Art & photography by Sverre Sverredal and Maria Langen
This amazing story about the international woman Riitta Huttunen, and her life change, in one way starts in Finland, where Riitta was born, but also in Sweden, where she lived most of her adult life together with a Finnish born man.
Even Norway is a key piece in her life puzzle. It was in a Norwegian context that Riitta met Ron Stubbings, a Canadian man interested in Scandinavia and folk dancing. They fell in deep love, passed some serious crises, got married and settled in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia.
Today Riitta Huttunen is driving her car safely in the Vancouver traffic, but it has been a long journey getting there. While driving Riitta reflects on her big life change and "how come she got carried away by love all the way from Scandinavia to Canada?”:
- It is with mixed emotions I tell my story, Riitta says. At the same time as I am happy, very much in love, I like my job - yes the whole country with its friendly people, beautiful nature and environmental thinking - I also find it difficult to settle. And I miss my friends and family.
Riitta has also met other people from Scandinavia who confirm similar difficulties and feelings when settling in a new country.
- You have to struggle, be ambitious and learn how the country and culture work. You have to communicate in a language where you have a limited vocabulary and understanding, about a history you are not as familiar with, and on the top of that you must relearn and redo things that you already have done before.
Even when you are a defensive and experienced driver from Sweden, you have to understand the different rules for driving in Canada, take new lessons and pass the road test to get a Canadian driving license. Another difficulty moving to a new country is to establish new relations, and to keep the ones you had before.
- You have to be active in building up your new network and relations. At the same time it is important to keep up the good relationship with your family and close friends at home. By heart they are the closest ones, but by distance they are too far away to see regularly.
It is necessary to find new ways and channels for communication. It is now (2014) five years since Riitta met her Canadian husband, an International Director for Sons of Norway, Ron Stubbings. He loves to tell how he met his wife Riitta. "Neither one of us could stop dancing when we met at the folk dance convention, Nordlek, in Lahti, Finland, and we have become partners since then". Riitta's eyes go wet when she thinks back.
At the time she met Ron, Riitta was in a middle of a divorce from her Finnish born husband and her emotions were all over the place. She could not listen to her inner voice immediately and had to let Ron go.
- We did not even share phone numbers from a start; I never thought we could see each other again, but the "love alarm clock" went on and I could not stop myself from catching up and planning a visit in Vancouver.
The bond we got when dancing together was unbelievably strong. My friends convinced me to visit him as soon as possible, and I did. At the first visit Riitta and Ron decided to try a life together in Port Coquitlam.
But, the happiness of the planned move was covered by ashes - literally - when Riittas ex-husband suddenly died from alcohol acute alcohol intoxication in his new flat. Riitta was devastated. Suddenly she found herself in the middle of an emotional chaos, planning both a funeral and –a new love and a move to a new country. Many friends and family members were very upset and sad of the whole situation of "losing two loved ones at the same time". Ron could only be supportive to Riitta, but he could not do much himself for his new Scandinavian acquaintances and family.
A shadow of sadness pulls over Riitta's face when she talks about her ex-husband:
- He was a wonderful man and we had so much fun together, when he was sober. We struggled to overcome the alcohol problem but failed. The marriage could not be saved, nor his life. After Riitta lived in Canada for several months, she returned to Sweden to visit family and friends. While she was gone, Ron realized how much he missed and loved Riitta, and went to Sweden to visit her.
They did an overnight trip to Norway to visit one of Ron’s friends. On the way home, Ron stopped the car at the border with Sweden, and as he stood in Norway, and she stood in Sweden, he had a flower ring in his hand and he proposed marriage. She accepted.
The wedding ceremony went well, both in Sweden and Canada. Colorful, traditional costumes and dancing gave character to their big day in Sweden and Ron was welcomed into the family. The official wedding was in Canada with Ron’s family as the Swedish authorities didn’t accept his paperwork that he was single. Today the couple lives in a townhouse in British Columbia, only thirty kilometers from the city of Vancouver.
They are happily married and folk dancing continues to be an important part of their lives. They also have many other interests together - outdoor activities like bike riding, hiking, gardening and of course spending lots of time together in nature. Riitta works part time at the Scandinavian Community Centre in Vancouver, and also volunteers part time, and she goes back to Sweden and Finland at least once a year.
- It is not always easy, but "following my heart" is the best thing I have ever done for myself, Riitta says. I will probably never understand from where I got the courage.
With this story and photos both Riitta and Ron want to welcome all their family and friends to their home and the beautifulness of Canada. They also want to inspire other people in a crisis to struggle, communicate and care for each other. It is never too late to change.
Article and photos by Maria Langen