Melanie: Hey Helsinki
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Finland, etc.
My name is Melanie and I am originally from New Zealand. My husband and I lived in Sydney, Australia for 11 years before moving back to NZ to ‘settle down.’ Two years later he landed his dream job in Finland, and so here we are, living in Helsinki after arriving in April 2014.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started my blog as a way to keep in touch with friends and family back home. I also wanted to record all the things that were so different to us that I knew we’d soon acclimatize to and forget.
It has now morphed into something more like a guide to Helsinki and Finnish life. I was looking for something like it before we moved here and often get emails from people in a similar position. I hope what I share might help them out.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
One of my favourite posts saw me wandering around a cemetery alone, late at night. My most popular however have been How to make the best korvapuusit (cinnamon buns) and Finland’s Oldest Public Pool - Swimsuits Optional. It was a real hit in the nudist community in Germany and the US.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Finland differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The seasons in Finland are clearly defined, with winter lasting several months. This means we tend to eat seasonally and sleep less over summer when the sun hardly sets at all. Spring and autumn are spectacular with changes in the environment apparent from day to day. During winter, life carries on and children play outside for at least two hours every day until the temperature drops below -15 Celsius. Finns have a saying, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.’
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Finland? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I wish I’d brought more New Zealand merino with me for the long Nordic winter and perhaps started taking Vitamin D earlier when the sun started to appear much less frequently! I wish we’d brought my husband’s favorite bicycle with us too — Helsinki is such a great city to cycle in, I’d recommend it to anyone if they can.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Despites Finns apparent reservation, it takes very little time before they are inviting you to get naked. Sauna culture is such a huge part of life here you should expect to be invited to join in very soon after arrival. For example, I was invited to attend a company sauna event during my first week at work.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Finland?
- Be prepared to learn some Finnish. People do speak English but you will find work and living so much easier if you know a few words. Don’t be put off by how hard people say it is. You don’t have to be fluent, but there will be times when you need it, especially outside of Helsinki.
- Be prepared to diversify your career. I worked with families of prisoners in Australia but cannot do that here without speaking Finnish. I switched to freelance writing before starting my current role, working in relocation. If you can afford to, try to see it as an opportunity to try something new, or something you’ve always wanted to. Otherwise be prepared to work in a restaurant or do cleaning, until you have enough Finnish or find an English-speaking company to work with.
- Accept invitations. I’ve met some great people through introductions from mutual friends. It will feel like you’re going on blind dates all the time, but you really have nothing to lose. Try to step outside your comfort zone and join in experiences unique to Finnish life.
How is the expat community in Finland? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There are many expat groups on Facebook, including parent groups that I find helpful for getting information. Through work and Finnish lessons I meet a good mix of people and feel very lucky with the mix of locals and internationals I have been fortunate to meet.
How would you summarize your expat life in Finland in a single, catchy sentence?
We are starting a new life on top of the world!