NGO that I currently work for has many projects run in international cooperation. And I have been participating in a few of them. The project’s workload and responsibilities are usually divided between the project’s partners, there are plenty of emails’ exchanges, often meetings at the place, but mostly online. Last week we had meetings with our partners in one of the projects for 5 days and probably for the first time in my ex-pat life I was identified as being Finnish by other people… What a weird feeling it was!
In international projects, we naturally use English as a common language. That’s why nobody could notice my poor Finnish language skills. I have started to use the shortcut of my name “Lubi” not only between my Slovak friends but also at work. It is easier to remember and pronounce it in different languages. So for the name part, hardly someone would have guessed the origin of such a name as “Lubi”.
We were introducing ourselves briefly and after I heard: “And from the Finnish team maybe Lubi can start..”, the feeling was almost scary. I haven’t so far discovered my Finnish inner self. My identity has always been Slovak. And honestly, there were times, when it even didn’t matter to me. When I lived in my country of origin, I had no reason to observe my “Slovakiness” and there was no point for me to discuss my cultural identity. Of course, on occasional longer appearances abroad, the cultural trembles can become visible. But a few months in a foreign country with a clear date of departure cannot give you the perspective that ex-pat life can.
Suddenly my cultural identity matters to me. This is where I differ at the moment. It is out of the good-bad dichotomy, it is simply a fact. As I haven’t yet developed my “Finnishness”, but somebody else identifies me already with it; it feels a little bit like being pushed towards accepting something, that I even don’t have. But, although I have just written several sentences about it, in reality, it was just one or two seconds of thoughts.
Another funny thing is, that all our Finnish team understood the project somewhat differently than the rest of our partners. You would have heard sentences like: “We are sorry for another typically Finnish question, but…”, or “The Finnish way of doing things is…”. And for me, it was not Finnish at all! It was all Slovak! It was also my way of doing things!
Being Finnish or not, I apparently tend to understand and do things in a certain way, that was now being identified as Finnish. In one of my previous blog posts, I wrote about differences in our work styles, but the commonalities… That was new 🙂 I was not only identified as being Finnish, but I also do and think in a Finnish way! What a discovery! 🙂
I have to smile now after such a description of events… Realizing that focusing on similarities, rather than differences is getting us so much closer, is probably a finding suitable more for relationship counselling, than for intercultural competence 🙂 But it is true in both cases.
That’s my story for today. The story about how I started to play for the team Finland. Regardless of everything, I would fight for my team nails and hair if needed 🙂 After all, what matters the most is who are your team players. And when it comes to that, I can only express my gratitude <3