” our guide said, gesturing at the view. Yes, Sicily is beautiful. Incredibly beautiful.

I think of that moment often. Partly because it was one of the purest moments of carefree happiness in my life. And partly because of the questions I now face in my home country of Finland.

“How does it feel to be back?” Finns often ask me. On the questioner’s face is either a sympathetic grimace or a skeptical smile. The expression indicates that the questioner already knows the answer: Terrible. It must feel terrible to be back.

So why did I move back after ten successful years living and working in a hip neighbourhood in New York City?

To put it bluntly: because I like life in Finland more. This, it turns out, is very hard for Finns to accept.

Here, equal opportunity is not just a buzzword.

Finns continue to think of Finland as poor, inwards-turned, and boring. Anyone with the chance to leave should go and not look back.

Many Finns seem not to have noticed that Finland has become one of the world’s wealthiest nations, and certainly one of the most smoothly functioning countries. Not to mention that most Finns quite like living in Finland.

Perhaps Finns still identify with Finland’s history as a swampy backwater that suffered famines and oppression at the hands of other, more powerful nations. It’s hard to imagine a Finn gesturing proudly at a Finnish lake in the forest exclaiming to a foreign guest: beautiful, isn’t it!

The irony is, Finns do find Finnish lakes beautiful. They just can’t believe someone else would too.

Life in Finland is quieter than life in New York City. But what Finland offers is quality of life. Finland provides its citizens with a sensible combination of security and opportunity, resulting in higher levels of both equality and freedom. For that I credit the Nordic approach of arranging life’s most essential needs as universal public services. Finland has its faults, but it is a place where every single child is born into a system of excellent and affordable daycare, education, and health care.

Are Finnish winters long, cold, and dark? Yes. But here’s the thing.

In Sicily, it’s easy to see the beauty in the scenery. In the US it’s easy to see the wealth and the energy. In Finland, the weather is fickle, and light is scarce. Food is less tangy, the people less bubbly. The beauty of Finland is harder to see, especially to many Finns.

It’s there all the same: a society where equal opportunity is not just a buzzword but reality. Where daily life works, children are safe, and society is open and largely free of corruption. Yes, all of this is relative and never perfect. But it is real.

So, my answer is: Wonderful. It feels wonderful to be back, thank you for asking.

Plus, I’ll always have Sicily.

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