Melanie in Helsinki: "Finns are warm, funny, generous people"

  • Melanie in Helsinki
Interview
Published 3 years ago
Melanie, Kiwi expat, moved to Helsinki ten months back with her husband and three year old son. She is currently a freelance writer and she enjoys discovering her new city's parks, cafes, etc.
Mel_inHelsinki

Mel_inHelsinki

Terve! I'm a New Zealander and moved to Helsinki in April 2014. I write a blog called Hey Helsinki about all the little things that make life here unique. I'm studying Finnish and also have a son so am learning a bit about life for children ...

Where are you from, Melanie, and what are you doing nowadays?

I am originally from New Zealand. When I was 22, I moved to Sydney, Australia with my boyfriend and we lived there for 11 years. He is now my husband and we have a 3 year old son. We moved home to New Zealand for two years before moving to Helsinki, Finland, in April 2014. In Australia, I worked for a large non-governmental organization that supported people who had been in prison and their families. I delivered training to other services and also taught at TAFE NSW which is a tertiary college in Australia. Nowadays, I am a Freelance Writer and the unofficial ambassador for Finland to the Pacific Region.

Why did you choose to move to Finland?

My husband got a job here with a leading company in the games industry. It was too good an opportunity for him to give up. His background is in 2D animation and he is now a Senior Games Artist there.

What were the procedures to follow for a New Zealander national to move there?

We had to apply for Residency and travel at the nearest Finnish Embassy in Canberra, Australia, to hand in our applications and have our fingerprints taken. We had to take our son with us too so they could verify his ID photos. My husband was given two-years Permanent Residency but my son and I got one-year, based on family ties. Ours expire in April 2015 but it can take up to six months to have them processed, so we reapplied in February this year.
It can also take a while to get an appointment at the Police Station to reapply, so I actually booked in December 2014 and February 2015 was the first available time. If you are in this position, I would recommend thinking ahead and not leaving it to the last minute.

How long have you been in the country?

We have been here ten months and we are a married couple with a 3-year old son. We arrived in April which is early Spring. It can be very tough arriving in the middle of a Finnish winter. I would seriously recommend arriving in Spring if you can.

What has attracted you to Helsinki?

The seasons are incredible. They are so intense and the changes in scenery are dramatic. The beach we swam at every day in summer is now covered in ice and the Baltic Sea has frozen. The city is flat and compact so you can walk and cycle everywhere. Public transport is smooth running and free for people traveling with a child in a stroller up to the age of six. You are never far from the sea and the food and coffee scene are growing. It's also a treat for us to have the rest of Europe so accessible, including places like Estonia and Russia that we had not thought of visiting before.

What are the local labor market's specificities?

I worked in social work in Australia but cannot work in that field here in Finland without being fluent in Finnish. So now I work as a Freelance Writer. Many companies have been down-sizing over the last year in Finland so I would recommend you have a job lined-up before you arrive if possible, especially if you don't speak Finnish.

Was it difficult to find accommodation? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?

Most people in the city live in apartments. Family homes tend to be slightly further out or in Espoo and Vantaa. It didn't take too long to find a place but we had help from my husband's company. The rental agreement, compulsory house insurance and utilities contracts, are all in Finnish. So you really need a Finnish speaker to help you. You also need someone to check when the plumbing is due to be redone in the building you live in. This is a fairly regular occurrence here and can result in people having to relocate.

How do you find the Finnish lifestyle?

It's really great in that it seems slower than what we are used to. People tend to work shorter hours and the shops don't open on Sunday until mid-day (if at all). It means people tend to be outside, enjoying the natural surrounds and for us it means more family time as my husband is home for dinner. He walks to work too, so we are very lucky in that regard (some people obviously would have a longer commute).

Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

I think so. We make a point of saying yes to every invitation and trying new experiences. We don't watch or read the Finnish news though. So we are living in a bit of a bubble in that we don't access the political climate or pop culture like a local. But most of our friends here are Finnish, my son and I are learning Finnish and I write about all things Finnish on my blog Hey Helsinki as well as having written a City Guide to Helsinki.

What does your every day life look like in Helsinki?

Our son goes to daycare every morning and I have Finnish class twice a week during the day. I write for Creating Helsinki, so I am often out doing interviews or finding new subjects. I write stories for magazines at home and pitch story ideas to other publications. I have lunch with friends or study with a friend from Finnish class and generally get home around 5 pm. I walk everywhere as we don't have a car, which I love.

What has surprised you the most at your arrival?

