Cultural activism of the foreign kind by Nathalie Sallegren

Cultural activism of the foreign kind by Nathalie Sallegren

I surrender now in a way that I wouldn’t have been capable of before.

A complex network of selfish emotions bubbled under the surface of my professional ego before the pandemic and my social and geographical isolation is now experienced by everyone. No longer mine to suffer alone. I am shamefully relieved. We are all mortal and cannot control the way the world turns. Cultural work has become the natural steam for me, I have learnt to rely on it as the undeniable ‘foreignness’ of my nature, means the ‘cultural’ is something that I have become an expert in. I now surrender to the core of what I can rely on. Writing/performing has become something I allow as a part of my true self. Let me explain a little about me first.

Adapting to new countries is something I am practised in. I had previously migrated to Papua New Guinea (PNG) from England as a baby and PNG to Australia as a child. Thereby migrating to various towns and cities in and around Australia, and finally to Finland. Each place taught me about dealing with a new form of cultural shock. I learned to adapt quite well and found my nature and skill base easy to adjust.

Living in Finland as a foreigner, however, has been quite different to my other experiences of living in countries other than my own. The very question: “which country is my own?” brings into point a prior sense of lacking in security. If I could use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, safety in employment and belonging are largely part of the substructure, which then lends itself to higher thinking. A migrant often has to battle with these issues in spite of the will to assimilate and gain confidence as an employable person and self-actualisation.

Cultural activism and writing

Since moving to Finland, I have been grieving for my original profession. As an academic library manager, I had to adjust my skills to become an expert in ‘cultural management’. The adjustment was quite easy, due to my experience in a wide variety of skillsets in a cultural setting: managing cultural organisations and collections; managing contracts, people, teaching various subjects, dealing with learning difficulties; event management; immigration issues and literacy for new language learners are all skills I include in my work portfolio. The underlying point is here though that gainful employment of as a full-time entity, within my field, has proved unachievable. ‘The system’ has disallowed me from slipping into the mainstream employment sector. Reasons have been argued before and resist this moment to discuss in depth issues of xenophobia. I have, as a quick fix, paved my own way into entrepreneurism as a cultural worker. Thankfully, individuals within the cultural sector have seen my worth and supported me with relevant cultural practice opportunities. It is because of these amazing opportunities and the faith people have had in me, that I remain energised and feeling appreciated.

By the same token, I have worked hard to create a place and a name for myself within my new environment. To use my networks and take risks and hope that others take risks in my name also.

During the Corona breakout I found myself at a pivotal point of feeling on one hand, desperate that I may not find paid work again and on the other hand, willing surrender. A space in time to delve even deeper into myself at find the soul of the projects I wish to fulfil as I have nothing left to lose.

Here are some questions a cultural worker/ writer in a bilingual, regional area of Finland (with two small children) would normally ask themselves:

  • What sort of role could I take on that would have me use my previous knowledge, skills, experience and qualification, in and around the community where my children are growing up? What should I focus on?
  • Am I good enough?
  • Should I spend up to ten years on learning two languages fluently and re-doing my qualifications in Finland in order to re-enter my career, but then at base level? And if so doing, what would be the guarantee I would find gainful employment at base level, then being in my early 50s.
  • Can I be successful as a second/ third language speaker while trying to convince people of my intelligence and worth in these other languages?
  • Can I manage without a Finnish mentor?
  • Can I do this without a foundation support network of family and friends as a native would have?
  • Is the administration done in Finnish and or Swedish/ or both? And how will I overcome language barriers?
  • How much silent discrimination will I need to deal with and how will that impact on my overall goals?
  • How can I maintain my language skills well enough to support my children through school and not seem too ‘foreign’?
  • How can I maintain my language skills well enough to remain or become ‘employable’.
  • Can I remain professional and calm when I am at the end of my energy levels and so isolated from my past?

Here are some further questions a cultural worker/ writer may ask of themselves during Corona time?

  • Will I ever be able to see my parents, my siblings, my ‘old’ close friends again?
  • Why should a foreign cultural worker or artist be of any priority within Finland?
  • Do I have enough faith in myself to get through this?

For the sake of my children, my mindset is this: I have nothing left to lose as I lift my chin again each time I apply for a grant or reach out to someone in hope for support.

The question of ego cannot be ignored. Can shame be held on to through to Corona-time, where collectively, we lose control of the lack of work, especially for a foreign, female, mother, writer, who lives in a regional area? Yes, the move to regional Finland was my choice, in the first place, but if I could just entertain the further thought: “were the repercussions of this choice within my control?” The cultural worker asks herself: “ought I change my career to a job status? Should I become a cook or a carer?” TE Palvelu seems to think this is a reasonable option. But how does my ego fair? Would I have more use as a cleaner? I know it is not a strength of mine, professionally speaking.

At the beginning of the corona crisis I started reaching out to teams and groups in a sense of panic, hoping that I could work and create an income for myself and us. These friends and colleagues are of course, their own people and have different goals and different needs. So, I just feel like I harassed them for selfish reasons. Instinctively, I too realise this is not how art should be created and see how the pandemic can exponentially repress out creativity.

In mid-April 2020, there were 3,467 applicants for “Kone Foundation Home Residency” package, but only 5.3% of applicants were successful and again, I feel relief. This is a difficult situation for the majority. So, while I am disappointed, I surrender. I may begin again to seek inwardly for self-compassion, patience and hope at my own pace.

I have been lucky, within my region to have found partnerships, colleagues and organisations who have seen the level of my work and professionalism and who have therefore entrusted me with some amazing opportunities and for that I am grateful. However, losing one’s profession at its peak and having to convince people of your worth, all the while receiving little chance at ‘full-time employment’ can be detrimental to one’s capacity for contribution to society. What underlies this, is that I now need to recognise that I still judge myself on societal ways of measurement. Gaging success on the mainstream measuring-stick of income, title and material possessions needs to be shaken from within me.

Corona has finally forced me into looking inwardly and accept. I no longer reach to art as a last resort but accept myself in my true form. Whatever the quality of output in any given cultural mould, I am me and that is what I give and in doing so, keep for myself. The top tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is in fact, the foundation of my own self and I cannot exist without my true actualization.


Nathalie Sallegren – Cultural Worker and Spoken word poet
Named “Cultural Activist” at a recent panel for “Culture Day” (Oct 2009) in Raseborg, Nathalie Sallegren runs her own educational business and is also a spoken word poet. Nathalie moved to Finland from Australia five years ago. Recent professional merits include.
• Leader: Swedish Café: Luckan, Raseborg, Finland Current
• Board member: Västnyländska kultursamfundet, Raseborg, Finland – Current
• Migrant advisory board member: City of Raseborg, Finland – Current
• Speaker: Teach & Learn Online Conference (Cambridge) – Mar 2020
Recent artistic merits include:
• Guest: Ruusu. Helsinki Poetry Connection (online) – March 2020
• Guest: Kirjan Talo, Turku, Finland. March 2020
• Organiser & spoken word artist: Message Stick. Fiskars, Finland – Jan 2020
• Guest spoken word artist: CaiSanaSoi. Caisa Talo, Helsinki, Finland – Dec 2019
• Organiser & presenter: Souls Outspoken: Seaside Stories Festival. Hanko, Finland –
Nov 2019
• Opening poet: Seaside Stories Festival. Hanko, Finland – Nov 2019.
Nathalie is a mother of two and has chosen Swedish as her language of integration.

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