Adopting as an expat

Adopting is a unique experience and adopting through international adoption as an expat adds a colorful layer to it. As does parenting as a multicultural family from the start. 

Adopting as an expat: Alistair’s story

Alistair moved to Central Finland over 14 years ago after meeting his wife Katriina in Ireland. Two years ago they adopted two siblings from Colombia, after a process that lasted almost 5 years. Alistair recalls the phone call that changed their lives: “It was Christmas time, we were given a four day notice from the approval to the trip. It was Monday evening and we were expected in Bogotá on Saturday morning”. Everything happened so fast, he says: “We got home on New Year’s Day at 3 am”.

Alistair grew up in England, his mother was Irish and his father Scottish. He lived in a few countries before settling in Finland. He learned Finnish but claims he is not fluent in it. The adoption process was carried out in a mix of English and Finnish, after a failed attempt to include an interpreter.

Expat background helped with language barriers

When Alistair met his children, they spoke only Spanish. “In Bogotá we didn’t have a common language, that was challenging”, he says. Alistair and his wife learned few words to be able to communicate on basic things. He shares the hilarious memory of how they needed to warn the kids of dangers and for a while they often ended sentences with the word muerte. “I literally lost 20 kilos during my paternity leave running after them”, he adds.
However, Alistair tells his own experience as an expat helped. He was used to face and overcome language barriers.

Besides, Alistair volunteers to support the local refugee community. He regularly meets immigrants he shares no common language with. “A lot of them just want to talk in their own language at somebody, sometimes just cry. I have always been someone people like talking to. I would just sit there, listening to terrible stories, there’s nothing you can say or do, you can be there and be sympathetic.”

Nowadays, the main home language is Finnish, followed by English. Despite the parents’ efforts to cultivate Spanish, it seems the kids have left their birth language behind.

“We have a multicultural house”

The family tries to balance the different cultural components: “We have a very multicultural house. I’m half Irish half Scottish, my wife is Finnish, and the kids are Colombian. We don’t have a unique cultural identity.” The family cultivates the different cultures through small daily habits – “You can often hear Latin American music playing in our house” – and they celebrate festivities like St. Patrick’s Day and Colombia’s National Day. “Diversity is extremely important for any society. It’s needed”, Alistair comments. “I have been living for 14 years in Jyväskylä. When I moved here the immigrant community was tiny. I saw it grow diverse and that brought new social clubs, local community areas, better food quality, new items in shop, new music on the radio.”

I related to many of the things Alistair shared with me. Funnily, as expats we do not see much stress on the international component of adoption. International is part of our daily life and our own identity in Finland. While the
adoption process presents challenges, there’s an important common ground we share with our kids. Feeling different makes us feel equal.


Written by Paola Elefante

Join the English-speaking Facebook group to connect with other adopters Adoptive Families in Finland