Tervetuloa! My name is Mel and I am a Kiwi living in Finland.
Melanie and her husband moved to Sydney for a year and stayed for eleven. Later on New Zealand and now their son is growing up in Finland! Her blog is an insider guide to life in Helsinki and a way “to keep in touch with family and friends back home”.
We would like to know your family! How did you meet your husband, about your life in Australia and New Zealand and the little boy’s energy?
I was working in an organic supermarket in Auckland, New Zealand when a customer caught my eye. I would ensure I was on the checkout whenever he came in and eventually he asked for my number.
We started going out and a year later decided to move to Sydney, Australia. We stayed for eleven years before returning home to NZ with our 5-month old son Miko in 2012. Two years later, Jonathan (now my husband) landed his dream job in Helsinki, Finland and so the next adventure began in a land about as far away as I could ever imagine. Miko is now four and as we prepare for our second Nordic winter we find we are enjoying life here on top of the world.
Things you like to do in Helsinki
Helsinki is changing and we love to explore and find new places to eat and drink coffee. The city is flat and compact so we walk or cycle everyday. The seasons are intense and things like food, leisure and sleep soon fall into rhythm with nature’s cycle. Because winter is so dark and many things close, we get out and do things like visiting islands and going to the amusement park while we can. Sometimes we’ll visit Tallinn in Estonia for lunch and still be home for dinner. In winter we sled and play in the snow. We go to cultural events that are new for us, such as Midsummer celebrations on the island of Seurasaari, where we also met Joulupukki, (Santa) and walked the Christmas path.
The best and the worst thing of being an expat
The worst thing is missing family. I have two sisters with children that I won’t have seen for two years by the time we visit home. Flights are expensive and the fastest route takes around 26 hours and I find that inability to just pop home for a visit very hard.
I also find not speaking Finnish difficult. I’m studying but can’t yet understand letters sent to me by government departments and I miss out on some conversations at work. A friend told me the other day that he’s so much funnier when he’s speaking Finnish, which made us laugh and me realize that I only really know people as much as their English allows.
On the plus side our family are delighted about visiting a part of the world they never imagined they’d see. My parents came for a month and we visited Stockholm, Tallinn and St Petersburg. Being able to travel is a huge bonus, as well as learning a new language and having Miko enrolled in such a great education system. Life here feels simpler and we have loads more time together as a family. Helsinki is incredibly safe and everything works. It’s a wonderful chance to show Miko a new culture and to experience new things.
Could you introduce us how are the culture and people of Finland?
The cliché is that Finnish people are reserved and somber but they are actually very funny. Since learning more about Finnish values such as sisu, I now value the quietness here and the trust people have that you can manage on your own. We know our neighbors and they are friendly and kind. I often meet people in the park with my son and have good conversations and laughs.
Unlike NZ, your word is very important here and verbal contracts can be taken seriously. Small talk and hyperbole can be baffling to Finns, however they are flattered if someone takes an interest in them. Despite the differences there is some kind of kindred spirit between New Zealanders and Finns – perhaps because we too know what it’s like to be on the edge of the world and also have big neighbors.
How has the big move changed your way of seeing life and world’s opportunities?
I love the way people in Europesee the whole world as a possibility, with families relocating for work or study. Many children speak two or three languages, from as young as three-years old. I’m reflecting a lot on my own culture and how young New Zealand is, even in terms of Polynesian settlement. I think I’m learning more about myself, what I’m capable of, what I value and maybe, how to be just a little bit quieter.
If you want to know how the adventures of Melanie and her family continue: Hey Helsinki !
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