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Birch Bark Weaving

By Jaana Rehnström

In today’s world, when we all just sit at our computers and type away, it is refreshing to get to do something creative and three-dimensional with your hands.

Elaine Moe, whose four grandparents all came from Finland, came from Massachusetts on a Saturday in November to instruct a small group in birch bark weaving - an old folk tradition in many northern countries, including Finland.

Birch bark is harvested from trees 3-4 feet at a time. This allows for it to grow back (although apparently it’s slow, takes about 10 years) and thus does not harm the tree in the long run. Where logging is planned, you can go in the days before and harvest the entire tree. Birch bark is also sold commercially but in the raw state. That means you still have to do all the work to remove the outer layer and cut the bark into ½ - 1 inch wide, long strips.  

It actually took about three hours to make one Christmas ornament! But the results are beautiful. Elaine also showed us some beautiful small baskets which are even harder to make. If there is interest, we can arrange another course, let us know by emailing finlandcenternyc@gmail.com.

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In the spotlight: interview with Maija Anttila

By Kalle Vikman

“I had the pleasure to meet up with and interview the Finnish trailblazer of the Broadway-producing world, Maija Anttila, who is a hard-core businesswoman with innovative views on the future of theater production and its funding.”

Where are you from originally?

I’m from Seinäjoki, born and raised.

How long have you been living in New York and what brought you here?

I came to New York 11 years ago when I was 19 to start my studies in AADA (The American Academy of Dramatic Arts). Ever since childhood I always wanted to move here, I had no intention to stay in Finland because what I dreamed of, what I really wanted to do, couldn’t be done in Finland. There was no “plan B”; I didn’t think I needed one. I wanted this and I knew I’d find a way to make it happen. Naturally they were looking for someone with potential, and a different kind of flair, I think. I showed them what I could do and that I’m eager to learn more. Basically I let them know that “I am a sponge: now let me learn.”

Can you tell us a little about your program in AADA?

It was a two-year actor associate program. I did my first year in NY and was accepted to continue my studies in the second year. However, I had to go back to Finland for a year to work at Anttila (a Finnish convenient store chain since bankrupted) to finance my studies. After that I came back to U.S. and decided to do my second year in Los Angeles since the academy has another campus there. It felt logical, since the NY campus concentrates more on classic theater, whereas LA is where the movie business is. That’s where all the contacts were. There I trained under Brian Danner (the person responsible for such well-known stunt choreos as “Pirates of the Caribbean”) to be a stuntwoman. The mentoring continued even after graduation and I was a part of his stunt team Sword Fights Inc.

I didn’t have a Green Card so I couldn’t get paid. Every job and gig I had, I had to volunteer for them. I did get a lot of work experience out of it but I still had bills to pay.

What did you do after you graduated? Were there any problems with actually working in the U.S.?

I started going to auditions. There certainly were problems. I didn’t have a Green Card so I couldn’t get paid. Every job and gig I had, I had to volunteer for them. I did get a lot of work experience out of it but I still had bills to pay. But then, as it happened, a friend took me to a restaurant in LA, owned by a Finnish-German chef, Stefan Richter. I got a job as a hostess but I had to spend all the money I was making to pay the travel expenses: gas is not cheap. So there were days when I had to eat cat food.

Fortunately, the restaurant served as a popular meeting spot for the staff from multiple studios, so I got to serve a lot of big names. After a couple of months, they got to know my face and I made some good contacts. I also came to the conclusion that I wanted to produce. In movie business there’s still a lot of sexism (we all probably remember that the #MeToo movement did indeed resurface from the midst of Hollywood actresses) and I wanted to be taken seriously and have my voice heard. When I was doing the acting gigs as a volunteer, I did have the chance to voice my opinions, but they weren’t taken seriously because of my age and my sex.

To get into producing, I had to get to the right people. They all went to the premiere after-parties, so on those days I fasted to save money for gas, got dressed to the nines, and waited outside the party venues, waiting for someone to leave so I could ask for their entry bracelet. Sometimes it paid off, sometimes it didn’t.

How did you feel about that, eating cat food or not eating at all? Did you have any doubts or desire to quit?

Not really, I never thought coming here and building my career would be easy. Sometimes you just got to make sacrifices and give up the comforts in life. Then again, now that I’ve reached this point in my career, I really love where I am. Of course even now, doing business decisions, basically being a pioneer in my field, it’s rough. The process has been quite hard and painful, but I was able to achieve what I wanted and it is totally worth it. And in the future I can share what I’ve learned and give advice on what gives a profitable outcome and what does not. I encourage people to think outside the box and keep trying until it works out.

You are currently working on crowd-funded theater production here in NYC, is that correct?

Yes, even though I returned to NY with a bunch of contacts, I was still a newbie. Fortunately an acquaintance tipped me about a vacancy for a producer. I got to read the script, written by Broadway multi-talent Dep Kirkland (who also happens to be an ex-lawyer himself) and we decided to make it into a movie, but only after we’d made it into a play first, since the script was originally meant for that purpose. The play is called MsTRIAL, it’s a law-themed drama that was supposed to come out in Los Angeles, but because of conflicting opinions it was scrapped. I started presenting this idea and it caught more wind under its wings than I could’ve imagined. We are cooperating with amazing partners such as Daryl Roth.

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The budget for getting this production to Off-Broadway is 1.3 million USD. Over half of the current funds have been collected through commitments from the U.S., from Finnish angel investors and through the crowd-funding website. (The Finns reading this who are not familiar with the theater business in NYC: the term ‘Off-Broadway’ refers to the professional theaters in Manhattan, which can accommodate audiences from 100 to 500 people.)

MsTRIAL is about a top-of-the-notch lawyer named John Paris and his two employees, Dan Burks and Karen Lukoff, whose lives develop flair of luxury after celebrating their triumphs in court. These grand celebrations result in a lawsuit and John is accused of sexual offences. The play makes the audience to listen to the dialog that’s happening in the society and offers a glance to the world of he-said-she-said conflicts. It aims to open up the “gray area” because that’s where we have the opportunity to change things. It’s where the damage happens but also where it gets fixed!

[MsTRIAL] aims to open up the “gray area” because that’s where we have the opportunity to change things. It’s where the damage happens but also where it gets fixed!

Has the crowd funding been a popular channel of participation?

In Finland it’s mostly the government and different foundations that fund the production of cultural productions and events, where as here in the U.S. it’s a hard-core business. When it comes to “MsTRIAL”, I personally wanted everyone to have a chance to get a piece of this cake through funding. Broadway is a 1.4 billion dollar business annually. For Finns, excluding few exceptions, this still remains unmarked land, which holds great potential. We launched a radio campaign in Finland that turned out to be quite effective and enabled the Finnish everyman/woman to take part in this business. If you want to read more about the crowd-funding campaign in Finnish, you’ll find it here.

Where do you draw your inspiration in the city that never sleeps?

Hmm, that’s a good question… Where do I draw inspiration? I’d like to say that it comes from Finnish nature or love etc., but to be honest I’ve just always wanted to do this. I belong here. I’m having loads of fun and I’m enjoying myself, I’m in my comfort zone. That’s where the inspiration comes from: I don’t need to search for the meaning of life, because it is right here: making all of this possible and sharing it. I trust that the future has good things in store for me, since I’ve already gotten so much. Before this point in my life, I wasn’t comfortable. I was searching for this feeling right here.

What are the biggest differences in making theater and performing arts in NYC and, for example, in Helsinki?

The scale and the budget are totally different. In Finland the audience for theater productions is also extremely limited. I’ve studied this business and I know my field so well that I find it so much fun to see what works and what doesn’t. For example, now’s the most opportune time for MsTRIAL. You just have to know how to schedule your production and be able to maneuver. Nothing’s impossible; it’s just a question of how.

Do you aim to express any Finnish values or embody something traditionally Finnish in your work?

No, I don’t. But I do strive for opening the door for all that potential in Finland, so that we could bring that here and make it a part of this market. I want to enable the Finnish talent to make a breakthrough here.

What I got from Finland is that I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer nor take any bull***t. That is a quality I learned growing up in Finland and I’ve made sure to keep that. I think I also have that urge to ‘push it through’: sometimes you get a cut or two, but that’s life.

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What is, in your opinion, the best thing about NYC?

I’m never bored in New York. Of course there are times when I need some space and privacy, but 90% of the time I love that there’s so much to do from finding a new café or a restaurant to trying out the new culinary innovations, such as grilled watermelon ham. There are loads of concerts, museums, and all kinds of cultural activities that I love. There’s no such thing as a ”regular night out”, simply because the possibilities are endless.

What are things you miss about Finland?

Forest, nature, and berry picking. It’s a very different vibe here in the U.S., everything’s so big: if you go to the wild, then you go the wild. It’s quite hard to compare, for example, the Grand Canyon and the birds singing in Finnish birch trees. Of course like any other Finn living abroad, things related to Finland are important to me, such as traditional Finnish dishes.

