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Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister’s Office

[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series] Interview with Josephine Atanga, founder of WODESS.

Finnish People, Foreigners in Finland, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office
josephine atanga

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programmeThis “What is Finnish-ness?” series is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Today we feature Josephine Atanga, one of the most prominent and inspiring foreign lady in Finland. Josephine is a people’s person with a heart for the community. She is also one of the most positive ladies I have ever met.

Enjoy the interview!

WW: Hello Josephine Atanga! Can you tell us more about yourself?

Josephine Atanga: Hello Wan Wei! Thank you for having me on this meaningful series.

I am Josephine Atanga from the beautiful country of USA. I describe myself as a positive, enthusiastic woman, a musician and a visionary woman. I see possibilities in every situation in which I find myself. I strongly believe in the power of the community and that is why I am a community person—I love people and giving back to society is my heart beat.

I am an American but my roots can be traced back to Cameroon, West Africa. While in the USA, I was involved in many community projects. I also started a talk-show which airs on local TV every Sunday for one hour as a means to expose the African talents in the USA while giving them an opportunity for their skills to be exposed and their voices to be heard.

In addition, I received two citations and recognition from United State senator in USA for my community works with inner city youths and my local talk show —opportunities which I am very grateful for.

I have been in Finland for number of years. I am currently studying Bachelor of Science Nursing program at the Arcada University of Applied Science. With my passion for the community and women in particular, I had the drive to start a women’s empowerment organization in Finland called “Women Designed for Success”.

This is an association registered in Finland and USA with a mission of celebrating the various successes of women, empowering them to live a purpose driven drive, engaging in charitable deeds through supporting girl’s education and recognising their achievement in society through an annual Award gala called Golden Women Awards.


WW: Can you share with us the most important and meaningful event that happened in Finland?

Josephine Atanga: I would like to share with you the Golden Women Awards annual gala. It really is the most important and meaningful event that happened to me in Finland because of the power of appreciation and impacting positively education of girls in third-world countries.

After we registered Women Designed for Success, we really wanted to highlight the power of appreciation. You see, we feel strongly that women, especially international women, need to be appreciated for their contributions in Finland.

So, I called a couple of ladies residing in Finland. I told them that there are so many amazing women doing so many things here in Finland which we should recognize and high light their contribution in the Finnish society. We need to showcase the talents of these ladies because when women are appreciated, they tend to do more. It raises the standard of their work and promotes excellence as well as stimulating other women to do better

In WODESS we believed in the power of collaboration and working together as a team to achieve great event. The Golden Women Awards was birthed out of the power of collaboration with different associations such as SCADAA ry, MONIHELI, CAISA, Jehom Driving school, African women association to mentioned a few not forgetting the many volunteers who sacrificed their time to make sure that women got the best recognition possible .

Josephine Atanga

Doing the Golden Women Awards event was challenging as I had never done an Award Show but I believed that gaining knowledge through reading and research work that it was going to be possible and a huge success.

So I went back to the books to find out how to do an award show, what the most important elements to a successful award show and so on is. It was very important to have high profile judges.

So over the past two Golden Women Awards, we have had diverse high-profile panel of judges from all over the world who worked so hard to make sure they came up with the right nominees and winners after the public nominations. The judges spent their time as volunteers to select the best nominees and eventually went through their work profile to make sure they fulfilled all the necessary criteria to be declared winners.

Let me share with you a story of one of the 2015 Golden Women Awards winner- Cinta Hermo Martin. She is WODESS Woman of the Year and has been living in Finland for 30 years.

I was moved when she said–“I have won many awards from my home country in Spain, but I have never won an award in Finland until in 2015. Finally my contribution to the Finnish society is finally being recognized.” She was very happy about this Award and said it has opened so many doors for her not only in Finland but also to her home country in Spain. Now she wants to do more to impact the lives of younger girls in Finland and around the world with this her Award.

To see our distinguished winners being so happy, appreciated and excited—that gives me so much joy.

Let me share another story with you—a huge success story. There was this other lady who was nominated: She has done great work, an amazing lady with amazing talents. In the category in which she was nominated for, she had not package herself well as a professional comparatively to the other nominees.

After going through some of the works of other nominees in her own category she felt like she needed to upgrade the way she had packaged her works. She sent us an email saying she think she will not win after going through the works of the other nominees. She said that “This award has changed my life completely–because I am now doing things differently in a more professional way. It has helped me to raise the standard of excellence in the way I present my business to the outside world.

