The untold story of an American immigrating abroad
A crisis at bedtime can only mean one thing for Kasey Snyder: a missing pacifier.
This nighttime drama is occurring 4,800 miles away from family and home as Snyder raises her first-born child while living abroad in Finland as an American immigrant.
Snyder, an outgoing native Jersey girl from Rockaway, took the biggest risk of her life a few years ago while pregnant and moved to Lohja, just outside of Finland’s capital. She now lives with her Finnish boyfriend and his two younger children. The leap into the unknown that Snyder took is an often untold part of the story of immigration in the United States, that of Americans who immigrate aboard.
“The risk was definitely very scary, it’s hard to know what you don’t know,” Snyder said. “I didn’t know how I would ever go back to work and support myself and having Brenna [her daughter] left everything unknown.”
According to the U.S. Department of State, as of 2016, 9 million U.S. citizens are living abroad. Although Snyder faces challenges every day, she explained that Finland has the opposite problem that America faces. Finland is looking for more immigrants to move to their country due to their decreasing birthrate.
Visible for this interview from overseas through a tiny iPad camera, Snyder remains cozy in her tiffany blue sweater after putting all of the kids to bed. No matter how tired she may seem, her pep and cheeriness always shines through.
When she made the initial decision to move to Finland while pregnant, she started off living on a work permit, proving that she had a job in America or a bank account that would pay or either sustained 12,000 euros yearly. Her work permit was valid for one year and she currently resides on a five-year family residency permit.
Finland, known for its generous healthcare and education plans, was not offered to Snyder since she is an American. She had a difficult time applying to receive healthcare for her daughter during pregnancy.
“It got tricky because the healthcare did not cover deliveries,” she said. “But because Brenna’s dad is Finnish, once she was born she would automatically be a citizen and be covered. We had to apply for special circumstances.”
If Snyder did not apply for special circumstances, she would have been unable to deliver at a hospital and be deemed as a foreigner with no medical coverage, a scary and relatable instance to immigrants migrating to America for a better life.
During Snyder’s frequent trips back and fourth to visit family and friends in the United States, she is usually seen making her way through the Finnair terminal after an eight and a half hour flight with a giant blueberry colored suitcase, wheeling Brenna on top of the luggage due to overtired baby legs. Although Brenna is almost three years old, she’s got the charm to make passerby’s gawk at her cuteness while Snyder is struggling to drag her bags through John F. Kennedy Airport.
Brenna is not only becoming a bilingual prodigy, but is a dual citizen. When traveling through Europe, she uses her European passport, but when traveling to America, the law requires a United States passport.
Snyder carries a handful of important documents when traveling with her daughter such as Brenna’s birth certificate, an official document from Finland and a letter from Jere, Brenna’s dad, stating that he is giving permission for her to travel outside of the country signed by two witnesses which are his parents.
As Snyder lives on a five-year family residency permit, she plans to apply for an indefinite amount of time once the five years are up. With numerous trips back and fourth to the U.S Embassy in New York and Helsinki and a handful of personal questions asked, the embassy in Helsinki evaluates and makes the decision on who is allowed to stay in the country.
“In order to have a [Finnish] citizenship you have to speak Finnish, like fluent,” said Snyder. “There is a test called the Yki test and there is a set level that you have to pass in order to even apply for the citizenship. I am nowhere near that.”
Not only would Snyder have to master an extremely difficult language, but applying for citizenship would interfere with her American rights and she is not willing to give that up.
The most challenging part of living abroad for Snyder as an immigrant is speaking. Jere speaks Finnish and English, so Snyder has been learning from her boyfriend while taking multiple Finnish language classes, however, discrimination does not just occur when talking about race.
“Physically I look more like the Fins than I do an immigrant,” Snyder said. “But from a social perspective, I find more friends faster in the immigrant community. It’s not until I open my mouth and people are like, ‘Oh wait you’re not Finnish.’”
Not only has the transition been arduous for Snyder, but her American family has had just as hard of a time. Snyder’s mother, Bonnie, was extremely upset when her daughter picked up, left her job and moved to Finland.
“It was very scary to think that Kasey would be so far away,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine not being able to see her on a regular basis. Kasey has a good head on her shoulders and I know she wants Brenna to live in a healthy environment.”
Along with Snyder’s mother, her brother Ryan realized the challenge of the language barrier.
“I’d say the language barrier and just being away from family [is the hardest for her],” he said. “I think it’s the hardest on my parents, it can be tough and require a lot of patience.”
Although living as an immigrant and away from family as a first time mother can be overwhelming, Snyder has made the best out of the situation and even started her own business called Katalyst, which provides travel management and other services to small Finnish businesses. Not only is Snyder innovative and putting her business education to work, she knows Brenna will benefit from living in Europe.
“It’s a really great experience for her and for me,” she said. “She has a completely different perspective on life. She knows a second language and she is only two and a half. She told the day care teacher that her mom speaks English and her dad speaks Finnish and she speaks both English and Finnish.”