FAR Blog: Finnishness through new eyes

It seems like it was only yesterday when I walked through the doors of the Finnish American Heritage Center for the first time on a sunny fall day in September. The six months I’ve spent here in Hancock, Michigan have passed faster than I ever imagined.  What have I learned during my time here? As expected, I have learned much about the United States and Michigan and much about what it’s like to work as a reporter. But what I have perhaps learned most about, ironically, is what it means to be a Finn. My time here in Hancock has made me see Finnishness with new eyes.

I’ve felt more Finnish here than anywhere else before. I’ve been writing about modern-day Finland in my columns in FAR hoping I will bring modern Finland closer to the Finns across North America. At the same time I’ve gotten closer to the history of my own country than ever before. Sometimes one needs to take a step back to see the big picture. In this case I had to move to America to get know even more about my own country and its history.  Here Finnishness is not just the blue and white flag or Santa Claus and sauna; it’s also a state of mind and being proud of your heritage.

Working at the Finnish American Reporter I’ve had a once in a lifetime opportunity to work with wonderful people and get to know the Finnish American community of North America. Jim, Dave and Joanna here at the Heritage Center have trusted my skills and given me many new and wonderful opportunities. I have performed at the Finnish Independence Day celebration, I’ve been interviewed by the local TV and radio stations, I’ve been part of the Heikinpäivä celebration and I’ve gotten a chance to improve the online presence of the paper and the Heritage Center. Most importantly I’ve had the chance to write articles for the Finnish American Reporter and I’ve even had my own column.

I’ve gotten so much and I hope I’ve also given a lot to the readers of FAR as well as the work community here at the Finnish American Heritage Center and Finlandia University. It has made me feel warm and fuzzy when our readers have sent me mail, called me or even come to meet me to give their thanks for my writing and the wonderful paper they much enjoy. The knowledge of my writing bringing joy to the people reading them makes me happier than anyone could even imagine.  

It’s amazing how many things you learn about yourself when you’re in a totally new environment with people you don’t know. I have moved abroad before but it seems that getting to know yourself is a lifelong process. You learn about weaknesses you never knew existed but what is more important is that you find strength in you that surprises even yourself and sometimes others around you. Sure you get homesick, sure the snow and lack of public transportation sometimes gets you down, but the positive experiences I’ve gained here have far outweighed the negative ones.  

There’s a warmth here in the Upper Peninsula which is not brought here by the weather but by the people living here. I’m happy to go back to Finland to my family and friends there but at the same time I’m sad as always when something good comes to an end. I’m leaving many good friends behind going back to Finland but I’m taking with me a new sense of Finnishness as well as all the unforgettable experiences and memories I’ve gotten living here. Thank you!

Sanna Tolmunen

Journalism Intern, Finnish American Reporter