She said she is actively showcasing the positive things she is doing in the right professional way so she can come back and be a winner of the Golden Women Awards in future.

This is a success story to us at WODESS as this nominee finally wants to step up to reach to the next level by actively showcasing her skills and talents in a professional way that will give her the edge to be more competitive in the industry standards.

In addition, this award is not solely about flamboyance. It’s also about supporting Girls’ Education in third world countries.

WW: We definitely love your positive attitude! Can you tell us now one challenge you have faced in Finland?

Josephine Atanga: The biggest challenge I face in Finland is the language barrier. I have been studying the language for a while.

I will not say that Finnish is difficult but will rather say it is challenging and it requires hard work.

I do believe that with more effort in grasping the Finnish language the sky will be my limit in Finland! Well, it is just a matter of time I do believe to overcome this challenge. You see, I have the power, and I am generally a positive person. With a positive attitude and hard work nothing is impossible to achieve.

I am so determined to make a difference in the language that I told myself–why don’t I become a translator of the Finnish language one day at the United Nations. Hahaha!


WW: You have also started a multicultural magazine for Women in Finland– the WODESS Magazine! What motivated you to do that?

Josephine Atanga: We started the first multicultural magazine in Finland in 2015 with the launch issue. The second edition of about 180 pages with high quality glossy pictures will be launched in spring 2017. The WODESS Magazine is a hard copy lifestyle magazine for the everyday woman.

What inspired me to come up with this magazine in English was the realisation that there are many international Women in Finland who are highly talented at various levels. So we wanted to come up with a magazine for the common women who are doing extraordinary things. Our goal was to have the magazine in language spoken by many at the international level which happens to be the English language.

By so doing we are giving their businesses international exposures that will benefit them in the long run. We wanted to use the magazine to create more job opportunities and to impact their business positively. Our magazine is a lifestyle magazine with the aim to educate, entertain, inspire and impact what these great international women are doing in Finland.

So you can pick up our magazine and see for yourself what amazing work foreigners are doing in Finland.

It’s not just about women—we also have articles about men. Therefore, this magazine is a way to promote talents in Finland and show case them to the rest of the world.

The reason why we chose it to be in English is because this magazine is global. We are in UK and US as well. Therefore, the women we feature in the magazines also benefit from international exposure, leading to the flourishing of their businesses. This magazine is never about money—it is about the wing beneath the wings of multicultural women here in Finland.

This magazine is truly the Finnish ebony! ☺ We do things out of our hearts and not out of selfish reasons.

WW: What are the three things or traits that you would consider to be uniquely Finnish?

Josephine Atanga:

The first trait I would consider as “uniquely Finnish” is humility. The Finns are really humble people.

The second trait I would consider as “Finnish” is “honesty”. If I drop something in my school, I can come back after two days, go to the front desk, and would find it there. It is no doubt that Finland continue to top the list of being one of the best countries in good governance.

The third trait I would consider as “Finnish” is perhaps the lack of openness. I think Finns keep to themselves a lot.

Let me give you an example—you see, I do a lot of walking and exercise. When I was exercising in parks in the USA, I normally greet people with a hearty “Good morning! How are you?” You see, such greetings bring out life in people!

In Finland however, there has never been a day when I get a response by saying “Hello!” or “Huomenta!” Nobody talks to you. It’s probably the Finnish culture not to be friendly—so it probably just the culture, and we have to accept it.

Josephine Atanga

This is probably a pity. You see, when you are closed, you are like a lake. It is always good to have an outlet to express yourself—Express yourself! Fly like a bird; just express it! And you will be happier! ☺


WW: What are some of the dreams and hopes you have for the future of Finland?

Josephine Atanga: I really love for Finns to be more open and welcoming to foreigners.

Foreigners are nice people. I think Finland is doing great now in welcoming foreigners but I think more can still be done. I am sure it is just a matter of time that I see it happening.

You see, I do not have a Finnish friend. I will love to have one. Yet, how do I have one?

Ha ha ha of course I can go out looking for a Finnish friend! “Do you want to be my Finnish friend?”

WW: What are your hopes for Finland?

Josephine Atanga: I hope to see more international women in Finland become more successful and start mentoring the younger ones to reach their highest level of potential.

I also hope that the Finnish media can become more involved with what foreigners are doing—for instance, give them more press coverage or even some time on Finnish television channels on the positive activities of internationals. I would love to see them appreciate the contribution of the international women in the Finnish society by giving us some coverage with the Golden Women Awards.