Speaking of food, in the U.S. there’s only powdered yeast, which is a bummer if you’re into baking. And there isn’t really proper rahka (quark) either. Then again, they have so many delicious things at Trader Joe’s. Their excellent Kim chi, for example. Oh, also, the traffic in Los Angeles was a bitch. You don’t get traffic like that in Finland.

Can you think of any cultural differences that still shock you a bit or do you see yourself as “fully integrated”?

The way Americans have their coffee is different, more bustling. They just grab it to-go from the corner place and sip it on the way, but in Finland you might have a wide selections of pulla and other baked goodies, and the best part is that you don’t even have to choose; you can have one of each! And you take your time enjoying the experience!

Which three words would you use to describe New York?

Home, lively, dream

And how’d you describe Finland?

Three words ain’t gonna be enough. These days Finland for me is a place that raised me well, gave a good starting point for my dreams, and a place that I love to visit. You can’t get the Finnish culture out of me, but my home is here, because I belong here.

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A poem by Cheryl J. Fish

Can I use my miles to get more miles?
They never expire. Flea market to closet.
A calm naked swim in Simhall, then smoke sauna.
Have a Lapin Kulta Premium. Find out who’s where.
Angie’s singing. She sways and scat sings, the guitar rolls. She’s on stage in the crowded bar.
Past, present, future.
Go and hit the water. Swim naked in the Simhall then sit in the smoke sauna hot
on wood bench, top row. Out into cold pool.
Annika shows me where they wash rugs with a brush in the Gulf of Finland.
After a pounding, they hang from the rug dock. Long periods of light.
Lena tells me of churlish reindeer having their ears marked. Slaughter in autumn.
Viili is a dairy product that tastes like glue; piimä quiet buttermilk on tongue.
Angie’s married to a Finn who works nights.
She sings and sways in the pubs and halls of Tampere.
Like Väinämöinen in The Kalevala.
Hot molten blues in foam and beer
Oh Lake Näsijärvi.

©2018 Cheryl J. Fish
Previously published in Hanging Loose Issue 109. and Folded Word.

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The best things about Finland from a Finnish perspective

By Kira Vikman

The results of our informal Facebook survey about what is the best thing about Finland are in. The overwhelming winner: Air Guitar Championships. Very funny! Shows that Finns have a quirky sense of humor. How come nobody mentioned the wife carrying contests, cell-phone throwing contests, swamp wrestling…

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Among the more serious responses: Sibelius, pine trees and birch trees, Marimekko, granite, lakes, reindeer, cloudberries, and the good and honest people who live there (several people mentioned this last one).

Thank you to everyone who participated! 

It is clear we Finns are a rather special species. Some of us have a love/hate relationship with our country and our peers. Many love our wonderful country from a distance. Moreover, over 5 million people live in Finland regardless of the months of darkness and a short Summer (okay, let’s admit it, not everyone has to love Summer but still!) so there has to be a great number of pros!

Keep reading, and familiarize yourself with a few more perks and characteristics that Finland is known for from a perspective of a Finnish student…

Sometimes being a Finn is hard! Sayings like “to hide one’s light under a bushel” and “he who has happiness, should hide it” embedded in Finnish culture shape our attitudes. As probably most Finns know, desire to do somethings differently is not as positively looked upon in our country, and people often let it show instead of celebrating the success of others. Here are some idioms many Finns know by heart, just so you can understand us a little better. A silver lining here is that many of them reflect the Finnish sisu, right (check out Sisu by Business Insider)?

 A midsummer night in Finland.

A midsummer night in Finland.

When Finns go abroad, they oftentimes notice how different the social interaction is. In general, Finns don’t do small talk (at least very well) which is why we are often seen as cold or unwelcoming. At first, it might be difficult to break the ice when trying to get to know a Finn but when this happens, you can go deep very fast. Often friendships are formed around the table or a couch with a glass containing an alcoholic beverage because Finns are known to get a little less inhibited when consuming some liquid courage.

Sometimes we also have difficulty understanding the nature of compliments and white lies. We don’t really give compliments. And if we do, you know we are for real. We also don’t really know how to take compliments. If you give us one, the first thing you hear might just be a complex explanation of irrelevant facts behind this success that you are complimenting us for. Regardless of our somewhat reserved demeanor, we are exceptionally honest. And usually you can count on the word of a Finn. And you know, we Finns get each others weird ways!

The Finnish education system, and the fact that getting even a university degree is free, always seem to amaze people. Even more so, when they hear that Finnish students actually get paid for studying! University students in Finland get around 250 euros per month (9 months out of 12) in exchange for completing at least 45 credits during these months. They also get a small amount of financial support to cover living costs, and student loans are mostly used for covering living expenses and enjoying life (the main goal of many Finnish students is to not eat macaroni and ketchup every day and if it’s important to prevent exhaustion in work life, why not among students as well?). Fortunately, our university cafeterias offer students a full meal usually for 2.60 euros which is a good effort to make sure the youth gets at least some of the healthy nutritions needed. And back to the money because that seems to run the world: students that have started their studies in 2014 or later actually don’t have to pay 40% of their loan back if they graduate on time, which means… free money does exist! By doing this, the Finnish government encourages students to graduate as soon as they can and also trying to eliminate the need to work while studying, which can essentially delay their graduation.

Some of the newest political decisions are based on the fact that Finnish students seem to graduate later than students in many other countries. Unfortunately, however, what is often overlooked is the fact that most Finnish students get their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a row: we apply for university after we decide our major, and usually when accepted, we are accepted for both programs. So, while Finnish students seem to graduate later in life, one must notice that the comparison is made between Finnish students that have finished their master’s degree and students from other countries that have only acquired their bachelor’s. Also, Finns graduate from high school a year later than for example, the American youth does. And because we have to decide our major, therefor, what we want to do with our lives and future, it is common to take gap years to work or travel. Being sure about your decision on “what you want to be when you grow up” is important, because applying still often requires to succeed in an entrance examination over other applicants, so it might take even a few years to eventually get in. In addition to that, there are tokens for first time students (thus, every year there is a token for applicants that have never studied anything before) which makes changing fields more difficult. A gap year is of course a great way to get some work experience and save some money for the upcoming studying years as well. You can read more about the success of Finnish education system from an article by BBC News.

Next on our list is the free health care. Of course we have to pay high taxes and even then, we pay small amounts for our health care and visits to the doctor (although often private health care covered by your work place). This often raises eyebrows; “I pay so much taxes, and my health care still isn’t free!”. But here’s the catch: my 24-year-old friend was diagnosed with MS-disease earlier this year. She has to be medicated twice a month to control the disease but gladly, her medication is covered in full. And, when you battle a serious illness that commands medication, you see the worth of the Finnish system and where it really makes a difference. Her medication for three months is 2 588.84 euros but because of the Finnish public health care system she only pays 4 euros. That’s amazing! And this is a life savisor. It is hard enough to be ill for the rest of your life but to think: who 24-year-old would have the resources to stay well with this kind of cost? So thank you for that, Finland and its tax payers!

Here is a beautiful picture of me a few years back when I had to be admitted to a hospital in Jyväskylä because we were suspecting that I got bitten by the only poisonouss snake species in Finland (okay we have like three different snakes), a (baby) viper. I had to stay there for about 5 hours and it cost me a few dozens of euros. Which was ultimately covered by my travel insurance. Pretty lucky, I’d say! And an interesting experience as such.

 Here is a beautiful picture of me a few years back when I had to be admitted to a hospital in Jyväskylä because we were suspecting that I got bitten by the only poisonous snake species in Finland (okay we have like three different snakes), a (baby) viper. I had to stay there for about 5 hours and it cost me a few dozens of euros. Which was ultimately covered by my travel insurance. Pretty lucky, I’d say! And an interesting experience as such.

Here is a beautiful picture of me a few years back when I had to be admitted to a hospital in Jyväskylä because we were suspecting that I got bitten by the only poisonous snake species in Finland (okay we have like three different snakes), a (baby) viper. I had to stay there for about 5 hours and it cost me a few dozens of euros. Which was ultimately covered by my travel insurance. Pretty lucky, I’d say! And an interesting experience as such.

For many of us Finns, we realize we are privileged to live in this kind of a country – but this is also the only way things work in our society and we want to protect the systems that stand for equity and equal opportunities. Your background doesn’t fully determine if you can get top education or not. And in fact, Finnish women are not essentially dependent on men in their life. In fact, we are a top country to be a woman and in Finland, over 82% of the gender gap is closed.

According to State of the World’s Mothers report 2013 Finland is the best country to be a mother (read CNN’s summary). It is a great country to be a child as well: child care is basically free and good quality. Your parents have time to spend with you as well. They get maternity leave of 105 days which typically begins a little over a month before the expected date of birth, and then there’s also parental leave of a maximum of 158 after birth that can be devided between the parents. If a Finnish parent makes the decision to take care of their child at home until they’re three years old, they are provided an allowance. In addition, Finns usually get five weeks of paid annual holiday from their jobs. And if they or even their children get sick, they’re still entitled for pay during illness (see more: Employment and employee benefits in Finland: overview))!

