I’ve spent fifteen years of my life as a foreigner. I’ve lived in Central Europe, Asia and the United States. Although work is by far the best way to make anyone feel at home in the host environment (an oxymoron?), some insider tips will help one achieve that victorious rush of happiness of truly feeling like a local. Here are some of mine!
10. The Töölö Gym. As a life-time gym rat, I connect with my tribe through the dumbbells wherever I go. In Helsinki, the place is the Töölö Gym. It’s a private outfit where you can buy a one-time pass. That’ll give you access to a huge variety of iron and fellow true believers.
9. Siltasaari. Although I’m very proud of the front yard of my Helsinki abode, we keep quiet about it so that the place isn’t full of tourists. I’m disclosing this to you only: There’s a lovely wooden dock and boats parked along the shoreline. Facing south, the perfect city picnic location has sun throughout the day. You and your dog may even take a swim if you want to tick the city-centre-dip off your bucket list.
8. Pesäpallo. The national sport of Finland is a variation on baseball. An improvement by all accounts. It’s easy, communal and a great workout. You can find a fun-loving team through Amcham’s Expatriate Leaders’ network and then move to the many open and non-competitive teams that, during the summer season, have scheduled games in the sports fields around the city.
7. Working spaces. As I said, work is the perfect equalizer. You can fake it till you make it. There are many brilliant co-working spaces where you can connect professionally, find company for lunch and get invited to projects that will give you further access to the layers of the city. My favourite is the Helsinki Think Company, which is open to academic professionals moving toward entrepreneurship. Smart guaranteed!
6. Fast train to St. Pete. I find the thought incredibly inspiring: One of the most gorgeous and storied cities of the world is just a three-hour train journey from Helsinki. I seldom actually act upon it, but it’s totally doable: lunch in Helsinki, dinner and ballet in St Petersburg. What’s not to love!
5. The tax authorities. Getting admittedly eccentric here, but I love to pay taxes in Helsinki. Not only am I happy with the direction of the city—I love the ambition level and the constantly improving services—but I also love the actual authorities. Finland has the most streamlined and digitalized tax services in the world. Doing your tax declaration is easier and more fun that buying on Amazon.
4. Crash course in Finnish politics. That’s something my organization (Amcham) offers expats. It’s become a hit. You get to pick a topic and put questions you never dared to voice to a team of experts. Many to one—it’s your private session. After that you’ll finally understand the byzantine ways of the trade unions and what drives the political parties.
3. The International School of Helsinki. Hundreds of researchers and experts travel to Finland every year to study the world-famous Finnish school system. Drop it into an international school and you’ll have the best of all worlds. In addition, the people at the Helsinki International School are just super nice.
2. The Kallio District. I thought they were just cool and, to me, a bit intimidating. Then I found out that the people of Kallio have actually created the leading hipster paradise in Europe. Personally, I couldn’t have told, but here I take my cues from the Monocle Magazine and other opinion leaders. Go experience it and see what you think.
1. The New North Forum. Investors see the Nordics as one market, and so do we who develop the business environment for a living. That’s why we created the New North Forum, a network for Nordic managers, whose meetings rotate between Helsinki and Stockholm. You should take advantage of it when you’re ready to conquer our neck of the woods.