Can you share a little bit about your background?
I am so happy to be sharing my interview with Nicehearts and all the members, I truly respect this community. My background is in communications and since 2018 I run my own consulting company on diversity and inclusion with various training services. I am married and have lived in east Helsinki since 2014. Prior to Finland, I lived in Denmark for 12 years where I moved at the age of 18 from Uzbekistan. In short, I always say that I have a long geography.
Over the years through my experiences, volunteering has become a platform for me to cross-cultural differences. When I moved to Finland, I had to start from the beginning. I knew this meant I had to take initiative, to get out there and build trust. It was hard to make friends, so volunteering was instrumental in getting out there and ensuring that immigrant voices were heard. By helping and lifting others I lifted myself. I had a lot of doubts. Asking myself why I felt I could do it, who am I to speak to politicians or directors. But I engaged even though it was scary, I took initiative, I showed up and yes, empowered myself by helping others to do the same.
How did you get started volunteering for projects?
I started volunteering in Denmark. I was quite active in school, but it was tough to be an international student and find new friends. I felt unwelcome in Denmark with the anti-immigration sentiment. There was injustice and I was told I could get involved and that it mattered. So, I did.
I applied for a mentoring network for immigrant women to get guidance and support. My mentor Nana was this amazing person, smiling, hugging, and encouraging. She advised me to get active about diversity topics to feel welcome in a society I felt unwanted.
What have been some of your biggest challenges as an immigrant woman in Finland?
In my experience, it was quite stressful coming to a new country. Moving when you are 30 is completely different from when you are 18. You know what you like and dislike, you take fewer risks. I moved here because of my job which I found in Denmark.
My first two years in Finland are a blur, I was hardly here, I traveled 80 days a year, then I got sick and decided to leave my job. It was then that I realized I had really moved. It was hard. I hit rock bottom. I lost my profession and I had to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do next. It was hard to learn to be a spouse, accept help, and be vulnerable. I had to gather my lifetime courage to tell my family, I am taking this big move to Finland to build a family. It was a huge cultural battle in my own family. Luckily, it all worked out well.
It takes guts to make it anywhere, it takes double guts to make it abroad.
We as immigrant women all have different stories. We have our needs and wants, education, professional backgrounds, and ambitions when we move to another country. Some of the challenges I faced were the reserved culture and unique Finnish family relationships. It was very different from my own culture which is open, and family-orientated.
I had a lot of doubt inside wondering if I could create a new life in a “cold country” with another tough language after learning Danish. Not again?! I had signed up for unemployment benefits. It was strange, I was never able to get it and now I had a right. Previously I did all sorts of jobs from a cleaner to bartender, from waitress to market research assistance. All these experiences helped me to understand the job market and stay humble.
You are a window to the reality of life outside of Finland and offer a shared understanding of what privilege is. You know how to appreciate Finnish society and all it offers but you also know the need for empathy towards each other’s story. They say, as you move, you become nobody – it is harsh but what it really means is that you suffer a temporary loss of your identity and the social capital from your home country. But here you have ALL the chances to build it again.
When we dare to ask for help, build a network through friends in school or through hobby clubs – these all shape and evolve your identity. I have learned over the years that people, at the bottom of their hearts, have good intentions, nobody wants you to fail. People may not clap for you when you succeed but people want you to succeed. As proof, look at a comedian who sang an opera on a balcony in Finland, nobody clapped but on Facebook and Youtube, he was a superstar with 41000 likes and over 5000 shares.
To showcase the power of social capital and community, I started my weekly webcast #riseinunity every Wednesday. We speak about people who found belonging and spread this culture of community to immigrants and locals across Nordics. You can tune in here.
Through my experiences, I know that trust and equality belong to all of us and you CAN build a life with fantastic experiences here with the most amazing individuals and communities. Because in Finland these things are available and people by nature are honest and want to be helpful.
Do you have any suggestions of how we can stay active with volunteering during this time of social distancing?
I would look at various city offers or from Diakonia laitos, Helsinki apu etc. You can write letters to a local elderly home or your neighbours, and bring your goodies to them. You can’t imagine how thankful people can be for simple acts of kindness. Read a book or show your favorite dance move. Whatever you do, it will show your interest and engagement. Volunteering is giving your time and enthusiasm for something or someone.
Right now, I am helping to coach students, support fundraising in Uzbekistan, and put my focus on stopping gender violence in times of COVID. What is it you can do to help your country or your close community in Finland? I’d invite you to use the time to build a profile on a social media platform and help share your joy with people. You can utilize tools to tell your stories, share your recipes, show your hobbies in an interesting way. Test tools like Facebook Live, Streamyard, Instagram live, or Tik Tok.
My message to all is: Your gender and where you are originally from are not obstacles for living life to the fullest. Because you moved here, you are brave and able to adapt to new things. We all have inner strength and power, take hold of it, and use it. After living here, I know that this is a country that offers support, education, and opportunities to all. You just need to listen and notice what motivates you to move forward and what you do effortlessly may well be the passion you deserve to share with the world. Volunteering helps you fully exist! Do it!
I collected 6 tips to utilize the COVID time and serve yourself:
1. Be visible on social media: share your stories, build your digital profile.
2. Be your own decision-maker. If you come from a country where decisions were made for you, here you need to make decisions of your own. It can feel truly liberating!
3. Allow yourself to be the author of your story. Try to write what you want to read about yourself and what experiences you want to have after COVID.
4. Appreciate little things by practicing gratitude.
5. Cultivate your passion, your culture, your interests – this matters to build your strong voice, your personal brand, and friendships.
6. Experiment unknown and unknown in volunteering, work, hobbies. The future belongs to the daring! ☺
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Originally published in Neighbourhood Mothers 2019-2020.