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Working for Europe – Celebrating Europe – Part Two: Joining the expatriates’ communities

May 11th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I started from the fact that we had just celebrated the Europe-Day on Thursday the 9th of May. That led me to think about the origins of present-day European Union and about the community-building initiatives that brought it into being. This led me to think about my own career as a European researcher working for Europe (during my years in Cedefop) and in European cooperation projects (during my years in the University of Bremen). Now it is time to look at the other side of the coin – my participation in expatriate communities in Thessaloniki and in Bremen (beyond the working communities).

When Cedefop moved to Thessaloniki, most of us knew very little, what to expect. Luckily enough, our Greek colleagues went as a pioneering troop to find out of the housing opportunities and to give us then a helping hand. This worked very well and soon we all found our new home bases. In the beginning we remained as a relative close trans-national group of  ‘castaways’ but gradually we started to find local friends in our new neighbourhoods.

For me, the village of Thermi was a very nice environment and it was also the meeting point of the Thessaloniki Caledonian society. And a handful of us – Cedefop colleagues and my neighbours got engaged in the Scottish community. Some of us were of Scottish or Irish origins, some had studied in Scotland and some were adopted Scots. So, there we were celebrating the Scottish anniversaries with appropriate music, singing and dancing.

Via my Scottish contacts I then found out that there was also a Finnish community in Thessaloniki. I was surprised to discover that there were that many people of my nationality in the Thessaloniki area. And, moreover, the Finnish mothers and fathers had a “Suomi-koulu” (a voluntary Saturday school for teaching the Finnish language). So, I got also engaged in their activities and visited several times at the Suomi-koulu (and brought my Finnish visitors there when possible). During my time in Thessaloniki we celebrated the 80th Independence Day of Finland on the 6th of December in 1997. It was a remarkable Community event and I have still good memories of that. (It has been nice to rediscover this community and active members via Facebook – we have not lost the contacts.)

When I started in Bremen, I knew already the institute and most of the colleagues on the basis of my European cooperation activities and frequent visits to Bremen. So, both in terms of work and in terms of leisure activities I found very soon my circles. Funnily enough, it took a longer time before I got into contact with the Finnish expatriate community in Bremen. Firstly, I got into contact with the Suomi-koulu (the voluntary Saturday school in Finnish) that they had also in Bremen. But the real inspiration I got during the year of festivities to celebrate the 100th Independence Day in Finland. I attended the opening event in which the chairperson of the Sami Parliament gave a speech of the rights of the Sami people in Finland and in the neighbouring countries. That led me to a more active participation in the events of the Finnish community. And as a highlight we celebrated as a community the 100th Independence Day in a restaurant at the Old Town of Bremen. And during these activities it has been interesting to notice that we have several German people who are very committed friends of Finland, Lapland and the Sami people. So, it is not only us – Finns – that are socialising among ourselves. We are nicely networked and looking ‘out of the box’.

I guess this is enough of these memories. I feel privileged that I have had a chance to experience such things in Thessaloniki and in Bremen. What strikes me now – years after – is the success story of the Suomi-koulu in Thessaloniki. What I hear from the parents of the school children of those years is that the school gave the youngsters a great boost in learning Finnish. And later on, during the years of economic crisis in Greece, most of these young people managed to study in Finland. And now some of them are returning back to Greece as qualified experts. This, to me as a committed European, is something worth celebrating.

And this leads me to the starting point, the celebration of the Europe-day in Bremen. That is s topic for my next post.

More blogs to come …

 

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