So as a Finnish woman, I think I won the lottery…? And that’s why marrying an independent Finnish girl is a jackpot! … Wink.

Finns are also pretty good at speaking English! In fact, from 80 countries, Finland placed 6th on the proficiency of English skills (and 5th in Europe!). The reason? I myself started taking English classes at school when I was 9 years old, and today I believe English is mandatory even from earlier on. Another reason for our skills in English is that our television shows are usually subtitled so we are accustomed to hear English. Unfortunately, our urge to be perfect and not fail often prevents us from speaking and practicing out loud in the real world if we feel like we don’t quite master that skill yet. Also, the Finnish modesty might just be kicking in if someone ever dares to give us a compliment…

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Briefly, a few other great things about Finland:
Nightless nights! … and the never ending darkness… Don’t believe us? See for yourself!
Finnish food was the cleanest in the world in 2015 according to European Food Safety Authority’s resport on pesticide residues in food.
In 2012, Finland shared the first place with New Zealand and Denmark as the least corrupt country (measured by its citizens perceptions).
And recently, Finland rose to fourth place in the Good Country Index.
Finland is also filled with heavy metal bands
Moreover, Helsinki is the most honest city in the world! (Okay, there were 16 cities and they compared in which one a dropped wallet was returned the most times, but sounds valid though!)
Lastly, recently The Telegraph listed a vast number of things Finland is the best at!

Adolf Ehrnrooth: “Finland is a good country. The best country for us Finns.” It is a nice caption, and because there are over 5 million opinions on this topic, we can all agree to disagree with each other! But no one can deny that Finland is doing very well on the global scale.

This funny picture is from DOGHOUSEDIARIES ! Check out what the rest of the world looks like.

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"Emily's Christmas", by Meritta Koivisto

Emily’s Christmas

Emily watched the slowly floating snowflakes through her kitchen window. It was just past four o’clock, at the dawn of Christmas Eve.

The herbal tea warmed nicely her fingers that were wrapped around a mug of tea. Rooibos. That’s what she had made, so that she would have something to do, because she was not able to fall asleep. The newspaper she would still have to wait, for a while, maybe till five – or if it took more time than usual for the newspaper delivery to get through the blanket of snow that was growing heavier and heavier, it could be even six o’clock.

Emily had been diagnosed with breast cancer in October, and in November she had been operated. Now she was in chemotherapy. That was not what was keeping her awake, it was the cortisone she had been given before, during and after being on the drip. It made her alert, no matter how hard she tried to imagine the calm sunsets and other serene scenes, to push away those other thoughts.

The darkness outside was like a long shadow cast by that one evening, Emily thought as she sipped her tea that had become lukewarm by now. John had been on a seminar cruise, and she had found herself thinking how lucky she was to have met someone so nice after many years of being single. After taking a shower she had – with a smile on her face – applied body lotion first onto her décolleté and then – this time – also lower, when she had felt a bump under her skin. Paralyzed. And she had looked at herself in the mirror, seen the halted look in her eyes, the hand. Tried again. Something hard. The size of an almond.

A cyst, women have mammary glands, and all kinds of glands in their breasts, lumps are not always dangerous, had her friends consoled her while she was waiting to hear the news about her labs. And men, they don’t like to talk about illnesses, had her friends said when her phone calls to John had ever more often been picked up by his voice mail. Then came the phone call, and she was asked to come to the doctor’s office to hear the results. She had prepared herself. “John is not picking up his phone”, she had told her brother. And he came. Drove almost 300 miles. And sat in the waiting room. “It is malignant”, was what she heard from behind the desk.

The next day she asked John to come over and told him the news about the diagnosis – he was sitting opposite to her across the kitchen table. She saw fear flashing through his eyes, but his voice did not revealed it. “Then you go to the chemotherapy”, he had said very calmly looking straight into her eyes.

There you go. What did we say, he is a good guy. He was just busy. He will stay by your side, her friends had said this time.

After that day she never saw John again.

“I will be going on a vacation”, John had told her over the phone. “For a long vacation.”

“Have a nice trip”, she had replied.

“You too.”

That kind of man who doesn’t stay by your side, you don’t need. That kind is not much of a man at all. In that kind you have nothing to lose, her friends had consoled her this time. In these circumstances there was no one else to be found either, she had thought. Not a shoulder to lean on. No one. Just a pillow to grab in the darkness of the night, when the fears sneak around the corners and line up around you like guardians.

To Horror. To sweat and screams, she had awoken. Tonight. There was no one in the room. And the walls, they had been there, straight up, also the table, and the cabin. Only the small alarm clock, that John had left, had been ticking in the silence. There she had been sitting, quietly, alone, bold headed and fearful. The glowing numbers of the clock telling that it was five past three. At that moment, right then, she had thrown the blanket aside, picked up the alarm clock, and opened the window. “Emotions know NO TIME!” she had cried into the frosty night, throwing the clock into the darkness. After that she had put the teakettle on.

Now she looked through the window down to the cars parked on the small side street. They belonged to the people living in her neighborhood. They were putting in long hours at work with no time to plow their driveways. Five soft lumps. From their shape one could tell what type of car’s they were but not much more. “You will sleep again at some point, after you have been awake long enough. That is just what the cortisone does to you”, the nurse had said while pulling out the needle from her vein. “It’s indeed a good medicine. Made me even less nauseous”, she had answered and heard a sad tone in her voice, no matter how hard she had tried to sound brave like the other patients. And that had been something that had taken her by surprise: the surroundings. She had – and why deny it – felt fearful terror stepping through the door under the cancer clinic sign. What was waiting for her there? What was it going to be like? Would everyone be lying in their beds or arm chairs ever so quietly, while hooked into the IVs, so that they would not disturb others, or could you perhaps exchange some words with someone next to you?

Everyone had it rough, fighting their own battles, but no one complained. Not the young mother whose two little daughters sat and waited quietly by the wall drinking from their juice boxes and browsing through the picture books – and occasionally running up to their mother to show the amazing creatures in them: look this, mommy! Neither did the old lady, who was lying on a bed next to her own, show what she had buried inside of her, as her silver headed husband read newspaper headlines to her with a soft voice. And who every once in a while went and adjusted the pillows behind his wife’s back: is it better now? Do you want me to get you some ice cubes? So, that you don’t get sores in the mucosa?

But there she, herself, lied alone. With the IV in her arm. Somehow she would have the strength.

The nights were the hardest ones. She couldn’t even call anyone, she thought and checked the time on her cell phone. It was 4:17. The tea cup was empty. What would she do now? Her eyes wandered back to the row of cars – she listened for a moment to the distant clatter of the snowplow on the main street – and got up and walked over to her closet. In a few minutes she had gotten dressed up in a warm winter overall and disappeared into the stairway with her stuff.

As she made the brush swing around and the crystalline snowflakes flied onto her face, she smiled. How wonderful, how refreshing! When the first car turned out to be her neighbor’s red Honda, she went on to the next one; it was a Volvo, the same model she had once fancied for herself but had given up the thought: where would she drive it anyway? She lived in a city that had good public transportation to take her everywhere, the busses, the trams and the metro – and her family, she visited them only three times a year: Christmas, Easter and thanksgivings. She spent those with her brothers’ family. But this Christmas she would be alone. To avoid the risk of infection. Her ability for fight infections was almost non-existent. She had to avoid the crowds.

The last car was an old Mazda. Eaten up by rust. When its green surface was all cleared and the windows free from snow, Emily dug a card from her pocket. She wrote on it:

HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

Emily slid the card under the window wiper, just like she had done with the four other cars.

Soon after when she went to the kitchen to re-heat the tea water, she glanced through the window, smiling: a serene pink glimmer was making its way through the line of white crystallized trees. It will be a beautiful day. A new morning – it always arose from the darkness.

The End.

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Introducing Janita

By Janita herself

I just released a new album called Didn’t You, my Dear? I honestly feel that this is my best album yet. I am also now in the best place that I have ever been in my life – the happiest, the healthiest, and the most balanced. My album is sort of a declaration of independence for me. I wrote all the songs myself except the cover song. I also played guitar, piano and other instruments myself. I am open to success now, open to showing my talent; I also really appreciate my talent and my happiness. This kind of self-respect and self-esteem are just some of the things I have learned while spending my time in America.

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My genetics are Finnish and I look Finnish. Having grown up in Finland there is an air of “Finnishness” about me, in my manners, etc. For example, I’ve never made a real effort to get rid of my accent. I find it to be a part of my personality, a part of me. I am proud of my roots and I feel that my foundation as a human being is Finnish. However, having spent more than half of my life in the US, I think I operate more as an American than as a Finn in my day-to-day life. I notice this especially when I go back to visit Finland, as I find it hard to adjust to all the things that other people consider normal or day-to-day.

