We have been asked quite often why we chose International School for our kids. Even our friends didn’t quite understand our choice. What’s wrong with the “lähikoulu”? Lähikoulu is the school city/town shows to the family and most of the time families are ok with that. All schools are generally ok in Finland, so there is no need to choose. Public opinion is also somewhat against parents choosing different school than the “lähikoulu”. It’s causing inequality between the children they say.
But we didn’t let the city decide for us. There isn’t anything wrong with our lähikoulu, but we wanted our kids to go to the international school. Of course it wasn’t only what we wanted, kids had to pass the entrance examination to get in, which luckily they did. Although the day of the examination was the longest one in my whole life. We got the results on the same day, because the test was for the kids moved to Finland after actual examination day, which had been few months earlier. There were very few open places left and many applicants trying to get in. But it was not until 9pm before we got the phone call from the school. They were both in, even our son, who had come out from the class room half an hour earlier than anybody else. We were sure that was it, he would not pass. But he did.
So why International school? There were many reason. The most obvious one was that moving back would be easier for the kids if they could continue to study in English, to continue to use English as their normal everyday language. That way at least something would stay the same for them. English language was and still is very big part of their identity. They still do think English is their first language, even after three and half years back in Finland. But it is not only because of the school. We don’t listen Finnish music at all and we watch very few Finnish TV-programs, only news and some quality discussion programs. Other than us speaking Finnish, we have kept our home pretty much Finnish free, our own English speaking bubble. It is not so much because of the language, but we really don’t like Finnish music and TV shows are terrible around the world nowadays being mainly bizarre and shallow reality shows. When Finns re-do these shows they are even more horrible and there are lots of crappy reality shows and lets all cry together music shows in the Finnish tv. I don’t even start with the Finnish movies… So no thank you to that. Grand Design and it’s Australian counterpart (only reality we ever watch) is one of our favourite among BBC and iTV drama, crime etc and the Big Bang Theory of course… How did I end up writing about our preferences what to watch from the TV.. oh yeah, not much Finnish at home either. Other than what we speak.
But choosing the school was more than a language thing. When we moved back kids felt they were at least half Australian, our son still thinks he’s more of an Australian than he is a Finn. He does not like it here. Australia and English language were very big part of their identity and how they felt about themselves. If they had gone to a normal Finnish school, to lähikoulu, they would not have been able to keep their identity alive. School would not have recognized their background in anyway, they would have been Finnish, nothing more nothing less. They look very Finnish and they have very Finnish names, so they’re Finnish. They would have been only Finnish for their peers as well, unable to tell about their experiences, to share feelings and just to be who they were and still are. In international school almost every kid who has born in Finland have lived abroad at some point of their lives and others have moved to Finland from somewhere else, so there is nothing odd if one speaks Finnish little funny, if speaks it at all. Kids having different backgrounds is a matter of fact that affects on everything and nothing. Colorful, international buzz, only way we want it to be. It would have been horribly suffocating if kids had gone to the “lähikoulu”. It would have been a good school but it would have dismissed a big part of what our kids were, what we were as a family.
I remember one time when our daughter had her three best friends over. They were all sitting by the kitchen table talking about their experiences. Other girls had lived in UK for three to eight years. Our daughter was telling them about one time we went to Sydney and after that how she loved swimming with the stingrays and sharks in Bora Bora. And others joined in by telling about London and trips around UK and Europe. It went on and on. I felt so happy for my daughter. She didn’t have to hide anything about her very significant past and she could share. She could be herself.
And for us parents it was important too to be able to be around other families who have shared the hardships of coming back to Finland. We were able to find people who thought same about Finland (it sucks here). Being back here was a huge shock. Our friends were ok for awhile to listen us feeling sad but we had to stop it quite quickly (we wanted them to stay our friends). Our families were just so happy to get us back home while we were heartbroken because we had to leave our home behind. And in general: nobody is very interested about to hear other people experiences living in abroad, unless you have the same experience or are planning or hoping to do the same (like one of our neighbours, God thank for them). So we would have felt very lonely if we’d put our kids to the lähikoulu. Of course because we are in Finland we don’t actually meet other families in the school as parents aren’t part of their kids school life here. But when we quickly meet some father or mother when picking up kids from some birthday party or on the Christmas concert, we can share: “Yeah, we would go back right away too, if we could”, “This weather sucks””How do you find this general attitude here?”… There were at least some people we could talk to and relate to. So it was and still is a big thing for us as a whole family too.
We are hoping to get our third child to the same school too. She would be ok in Lähikoulu I think, but we want her to have the same English skills as her siblings have. She is bilingual too, but she needs to continue to use the language staying so. She’s been in a English language day care for almost four years now. If she does not get it to the International School then we hope she gets in bilingual school. We’ll know by the end of April.
But in everything there are pros and cons. The downside of going to the International School is kids Finnish skills. The possibilities to continue to study in English are quite limited here and one needs to be very academically oriented to get in to English language upper secondary school (or what ever it is called). Changing language at that point might be a bit of a challenge. They could do it, but it needs extra motivation. Big question is would they have it then? So there are risks in that sense. Of course they don’t need to stay in Finland and the kids in the International school seems to often have plans for studying abroad. We are all open for that too. It certainly was our idea when we first came back, definitely not staying here.
And of course there is that kids friends don’t live near by. Well our youngest one has one very good friend in our neighborhood, but our schoolgoers just haven’t befriended with the kids close to our home (with one exception) because they go to the different school. They did try at first but school seems to play very important role in making friends especially for the girls. We won’t mind driving them around the city and they’ve started to be quite independent too, very able to move around on their own with public transportation. Good side in this is that they won’t end up hanging around in the near “mall” which isn’t a good place for the young kids. We do see quite lot of small kids there. Of course everyday life would be easier, if kids went to the lähikoulu. There’s no denying that. Their school is quite far away when compared to the lähikoulu.
So what I’m actually writing is a story about not wanting to settle in the Finnish community. International school has helped us with that, made it more possible. But time has made it inevitable work and being separate seems more and more impossible to achieve. We’ve heard that it takes four years to settle. We’re getting dangerously close to the four years. If we had to choose the school for our kids now, after being back this time, we might not be so unquestioning in our choice. But we are definitely happy kids are in the International School. Life would be too narrowed in this little area if we hadn’t. And the school is absolutely great. It gives kids great future prospects and I feel greater understanding about the world and people living in it. More open and tolerant.