Summer adventures

I’m back from my summer trips and gradually getting back into the flow of work again. I spent three weeks at my parent’s house for no reason except that I haven’t seen them for a long time. Just as I predicted, it was a little surreal at first to be back in the UK after nearly a year away but I soon got used to it again, just as I’m not used to being back in Finland, although I think I’ve forgotten what little Finnish I learnt.

Even though I had several jobs come in during what was supposed to be my vacation time, it was still nice to relax a little, see my family, and have some proper meals cooked for me. (I’m back to eating nothing but macaroni.) Best of all was spending some time with this girl:

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My parent’s husky, Snow (or Lumi in Finnish or Sneg in her native Russian) was so excited to see me that she jumped up at me and almost pushed me out of the door again. But once she was over that, she went back to being grouchy that she wasn’t allowed any tidbits or that my parents and sister had to leave the house for their jobs. She doesn’t understand the basic ideas of capitalism and feels resentful when people’s lives don’t revolve around her.  Hence I managed to get a lot of good ‘grumpy Snow’ pictures:

 

She has an entire shady garden to lie in but chooses to lie underneath this table.

She has an entire shady garden to lie in but chooses to lie underneath this table.

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It’s still surprisingly hot here in Turku but since it’s near the end of summer the leaves are starting to change colour so it’s a strange mix of summer and autumn right now. I’m  hoping to get back into the swing of working now that I have more job offers coming in. It’s been almost a year since I moved here and I may be broke but I’m hanging in there, so that’s something at least.

Spring update and photos

It’s been a while since my last post. In that time, spring has very slowly come to Turku and although it’s still not very warm and the trees aren’t in full bloom yet, it’s a nice change from the winter weather. I’m hoping that it will get warmer over the next month and that I’ll be able to go away somewhere and relax for Midsummer, which is an important holiday in Finland.

I’ve had a few good things happen to me this spring. I edited two full length manuscripts in the same month and had my first magazine publication for a Finnish language learners magazine. I’ve also gotten a part time book reviewer job contract and one of my articles on my writing blog was selected as a teaching resource.

Even so, the last two months haven’t been that great for me. Some of the things I was hoping to avoid when I moved abroad ended up happening. I didn’t handle them particularly well and I went through a bad period of anxiety and depression. Things are starting to improve now and something that does make me feel better is going out and taking photos.

Practicing photography was one of my new year’s resolutions and it came at a great time as I was asked to submit some pictures with my magazine article, so I guess I could say I’m a published photographer as well as a writer. Here are some spring pictures from the area near my apartment block. I foolishly forgot to take any of the same area during winter. Although it was a pain to get around during that time, it was at least very pretty. I’ll have to wait until next year to get those. Until then, enjoy some pictures taken on a much sunnier day than this one:

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A fishing wharf near my flat. I like to go there when I want some alone time to think, read, or pray.

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Random coloured things because why not. Clearly I still need to practice my photography because I spent ages getting the right angle and still forgot about the electricity pylons.

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Tiny daisies growing on the ruins of what I assume was once a church or temple. There are still religious services held there sometimes.

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How not to write an expat brochure. (And how to write one instead.)

I’ve been living abroad in Finland for about three months now but with all the administration and bureaucracy involved with emigrating, it feels like so much longer. But I’m still not done yet. I’m still waiting to hear if I’m eligible for health insurance plus I have to apply for a tax card, open a bank account, register my freelance business and apply for a language course. And that’s without the tax office back home hounding me about forms they never sent me.

When I visited the police station to arrange my residency permit, I picked up a brochure that I hoped would provide me with answers for my many questions. It did help in a lot of ways and provided some useful information such as what to do if you’re a victim of abuse, the emergency services number, and national holidays (Speaking of, happy Independence Day, Finland!) but there was a lot it was lacking. As well as being very poorly edited, the language was incredibly dumbed down and didn’t provide some of the most necessary information that expats need. Here are some of the things it did say:

  • You can borrow books for free at the library. Because in other countries you have to pay to borrow books from a library?

    What is this mysterious 'library' you speak of?

    What is this mysterious ‘library’ you speak of?

  • Send letters and parcels from a post office. Leaving them out with milk and cookies for the post fairies doesn’t work anymore.
  • Parents are responsible for raising their children. You mean I can’t let the internet do it for me? Then what’s the point of even having children?!
  • People use public health services when they’re sick. I usually just go to my voodoo priestess.
  • Babies and children visit the doctor with their parents. Do it yourself, you lazy brats! If you can lift your own head up then you can book your own doctor’s appointment.
  • You should brush your teeth for good oral health. Thanks for warning me, Finland.
  • Finnish officials don’t take bribes. The fact they had to point that out disturbs me…
  • Finnish people like free time. They also like to breathe air and wear shoes.
  • Men do their equal share of household chores. Well I should hope so!

