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Being International in Finland — a story of father and daughter.

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

We want to share the story of the most international family in Oulu.

The Lee-Teatini family has a multicultural background. Sebastiao Teatini has lived in many parts of the world before coming to Finland. He is originally from Brazil, but he has lived in the USA, Japan and Korea for many years. His parents are from Europe; his father is from Italy, and his mother comes from a German-Swiss background. His wife, Seunghee Lee, is Korean. Their daughters Mei and Soyoung were born in Japan. Their son Johan was born in Finland.

Sebastiao moved to Finland in 2012 to do his master’s degree. He and his family arrived in Oulu in summer, and little did they know that their impression of Finland weather was going to startle them in a few months!

One of the main reasons for Sebastiao to choose the University of Oulu was the infrastructure facilities the country provides for students in Finland even when they move to Finland with their families.

“The main thing for us was, of course, the access to education for my daughters and housing for our family. PSOAS was a great plus for us because we wanted to make sure that we had proper accommodation for our family when we arrived there.”

Soon after finishing his master’s studies, Sebastiao enrolled in a PhD programme in the same university. He also joined the Integration programme designed for immigrants in Finland to help them to learn the Finnish language and find a job in Finland. Sebastiao says that it is an intensive programme, and in addition to learning Finnish, the participants get to know more about the Finnish culture, its politics and geography etc. The integration programme offers internships, so the immigrants get used to the Finnish working environment before they get a real job. But soon, Sebastiao realized that it was difficult to manage both programmes simultaneously and decided to prioritize his studies at the university. To date, he regrets that he did not continue learning Finnish.

“It was really nice. Of course, at a young age, it’s hard to understand it in that way. But I’m very glad that I got to understand that people are different and we share different cultures… Some of the students were born and raised here, but some of them lived abroad and we got to just share about our experiences from learning Finnish language and then another language and getting to know different cultures as well. ”

Then from grade 7, she went to Normaalikoulu for two years, where everything was taught in Finnish. According to Mei, it was challenging, but she managed and eventually learnt the Finnish language fluently. In Normaalikoulu, Mei was afraid that everyone would be very traditional and don’t share different cultures.

“But I realized that there were many students who were foreigners and who also felt like they just couldn’t fit in somehow because of their looks or their personalities. And I also could relate to that. But I was just very glad to have international friends as well as Finnish friends.”

Mei had to go back to South Korea after completing her 8th grade in Finland. For 9th grade, she went to a school in South Korea and there, she struggled with the feeling of belongingness. The Korean education system was quite strict and conservative. It didn’t fit Mei’s liberal mindset. It made her come back to Oulu to continue her studies. She spent 5 months studying in OSYK (Arts and Theater High School). Currently, Mei is studying in the International Baccalaureate School.

“The main reason why I wanted to come back was education. I was very used to the Finnish culture, more than the Korean culture even though I respect both of them very much.”

Mei hopes to continue her studies in Finland, if not somewhere in Europe. Her interests in human behaviour and neuroscience had already made her take some classes related to these subjects, so she will be well prepared to do her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and/or Biology.

Given Sebastiao’s and Mei’s diversified family background, anybody would be curious to know how many languages they speak and what specific languages they use to communicate in the family! For example, Sebastiao knows seven languages: Portuguese (his mother tongue), English, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Japanese, and Finnish. For Mei, the mother tongues are English & Korean, but she fluently speaks Finnish, Japanese and learning Swedish. By now, for Mei, switching between languages to talk to people has become effortless. Sebastiao takes pride in that his children are multilingual.

“They would be able to speak Japanese with their friends, and they can immediately switch to English and talk to me, and then they can just immediately switch to Korean, talk to my wife, for example. It’s really amazing how children’s brains work. I was concerned, but after I saw all that happening, we did a little bit of research and realized that it’s very valuable… In fact, children who were raised bilingual or multilingual have less possibility to have Alzheimer’s disease as they get older by a significant percentage.”

To conclude our interview with this amazing multicultural family, we asked what their take on Finland being the happiest country in the world is. Sebastiao has a fascinating take on why Finland ranks as the happiest country in the world consecutively, and it cannot be any truer!

“I lived in many different places, different countries, and you always find things that are happy and not so happy about different countries. I think what I find about Finland is that it’s not so much that it is a happy country. It’s that the people are content. It’s the level of contentment with social welfare. For example; housing and that KELA provides help to the population. There is no homelessness. There’s no poverty, and it is very safe. It’s clean. I think that the Finnish people know that there are many other countries in the world that are not like that. So because of that, people feel content.”

After living in Finland, yet alone getting exposed to the education system, infrastructure facilities and how the government caters to the civilians’ needs and wants, it becomes everyone’s dream to live in a country like Finland. But one thing that Finland needs to look into (as an immigrant-friendly country) is how to stop skilled international talents from leaving the country due to unemployment. Once they achieve that, Finland would become a country with utopian qualities that any country dreams of becoming!

Author: Hansika Piyumali Ambahelagedara.

Editor: Arina Lykova.

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