I feel that the Finnish and American cultures are opposites in many ways. The collective self-esteem of people in the US is quite high, whereas Finns have a history of living in the shadow of a massive neighbor, that hasn’t always been benevolent… I think this has really affected the self-esteem of the nation. I think that the Finns have amazing abilities and talents, like being number one when it comes to education, and having a phenomenal healthcare and insurance system. Unfortunately, the Finns tend to downplay this, and other attributes. In Finland there is even a saying that it is better to hide one’s success and one’s happiness. This is anathema to what the American mentality is.

I left Finland because of my work and came to the States to pursue an international career as a singer. I doubt that I would have made that decision on my own at that age, but I had a musical partner at the time who was very ambitious. It was quite a transition. I was so young that I had never even done my own laundry. I was sure that I would go back to Finland soon after arriving – I was rather oblivious at the time and had no expectations whatsoever.

By the time I made the choice to stay and really started to make friends in New York, I discovered all the amazing qualities that this city had. I fell in love with it and a number of amazing people that I have met. (Took out a sentence here.) I love the fact that this city does not give a shit–it just keeps going. It is a true melting pot of so many different cultures, and you never feel alone in New York. Being from Finland, I miss the people that I love, and the fresh air.  I sometimes miss the slower pace of life in Helsinki. I also miss the simplicity and the nature of the country. In New York you are literally fighting for your existence on a daily basis, and sometimes I get tired of that. On that note, I have to say that I love the amount of respect that is given to the arts in Finland. The US has much to learn from that.

I now feel really good about the way my career is going. I’ve received rave reviews for my new album,  and have exciting new opportunities coming in almost every day. I feel like I am building a foundation for the career that I’ve always wanted to have, and becoming the artist that I’ve always wanted to be. It is truly gratifying to be able to create the kind of music that I would listen to, and to be compared to the artists that I love. I am deeply grateful. For all of this.

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SISU: an interview with Marko Albrecht

By Mikaela Katro

My mother Päivi was a very strong willed Finn with a lot of the famous Finnish trait, sisu. This strength, as well as the Finnish pride she instilled in me has made me who I am today. My mother embodied the core essence of sisu and like my mother I also live with this strength as my mindset. My entire existence has been shaped by sisu.

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My childhood was like living in a micro-Finland in the city of Chicago! From our homes interior design to the food we ate, to the sports we played, to the art and books we had, our entire life was influenced by Finnish culture. We had very strong family values and spent a lot of time together just my Mom, Dad, my brother Mikko and then extended family. This instilled in me the need to always put family first. Every other summer we traveled to Finland for three months, saving money during the other two years in order to get there. Every time we came back we brought Finnish treats with, like Turku mustard, makkara and Fazer chocolates. As a child there were times I felt embarrassed for being different, speaking in a different language, sometimes being yelled at in Finnish in public. However, now, many years later, I can say I would not have had it any other way.

When my mother passed away suddenly in 1996 everyone including myself thought our Finnish pride and sisu also died, but the exact opposite happened. We became stronger Finns with endless sisu and grew even closer with our Finnish family. My brother and I inherited ⅓ of our family’s 200 year old summer cottage and land in Lyökki and have been able to spend a lot of time there, creating an unbreakable bond with our family and the land itself. The older you get the more you appreciate the simplicity of summer cottage life. You reset, recharge and get creatively inspired enjoying nature’s silence and peacefulness away from the chaos of NYC and NJ. I love that our children get to experience the same freedom at the summer cottage that I had growing up. They swim in the lake just like I used to all those years ago, and together we pick berries and experience the wonder of nature. My wife Danielle also loves nature, minimalist design and now even sauna. We actually have a sauna in our house in NJ, and as I went to sauna with my parents, my kids now go to sauna with my wife and I, the literal same 35-year-old helosauna that I moved from Chicago to NJ. Our children also go to Suomi-koulu in NYC where they sing and play in Finnish. I guess you could say I am as much Finnish as I am American, I am a Dual Citizen and our kids are now also.

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I was in Finland many times over the last three years filming a non-profit documentary “SISU: Family, Love and Perseverance from Finland to America.” It is a profile of my family’s journey over many years through life’s ups and downs. I started the film because I wanted to show my kids what sisu was, and who my mother, their mummi was and where she came from. Soon after starting the film in 2011 her surviving brother, my Uncle Heikki was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a few months to live. Over the next 3 years even with his death looming there were a lot of joyous moments in his life that I captured on film; like his wedding, the birth of his grandson and when I took my kids to Finland for the first time to meet him. The film examines the meaning of sisu for my family members and shows true Finnish culture and showcases the beauty of Finnish landscapes and city of Turku.

My sisu is the soul of my mother and loved ones no longer here living on in me. Sisu is courage, strength, grit and living in a way that it is meaningful, by truly loving everyday your life and caring for family, friends and others around you.

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Finns in New York: Mikki Nylund

Suvi Tiihonen & Linda Lumikero

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Mikki Nylund always believed he would end up in New York City. Although he was born and raised in a small village near Pietarsaari, Mikki has lived in many countries, including Finland, Sweden and Denmark. A rebel at heart, Mikki got fired while working on a mink farm after releasing the minks out of their cages and into the wild. His fondness of animals also reflects in his art work. He has spent a lot of time exploring the United States, including living with Native Indians in North Carolina, slumbering in a barn deep in the woods outside of San Francisco, jazzing around New Orleans and hanging out with hippies in Las Vegas.

What made you come to New York?

I decided to move to New York City after years in the advertising and digital media business, with the aim of trying to fully focus on my art. One day at the office where I worked, I decided that would be the last day. I told my boss “I am quitting,” then went home, packed my bags and arrived in New York later that night. I moved into a building located in Bushwick, Brooklyn, filled with other artist in huge loft apartments. That was on Hart Street off the L-Train, and soon we had started the infamous gallery—950 Hart Gallery.

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What do you think is the best part about living in New York?

The people. I love watching people and communicating with them—there’s plenty of them— of all shapes and forms, ages, colors, religions and sexual preferences—New York truly is a melting pot representing the whole world. The subway is a good place to draw or write because there’s a lot to get inspired by. Old faces with history in the lines of their skin. All the situations that pop up. The “weirdoes”—the group I probably belong to myself. The old man covered up in tattoos. The old lady dressed up on her way to a cabaret. There are other places where you can find some of this, but New York has the smorgasbord.

What do you think are some of the biggest differences between living in New York versus living in Finland?

The largest differences are, of course, the amount of people, the amount of restaurants, concerts, museums, et cetera—the multitude of things to do. The weather is also different, as well as the language and culture.  It’s also different being able to go to a restaurant at 4 o’clock in the morning. Many things are different because they are manufactured that way, but all together, I know the world is getting smaller, and having moved around a lot, I also know that we’re all pretty much the same all over the world.

 
What are some of your best New York tips?

Don’t get stuck in Manhattan, and especially not around Times Square. Of course, we’re all different, and what appeals to one, may not be of interest to another. I’d say, look around a bit. Visit Brooklyn, and take one of the ferries instead of the subway if you can—that’s how you’ll get the best views of Manhattan. Visit Harlem and the Bronx, Queens, Hoboken and Jersey City. Central Park is great both in the summer and in the winter but Coney Island, Prospect Park and Rockaway Beach are also great for an outdoors experience. Bushwick is a must for art and second hand shopping, not to mention for food and drink. Find out about shows, festivals and other events—try to find the unique plethora of things New York and its boroughs have to offer.

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Finns in New York: Mari Karppinen

Written by: Linda Lumikero & Suvi Tiihonen

As a child, Mari Karppinen dreamed about one day being a journalist so that she could share with the world the struggles of everyday people living all over the world. During her first trip as a video journalist, which was to Ethiopia, she began filming the stories of the people she met and the places she had seen. She fell in love with the camera’s ability to connect her audience to the lives of people worlds away.

Karppinen studied Journalism and Mass Communication in Tampere and was first employed by the Pohjolan Sanomat, a daily newspaper in Kemi, she then worked on Ajankohtainen kakkonen, a weekly TV program at Yleisradio. In 2009, she was hired by the Finnish TV channel MTV3 in Helsinki as a reporter and video journalist. Currently she is working as a foreign correspondent for the channel in New York.

 Photo by Stanley Williams.

Photo by Stanley Williams.

Why did you come to New York?

In August of 2014, I moved to New York City for work. I had actually never been here before. Washington D.C. is generally where the correspondents have been posted in the past, but I suggested New York instead because of its wide array of events and news. Washington D.C. is only a few hours away from New York by car, so it is easily accessible when important political issues need to be covered.

What is the best part about living in New York?

The fact that it’s New York—there is a different type of energy in this city, a sense of hope, ambition, diversity that can’t be experienced anywhere else.

What are some of the biggest differences between living in New York and living in Finland?

The size of the city, of course. Everyday people have a different state of mind here. The atmosphere is unique—there is solidarity between the people here. They remain hopeful and optimistic despite the many obstacles of life. Having said that, New York can be a cold and tough place to be as well—the competition is harsh.