Here’s what I think an expat brochure should be saying instead, based on my own experiences and questions I’ve seen on forums:

  • Sauna etiquette. It may be obvious to Finns, but foreigners who aren’t used to it might be confused. For instance, towels or no towels? Gender segregated or not? It could potentially save a lot of embarrassing moments.
  • How to deal with seasonal affective disorder. Trust me, it is not fun.
  • Where to find books in English. As I work in publishing this is especially important to me, but many other people like finding books to read in their native language as well.
  • What proof of freelance income I need to get my residency permit. This wasn’t made clear at all. I showed up at the police station with three years worth of tax forms I didn’t need.
  • International moving companies that ship to Finland and finding a removal company within Finland.
  • Can you get time off work for non-Christian holidays? I work from home so it’s not an issue for me, but it probably is for some people.
  • Dealing with wild animals such as bears and wolves. We don’t have them in the UK so it’s good to know how to stay safe and not get mauled.

    It's ok to pet them, right?

    It’s ok to pet them, right?

  • If your residence permit is based on family ties, does it become invalid if you divorce or split up?

Fellow expats, have you ever come across any similar information packs when you moved abroad? What information do you wish was included in expat brochures?

8 Ways to Enjoy Autumn in Finland

I don’t think I need to tell you that autumn is here. Even if you live in the southern hemisphere or  your country is going through an Indian summer, the obsession over pumpkins and skeletons on social media has probably told you. I think autumn is a great time of year to visit Finland, but many attractions such as guided tours and theme parks close up shop on August 31st, which make it seem like there’s very little to do. But I’m here to challenge that. Whether you live in Finland or are just visiting, here are some activities unique to the season:

  1. Go exploring.

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I’ve only just arrived so there’s still a lot of Turku for me to discover. I haven’t even been to the castle or the landmark archipelago yet. Autumn walks are great to warm you up and you can see some lovely autumn colours at the same time. Ponds and puddles are already starting to ice over here and when winter comes, it’ll be both too cold and too icy/snowy to take a walk or use your bike so it’s best to do it during autumn while you still have the chance.

  1. Practice your art.

This season seems to awaken something in artists of all disciplines and inspire us to create something new, ironically enough at a time when nature is dying. It’s a great feeling to wrap up in a blanket (I suggest a blanket fort) with a hot drink (most likely a pumpkin spice latte) and do something creative.

I’ve been using the internet’s obsession with autumn photos to practice my photography, with mixed results. You could even practice your painting if you still have any feeling left in your fingers.

  1. Stock up on winter clothes.

Even in autumn, you’re going to need a good supply of warm clothes in Finland – long johns, leggings, thermal shirts and a good coat. And a hat of course.

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On the bus, I like to play ‘who has the best hat’. I always win.

You don’t want to be left without them when the weather takes a turn for the worse so it’s best to be prepared for when autumn arrives. If you’re visiting from abroad, you can stock up on some thermals which are much cheaper than they are in most countries.

  1. Wear a miniskirt and cute tights.

Even so, the change of season is no excuse for not wearing the cute clothes you want. As long as you make sure you’re warm enough and have enough layers on underneath, you can pull off almost anything. I gladly and proudly wear a cute mini and patterned leggings while everyone else is wearing their boring thermals. If it works for Japanese school girls in anime, it can work for you too!

  1. Eat an ice cream outside.

As the largest consumer of ice cream in Europe, the chill of autumn doesn’t stop Finns from enjoying an ice cream. You’ll often see someone walking down the street happily enjoying one. Soup, stew and coffee is all well and good, but don’t think that you have to survive off of them or that you have to deny yourself an ice cream just because of the season.

  1. Go for a walk on the coast.
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This is actually a river but you get the idea.

I grew up on the coast and I can tell you there’s nothing like a walk on the beach or cliffs with bracing wind in your face. As long as you wrap up warm it feels great. Just because its autumn doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beach in some way. And coming in from the cold and enjoying a hot chocolate is an equally satisfying feeling.

  1. Air out your sheets.

Freshly aired out sheets help you sleep better and most apartments have these wire frames outside to beat the dust off of your sheets and blankets. I’m often woken up by the sound of someone beating a blanket 15 yards away from my bedroom window. Once again, you won’t be able to do this in winter so it’s best to do it now before your sheets turn stiff from ice.