I hope the Finnish media can one day finally see how much of positive and constructive building blocks our initiatives have on Finnish society.


WW: Finland will turn 100 years old this year!! What is the one wish you have for Finland’s 100th birthday?

Josephine Atanga: I want to wish Finland a Happy Birthday, and I want to thank the country for giving me free education. Nelson Mandela said that you can use education to change the world and that it is through education that the son of a peasant can one day become a president.

The free education in Finland is one thing I am really grateful to Finland for. I hope free education will continue in Finland. Who knows one day may be I will create a TV from the education I have gained and will continue to gain from Finland.

Josephine Atanga

I will love to say that on the 100 years celebration of Finland’s independence, I am not looking at what I can get from Finland but what I can give back or do to make the next 100 years of Finland a memorable one for the younger generations. I would love to thank Finland for giving me the opportunity to soar like an eagle as I have been able to use my talent to impact positively.

I never thought I will one day be the founder of a hard copy life style prestigious WODESS magazine that sits amongst other magazines in the library at the Women’s resource centre at the University of Estonia. I am able to change the world through the free education and knowledge I have gained in Finland.

Thank you to Finland for educating me and welcoming me. Happy Birthday Finland! One Love.

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!🙂

[The Hieno! Suomi 100] Interview with Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo, the initiator of Design Finland 100.

Finnish Culture, Finnish People, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office
Kirsti Lindberg-Repo

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we have the huge privilege of featuring Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo. She is a visiting professor at the Singapore Management University and also the initiator of Design Finland 100 (DF100).

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo has been actively contributing to branding research for the past 15 years and has extensive experience in co-operation with academia and practitioners. She has also published two books on branding: “Titans of Service” and “Titans of Branding”. Today, she will be sharing with us more about Finland as a design nation and also the project DF100.

Enjoy the interview!

WW: Hello Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo, can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Hello Wan Wei.

Let’s start with a story:

I had a wonderful opportunity to work as a visiting professor in Singapore Management University in 2013. From my students I learned how unrecognisable a nation Finland is. There are no clear associations with the country brand of Finland.

The only things my students seemed to know of were:

1. Nightwish, a Finnish band;
2. The Finnish baby box; and
3. The best educational system in the world.

This was my calling. Having worked with brands and brand lecturing for the last 15 years in Swedish School of Economics and Aalto University in Helsinki, I felt that something should be done.

In summer 2015, my team and I came up with an idea to market Finland as a design nation in Southeast Asia.

Currently I am in charge of the Design Finland 100 in the Digital Age -project. Design Finland 100 is a two-year-long innovation project, organised for the very first time.

In March we will conduct Nordic Business and Design Case Competition, where students are given unique, real-life business problems to solve. We will ask them: “how to make strategic growth for Finnish companies in Asia?”

The connection between design and trade will be approached from various perspectives, such as fashion, health technology, digital services as well as service design. We are waiting to see innovative ideas, outside of the box -thinking and great team work, creativity, problem diagnosis, applying correct theories and good communications.

Two of the winning teams will be awarded an all inclusive (flight+accommodation) trip to Helsinki to Design Drives Business Seminar on August 30th, 2017.

WW: Wow, that is totally cool!

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Yes! You see, design from Finland is a great brand story.

We try to take the greatest design heritage of Finland forward, which Finland as a design nation is very famous for.

Designing a better customer experience is the strongest growth driver today. It forms a competitive advantage and ensures the consumers’ demand for a product or a service.

WW: You once mentioned that Finland is a “design nation”. Why is Finland a “design nation”?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Finland is a design-centred country.

Finland has received the highest number of design awards globally as compared to the size of the population. And for excellence in design, there is no other measurement for the time being, other than the awards and rewards accorded to the country.

For example, the Finnish company Planmeca has received so many awards and rewards for industrial, service, digital and product design. When we had our executive seminar “Design Drives Business” in Singapore on October 2016, the representative of Planmeca said, “I’d just show you the most recent design awards we have won. This is because we have received so many global awards and rewards for design that if we were to show them all, it would probably take all day.”

So you see, Planmeca is a true design company working in B2B, and has received great global recognition and acknowledgement for design. They produce for example big and colourful dental chairs. 98% of their production goes towards exports.

WW: Wow, that is a very high percentage.