New York City already feels like home after living here for six months. In the end it’s all about the friends you surround yourself with—they make it home.

Name a news story you covered in New York that was the biggest or most meaningful to you.

Most emotional one was a story about the homeless in New York. I interviewed a woman who had lost everything during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Hearing about these personal tragedies, motivates me because even in the roughest ones one can still find hope. It is amazing and incredibly inspiring that despite all of the hardships and pain in this world, people continue to survive and strive.

Share your best tips for the city as a New Yorker.

I loved Fuerza Bruta, which is a postmodern Off-Broadway theatre show running downtown at the Daryl Roth Theatre. The show uses strobe lights, loud noises, water, mist and fog. It’s magnificent. I also enjoy spooky house venues.

The best way to experience New York is by walking around, I would especially recommend walking from Soho in Manhattan all the way to Flatbush in Brooklyn. There’s a lot of interesting areas in between.

Different boroughs are worth exploring—you’ll observe different lifestyles and get to know different cultures. In Brooklyn Heights you can enjoy the view of the Manhattan skyline. Also, there is a different view towards street art like graffiti here—Bushwick, East Brooklyn and Queens have plenty of it.

There are also small concerts almost every night in the city. You could walk in to a random bar and enjoy live jazz. It truly is the city that never sleeps, it would be a shame not to take advantage of it.

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Finns in New York: Elsa Gustavsson

By Suvi Tiihonen

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People say that if you truly want to become an actor or actress, you must go to New York, and in the fall of 2013, that is exactly what Elsa Gustavsson did.

Acting has been a big part of Elsa’s life from early on. She joined Espoo School of Performing Arts at the age of 8 and continued studying theatre for 10 years—learning the basics of her art.

Because of her love for the theatre, it was logical Elsa studied at the Kallio Upper Secondary School of Performing Arts to start pursuing a career in acting. After graduation, she joined the Improvisaatioryhmä JooJoo, an improvisational group where she studied and explored improvisational theatre. At the same time she studied at the Työväen Akatemia, an academy for Open University studies in the Theatre Academy of Helsinki.

Why did you come to New York?

“I came to New York to pursue a higher level of education in acting. My school was Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre” (notable alumni include, Chris Noth, Sex and the City, Jeff Goldblum, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Allison Janney, American Beauty, and Diane Keaton, The Godfathertrilogy).

Did the school live up to your expectations?

“Definitely, it changed my whole life. Neighborhood Playhouse is known for the Meisner technique, created by Sanford Meisner. The quality of teaching in New York is better than in Finland. The Meisner technique not only affects your acting but has an effect on your entire life.”

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What has been the most amazing part of your New York experience?

“Overcoming the fear of death — I feel like I have achieved as much as one can achieve by this age. [In school], I felt so much and so intensely that it almost felt like I couldn’t achieve more even though that’s not the case.”

What drives your desire to be an actress?

“As a child I found theatre to be the only stable environment — one in which I felt safe. I was an extremely shy child — intimidated by most human contact. The reason I fell in love with theatre was the idea of getting to play with my imagination.”

What differences are there between studying acting in Finland and in the United States?

“In New York, there is a more professional approach to the theatre studies, at least at an advanced level. Standards and requirements are higher. The technique they teach is unbeatable. All of my teachers, at the time, were working within the theatre industry in New York. The studies were intense — studying in New York was ten times harder both mentally and physically because of the work load and higher expectations. You need to really be up to par.”

What are your best tips on what to do in New York?

“Forget the tourist traps and broaden your horizon by visiting other boroughs. Some parts of Manhattan aren’t real. You don’t see how the majority of New Yorkers live if you don’t leave Manhattan. I lived in the Bronx for a year and absolutely fell in love with it.”

Since leaving New York in the spring of 2014, Elsa has continued to act. She did an episode for Valheen vangit, a Finnish scripted reality TV series.

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Exclusive interview with actress Nina Sallinen

By Miia Pirttijärvi

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When I meet with Los Angeles-based Finnish actress Nina Sallinen at a diner near Penn Station in Manhattan, she tells me that I’m her second meeting of the day and she still has two appointments after our interview. She’s in New York showcasing her one-woman play, Poor Poor Lear, and her days are crammed full of work-related meetings before she heads back out to L.A. Despite her busy schedule, she never gives the impression of being in a hurry.

While I order a chicken sandwich for lunch, she opts for coffee and apple pie. She asks the waiter whether the pie comes à la mode and we spend a few moments discussing the random fact that in the U.S the phrase inexplicably came to mean “served with ice cream” instead of the direct translation “in the style.”

Nina was born in Sweden in a town near Stockholm where she spent her early childhood. Her family moved to Helsinki when she was seven. She tells me that in elementary school she would put on plays she wrote in front of her entire class. She went on to study at the Kallio High School of Performing Arts in Helsinki, and later graduated from the Theatre Academy with a Master’s Degree.

Nina has been involved in many different productions both in Finland and oversees. She started out as a child actress in the Finnish National Theatre at 14.  After graduating from the Theatre Academy in Helsinki she worked at the TTT (Tampereen työväenteatteri) –theatre for a while before continuing her work as a freelance actor in Helsinki. She has done several theater productions as well as some television, for example Tuhlaajapoika (1992) and Jäitä hattuun (1994).

After crossing the pond approximately 15 years ago she decided to try her luck in the theater circles of Chicago. Over the years Nina has taken part in many theater groups in both Chicago and L.A. Poor Poor Lear saw its American premiere in 2000 after a producer saw a clip of the play in Finnish and suggested that Nina translate it into English. She has performed the play in several locations, including Finland, Chicago, Los Angeles and Macedonia. At the moment she lives with her husband and son in L.A. After her New York showcase, she would eventually like to bring the play to New York for a longer run.

When asked about the highlights of her career, Nina says she can’t point out any individual productions, as all of them have been so different. Some have given her amazing experience as an actress and some have given her lifelong friends. However, she says that theater is the art form she’s the most familiar with and the most passionate about. “Theater is my home.”

Romance rekindled

When I ask Nina how she came to live in the U.S, she gives a self-conscious laugh and proceeds to tell me a story that would make for a fantastic script. At the age of 16, she spent a year in Iowa as an exchange student. During that time she met her future husband and they dated throughout that year. When her exchange was over Nina returned to Finland and the two lovebirds lost contact. At that time, long-distance relationships were not as easy to uphold as today, and the two had no contact for almost a decade. Nina was actually engaged – twice – during that period of time. Nina says that all of a sudden her high school sweetheart just popped in to her head and she started wondering what ever happened to him. She decided to contact him, and they started keeping in touch again. They subsequently met in New York, and decided to get married after just two weeks.

Unfortunately Nina had to return to Finland where she had a permanent role in a play. Her contract was ironclad and there were only a few ways one could get out of it before the play would close. One of these was military service, and the other was pregnancy. Nina and her husband knew they wanted to have children, so they decided to start right away. Nina got pregnant and was released from her contract – and at the premiere of Poor Poor Lear in Finland, she was five months pregnant.

Mixed candies and theater traditions

I’m curious to know what kind of a relationship Nina has with Finland as a Finn living abroad. “I think I have a romanticized image of Finland,” she admits. “I don’t think I’ll ever live there permanently again, I’ve been gone for so long. But I’d love to do some work there.”

She says she misses different things at different times. Sometimes it’s the food, sometimes it’s Finnish Christmas traditions. She also misses her friends, and traditions in the local theater scene.  The one thing she seems fairly passionate about is the lack of proper mixed candies in the States, especially the movie theaters. “The candy selection at movie theaters in the U.S sucks!” Nina exclaims spiritedly.

She tells me that there’s a big difference between Finland and the U.S when it comes to theater. The recruitment process is different, and in the U.S people become actors through all kinds of different paths whereas in Finland the traditional way is going to the Theatre Academy at the University of Helsinki and building your career on that. “Here it doesn’t really matter if an actor is highly educated or not, unless he or she wants to teach acting.” The options for actors differ even within the States; for example Chicago is more focused on theater, while in L.A the business is mostly about movies and TV.

Next we discuss the reason that brought Nina to New York: her one-woman show. Poor Poor Lear is a dark comedy surrounding a veteran actress who decides to perform Shakespeare’s King Lear as her farewell performance. The diva begins to see the similarities between the lives of herself and King Lear and question her decisions in life.  Nina says that the play came about after she and co-writer Katja Krohn brainstormed for months talking about their fears and interests concerning acting.

“Before this play I always found interacting with the audience to be very awkward. So of course in Poor Poor Lear my character is extremely interactive with the audience.” Nina laughs. Nina was pregnant at the time and Katja already had children, so the question of whether it’s possible to be a good actress and a great mom at the same time came up. There is no direct answer to that question, but in Poor Poor Lear the main character is a mom who chose her career over her family.

“I feel like this choice between children and a career is one that women have to make more often then men,” Nina says.

