As a child, Amanda Cardoso always felt comfortable expressing her multicultural identity. “I remember I’d say I’m half Finnish, half Brazilian and half English — they were all equal for me. I felt very secure in myself back then. But as I got older and had difficulties with the language that should be my native language, I felt differently. Nowadays, if somebody asks where I’m from I typically just say Finland. At least I can say I was born there, I have a passport and I speak the language.”
Even though she was born in Helsinki, Cardoso spent most of the first decade of her life in London, where her father, a data-centre manager originally from Rio Grande do Sul, in southern Brazil, worked. Cardoso spoke some Finnish with her mother, but English was the main language at home.
When she was nine Cardoso spent three months attending school in her mother’s home town of Huittenen, in southwestern Finland, before the family moved to Copenhagen for her father’s work. Five years later the family packed their bags again and headed back to Finland.
“I was miserable. I’d still consider that last year in Denmark one of the best years ever for me. I had such great friends, and my school was amazing. Starting with a clean slate in a Finnish school was really hard, and I had pretty bad culture shock even though I was going back to a country I knew.”
‘Irish people are really helpful. I’ve worked all over the world and haven’t come across people who are as nice’
As time passed Cardoso settled into Finnish life, but when the time came to apply for university she decided to move abroad. “I didn’t want to live in a country where they don’t speak English, but I wanted to stay in Europe, because it was cheaper and closer to home. I didn’t want to go to the UK and struggle with paying £9,000 a year for colleague tuition and deal with Brexit. So I ended up in Ireland.”
‘The first thing that hit me was how small Galway was. It was shocking to me that every single bus just went into the centre of town and then back out again. I was used to buses going everywhere’
Cardoso applied to study for a degree in hospitality at a number of colleges; she ended up in Galway, where she arrived in September 2019. “The first thing that hit me was how small Galway was. It was shocking to me that every single bus just went into the centre of town and then back out again. I was used to buses going everywhere. I also realised the bus might never show up — you just have to trust and pray.”
Cardoso admits she struggled to make friends with her classmates at first. “They didn’t seem to know how to speak to me. They’d make passing comments like, ‘Finland, very cool,’ but then moved back to other Irish people extremely fast. And I didn’t have any of the Irish mannerisms, I didn’t really know how to talk to people, and it was very alienating. I thought because I spoke English and used to live in London I didn’t need to worry about culture shock. I was very naive.”
Like most students, Cardoso struggled to find a place to live and was surprised to discover that “digs” were only available to people who could return to their families at the weekend. “I couldn’t fathom why you would go home every weekend. My last few years in Finland I was quite independent. I’d moved out of home a few months before I moved to Ireland to live and work in Helsinki and learned to rely on myself.
“I had such a bad opinion of the boys going home with the bag of laundry for their mammies to do. But then I realised the structures in place didn’t really allow students to stay unless they paid a lot of money to live in student villages. They had to live in digs.”
Cardoso eventually found a bed in a shared room, charging €600 per month through an international student company. “I was lucky to find a place, but the price was insane for a shared room, so I obsessively looked on Daft until I found something better. Eventually I got my own double room in a normal rental house for €370 per month.”
Cardoso had only really started to settle and make friends when the pandemic hit in 2020. She was visiting Finland when Ireland went into lockdown, and she spent the following eight months in the town of Kotka, near the Russian border, where her parents now lived.
Pandemic restrictions in eastern Finland were very different from the Irish regulations during the first wave of Covid, says Cardoso. “I was hearing all these horror stories from Ireland, but in Finland the borders were closed so quickly, Covid just felt nonexistent. I didn’t have to wear a mask until I came back to Ireland.”
Cardoso returned to Galway in late 2020 to continue her studies and also work part-time at Glenlo Abbey hotel — a job she loved. The hospitality degree’s requirement that students complete a seven-month work placement abroad was cancelled because of Covid, so Cardoso ended up moving to Killarney in 2021 for work.
Cardoso, who now speaks English with a mixed Galway-Kerry twang to her accent, says her time in Killarney made her feel much more connected to Ireland.
‘I became really close with two Irish girls who were also on placement. We lived together, worked together and went through Covid together. It was a very bonding experience’
“I think going to Killarney was the best decision I could have made. If I hadn’t gone, I don’t think I’d be as immersed in Irish culture. I was working in a real-world setting, and I became really close with two Irish girls who were also on placement. We lived together, worked together and went through Covid together. It was a very bonding experience.”
She returned to Galway in early 2022 to finish her third year of studies with a short interruption in the spring when she spent three weeks in Brazil, visiting her grandparents for the first time in a decade. Unable to speak Portuguese, she relied on her father, who was also on the trip, to interpret conversations with his parents. However, Cardoso quickly discovered language wasn’t the only means of communicating with her loved ones.
“I found out my grandad loves to dance, and I danced samba for three years in Helsinki, so we bonded over that and a love of old songs. My grandma is very crafty, and she made me and my mom placemats and oven mitts and showed me old photos. It was such a lovely time.”
Since she returned from Brazil, Cardoso has started wearing her grandfather’s Brazilian flag pin, along with a Finnish flag pin, on her blazer at the hotel where she works as a receptionist. “I feel more Brazilian now. It’s a more valid part of my identity now that I’ve managed to go back there.” Cardoso hopes to return to Brazil after graduation to spend a few months with her grandparents and improve her Portuguese.
As for Galway, she says the city and the friendships she’s developed with her classmates make her feel “alive” but admits she will probably move abroad again. “I have a really strong connection with Ireland, and from an emotional viewpoint I could see myself staying here. But I don’t think Ireland is my long-term home.”
We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @newtotheparish