International travel and tourism have become commonplace experiences to many and that, combined with the population shifts due to migration, international business, education exchange, wars, natural catastrophes, and refugee movements, has resulted in an explosion of intercultural experience and encounter. Globalisation, the “social process in which the constraints of geography on social and cultural arrangements recede and in which people become increasingly aware that they are receding" (Waters, 1995) has changed the way we perceive the world and our place in it. The combined intangible and tangible transformations have also had an impact to a very personal aspect of life: who we fall in love and build a family with. Today, more than ever before, people are meeting and forming romantic relationships across national and cultural borders.
For a long time intercultural relationship was mainly reserved for the elite: the well-off and famous, and the royalty. Today, intercultural unions have become almost commonplace and in rich countries alone international marriages number at least 10 million. (The Economist, 2011) Famous modern day examples of intercultural couples include Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France and Italian-born singer Carla Bruni, and Carl XVI Gustaf, the king of Sweden and German-born Queen Silvia. Famous Finnish examples from the field of politics include the current Prime Minister, Alexander Stubb and the current Minister for International Development, Pekka Haavisto whose partners are the British-born lawyer Suzanne Innes-Stubb and Ecuadorian-born entrepreneur Nexar Antonio Flores respectively.
The children of intercultural couples are also increasingly showing in publicity and it is fair to say that intercultural families and intercultural people are a permanent and enriching part of Finnish society. Famous examples of grown-up children of intercultural families who have made their mark in the fields of entertainment, sports, culture and politics include Finnish-Spanish entrepreneur Laila Snellman, Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen, Finnish-American basketball player Gerald Lee Jr., Finnish-Kenyan Member of Parliament Jani Toivola, and Finnish-Portuguese singer Anna Abreu.
It would be impossible to describe a “typical” intercultural couple or a “typical” expatriate spouse. Intercultural couples and expatriate spouses are not a homogeneous category of people. Expatriate spouses, however, have one thing in common: they have all followed their hearts to a new country, and, by doing so, embarked on a journey that will change their lives forever. With that change comes opportunity, but also strain and worry, because migration is stressful no matter what the circumstances. The effects of migration are felt mostly by the expatriate spouse, but the home spouse and the couple’s relationship are also affected. Therefore, the success – or the failure as it may be – of the adjustment process of the expatriate spouse has an impact on her or his life as well as the life of the home spouse and the possible children of the couple.
- Hanna Kinnunen (hanna (at) duoduo . fi)
- This article is part of a master's thesis submitted by Ms Hanna Kinnunen to the University of Eastern Finland.