One of the other themes of the play is aging. Aging can be a touchy subject to older actresses. Nina uses the word “useless” to describe what many actresses feel like when they get older. Even though the play deals with aging, it does not venture into the theme of death or dying. “In the end the character never learns from her mistakes – well, maybe she does momentarily learn from them, but she keeps going back to her old ways nevertheless.”

I ask Nina if she sees her future self in the character of the old actress. “That would be my nightmare!” she exclaims. “She’s so lonely and not very emotional.”

Nina says that putting on a one-woman show has helped her mature as an actress. She finds doing Poor Poor Lear much livelier and flexible than other plays, since every night is different. “The audience plays the second role, so every time is different for that reason alone.”

New York tips

Nina tells me she very much likes New York and frequently visits the city. She usually stays with friends while in town, and recommends wondering around the city exploring different neighborhoods.

“Last time I stayed with a friend in Harlem and now I’m staying in Brooklyn. There’s so much to see, I don’t know if I can recommend just one place. I really like Brooklyn though, for example Greenpoint and Williamsburg, I’d never really been around there before. I would say try to avoid Times Square – if you haven’t seen it before, spend half an hour there and be done with it. It’s just so artificial and busy.”

Nina says she especially likes New York because it’s a walking city. “You can’t walk anywhere in L.A.”

Towards the end of our interview, I ask Nina if she has any pointers for aspiring foreign actors trying to start a career in the States. She laughs and says that there are probably better people to ask because she’s still learning after 15 years, but she says that most importantly one has to consider him-or herself a business. Actors need to be able to market themselves. Nina says she’s always been bad at that.

“The difference between Europe and the U.S. is that here you need to push yourself onto people. You should also take accent reduction classes and be proactive.”

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Interview with a Finnish-American acting legend, Taina Elg

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At 83 years old, Finnish dancer and actress Taina Elg still carries herself with a dancer’s posture. Much of her vigor is probably due to her active lifestyle: she still has a manager who helps her scout for roles in commercials, for example. Elg also enjoys going to the movies and to the theater. Elg was born and grew up in Helsinki but spent much of her childhood summers in Impilahti near the Soviet border, a place which they had to abandon as a result of the Second World War. Her father, a talented pianist, died in the war.

Among Elg’s first experiences with cinema was seeing Ben Hur in Sortavala. Enchanted by the film, she and her friends memorized the names of the actors and collected cards with their names and pictures on them. Elg began acting and dancing at a very young age, appearing in her first film at the age of ten. She began to train as a professional ballet dancer at the Finnish National Ballet in Helsinki and went on to study ballet in Stockholm and Gothenburg; “at the time, studying abroad was extremely uncommon for Finnish students,” she says.

She remembers how everyone in Sweden was especially nice to the small group of Finnish girls who were starting their lives anew after the war. Elg was supported financially by her Swedish host family, who gave her the opportunity to continue her dance training at the esteemed Royal Ballet in London.

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Elg was soon discovered in London by an American movie producer. She got a seven-year contract with MGM, meaning not just opportunities in Hollywood films, but also a magnificent chance to train further as a performer.

Elg speaks fondly of her Italian singing coach at MGM. Each actor also had drama coaching in groups and one-on one. “During these sessions we worked on things like using our eyes when acting.”

A dancing background became a valuable asset for Elg: She was able to obtain roles in such films as Les Girls (1957) that required skills in both dancing and acting. Les Girls was a hit and so was Taina. She was awarded with a Golden Globe first in 1957 for Best Female Foreign Newcomer (Gaby, 1956) and again in 1958 for Best Actress in a Musical (Les Girls).

Tough competition behind the scenes has always defined Hollywood, but Elg says she was fortunate to work with many people whom she remembers fondly: one of them was Les Girls director George Cukor, whom Elg describes as “the ideal director.” Elg has also followed the career of Sophia Loren and her fellow cast members from the musical Titanic.

Much of Elg’s later career has focused on Broadway musicals and theater. She has appeared onstage in e.g. West Side Story and The Sound of Music, as well as A Little Night Music and Where’s Charley?, for which she earned a Tony nomination.

  Les Girls © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer MGM

Les Girls © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer MGM

Taina tells us that she rarely watches her own films, but admits that Les Girls remains one of her all time favorites. Old dance movies and a selection of French films are also close to her heart.

Elg has lived in New York for over 30 years, and loves her home city. “In New York you have the opportunity to meet people from all around the world; this gives New Yorkers a magnificent possibility to learn from one another,” she says.

Taina visits her son, the gifted jazz musician Raoul Björkenheim, and her old friends from the days of the Finnish National Ballet in Finland almost every summer and she feels proud of her country of birth. “There is something so decent about how for instance schooling is valued. It is also great that young people today have more opportunities to travel and put their education to use in an international context.”

  One day at MGM all actors and actresses who were present that day were called in for a group photo. Taina Elg second from the right in the back row wearing a red shirt.

One day at MGM all actors and actresses who were present that day were called in for a group photo. Taina Elg second from the right in the back row wearing a red shirt.

Taina is always ready to volunteer at events of the Finnish community in New York; she has read poetry at many an Independence Day celebration of the Finlandia Foundation New York Chapter, and recently volunteered for a promotional video for Finland Center’s new Kota Project (video can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/cwmedia/review/74212132/0b5313fe00)

Last year Taina was invited to attend the Sodankylä Film Festival in northern Finland as a star guest and was introduced to the Finnish film historian and director Peter Von Bagh. He will soon visit New York to attend the screening of his film, The Story of Mikko Niskanen, as well as the screening of director Mikko Niskanen’s Eight Deadly Shots at MoMA’s International Festival of Film Preservation.

When we ask Elg how she would advice aspiring Finnish actors and actresses dreaming of an international career, she emphasizes the importance of having fluency of the English language. “The inability to produce a certain kind of dialect, in this case American English, can be a major hindrance,” she says. 

Interview: Marjo Eskola and Jaana Jumisko
Article: Finland Center Foundation, and Marjo Eskola
Photos: Marjo Eskola, Jaana Jumisko, and MGM

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Finns in New York: Anna

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Q: Why did you move to New York?
It’s always been a dream of mine to come and live in New York, even for a little while.
So when I had the opportunity to come here and do my internship I took it!

Q: What did you get from this experience?
I have met some amazing people, seen some amazing places and I’m sure that it’s going to take some time for me to understand that I really did stay in New York for 3,5 months!

Q: What are your three favorite places in the City?

Central Park, all the parks actually and West Village

Q: Do you have a favorite restaurant in NYC? 

I’m the worst person to say any good restaurants. But there is a great italian restaurant on 2nd avenue, famous pizzaplace Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn and best sushi comes from Roosevelt Island.
Q: Do you have a favorite store?

Not really, we don’t have Forever 21 or Brandy Melville in Finland so I did spend some time (and money) there. There are lots of great small stores all over the city. Whole foods is also nice!

Q: What are your favorite things to do on your free time here?

Just walking around, there is so much places to see and you always end up somewhere nice!

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

Well it’s New York! Who wouldn’t want to live here? Everybody always talks about New York, movies and tv is full of New York and now I’m able to say; been there done that!

Q: What do you miss from Finland?

Chocolate, my dog, family, and friends

Q: Describe New York in three words

Spectacular, scary, and stylish

Q:  Describe Finland in three words
I’m not going to say cold because people here think it’s freezing cold all the time. I think Finland is clean, care-free and cheerful!

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Happy Midsummer!

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Imagine you are sitting by a quiet lakeside at midnight and reading a book in clear daylight. Or leaving a nightclub to find the sun has risen before you even got to bed. Finland is at its magical best from June to August. Even though the towns and cities thrive, many Finns head for their lakeside summer cottages to relax. Most people head to the country especially for Midsummer’s weekend in June. It is a weekend of celebration of the amazing daylight. Around that time in northern Finland the sun does not set for several weeks.

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Midsummer is one of the biggest celebrations in Finland. When staying at the country there are loads of traditions people like to do, for example bonfires, barbecues and dances. They boat and swim and practise one of their most relished traditions, sauna-bathing. It is not only sitting on the sauna bench and sweating in the heat, it is a much appreciated ritual for those wanting to get the ultimate relaxing experience. For you beginners out there, here are some guidelines you should follow.

  1. Reserve enough time.

  2. Take ALL your clothes off. We Finns consider nudity natural.

  3. Start by having a shower. For reasons of hygiene, yes, but also bathing in a hot sauna is said to be better if your skin is wet.

  4. Use a bench cover to sit on. Again there is hygiene to think about but also the benches in a sauna get very hot. Leave your newspaper, your cell phone, and your drink outside.

  5. About the heat level, the advice is that 80°C is enough and less for beginners. Add moisture by throwing water on the stove.

  6. Finns sometimes compete about who lasts the longest in a burning hot sauna, but you should know that is unhealthy. You should only stay as long as it is enjoyable.

  7. Use birch twigs, if provided, to beat yourself to stimulate circulation. It is considered common courtesy to beat or scrub your sauna mate’s back too.

