Hi, my name is Mel. I’m a New Zealander who lived in Sydney, Australia for 11 years before relocating with my husband and son to Helsinki, Finland. Sydney had its coldest two days in a row in 20 years this week, with a forecast of 13 degrees Celsius. In Finland we now call that a warm spring day and are out eating ice cream!
1. Why did you move abroad?
My husband is a games artist and Finland is the place to be right now in terms of great opportunities in the industry. When he got a job here we knew we had to come, although it was a fairly tough decision given it’s a 26-hour flight from home.
2. How do you make a living?
For our first year here I did freelance writing, producing articles about Helsinki for magazines back home. I’ve recently started working for a Finnish company, helping new employees and their families relocate and settle into life in Finland. In Australia I worked for an NGO that supports prisoners and their families. I can’t do that here without having good speaking skills in Finnish, Russian or Estonian.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
We keep in touch with friends and family via Skype, email, Viber and What’s App. Home is so far away we are grateful to keep in touch and to anyone who manages to make it all the way here to visit.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Helsinki?
Just how easy and accessible everything is. In NZ we had two cars – now we get by without one and walk or cycle everywhere. Helsinki is such a flat, compact city with well laid out cycle paths it’s a pleasure to get around by bike. Now that it’s summer we love to cycle around the city, stopping for a drink and dinner at a seaside bar before heading back home.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Helsinki?
The lack of daylight we have during the long Nordic winter. A good winter is a very cold one, as more snow means more light. Last winter was mild and unfortunately the snow turned to slush and then back to ice for weeks on end, making it very hard to get around. We’ve learnt to appreciate what a restful time winter is however and still go outside everyday.
6. What do you miss most?
Family, friends, understanding the culture and language that is going on around me, sunshine, a good laksa, being able to buy wine from the store after 6pm on a Saturday and on Sunday, family-friendly beer gardens, having banter and small talk in the street with strangers.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I’ve been very lucky to have had friends back home introduce me to Finnish people they know and for those Finnish people to agree to meet me for dinner or drinks. I’ve made some good friends this way and am getting pretty good now at going on blind dates. I’ve also made friends through Finnish class and my son’s daycare. I try to accept every invitation I get, especially when it involves a new experience.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
There are loads of holidays here and most of them have a bun or cake associated with it, which is great! Finland holds on to its traditional rites, even while marrying them with Christian celebrations. Summer solstice is one of the biggest events of the year and at Easter children dress as witches and visit houses with decorated willow branches. It’s made me realize how young NZ is, even in terms of the first Polynesians to arrive. I guess when the missionaries came out they only held onto those celebrations they wanted to keep - nothing they might consider pagan. At home, anything over 200 years old is generally considered really old. Time has a new meaning up here to me, even though my Polish and French friends consider Helsinki to be a very young city!
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That Finnish people are unfriendly and serious all the time. They are actually funny and generous people. It’s considered rude to talk while someone else is, so you may not get much feedback when you’re talking to someone until it is their turn to speak, leaving you wondering if you are boring them. They also value independence and don’t interfere in other people’s private lives. If I need help I’ve learnt to ask for it and see what I thought was a lack of concern now a compliment in that they assume I can manage on my own.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
It’s comparative to NZ although things like internet and electricity are cheaper here. Of course travel to other European countries is much cheaper and closer, allowing us to explore many places we’ve never been before, such as Sweden, Latvia, Estonia and Russia.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Learn some Finnish and go outside everyday. Don’t let a little bit of cold weather stop you or you’ll be inside for six months!
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog as a way to keep in touch with friends and family. It now also functions as a guide to the city and an insight to life in Finland for people visiting or moving here.
Mel's blog, Hey Helsinki
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