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Our blog series offers a peek into the lives of the local Finnish community. Today we meet Kristina Reilly and Nina Kulmala, founders of Arctic Circle Finns. The organization puts together art and fashion events, upscale happy hours and charity benefits around the city. 

Q: What brought you to New York?

Kristina: I’ve been in the States since 1997, but was originally living on the West Coast. I was working as a flight attendant when I met my now-husband, who’s from Brooklyn. I relocated to New York, and we now live in New Jersey.

Nina: I was 2 when my parents decided to move from Helsinki and start a new life on Long Island, New York; my father started a construction company there with his brother in the 1970s. As soon as I graduated high school I packed my bags and headed to New York City, where I attended The Fashion Institute of Technology in the mid-1980s. The city has been my home ever since.

Q: What inspired you to start Arctic Circle Finns of New York?

Kristina: Even though lots of great Finnish organizations already existed in New York, we felt that there wasn’t anything for the younger generation – especially for second-generation Finnish-Americans. Since we both had extensive experience as event planners, several of our friends asked us to set something up, so we did! I’m a former travel agent and specialize in setting up corporate events. I also worked as a charter flight coordinator and planner contracted to NASCAR.

Nina: I felt like there was something missing in the Finnish community. My parents were very active in the Finnish Cultural Society of New York, which had a lot of members back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As a kid, I recall attending many social events with my parents, including beauty pageants, church events, comedy shows and dinner dances. My father was even a drummer in a Finnish band. So, having grown up in this kind of an environment, I began thinking that there was nothing out there now for the younger generation of Finns. We need more social events to help keep our culture and language fresh. On that note, the most important inspiration is to practice the Finnish language. There is nothing better than speaking with fellow Finns that have the same interests as you.   

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

Kristina: Between working and spending time with my family – we have two kids and two dogs – I don’t have a lot of spare time. My husband and I like camping and hiking in New Jersey, going to the beach, spending time with our friends, trying out new restaurants and traveling whenever possible. I also work as a promo model.

Nina: I try to keep busy all the time, and when I have a free moment I am usually thinking of new projects. I have a great day job in a law firm, but to balance out my life I look for creative projects. For instance, I am the general manager of an off-off-Broadway theater company, Hotel Savant, and volunteer for organizations such as DOT429. I also love to go out dancing and shopping; I like vintage clothes and accessories.

Q: What are your favorite places in the city?

Kristina: I like Brooklyn and Downtown Manhattan. However, I prefer to spend my free time in New Jersey. We have fabulous beaches, beautiful scenery and quaint old towns.

Nina: I never get tired of seeing the New York skyline. I have recently been rediscovering NYC by visiting neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, Williamsburg, SoHo and The Bronx. There are a lot of great restaurants and sites in this grand city. For example, I recently attended a fabulous, 1920s-themed garden party in an old Italian “palazo” in the Bronx…only in New York.  

Q: What do you think is the best thing about living here?

Kristina: Being able to reconnect to Finland. When I lived “out West” I didn’t know any other Finns. Now Helsinki is just eight hours away. Most of my friends are Finnish, and we have a strong Finnish community here.

Nina: It’s the most eclectic city I know. You can move from the Upper East Side to the Village, and feel like you are in another world. It’s a place that is always evolving. I like the opportunities this city can give you.

This Thursday, September 13th, Arctic Circle Finns and Finland Center are co-hosting a health and beauty event at the Nygård flagship on Times Square. Connect with Arctic Circle Finns on Facebook, and email ACFinnsNY@hotmail.com with event requests.

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