  8. A sudden change from hot to cold is not recommended. Cooling off and resting are an essential part of the sauna ritual. The advantage of a waterside sauna is jumping into the cooling water straight from the heat.

  9. Warm yourself up and have a shower before heading back to the heat.

  10. Repeat the sauna/cooling off process as many times you like. Maybe once is enough, for Finns three times is perhaps the average.

  11.  Finish the sauna ritual by washing yourself with refreshing water. After a sauna you should not be in a hurry, even dressing can wait. Just rest, drink something refreshing and have a light snack.  That is the perfect ending to an enjoyable sauna.

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Q&A with Deborah Ottenheimer

On June 16th, Finland Center will hold its second annual 5K run in Prospect Park. In addition to bringing together active New York Finns and friends of Finland, the event supports the work of an organization benefiting peace, gender equality, education or health care – all aspects of Finland Center’s mission statement.

This year Finland Center has partnered with Hope for Haiti (HFHF), a foundation that helps provide medical care, education, environmental awareness, community growth and faith-based services to the country’s poor communities. The organization was founded in 1999 by Jean Elade Eloi, originally of southeast Haiti. Among the group’s most important causes is reducing maternal mortality in a country where a woman’s lifetime risk of dying in childbirth is an estimated one in 47. 

New York -based OBGYN Deborah Ottenheimer has taken part in Hope for Haiti’s efforts for two years. We spoke to her about her experiences.

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Q: What first drew you to this particular organization and cause?

A: I first went to Haiti with Medi-Share in July 2010 after the earthquake. I didn’t feel that my unique skill set [in women’s health] was being used there, but I knew I wanted to return to Haiti for further work. I started calling around and following leads, and Hope for Haiti Foundation was the only organization I found that was truly interested in sustainable development. I had no interest in going to some hospital for a week and cranking through 1,000 patients; my interest was in educating Haitians so that they could care for themselves. The fact that HFHF was led by someone who grew up in that community also lent credibility to its vision. And once I spoke to Kim Sniffen, the midwife in charge of maternal health at the organization, I was sold.

Q: You’ve returned to Haiti a couple of times each year. What have been the most rewarding, and the most challenging, aspects of your work there?

A: The most rewarding thing is seeing changes in the health of the community, both in the yearly reports and during our visits. People seem to feel comfortable about coming to the clinic, and the nursing staff has been very capable. I’m always welcomed back as a friend, and feel privileged to be able to help. The most frustrating thing for me personally is that I can’t spend more time there; witnessing the level of health care available (or not) in a place located just three hours from New York by plane has been shocking.

Q: What changes would you like to see happen at Hope for Haiti, and in Haiti’s medical community in general, over the next five or so years?

A: I’d like to see better education among local girls and better access to birth control; I’m currently working on funding a grant to introduce IUDs to our clinic, for example. I’d also like for there to be regional hospitals that can provide surgical services and transportation so that women stop dying at home because of fairly simple obstetrical complications. In addition, I’d like for us to have more clinics in the mountains, a doctor on staff, midwives, a consistent supply of medications and other necessities, and an ultrasound machine.

Q: Has it been challenging to get friends and colleagues in the U.S involved in Hope for Haiti? Do people become overwhelmed in deciding what causes to support?

A: People have “tragedy fatigue” and short attention spans: once the acute phase of a disaster is over, we move on to the next thing. I tell people about my work, hoping to inspire by example. I have decided on a fairly narrow area of focus, but most people look out there, see unbridled chaos and prefer to hide.

To find out more, visit hopeforhaitifoundation.com.

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Q&A with Flutist Anna Urrey

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Interview by Laura Palotie

Finnish-American flutist Anna Urrey has built her career – and a solid reputation – in New York and beyond. The Manhattan School of Music alumna has performed, among other ensembles, with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Symphony in C in Philadelphia and Le Poisson Rouge’s new orchestra in Manhattan.

This Friday, May 10th, Anna will perform alongside distinguished South Korean pianist Soyeon Kim at the Salmagundi Club (see our events page for more details). We recently caught up with Anna to talk about her career, her sources of inspiration and her life as a classical musician in New York City.

Q: You have a Finnish mother and an American father. How would you characterize your own connection to Finland – and your experiences of performing with Finnish musicians?

A: Both of my parents are musicians, and met while studying voice in Vienna. I’m proud to be American, but also feel a strong connection to Finland. I love learning about my mother’s culture and the country’s history – and let’s be honest: pulla is one of the best things ever created. I feel a particular connection to Finland as a musician, too: my first Finnish musical experience was several years ago at a small summer festival in Riistavesi. I quickly learned that there was a depth to the Finnish musical approach, an understanding of the music that was incredibly inspiring. Finns have a serious work ethic and they feel deeply, and it all comes across in the music. It feels honest and not superficial. They want to do things right, not half-way, all of which appeals to me as well.

Q: As a performer, how would you describe the Finnish music scene?

A: It’s busy, and performances are given at a very high level. This is rather amazing, considering the fact that the population of the country is smaller than that of New York City. The high level clearly reflects the country’s serious commitment to their musical education system.

Q: You have also performed with a Chinese music ensemble. Tell us about that experience.

A: I love working with musicians with different backgrounds and perspectives. The Chinese East-West ensemble, for example, combined western instruments, like the modern flute and the piano, with traditional Chinese instruments, such as the pipa and the erhu. My Chinese colleagues have so much pride in their traditional music and are true masters of their instruments. They are also passionate about finding ways to expand their repertoire through contemporary music.

Q: Is there something in particular that draws you to multicultural collaborations?

A: Much of my interest stems from my childhood. I saw my father travel all over the world for concerts, to places like Turkey, Japan, Spain and Portugal. In high school, I also began to travel and perform in Italy, Finland, Germany, France, and most recently, Oman. Whenever possible, I take advantage of opportunities to share my love of music and be inspired by others. I hope that music will continue to help me explore the world.

Q: What has been the most memorable moment in your career thus far?

A: This past November, I went on tour with Maestro Lorin Maazel and his Castleton Festival orchestra to perform Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman. Puccini’s music is beautiful, Maestro Maazel is a musical genius, and going to such an exotic location was a surreal experience. Because I was making music with such amazing musicians and friends, it really didn’t feel like work at all.

Q: New York is, obviously, a musical mecca. What is it like being a classical musician in the city today?

A: On just about any given night, one can attend an opera, orchestra concert or Broadway show, hear a jazz combo, check out an indie singer in the West Village, go salsa or swing dancing…you name it, and NYC has it. As a freelancer, I experience a great variety of work. I could perform at an opera one evening, play the Brahms Requiem with a large chorus and vocal soloists the next day, and then a couple days later give a solo recital! It’s hard work, but also extremely gratifying.

Q: What are the downsides to being a classical musician in this city?

A: Unfortunately, classical music in general is decreasing in popularity. Especially since the recession, work opportunities have been significantly reduced. Even seemingly well-off, large orchestras are experiencing financial struggles. Today the classical musician must be creative and an active entrepreneur to create his or her own “niche.” It’s no longer enough to simply play well and hope that someone takes notice. While this career involves hard work, it forces each musician to take ownership of his or her craft. I find that empowering.

Q: Any upcoming performances you’d like to share with us?

A: I’m part of Ensemble LPR, the new resident orchestra at Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street) conducted by Tito Muñoz. Our debut concert with violinist Jennifer Koh will be on June 14th. The next day I leave for the Castleton Festival in Virginia to work with Maestro Maazel for six weeks. This season we will be performing three fully staged operas: Puccini’s “The Girl of the Golden West,” Verdi’s “Otello,” and Poulenc’s “La Voix Humaine.” There will also be several orchestra concerts with substantial programs, including Mahler’s 4th and 5th Symphonies and Mendelssohn’s 5th Symphony. I’m looking forward to it! 

As for post-summer plans, pianist Ritva Koistinen and I are already planning another recital at Finland Center. I’m also part of a flute-harp duo with Kristi Shade, and we will be performing on November 17th as part of the Concerts on the Slope concert series in Brooklyn. There will definitely be Finnish works performed at both of these recitals.

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Supporting a new generation of women in Nepal

By Sari Gold

On Friday, March 1st, Finland Center will host a special fundraiser in collaboration with the Empower Nepali Girls Foundation, which supports the education of girls in rural Nepalese villages. The organization was begun more than a decade ago by Dr. Jeffrey Kottler, and provides education to nearly 200 girls all around Nepal. It only costs about $125 to provide a full year of education for one girl.

I’m an active member of the ENG, and this past Christmas, after several months of intensive fundraising, I took my first trip to Nepal as part of an annual delegation. We connected with families, village elders, schoolteachers and administrators to encourage cultural exchange and appreciation towards educating girls. Our motivation was running high as the alternative is unthinkable: early marriage to servitude, or even worse, ending up as victims of sex trafficking that takes over 12,000 young girls away from their families annually.

Below are a couple of entries from the diary I kept during our trip.

