Mary Banda is a Canadian who spreads good energy wherever she goes. And this is exactly what she is doing here in Finland leading the youth in a positive direction as a grade school teacher.

What do you do here in Finland?

I’m a classroom teacher at Vantaa International School. Currently with 3rd grade, next year with 4th.

When and how did you end up here?

In 2006 I met an Italian man on the Camino de Santiago, walking from France to Spain. He became my long distance boyfriend for about a year until he got an engineering job in Finland. Then we moved here together in 2007. Now we’re married.

What do you like about Finland?

The ease and simplicity of life here. My work contract was a single page. It was very bureaucratically easy to buy an apartment. I haven’t needed to own a car for the last six years. I didn’t even need one in the remote north of Lapland where I could still take a public bus around.

I also really like the education system that I work in. I have so much autonomy as a teacher. The kids have a fun variety of subjects that give them a chance to become very well rounded. And there’s a focus on arts and crafts, which very much helps with creative brain development.

What attracts you about the Finnish culture?

Their punctuality and efficiency. Two things I was forced to evolve in myself, because I wasn’t before. The Finns don’t just arrive on time, they arrive one minute early. It’s also a very bureaucratically functional country.

And there seems to be lots of built in unspoken rules that serve to make things flow smoothly. Like standing on the right side of escalator to allow people to pass if they want. Little things that I notice when travelling that don’t happen elsewhere.

What culture shocks did you experience when coming to Finland?

Alcoholism. And the fact that it turns the city into a giant toilet after midnight. People become savages and relieve themselves anywhere.

Also there’s a general silence here. It’s really quiet. The other day I was in a fully packed tram and it was like a library. It was really odd. And it’s quite shocking to be in the middle of a busy city where no one is talking.

Have you been able to settle and integrate into Finnish society?

Absolutely. I know this because of the feeling when I arrive back to the Helsinki airport after a trip. I’m relieved to be back home. And living in Kallio by the Hakaniemen Halli, the feeling I get going there. I know the butcher. I speak Italian with the cheese ladies and French with the fishmonger. They will spend the time to talk to you and have even given me a recipe. Finnish customer service is not the best, but that place is exceptional. It feels like I’m part of a neighbourhood there.

What were/are your worries?

I didn’t have any and I don’t now. It was all new and exciting to come here and it has all worked out. Before I arrived, my husband actually recruited a girl he saw reading a yoga book in the park to hang out with me. And now she’s my dearest friend here.

What are your future wishes for your life here?

Just to keep on keeping on.

What is your favourite Finnish word?

Hyvää ruokahalua. For a few reasons. 1. It took me two weeks to learn how to say it. 2. It sounds ridiculous and feels ridiculous to say. 3. You actually feel like you are eating your words when you say it.

Andy Kruse
Image: Leafoto