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Yes, very, very high. And Planmeca’s production is 100% based in Finland. They have not outsourced production to any Chinese producers or manufacturers—they produce everything in Finland.

We can say that Finnish design really drives their business and they can be proud of it.

By “design”, we mean: Product design, service design, digital design and design as strategy. And design as strategy is one of the most used in the United States of America right now.

Take for instance, Pepsi’s CEO Indra Nooyi, who is one of top three most influential women CEOs in the world. Nooyi says that design has become so important for them in developing their current competitive advantage. Design is present in each and every decision that they are taking.

Designing a better customer experience is the strongest competitive advantage a company can have today.

WW: It is fascinating that “design is present in each and every decision they are taking”. How would you define the term “design”?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Well, Design is part of everyone’s life. I’m sure that there are many definitions to the term “design”.

Perhaps we could conceptualise a modern view on design as like this: Design is something that tries to reach a better user experience by implementing product design, service design, design as strategy and digital design as a channel to carry them all forward.

My background is actually very strongly grounded in the area of branding, so in our Design Finland 100 project, we are looking at the concept of design from the branding perspective. This means that design needs to bring differentiation for a product or service. It needs to have aspirational features and made desirable for the consumers, whether they are in the B2B or B2C industries.

Only this way, businesses can create a path to win their customers’ hearts and ensure that the experience for the end-customer is an improved one with design management.

Like the wagon in the train, you have a captain who is driving the train, and you have the wagon. And they are all part of the design.

WW: So, what do you think is the differentiating factor of Finnish design?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Well, first of all, its heritage value is huge.

We have had very, very, very good artists who were globally recognised early in Finland’s history, and that integrates design as part of our national identity.

For example, Alvar Aalto stands for the most recognised achievements in regard to Finnish design. One of his most famous consume designs enjoys high awareness, namely the Savoy or Aalto vase.

Sustainability is typically also one part of Finnish design. You don’t get rid of an Aalto Chair, for example, in one generation. An Aalto Chair can last for at least two to three generations without wearing out—it is so durable.

We can even think about Finnish design via the most iconic architectural design in Finland—the Villa Mairea. According to the Wall Street Journal dated 4 June 2015, there are five house designs in the world that are most worth seeing and visiting. On the third position they have chosen Finland’s Villa Mairea, which is designed by Alvar Aalto.

The typical characteristics of Finnish design are simplicity, authenticity and beauty. They have very clear forms and features. These characteristics give Finnish design a recognisable look. In general, Finnish design exudes harmony and form over function.

By form over function I mean that the design of the article does not have to be practical. Only service design needs to be practical. Therefore, we need to know whether we are talking about product design, or service design.

WW: It really seems like Finnish design is the bridge between generations! You’d mentioned that DF100 is targeted at Southeast Asians. Why Southeast Asia, though?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: We try to reach the very prestigious status of design, which Finland should have, but doesn’t enjoy for the time being, at least when we are looking at the issue from Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia is known as the new growth engine of the world economy and considered a significant market for Finnish companies.

Via DF100, we will build new relationships with academic institutions and business partners in the region, the home of 667 million people. In other words, we will crowdsource new ways to market Finland. Students gather together to create new approaches for Finnish companies in business case competition.

The three winning teams of the case competition will be invited to Finland to show their results in August 30th 2017. In this seminar ”Totally Design for Growth”, Finnish growth enthusiasts and Asian students will meet and network.

WW: What are some of the must-knows in Finnish design?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo:

  • Finnish design has a very rich heritage; its history goes back about 100 years!
  • Finnish design is highly acknowledged globally. And now we want to raise awareness for its excellence and prestige in Southeast Asia through our Design Finland 100 initiative!
  • Finnish design is almost like a religion in Finland. This in other words means that design is part of our national identity.

We take design so seriously. Like a religion, the development of the form is more important than commercial value for the Finnish design.

We need to move Finnish design forward such that we have greater commercial value and recognition. Design drives value and design has a clear role when reaching Asian consumers.

And in order to capitalise on Finnish design, we need to find new ways in order to increase its recognition and how it can be used as a tool to commercialise Finnish products and services.

Design Finland 100 project helps companies with this.

WW: Actually, if Finnish design is so good, why don’t Finns commercialise it already?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: You see, the demand for Finnish design is not generating more demand. This is because we want to keep the design for ourselves—we don’t really want to use it for the benefit of the customers.

WW: This is very strange to me. I think in Singapore, few people will be able to continue doing something that does not yield commercial value.

