As they sit there by the big conference table at International School Singapore, it is clear to just about anyone that Emil, Karin, and Paul aged 14, 16, and 18, are related. Not only do they look alike, with that Finnish glow of content and peacefulness, but they also talk to each other in that very peculiar way that only exists between siblings.
“We go to Finland in the summer and we always stay for two whole months,” one of them says. “No, school is only out for six weeks,” another adds, while the third claims that in fact both are wrong and that they stay in Finland for six weeks at a time every summer.
Almost a year and a half ago, Emil, Karin, and Paul moved to Singapore with their parents Lars and Terhi Wainio-Biese. Joining a new school that followed a completely different curriculum than they were used to and taught in English rather than Finnish, there were a lot of new things to get used to. The three Finnish teenagers have, however, sailed though obstacles and challenges, and now they are like fish in water in their new surroundings.
According to the children, they were the ones who pushed their parents and made them move. Paul especially was excited about the idea.
“I wanted to move. If we hadn’t come here, I would have gone on exchange somewhere,” he says and adds that at the time, he was open to change and wanted to experience something new.
Coming to ISS was indeed a new experience, but the teens adapted quickly and within a couple of weeks they had completely accepted and adjusted to their new surroundings.
Even though the Finns were suddenly exposed to the challenges and demands of MYP (Middle Years Program) and IBDP (IB Diploma), which are the curricula taught at ISS, Paul says it only took him two weeks to get used to the new system. His siblings agree and add that the reason they were so quick to pick it up was because of the support they received from teachers and other students.
“I think it is easier to come here and be new at an international school that it is at a normal school in Finland,” Karin says. “Everyone is international here and they are all used to adjusting to new schools and students, so they know what it is like when new people come.” Still, being new and far away from home was a challenge. It was, however, one that they overcame very fast.
Big city life vs. small town community
For the three Finnish students, the main difference between living in Finland and Singapore is that Singapore is much bigger in the sense that they come from a small town community just outside Helsinki.
“Everyone knows everyone there,” they say. “Here we don’t have that.”
Because they come from a small town, they enjoy the fact that they have come here and met new people from all over the world. Back in Finland that rarely happens and one’s circle of friends stays the same forever. The fact that they have seriously improved their English language skills is just an extra bonus.
However, even though there are some disadvantages to life in Singapore, neither of the three is in any rush to go back. They like life abroad. Although the three siblings have never stopped feeling Finnish, they are starting to feel the same about Singapore as they do of Finland. As 18 year old Paul says, he is starting to feel the same when he arrives at the airport in Finland and in Singapore; a sense of belonging there.
Both he and his siblings still have a lot of contact with friends and family back in Finland and they go back every summer. Seeing that it has been so easy for them to move to Singapore, one might think that returning to Finland could pose a challenge. But no, as with everything else, these kids just slip into the places they left and carry on as if nothing had ever happened.
Karin says, however, that she has lost some of the closeness with some of her friends but that is mainly because they have all moved on to different school to attend high school, and she says that that probably would have happened even if she had not gone to Singapore.
What they miss
Emil, Karin, and Paul make life in Singapore sound so easy, but there are of course certain things about Finland that they miss:
“Christmas, for example, is not really that special anymore,” Emil says. “In Finland, everything changes to Christmas in December. People prepare and make the food and decorations. Here, they don’t do that. They just put up plastic trees and give presents and it’s just not the same.”
Karin agrees, and says that to her food and Finnish traditions are the things she misses the most about her old life.
Emil adds that they normally go skiing in the winter and that the only bad part about living in Singapore is that you cannot do that because there are no seasons and thus, no winter and no snow.
Being Finnish, of course the three siblings are experienced skiers, and to Paul, that is one of the things he misses the most. He is, however, happy with the food in Singapore but he admits that sometimes he does wishes he could just go sailing with his friends, but that is one of the things you just can’t do here. The kids spend their spare time at friends’ houses or at the movies, and although he is happy here, Paul feels that sometimes his opportunities for doing different things are limited. “Singapore is just a big city. There is no nature here like what we know in Finland.”
Living abroad has also changed the children’s relationship with each other and with their parents.
“We probably see our parents more than we would have, if we still lived in Finland,” they say and Karin adds that moving abroad has brought them closer together as a family.
Being abroad, they spend a lot of time together and travel to exotic destinations that are really close by. Within the year and three months that they have been abroad, the family has travelled all over Asia, and during the upcoming Spring Break, they are going to Japan – to ski!
The kids all have a very positive view on their life in Singapore. They are only staying for two and a half years in total but they have become so hooked on expat life that they are considering studying abroad. Paul, who is a year short of graduating, would like to go to college abroad – maybe in Australia.
To these children, the move to Singapore was one of the best things they ever did and not once have they regretted choosing to go abroad and starting a new life in South East Asia.