12/24/12

“We got up early to enjoy one last look at the view from Bandipur hilltop campsite down to the partially cloud-covered valley. We then hiked downhill to the village, bid everyone farewell and hopped onto a bus towards Bullbhule. Several hours later some of us switched to another bus, while some took the option of hiking uphill to a mountain village for the next school visit. Us hikers walked nearly halfway up, but it was such slow going that we had to ride the bus the rest of the way. At the top, we were greeted by the teachers and students, and proceeded to award multiple scholarships to smiling faces and outstretched hands. This particular village is so remote it has not received visitors in at least two years. Later we engaged in games and songs with the children and shared information with parents and teachers.” 

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12/25/12

“After a break we walked over to the Bahundanda village school for our last ceremony and the awarding of scholarships. Long speeches were given as usual, but today was special. This time the scholarships and gifts were given out by an all-female team, either by graduates of the program who are now in college, or by the very capable Babita Gurung, the general secretary of ENG. What wonderful role models these young, articulate women were!”

Our trip was unforgettable. The new friendships that were formed and the amazing experiences of meeting countless warm and lovely people are forever with us. We are excited to continue our work to help as many young girls as possible to reach their dreams and become the new leaders in their communities.

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Q&A with Phyllis Kalajian of Nordikreations

By Kristina Reilly, Arctic Circle Finns

Phyllis Kalajian, based in Indiana, is a self-taught jewelry maker and designer who finds inspiration in her Scandinavian roots; she is half Norwegian, a quarter Swedish and a quarter German. Kalajian’s pieces are available on Etsy as well as at the Finnish School of New York’s annual Christmas Bazaar tomorrow, December 1st (83 Christopher Street in Manhattan). Look for them at Finland Center’s table.

 The artist herself, Phyllis Kalajian.

The artist herself, Phyllis Kalajian.

Q: What sparked your interest in making jewelry and connecting that with your Scandinavian heritage?

A: I’m a single mother and have two beautiful grown children, Michael and Cheri. When they were younger, I had them enrolled in a local Swedish culture group. The children’s group performed at many Scandinavian functions, including the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World exhibit. The Swedish culture group is what got me interested in all things Scandinavian. As far as creativity goes, for as long as I can remember I had to be creating something, from sewing to making jewelry to designing props for the performances put on by our Swedish group. I also have a regular day job, but only because I have to pay the bills. Now my remaining free time is consumed by jewelry making.

Q: How did your idea for Nordikreations take shape? 

A: I have been creating Scandinavian jewelry for about eight years. It started as a fundraising initiative for our newly formed Swedish club for adults. I thought we could all make and sell some Scandinavian jewelry. However, when I brought the samples to one of our meetings, no-one was interested in making them; they wanted to buy my jewelry instead.

Q: Many of your designs really capture the spirit of Finland. Where do you get your inspiration and ideas?

 Lakka earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

Lakka earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

A: In the beginning I only had a few designs. Then people began to request particular items and I started doing research to figure out how I was going to make them. Doing a little research on one item would lead me to another, and then to the next. I sometimes spent so much time reading about traditions and customs that I lost track of time. There are so many beautiful things in the Scandinavian culture: the jewelry, the folk costumes  and the artwork, both ancient and contemporary. I think Scandinavians have an inherent creative side.

Q: Which pieces do you like working on the most? Do you have a favorite design?

A: My favorite look is the Viking Knit earring, and the piece I love working on the most is the newest one I’m creating. I love thinking of new ideas and then trying to find the right pieces to create them. When I put the pieces together and it looks like I’ve successfully visualized something, I’m really happy. If I could afford it, I wouldn’t charge anything for my jewelry. If one of my pieces becomes special and meaningful to someone else, that gives me a good feeling and I want to create more. I also would like to say that I have met some of the nicest people through my jewelry making.

Q: What’s next for Nordikreations? 

 Viking Knit earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

Viking Knit earrings from the Nordikreations collection.

A: I’m working on more bracelets but haven’t listed them yet. The holidays are really busy for me, so I haven’t had time to take pictures and list the bracelets on my site. I’m using only the same colors that Viking women used. I’m also thinking about making bracelets with Scandinavian colors. I use memory wire, so there is no clasp; it just winds around your wrist. There are a couple of ideas for viking earrings that I have in my head. I will be making a Viking Thistle Brooch earring, and I would also like to make viking Runes out of black beads.

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Tastes of Finnish Christmas

By Jaana Rehnström

At Christmas time, Finnish expats tend to get nostalgic and begin missing their mothers’ (or grandmothers’) cooking. Finnish holiday recipes are easy to come by, but not always the ingredients.

Fortunately, there are people in the New York area who can help. If you would rather avoid the extra hurdle of cooking, contact Tuula Malmi (tuulamalmi@aol.com), who runs a catering business out of her house in the Bronx year-round. She is a master of traditional Finnish cuisine, and can also be hired for upscale events. She used to cook at Estonia House, and her customers included kids from the Finnish School during the years in which they met there.

Northern Rye makes traditional and non-traditional Karelian pies and other goodies, and they now sell them in two stores on Manhattan’s East side and several places in Brooklyn. Check out www.northernrye.com and contact them at ryes@northernrye.com.

Nordic Breads makes the best Finnish sourdough rye bread on this side of the Atlantic. Their products are available at Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays and Saturdays (8 am to 6 pm), at Stuyvesant Town Greenmarket on Sundays (9:30 am to 4 pm), and at New Amsterdam Market on Sundays (11 am to 4 pm). In addition, Nordic Breads is represented at Whole Foods and other markets in Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can also order the bread by mail; just order a package and freeze what you don’t consume immediately. Very healthy and yummy!

 Rice porridge, topped with cinnamon, is a perennial holiday favorite.

Rice porridge, topped with cinnamon, is a perennial holiday favorite.

Here are a few tips for aspiring cooks:

Want to make riisipuuro (traditional rice porridge served around Christmas)? Be sure to use sushi rice (“sticky rice”). Want to make kiisseli (kissel dessert)? Potato flour can be hard to come by, but try Jewish stores, or Sockerbit on Christopher St. between 7th Avenue and Bleecker Street. They also have vanilla sugar (used in many Finnish dessert recipes) and a good selection of candy by Fazer – Finland Center members get 10% discount on that!

Also check out the Norwegian Seamens’ Church at 317 East 52nd Street. (between 1st and 2nd Avenues). They carry cloudberry jam, black currant juice and great Scandinavian cheese….at steep Norwegian prices, however.

Want to make rahkapiirakka (quark pastry)? Schaller and Weber, the wonderful German food store on 2nd avenue just south of 86th Street has quark; also the Russian stores in Brighton Beach carry it. Lingonberry jam can be found at many of the aforementioned stores and of course at IKEA – this Swedish giant also stocks other essential foods such as herring and Kalles kaviar. And for the best Scandinavian coffee: I’m sorry, but you have to order it from Gevalia (I haven’t found a Finnish brand available in the U.S that is equivalent…and it’s quite expensive).

Lastly, for the best gravlax I will share my own recipe, adapted from the New York Times (who probably stole it from some Scandinavian): Start two or three days before the event at which you want to serve it:

  • 2 lbs salmon fillet, cut into two pieces of equal size

  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1.5 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper

  • 1 bunch of dill, chopped

Place one fillet on a large piece of aluminium foil. Mix the spices and  spread over both fillets. Add the dill to one of them. Flip the other slice quickly over the other one (face to face) and wrap the foil around it tightly. Wrap again with saran wrap.

Place the piece in the fridge and (this is important) place a clean brick or another weight on top. Turn the piece every 12 hours. Some juice will seep out so keep it in a Pyrex dish or an equivalent. When ready to serve, discard the dill, cut crosswise in thin slices, and decorate with fresh dill and lemon slices.

Feel free to comment and add your own culinary tips!

Happy holiday munching!

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Finns in New York: Saara

Our blog series offers a peek into the lives of the local Finnish community. Today we meet Saara who resides in Upper West Side and has a thing for expensive shoes and vintage stores. Saara is also an aspiring photographer and she can be seen in many of our events with her camera taking some great shots for our albums. Check out Saara’s blog Diamonds and Pearls and she can also be found and friended here.

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Q: How long have you lived in New York?

Since October 2008.

Q: Why did you move to New York?

I love big cities. It was a natural move after living in London for seven years.

Q: What are your three favorite places in the City?

Central Park, Soho, and South Street Seaport.

Q: Favorite restaurant? 

Koi at Bryant Park Hotel.

Q: Do you have a favorite store?

Housing Works thrift shops for those vintage treasure hunts.

Q: What are your favorite things to do on your free time?

Go to Broadway shows and nice restaurants. Wandering around the city.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living in New York?

Diversity and possibility. You can do anything you could possibly think of at any given time.

Q: What do you miss from Finland?

Sauna, family, and friends.

Q: Describe New York in three words

Vibrant, diverse, and exciting.

Q:  Describe Finland in three words

Clean, quiet, and safe.

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