  1. Have a bonfire.

In the UK we have guy fawke’s night where we have a bonfire and light up fireworks for slightly creepy reasons we’ve long since forgotten. Finland doesn’t have this tradition but you don’t need an excuse to have a bonfire, cook marshmallows, drink soup and have a sing song. (Damn, that last one sounded very 1950’s!)

 

Don’t let the cold and darkness of the season depress you or stop you from visiting our lovely country, enjoy autumn any way you want to!

Crossed the Finnish Line

So, I’ve finally made it! I can now cross ‘live in a foreign country’ off my bucket list. And I must say, so far all the fears I had were for nothing. Everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. The only real trouble was buying spices with Finnish labels. But it was worth it because the spiced eggs were delicious!

The only worry I have now is my right of residency, as I still worry that they’ll think I’m not making enough money to meet the financial requirements. But my appointment at the police station to register isn’t for over a month so maybe I shouldn’t worry about it until then and just focus on my writing.

I’m more or less settled into my new place and am just waiting for my boxes from home to be shipped over. I’m sharing a flat in a student dorm building with my fiancé, who is studying a master’s degree in pop culture and North American studies. It sounds very interesting. I might apply for it next year.

But anyway, our flat. For the last two years we’ve been living in a shared house  which was practically falling apart. I’ve had a lot of different roommates but the people I shared that house with were just awful. Every roommate you ever have will either be compulsively neat and bitch at you for leaving a single teaspoon by the sink or will be almost proudly messy and leave their own dishes to rot. There is no in between and we had both kinds living in our house. They would leave greasy pans in random places and one fell on my fiancé (he was my boyfriend back then) and permanently stained his shirt. They sneered at me whenever I said hello, or even smiled at them. They would never close the windows, even in the middle of winter. They had sex very loudly. (Seriously, no one wants to hear that!) They smoked in the bathroom and left their cigarette butts floating in the toilet bowl. They even complained that my boyfriend laughed too loudly. He’s had depression in the past so if he wants to laugh until his lungs ache, he damn well gets to! I did get my revenge, though. Once I heard them calling my boyfriend a freak so I stole all their mail. Nothing official looking like bank statements or anything with a government logo on it, but otherwise you don’t call my boyfriend a freak and get away with it.

My first apartment was about this size.

My first apartment was about this size.

Wow, that got a bit ranty. This wasn’t meant to be a ‘bitching about my awful rommates’ post. So, our flat. I did love living in Bath but the rents were so expensive, which was why I had to live in a shared house. A place this size in Bath would cost at least twice as much. I’m glad that we’re finally living alone and that my money will go a lot further.

The main room.

The main room.

The bedroom, complete with the giant bookcase I've always wanted!

The bedroom, complete with the giant bookcase I’ve always wanted!

We even have a patio!

We even have a patio!

Turku is a beautiful city full of old buildings that are even older than the state of Finland itself. Back when Finland was still a part of Sweden, Turku was the capitol city, as it’s only a boat ride away from Sweden, and the Swedish influence is still felt here. Most signs are in both Finnish and Swedish, much like the signs in Wales are in both English and Welsh.

As a university town with students from all over the world, in fact my fiancé is the only Finnish student in his class, Turku is probably one of the most multicultural cities in Finland. This suits me just fine as I can eat all of my favourite types of food – Thai, Chinese, Indian, Italian, etc. There’s even a shop called Little Britain (Ha ha!) selling British goods like PG Tips and Heinz baked beans. And most importantly for me, the bookshops have English language sections. I’m just disappointed that there don’t seem to be any writing magazines published in English here.

Some places in town even feel more like Paris or Vienna than Finland. There are even classy little cafes with tiny tables outside, complete with pretentious hipsters sipping their overpriced cappuccinos and judging you.

Turku cathedral, which makes a useful landmark to point me to the direction of my flat.

Turku cathedral, which makes a useful landmark to point me to the direction of my flat.

The central library. I plan to spend a lot of time here.

The central library. I plan to spend a lot of time here.

There are a lot of interesting sculptures and outdoor art pieces.

There are a lot of interesting sculptures and outdoor art pieces.

Even so, there is an amazing sense of freedom that comes from living in a foreign city. It’s like I’ve finally reached the stage in my life where I’m mature and financially independent enough to have the lifestyle I really want. I’m working for myself and not for an employer. I’m no longer financially dependent on my parents or the government. I think that sometimes we do need a change in our lives to get away from things that brought us down in the past and start afresh.

So now that’ I’m settled in and the headache of moving is gone, I can finally get back to working and writing, and hopefully find some time to explore the city and the country more.