Maree Hamilton doesn’t like New Year’s resolutions. Instead, she selects a theme for the coming year. In 2019, when Maree saw a Finnish sustainable textile material company advertising a job opening, the theme happened to be “The year to be brave”. So, after working in the textile industry in New Zealand for over 30 years, Maree applied, got the job and now lives in Jyväskylä, Central Finland.
The move hasn’t been all smooth sailing, but Maree strongly believes in embracing new opportunities. After all, living and working in Jyväskylä has proven to be a life-changing experience.
How I got my current job is… I was working in the textile innovation and marketing industry in New Zealand and discovered a sustainable fibre innovation company here in Finland. I made contact and was impressed at their quick response. We started a collaborative conversation, and I registered for their newsletter. Some months later they were advertising for a textile expert, so I applied. My attitude is that life is short, and it was an amazing opportunity to work in Europe with a new and exciting textile fibre innovation. The complete unknown was really alluring.
The main differences in working life in Finland compared to New Zealand are… Working in Finland offers a close proximity and diversity of international brands that are so easily accessible which is hugely different from New Zealand. Both Finland and New Zealand have great innovations and an innovative attitude, but the cultural differences and ages of the countries are poles apart. I also think there is less formality in New Zealand; possibly because it is a young country and doesn’t have the huge history that Finland does. Finland is well known for its amazing education and medical systems but is very much a country of more private and reserved people. Developing an easy and casual rapport is harder here in Finland.
Finland’s strengths in textile innovations are... Finland once had a very strong, tradition-based textile industry which has essentially been constrained for the last 80 years. I love that the Finns still embrace their hand-knitted beanies and socks and textile craft heritage. In recent years, Finland has strived forward within cellulose textile fibre innovation and is leading the way – which makes complete sense due to Finland’s footprint being 75 per cent forest.
What I enjoy most about Jyväskylä is… that it is a small and easily accessible city. I love the lake and the surrounding forest; it is small and pretty, and I feel safe and comfortable here.
The hobbies that I have really enjoyed practising in Finland are… I have enjoyed walking here. In fact, I deliberately chose not to drive. I have bought Nordic walking poles which is a new thing for me compared to New Zealand. I love adventuring and exploring, and I also travel as much as possible. COVID certainly put a damper on that but now that Europe is opening up, I’m loving being able to explore again.
The organisations that have been helpful for my professional networking in Finland are… Integrating into Finnish life and business has been really challenging due to so many cultural, business and day-to-day life differences and to the language barrier. But my employer and colleagues have been the most supportive and kind in helping me to overcome these barriers.
The challenge(s) that I have encountered and overcome while adjusting to working life in Finland is/are… I’ll be honest in that this is the most challenging career and life adjustment I have ever made. I don’t speak Finnish and my Kiwi accent is also quite difficult for many Finns. Trying to have an in-depth technical conversation and not being fully aware of many of the cultural, business and communication subtleties has left me a little isolated at times. I have always prided myself on reading people quite well through body language and facial expressions, which is hugely helpful in large and challenging meetings. However, I find the Finns quite reserved and private, so at times I have struggled to pick up on the important unspoken cues.
Moving to Finland was about embracing challenge, change and getting out of my comfort zone because… Life is short and getting shorter. For me, it’s important to embrace new opportunities. I would have been so personally disappointed in myself if I didn’t take this amazing opportunity and leap of faith. I think courage is always rewarded in so many ways for your own sense of worth, personal pride and achievement. Even on a not so good day, when I am feeling less than courageous or a little lost in this very different country, I try to put on a brave face and embrace every small win. My life has completely changed in so many ways – this has truly been life-changing for me and given me such a huge appreciation of the differences (both good and bad) between New Zealand and Finland.
The words of advice I would have for someone thinking about moving here for work is… The best advice I would give is to embrace all the quirky, unusual, sometimes challenging and wonderful differences and not try to re-invent your ‘old’ life. It is also important to develop a social network outside of work as soon as possible.
Something not covered in the previous segments that I would like to mention is… I am pleased to say that I have avoided getting run over while crossing the road because I am used to looking for traffic the other way. I now fully understand the Finnish term ‘sisu’ and have a huge respect for the people of this beautiful country that quite happily do their shopping on foot in the pitch black in -25 degrees.