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How to make a soft landing to a new country

Moving to a new a country, municipality or a city can be simultaneously a wonderfully freeing and frightening experience. Finding new friends, family doctor, hairdresser, dentist, schools for the kids, a job and concurrently getting familiar with the new way of life, its culture and habits is not a small task.

A little guidance can be extremely helpful in the beginning, such as having a friend who can tell you where you can find flu medicine for your kid, how to buy tickets to a bus, or what you need to do to get your first cell phone contract.

My personal experience has been, as I have moved first from Finland to the U.S. and then after 20 years back again, that volunteering my time helped me to get accustomed to the culture, learning language and most of all finding new friends.

I remember how overwhelming the first couple of months were in the new country. As I was waiting for my work permit, taking care of the family, and renovating our home that we had just purchased, I was volunteering as much as I could. Each Monday I volunteered at my sons’ school as “teachers help” for the first grades, I volunteered at Finlandia Foundation teaching Finnish to Americans, I taught kids at Suomi-Koulu, and helped the local church to organize a yard sale to start with. From those experiences I learned many things about my new community. I learned how people behave, what their values are, what makes them laugh, I also learned to be more like “one of them” which helped me feel connected to my new home and finally, I made many new friends, friends that I still keep in touch with. Volunteering made me feel that I belonged and that I was valued, and that is not a small accomplishment.

Fast forward 20 years and I was back in Finland! In some ways, moving back to your native country can be more overwhelming than moving to a new. The reason being, that when you move to a new country you expect things to be different, but when you return, you may think you know the place and its systems. However, then longer you are gone the more changes you will face. I left Finland, when Finnish mark (markka) was still the currency, busses had tickets, food/restaurant culture was non-existing, and Nokia had not yet seen its glory days. As I returned, I quickly realized that this is not just an easy return to the “old”, but rather more like moving to a totally new country. So, I decided to be curious about this new experience. That attitude served me well. Rather than spending time in comparing how things used to be, with a curious mindset you are open to all the new experiences. Open mind, curiosity and humor takes you far. It does not take away the frustration, when you can’t even get a phone contract without someone guaranteeing you, or you don’t know how to pay at the gas pump, or where to get your bus tickets and so forth. However, those are small things. Personally, I think that once you have at least one friend who can guide you, you are much better off. New friends can be found in many ways. If you are lucky to have a job when you move, then that is the most natural way of getting friends. If not, you can join some groups with similar hobbies, or volunteer your time, as I did. Main thing is that you reach out to others. Unfortunately, no one will come knocking on your door. Especially in Finland, but many doors will open if you knock.

Naturally volunteering is not the only way, but it can be one of the ways. The benefit of volunteer work is that you can give your time and skills to causes that are close to your heart, you can set your own schedule, you can learn new skills and again, find new friends. For me volunteering has given me a sense of belonging. It was wonderful to feel needed and wanted by my volunteer peers.

SAM offers many volunteer opportunities that may help you find your place in the society. We would love to see more Americans in Finland getting involved and making SAM part of their social network. Our door is open for you.

We are especially excited about our latest collaboration with ELY´s coaching program. It offers career counseling, part-time and flexible work opportunities and self-employment options for people returning to workforce after family leave. The service is free of charge. Currently the program is available in Helsinki, Tampere, Turku, Oulu, Kuopio and Lappi region.

What is SAM?

SAM is a non-profit organization promoting cultural exchange between United States and Finland.

Consider SAM as platform for volunteers, who share common interest in American and Finnish cultures.

We have around 30 chapters in Finland, e.g. SAM Helsinki, SAM Turku, SAM Oulu, and SAM Kuopio. Each chapter looks exactly as its members and their interest are. Some focus more on organizing cultural events, such as Halloween and 4th of July, some operate English speaking Kindergarten, offer lectures, some have Book Clubs, and others meet regularly over coffee and “pulla”. Whatever the activities are they are created and operated by our volunteers. SAM is always open for new ideas, new “clubs” or interest groups.

The umbrella organization (SAM Suomi) also organizes events that member organizations can benefit from. There are webinars, lectures, exchange programs, training, education and much more.

How can you join?

· Find here if there is a local chapter in your location.

· Contact the chair of your local chapter.

· Sign up as a volunteer here.

· Call any of us, and let´s talk!

· Check out our event calendar and join any of the events!

Lena Grenat is an Executive Director at SAM.

Lena lived 17 years in the U.S.A., where she worked in large national and multinational firms and founded three businesses. She is a mother of two sons.

She has moved around enough to learn how to start a career from scratch multiple times, by investing in networking, creating your personal story, and having a growth mindset. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business managements from University of Phoenix.

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