Walking on our international campus, you can hear many beautiful languages from all around the world, mixed with the familiar sound of Dutch. Being in a multilingual environment has taught me to appreciate the fact that I can speak more than one language. Whenever we discuss multilingualism, we often think about the benefits, of course. For example, how it is beneficial in lowering the risk of dementia, how it makes learning languages easier, or how you can express yourself better. However, even though bilingualism is often referred to as something unique, there are also downsides to growing up with it. Here are my personal experiences of growing up bilingual: 

Not knowing how to identify yourself 

Since both my parents were from Russia and I grew up in Finland, I often didn’t know whether to identify myself as Finnish or Russian. The Russian culture and traveling to Russia for every holiday to see my relatives was a big part of my childhood. However, going to a Finnish school, having Finnish friends, and learning the language made me realize that Finland is a better match with my personal identity. Finding my cultural identity, however, is still an ongoing journey and I’m sure many immigrant families can relate to this. 

Struggling to fully keep up in a monolingual society 

As much as it is cool to know multiple languages, I always felt like my Russian isn’t as good as my Finnish, but at the same time, my Finnish isn’t great either. It often seems like I don’t really speak any language well enough. Being able to express yourself can often be tough when you are used to mixing the languages in a dialogue. As a child, and even to this day, I also sometimes have a hard time understanding some sayings or jokes, since it seems like my bilingual brain doesn’t have the capacity to understand the current slang or hidden messages in the languages.  

Constant curiosity from others 

I grew up in a town where you could count the number of immigrants with just your ten fingers. Therefore, there really was no hiding the fact that you are different from the rest. As a shy person, I used to hate it when everyone in school, kids, parents, and teachers would put me on spot and ask me how to say something in my second language. I often hesitated to answer and hated the fact that I am different from the rest. However, this has changed completely for me with age since I have realized how unique it is to know many languages. 

Although growing up bilingual has its downs, it also has a lot of positive sides to it. For instance, when I was in high school, feeling like I didn’t fit in, I was able to find a friend group to connect with through our language. Or when traveling abroad, I notice in how many countries I can understand the language since Russian is widely used. Therefore, being multilingual opens great opportunities for you, such as finding new friends to connect with and the possibility to go study abroad.

When was the moment you realized that being bilingual was a gift?