That Finnish children are outside everyday no matter the weather - sunshine, rain, hail or snow. I did wonder what we'd do during the long dark winter but life doesn't stop! It's different for us that most of the stores and cafes are behind two doors (to keep the cold out) so you have to really go inside to get a feel for a place (at home shops and cafes often spill out onto the street). Once you find places you like though, it's a good feeling, like you've discovered a secret.

Any particular experience you would like to share with us?

I think some people imagine Finland is a very easy country to move to and in many ways it is. Nearly everyone speaks English but when I took my son to the doctor for the first time I was really confused by the system. The website and all information at the health center was in Finnish or Swedish. Until I could find someone to talk to, I felt completely overwhelmed. The same thing happened when I had to deal with Customs about a package that had arrived. You will need to know Finnish at times or ask someone to help you. You can't rely on Google translate alone. English is the third language here after Finnish and Swedish - for example my enrollment forms and invoices for Finnish class are all in Finnish. But everything works incredibly well and that's something to be very grateful for once you know where you fit within that.

Your favorite local dishes?

Koorvapuustit - cinammon buns and munkki - fresh donuts. We never grow tired of eating seasonal food such as fresh berries and wild mushrooms and the salmon here is beautiful. It's also great to have European cheeses available and much cheaper than at home!

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Finland ? Is it easy for an expat to live in the country?

The cost of living here is comparative to living in New Zealand or Australia once you are earning euros. Things like internet and phone plans are much cheaper in Finland than we are used to. Compared to other parts of Europe though, I believe Finland is quite expensive, especially for things like eating out.

How do you spend your leisure time there?

We go outside everyday, even in winter. We go sledding at the park and walk to good cafes. When it's really cold we come home and have a sauna, which is very Finnish of us! We like to eat at new places and in summer we swim a lot. When you live in a new country there's that good incentive to always check out places you've heard of or events that are on which is great. So we are out discovering the city a lot.

What are the differences between life in Finland and in New Zealand?

Finland is incredibly safe and children will often walk home from school alone. NZ is safe too but there's a perception that it's not. For example many babies sleep outside in Finland during the day and I think at home we would be concerned that someone might kidnap our baby, even though that's probably unlikely! I can make my way around the city or catch a train at night and feel really safe in Helsinki. I miss the way New Zealanders greet each other though and smile at strangers. We are a very friendly, open and helpful bunch of people and although Finns are warm, funny, generous people, they are much more reserved in public.

Do you miss your home country?

Yes, I miss family and friends and the ease of being in my own culture. I miss the wildlife, the flowers and the long summers we had in Australia. I miss the food and coffee culture and ethnic diversity. But I'm happy here and loving the experience. It's just so far away from home and not being able to visit as often as I'd like to is difficult.

Would like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates?

If you arrive in winter, be assured that spring and summer are amazing and the sun will return! Helsinki really comes alive then. Try new experiences, even if they are outside of your comfort zone (like sauna and ice swimming). Try to learn some Finnish, even though most people speak English. It's polite and people will appreciate it.

What are your plans for the future?

To travel to Lapland and see the Northern Lights. To stay in the glass igloos in Kakslauttanen in the Arctic Circle and write travel stories about it. To be the go-to girl for stories on Finnish design, events, places and people and to write a book on Finnish life. Oh and learn how to make korvapusstit.

6 Comments
jsorri
jsorri
3 years ago

Nice blog thanks for sharing your experienced. I can relate some of this especially the language i find it hard.

Reply
anandamardeep
anandamardeep
3 years ago

Thank you for writing such a beautiful inscription. I actually visualized it all and for some brief moments felt like I was there. Would love to come and be there. Thanks again.

Reply
ash789
ash789
3 years ago

Very nice description :) I wanna make a trip there

Reply
Mel_inHelsinki
Mel_inHelsinki
3 years ago

Thanks Robyn. So nice to receive your Aussie smile! Sounds as though you are having an interesting time in your travels! Good luck with your relocation and all the best for new adventures. Thanks for your comments, Melanie

Reply
Mel_inHelsinki
Mel_inHelsinki
3 years ago

Hi Ali, thanks for your comments. I hope you'll enjoy Helsinki as much as we have if you come here. All the best, Melanie

Reply
alinz26
alinz26
3 years ago

Hello Melanie, after reading your blog about Helsinki I must say I'm quite intrigued to visit the country or shall I say the city in our conversation. I like to thank you for sharing this blog and I am pretty sure it will open quite a few eyes especially mine. Regards Ali

Reply
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