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: This is it. This is why Finland can consider engaging more with Singapore. This is because our design heritage needs to be commercialised.

And this is why the Suomi neito—the young Finnish lady—needs to “marry” the Singapore lion. Like the following Mentos Video!

WW: We have often heard that Finns are as “shy” as the Suomi Neito. The implication is that because of this “shyness”, Finns are not so good at marketing. What do you think about this?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: I think we are actually very good at marketing. However, at the C-level, it is usually the case that our marketing budgets are too small to reach global awareness.

I think Finnish marketing people are geniuses, because they are so creative with what they do on a very small budget.

Let me give you a context: In Sweden, the marketing budget allocated by the CEOs are 5 times bigger than Finland. You can do a lot more with a greater marketing budget.

So I think Finnish marketers have excellent marketing skills because they are able to do so much with so little.

Nowadays, there is more and more that kind of thinking that marketing and branding is made by every employee. I think it is…!

WW: Let’s go back to the truly inspirational Design Finland 100 project. What can Singaporeans/ Southeast Asians expect in the upcoming year?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Design Finland 100 is a platform to celebrate 100 years of Finnish design thinking. Its aim is to build bridges for Finnish and Southeast Asian companies.

I am sure there are Southeast Asians, who have never heard about Alvar Aalto, Marimekko, Fazer or the traditional sauna company Harvia. Each of these companies offer something that no one else can offer.

This year, Southeast Asians will hear and get to know all of these.

For the Asian university students, the business case competition will be an once in lifetime experience! During the competition they will definitely challenge themselves! They will get unique, real-life business problems to solve, they will learn how to work in a team while there is time pressure and they will learn to think in new ways with global perspective.

This experience they will remember for ever! The registration for the competition opens soon, so get ready!

WW: That is so exciting, I look forward to it! Finland celebrates its 100 years-old birthday this year. What is the one birthday wish you have for Finland?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Let’s raise a toast for Finland’s amazing future and for even better future of the design!

WW: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo: Finland should be recognised as a leading design nation. World class design knowledge is an increasingly crucial competitive factor in the global economy. Consumers prefer to buy brands with a strong design element and they are willing to pay a premium here.

Design gives a promise of a better customer experience. And that is what we all want for our customers, right?

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!🙂 Feel free to check out the amazing Design Finland 100 Case Competition, like the Design Finland 100 Facebook Page, or follow Design Finland 100’s instagram @design_finland_100 .

[The Hieno! Suomi 100] Interview with Michaela Istokova, a super talented visual creative.

Finnish People, Finnish Society, Foreigners in Finland, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100, we have the huge privilege of featuring Michaela Istokova.

Michaela Istokova is our amazingly talented designer-cum-illustrator for the The Hieno! Suomi 100 official e-book. You can view her portfolio here and here.

Enjoy this interview! 🙂

TH: Hello Michaela! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing in Finland?

Michaela Istokova: Hello Wan Wei, or should I rather say “Moikka”? 🙂

I am a graphic designer and illustrator from Bratislava in Slovakia, and I am now working in an international development X design agency M4ID as a Visual Creative.

I moved to Finland about five years ago when I found a part-time job and a Finnish boyfriend Esa.

Since then I’ve been here sort of on and off, employed, unemployed, freelancing, everything.

TH: What are the three things you appreciate most about Finland?

Michaela Istokova: I am comparing Finland to what I had experienced in the three countries where I lived (Slovakia, Czechia and Malaysia). These three things stand out for me:

  • The way this country is governed and Finland’s admirable lack of scandalous corruption.
  • Quality of living in terms of the high quality of apartments and the services they offer. For example, there are communal washing and drying rooms, communal saunas, tables outside houses, etc…
  • Gender equality that I feel the most when wearing shapeless, potato bag dresses and nobody is judging me!

In my home country I would be definitely judged, most women there strive to look very feminine…Here in Finland it’s alright to look whatever way you want to look, and not just in the cosmopolitan Helsinki, but even in the countryside.

This may be different for, for example, Muslim women that are veiled, but in my case of a ¼ Asian white person, nobody judges my questionable fashion choices and the ways I choose to present myself as a woman. 😀

TH: Who inspires you the most? 

Michaela Istokova: I am inspired by people who do their own thing and create something amazing and beneficial.

For example, in Slovakia I have two friends – Miska from Puojd and Janka from Froggywear – who both create clothes but each has their own target audience. They are both successful at basically, being themselves and executing their vision and that is very inspirational to me!

