How would my children’s lives be different had they grown up in Finland instead of the U.S.?

My husband and I think quite often about how our choices regarding which country to settle in has directly affected the kind of people our children have grown up to be. Many of these differences are significant ones and it’s sometimes eerie to think about how our seemingly practical choices have fundamentally determined the direction of our children’s lives. We have no regrets what so ever. There are positive and negative traits to both societies when considering what our lives would have looked like in the two countries.

Here we go. If our children had grown up in Finland instead of the U.S. ...

  • Their names would most likely still have been Elsa and Axel.
  • They would have started school a year later, Kindergarten at 6 years old instead of 5.
  • Their school days would have been much shorter, 3-4 hours a day in 1st grade instead of 7 hours every day starting in Kindergarten in the U.S.
  • They would have had recess throughout K-12 after every hour of class.
  • They would not have had comparable opportunities for the high levels of academic instruction that they have had available to them in U.S. high schools through AP classes, honors curriculum and concurrent enrollment.
  • They would be native Finnish speakers and would know English with native/near native proficiency instead of native English speakers with functional fluency in Finnish (not at the level of academic proficiency).
  • My son would not have played American football, which he really really likes. He would have been involved in other sports, maybe field sports in track? Or hockey?
  • My daughter would potentially still have run track, cross country and done Nordic skiing. She would have done a lot of Nordic skiing.
  • My children would have learned to skate really well and early on.
  • They would like black licorice.
  • They would listen to Finnish music (and American music).
  • They would be socially more oriented toward a close-knit, smaller group of intimate connections with people than a two-tiered approach in the U.S. where they have their close friends but also they’re still expected to socialize skillfully in a larger peer-group with everyone they come into contact with (this one is hard to explain as an item on a list).
  • They would have graduated from high school having studied 3-4 foreign languages.
  • They would’ve gotten their driver’s licenses at 18 years old instead of 16. This would have been a BIG deal for the kids.
  • They most likely would have started experimenting with alcohol at 15-16 years old (18 is the official age when one can purchase alcohol in Finland). Again, a complex topic with layers that I hate leave hanging on a list without proper consideration.
  • They would eat out less often.
  • Their national identity would be that of a Finn - a citizen of a small but highly-advanced country full of talented and highly educated individuals, innovators, linguists, designers, athletes and politicians.
  • They would still know what “sisu” is and exhibit it in their lives!
  • They would most likely have adopted a critical view of America, very common in Europe.
  • They wouldn’t have Minnesota accents, dontcha know?

The identities of second generation immigrants (children of immigrants) like our children can be quite complex. A seminal work (cited by over 5,000 researchers) on the topic is written by Nee. Here’s the citation. Unfortunately, it’s not available online for free (you can access it through your university libraries, if you have access to one). I will summarize the findings in a future blog post:

Victor Nee , "Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation by Alejandro Portes and Rubén G. Rumbaut," American Journal of Sociology 108, no. 5 (March 2003): 1135-1137.