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Archive for March, 2010

A few weeks ago I was working with the archives of the dance company I’m studying. When I stopped for some lunch in the kitchen, the new intern–I’ll call her Aino–asked me, “How are you?”

I had no idea what she was saying. And it wasn’t because of her English.

“How old am I?” I asked.

“No, how are you?” she repeated.

I stopped dead in my tracks. I had no idea how to answer her; in Finland, the question “how are you?” has a rather serious connotation–you only ask if you really want to know. So truth is, I haven’t been asked it too much lately. And suddenly, I realized, I’m not used to it anymore.

A big part of the Fulbright program is exchange–putting people into new cultures and having them become part of the community, part of the culture, where they live for the year. I’m not sure if “assimilation” is ever really possible, but there’s something to be said for settling into life abroad. However you function or relate to that place, you get used to it. It becomes normal.

And that’s when you realize you haven’t updated your blog for three months. The tool I chose to use to keep in touch with those at home and do a little reflecting on the whole cross-cultural experience I’ve taken on doesn’t quite seem irrelevant, but somehow I never feel I have anything to write. Yes, my Finnish is still abysmal and I have daily moments of awkwardness when language hampers my best intentions. And yes, whenever I chat with someone on the bus I feel that my quietest of conversations makes me an obnoxious chatterbox. But it’s old news.

What I’ve settled into, actually, isn’t “Finnish life.” It’s really just me living in Finland. I’ve become used to being an outsider making my own normalcy out of whatever I have here. People tell me that that makes it tough to be back home after living abroad. (I.e., reverse culture shock.) I believe it. Clearly, I’m in a bit of it already–“how are you” suddenly strange to my ears. But can we avoid it? I don’t think so. And I don’t think it would be worth the time if we could. So, readers (I know there’s at least one of you), apologies for my silence here. But rest assured, it’s because I’ve found, whatever it means, a place here.

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