I dreamed of travelling to Finland for a long, long time and was delighted when I found out I could do my social work placement as part of the Erasmus exchange programme in Hämeenlinna, a small city one hour north of Helsinki.
There was just one problem; I wanted to bring my two daughters, Malika (4) and Ameenah (1) with me as well as my mother who would look after them when I was at my work placement.
Thankfully HAMK University in Hämeenlinna were and have remained fantastic, supporting me to find accommodation for my family, as well as welcoming my children at the university nursery/ preventive social work programme, Nipsula, where I have been placed one day per week.
Coming to Finland as a family has opened my eyes...I don't think I have ever lived in such a child-centred country.
Where to begin? The trains are fantastic and my children were delighted to discover the special carriage for children with a slide, toy train and excellent library as well as a fab Richard Scarry cat design on the designated child's carriage. Travelling around the country is an absolute pleasure and my children are so content. Train travel in Scotland is an altogether different and stressful experience with children. Top marks Finland.
In March we went on a trip to Rovaniemi, Lapland which was a massive hit with my daughters; they loved seeing Santa Claus, going on a reindeer ride through the incredible Lapland forest and going on a late night expedition to see the Northern Lights.
We will never forget seeing the Northern Lights and the amazing corona that is quite a rare phenomenon. I will also never forget the face of the hotel staff when we returned at 4 am with my daughters! (Please note we were there with a Northern Light obsessive, and when the Corona appeared we felt we couldn't leave... the girls slept round a fire in a wooden tepee until we left!)
Also, I used to collect the Finnish Art Review many years ago and I wanted to visit some family-friendly art galleries when I came to Finland.
The EMMA museum in Espoo did not disappoint; the building is amazing and the exhibitions were great, especially the one on Steiner and it was incredibly child friendly. Malika loved the adjunct Toy Museum with its collection of Russian toys and Babushka replica house.
The Kiasma gallery however was not so child-friendly and we gave up in the end and had much more fun running around on the terrace outside.
Yet Finland has surprised me in one respect. In the two months I have lived here I have only been helped with my buggy once – and that help was from a young man from Afghanistan. Access for buggies / wheelchairs is poor in many buildings even in Helsinki and I find it frustrating that no one helps with doors / buggies. Finland could definitely improve on this front.
Overall, though, Finland has been incredible. I feel privileged to have lived in this stunningly beautiful country and to have had the chance to study social work here. I have met some incredibly inspiring social work staff in Hämeenlinna and Helsinki (chatting to the Radio Valo staff and meeting Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät was fantastic) and of course I have worked with and alongside some amazing people, all of whom know who they are.
Kiitos, kittos Finland, we have loved every minute!