So, generally I like fearless people who are going after their goal. 🙂

TH: What do you think are the unique aspects of Finnish design?

Michaela Istokova: Finland has a lot of textile design brands that create patterns that are mostly very bold, big and very bright.

Mostly it’s very graphic, maybe just Pentik does a bit softer, gentler design from the well-known brands.

Then I have also noticed that Finns like contrasting black lines, like you can see in the designs of Finlayson and the Arabia Moomin mugs for example – but obviously, Tove Jansson drew Moomins like that, and so it’s a wonderful established style.

I also like the Finnish designers’ use of motifs from the nature and Finnish cities (again, Finlayson) and their nice sense of humour evident in many designs. For example in Lapuan Kankurit’s design with many naked men in sauna!

Excellent stuff, I bought it for my mom.

TH: Ohhhhh many, many naked Finnish men!! *pervs* That being said, if Finland were a person, how would he or she look like?

Michaela Istokova: The illustration you see here is actually something I did as a personal project for the 99th birthday of independent Finland, just recently.


I decided to illustrate a lady, let’s call her Marja Lumi [which means Berry Snow :)]. This is because it’s good to be a woman in Finland. She is also blonde, because once I read somewhere that Finland has the highest percentage of blonde people in the world.

Marja Lumi is enjoying a bit of löyly in sauna, having her saunakalja nearby and wearing a wreath made of flora commonly found in Finland, including the national flower, lily of the valley.

She has hairy legs, because really, people don’t care much and that’s great!

Be hairy here, my friend, it’s alright – we are all equal in sauna. 😀

TH: Haha, and who would her enemies be?

Michaela Istokova: I think my Marja Lumi would be very annoyed at sexist, patriarchal idiots who are intolerant to her freedom, her beer drinking, her meh attitude towards shaving, her general independence and high level of attained education.

TH: What do you think are some of the popular misconceptions of Finland that foreigners might have?

Michaela Istokova: A lot of people seems to think that Finns are introverted metal lovers with alcohol abuse problems that sit in sauna all day and then swim in icy lakes.

I find that kind of funny, especially the alcohol and metal part – at least in my circles not so many people drink too much or listen to metal!

Finland is also associated with suicidal behaviour, and sadly here I actually know several Finnish people who either had someone close to them commit a suicide. Or, in one case, one friend of mine did it a couple of years ago too.

I guess mental health is not in so much in focus here, and people are just encouraged to “have sisu” but that’s not always cutting it. :/

TH: Can you share some of the most memorable experiences you have in Finland? They could be funny, weird, offensive or out-of-the-world.

Michaela Istokova: My boyfriend Esa and I went on an extended business trip (for him) and a totally cool roadtrip (for me) to Lapland last summer and that was just wonderful.

My home country is small, hilly and rather crowded, so when I experienced the vast taigas of Lapland, I was in love. In particular, approaching Kemijärvi (the town) on the bridge above Kemijärvi (the lake) was a total highlight and now I platonically love this town!

I also had a nice experience last summer in Joensuu when I was buying two woven baskets from a lady on the market. I speak (badly) in Finnish. However, she didn’t mind and she was really curious about me. Also, she was very delighted that we can talk together in Finnish. Somehow that made me feel quite integrated and accepted in this often puzzling society haha 😀

Oh and one last experience – when we lived in Tampere, there was a totally enchanted forest behind our apartment where excellent mushrooms grew in unbelievable quantities. We were picking them and drying them and at one point we had so much that we had to dry them in our apartment sauna…oh, what a dream!

TH: What is the one birthday wish you have for Finland this year, since it is its 100th birthday? 

Michaela Istokova: I wish Finland to loosen up a bit in certain aspects.

Namely, the hostile attitude towards street art and the severely restricted sale of alcohol in grocery stores.

I also wish Finland can keep up its excellent work in many other aspects.

And I wish that more people would visit here and beyond just Helsinki and Rovaniemi, because Finland has a lot of lovely places to offer!

TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Michaela Istokova: If you can, visit Northern Karelia, it’s wonderful.

Swimming in Lake Pielinen, picking blueberries and cranberries in the big Karelian forests. And admiring the view from Koli National Park should be a must for every visitor to Finland.  =)

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photo by Jenni Aho. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!🙂 Feel free to connect with Michaela on LinkedIn or view her portfolio here and here.