“There is no better place to raise a child than Finland..”
Originally from Taiwan, Ivy once worked in the entertainment industry as an actress in TV and commercials, but later returned to her major – journalism – to be a reporter and news anchor for 20 years in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Nowadays, she lives in Helsinki with her husband and two children and has forged a career for herself here as an influencer on Chinese social media, working with some of Finland’s leading brands to promote them to her 1.27 million followers.
The reason I ended up in Finland was… a Finnish games studio reached out and asked my husband if he was interested in working in Finland. Before this, we practically knew nothing about Finland. We only knew that it was a country with a world-famous education system. Before agreeing to the offer, the company invited our family to Finland. At that time, we were a family of three. We tried to live the daily Finnish life for a week. It turned out that this is a relatively cool and calm place compared to Hong Kong; there was not much noise even inside the restaurants. I tried to chat with passers-by and found that they have a high degree of identification with their own country.
I also saw that there were high welfare measures available here, such as no ticket fees for parents pushing baby strollers on public transportation, which made me feel that being a mother here can be very independent and free. In addition, my husband and I only had experience living in Asia and North America. We realised it’s a great opportunity to get to know Europe via Finland: even if we really never got used to life here in the end, we still knew that this kind of life experience would be precious. Therefore, we decided to move to Finland.
What I find surprising about living and working in Finland is… how Finns can be so calm. One thing I was impressed with is when going to the Christmas lighting ceremony at the Senate Square in the centre of Helsinki, there was the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen in Finland. But even during the parade, people kept themselves in order. When Santa Claus passed by, Finns responded with a smile, and not saying ‘hi’ or screaming. I was so surprised! This is very different from the way we are used to celebrating American holidays.
Later, I pondered whether the reason that Finns don’t easily reveal their personality and emotions is actually because they respect each other so much. Therefore, they naturally maintain a psychological and physical social distance. Finns have a high IQ, too! I think it is because of this that they use a very rational way to deal with the distance between people.
My favourite thing about Finland is… Finnish values like independence and equality. These seemingly abstract or lofty ideals are actually implemented by everyone, from the government to the citizens in Finland. For example, the world-famous Flow Music Festival has a special time of the day that is reserved for families, so that children can participate as well. I think children here are always treated as independent individuals, and any activity planning takes into consideration people from 0 to 99 years old.
For example, I can feel from the overall design of Helsinki Central Library Oodi how the government treats its own people and gives them knowledge and offers them a building that can be operated sustainably in the city for the people. In the library, one can use expensive designer chairs without any special rules. You can eat and chat in the library, because the government believes that offering a good environment is the best way to cultivate good civic awareness and people will work together to safeguard things that belong to the public. Everything starts with trust, which establishes a cycle of goodness. This is actually what surprises me the most.
The popularity of my current role as an influencer is… in fact, it’s a bit surprising. My Weibo followers were only numbered about 500 000 before I moved to Finland, but they grew to 1.27 million within three years of moving here. I realised that the Nordic life I shared was a topic of interest to the public. I think my fans are interested in my parenting experience and the differences in lifestyle between Northern Europe and Asia, so any Finnish experience I share will be curious to them. This gave me the motivation to continue to shoot videos, continue to share my life and use my past hosting expertise and life background, hoping to let more people know about Finland.
My co-operation with Finnish companies and organisations has taught me… about the flat organisational culture here. When working with a Finnish company, I can often see the CEO or the boss right away. This makes me feel great, because these high-level executives are willing to do it themselves and do not have the corporate hierarchy. They can run a company in a flat organisational culture with their employees. When facing new things, they are also willing to listen and give feedback.
When working with a Finnish company, you can rest assured that things will usually go very smoothly, although the email response is not always instant [laughs]. I have to pay special attention to the other party’s work, off-duty and vacation times, however. Finns will take a whole month off for the summer vacation, so my business promotion will be relatively slow too during this time. This is a new thing for me to adapt to, since my previous job was always about making deadlines and decisions every hour. This also allows me to find a balance between family and work.
The piece of advice I would give to someone thinking about moving to Finland with or without a job organised beforehand is… ask yourself: can you be by yourself? Are you willing to learn to be by yourself? In Finland, there are not as frequent social activities as in Asia, but Finland provides an excellent environment for you to understand yourself. This is because you can go back to school at any time, strangers will not directly interrupt your actions and outsiders won’t criticise you quickly about anything you do. Because we are independent individuals and we are mature adults, we must learn to introspect and be able to enjoy the quiet time we spend with ourselves. I fell in love with the feeling of visiting a museum alone after I arrived in Finland and with the quiet moments of talking to myself.
The Finnish word that best describes working here is… sisu [grit, determination]. This word shows the past history of the Finns, their nationality and the reasons why they rank alongside the highly developed countries of Northern Europe. After being able to spend the five months of the dark and cold winter in Finland, I feel that I have got a little sisu spirit [laughs], and I have even very young children with me. There is nothing in life that can’t be done.
What I enjoy most about living in the Helsinki suburb of Munkkiniemi is… that this is where the former residence of renowned Finnish designer Alvar Aalto is located, and one can feel the artistic atmosphere. The environment is fresh and quiet. I heard that this is one of the areas with the highest average age in Helsinki, but the area itself does not feel old. Instead, this shows the history of this area. At the same time, Munkkiniemi is very close to the sea and the forest, making it suitable for families.
Raising my children in Finland is… for me, there is no better place to raise a child than Finland. Not only is there a social atmosphere and system that allows parents to spend time with their children, Finns have also jokingly told me: in Finland, mothers are queens. In addition to the many welfare benefits in place for mothers, there are various discounts and courtesies for pushing baby strollers. In Hong Kong, I often felt that taking my child out of the house was causing trouble for other people, but in Finland I don’t feel this guilt. Finland allows me to enjoy the fun of being a mother. There are several parks I can walk to within 10 minutes from my home. They are clean and safe. We can go hiking in the forest for half a day, etc. In Helsinki, there are many places where my children can enjoy their childhood.
I try to be part of the community in Finland by… starting to send my children to public kindergartens because I hope they can learn Finnish and make Finnish friends instead of just growing up in immigrant circles. I don’t understand Finnish, but I took my child to a Finnish music playing group. I really didn’t understand what they were saying there, but I can ask the teacher in English after the class. If the teacher’s English is not good enough, they will try to use other methods to answer me. So, I think the mentality I hold is that when I move to someone else’s country, I have to respect and learn from their culture and at the same time be grateful to any strangers and friends who are willing to help me there. As long as I live there with a humble and open attitude, I can get good feedback from people too.
The hobbies I have picked up in Finland include… definitely going to sauna. The one condition I had for buying a house here was that there must be a sauna. Sauna is an excellent place to cultivate a parent-child relationship and relax your body and mind.
In addition, I recently started trying to sell my second-hand clothes. In the past, I would just donate my clothes. But the second-hand shops in Helsinki are so beautiful and so popular that I can’t help but try them. I have now sold second-hand clothing for almost one thousand euros. Can you believe that?