Raising Aspiring Emigrants

GeekMom Travel
Finland map by Mysid, Wikimedia Commons

Kids go their own way. That basic principle is easily gleaned from literature, movies, or a quick look at how much our friends differ from their own parents. Years ago I joked that my anti-establishment neighbor’s son could grow up to be a paunchy stockbroker and that my frantically risk-averse friend’s might end up with a thrill-seeker daughter. I learned pretty quickly such jokes are not appreciated.

But I thought I understood that kids go their own way reasonably well. I’ve managed to celebrate the unique passions my own kids pursue, even though their interests aren’t remotely fascinating to me. And I’m glad to see that we’re largely in sync on bigger issues. My kids and I tend to agree on politics and religion, we share a disinterest in most sports, and we’re all somewhat introverted. What we don’t share? A desire to stay close to our roots, geographically speaking. I’ve always lived close to my hometown and extended family. My kids may not have that gene.

One of my sons is entranced by Finland. I think it started while chatting with online Finnish friends. Hankering to drive, he told me that kids in Finland are encouraged to get driving experience starting at a very young age and given training to handle slippery and hazardous road conditions (ice + moose, for example). The licensing requirements are some of the strictest in the world, he explained, a pointed contrast to the jerk on the road in front of us at the time who was cutting off cars and weaving across lanes.

My son also has a thing for Finnish music, starting with the now iconic band Apocalyptica formed by classically trained cellists.

Finnish musicians offer plenty of diversity, including partially submerged folk singers

and dancing puffballs.

And my son is inspired by the Finnish spirit. He sees it in their traditions and history (I never thought I’d hear so much about the Winter War). Finnish character is said to have a lot to do with the term sisu. This doesn’t translate easily. It’s related to inner will and the determination to persist despite the odds. This spirit, as my son sees it, also has to do with the Finnish way of doing things. That includes summer competitions that Finns call “world championships” in swamp soccer, mobile phone throwing, and wife carrying. Or a recent proposal in Parliament to extend the annual four-week paid holiday by another week, for a “love holiday.”

Browsing around the web, I can see the allure. The country has stunning beauty and cultural richness. Newsweek ranked Finland the world’s best country in 2010 based on high life expectancy, high literacy rates, minimal income gap, excellent access to health care, and a good work-leisure balance. In The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World it was noted that people in Finland are remarkably content.

Of course we’ve all heard about Finland’s world-class school system. Their educational approach says quite a bit about the country. Schools there don’t rely on standardized tests or a heavy homework load but instead emphasize balance, giving kids plenty of time for outdoor play, art, and music. That seems to reflect a general emphasis on living at a slower pace and enjoying life’s simpler pleasures.

I may have to adjust to having one of my beloved offspring emigrate some day.

But now another of my kids is talking up New Zealand. Serves me right for joking about other people’s children going their own way. Come to think of it, my attempts at humor weren’t all that far off. My anti-establishment neighbor’s son is now in college getting a degree in business. The daughter of my risk-averse friend is into barefoot climbing. Guess I’d better make sure my passport is in order.

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6 thoughts on “Raising Aspiring Emigrants

  1. Loved this little article. My wife’s grandmother was Finnish. Maybe a trip is in order! Is it possible to want to live somewhere else and yet still be a proud American? Sarah and I fell in love with Ireland and Scotland and seriously (but briefly) talked about finding a way to move to the U.K. I think our parents would have disowned us.

  2. Fascinating article, thanks…

    As far as bucking one’s training, always liked this quote –
    “One thorn of experience is worth an entire wilderness of warning” – James Lowell

    Finland sounds like a truly remarkable place, although the world’s bountiful offerings have endless layers of unique discoveries which have the capability to forever change one’s internal landscape.

    “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.” Kurt Vonnegut

    On the up side, you will never lack for travel ideas, if you have wandering offspring and a place to stay!

  3. I was born in south africa, lived in the UK and am now living in New Zealand. I was brought up with travelling locally as the norm for holidays and it is expected (?) that you do an OE (overseas experience) as part of growing up and finding your place in the world.

    To be fair though I am probably the last person they expected to travel the world.

    I’m bracing myself for the day my son says he’s packing up and going to Vietnam or Hong Kong or Afghanistan.

    1. Bracing is really the word for it isn’t it? I know it’s all about fueling them with love and waving as they go away, but man, it makes the heart ache to think of our dear ones so far away. When my kids were babies I wanted a fairy to lean over their sleeping faces and whisper, “you will never go too far.” Thank goodness we can’t cast such spells…

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