The Embassy of Finland to Australia is publishing interview series of interesting people who are connected with both Australia and Finland.
Our second interviewee is Mark Badham, an Australian public relations professional, writer, entrepreneur and university lecturer living in Finland. Even he hasn't quite learned the difficult Finnish language yet, it doesn't keep him from having great chats at bus stop. How is he doing that? Read the interview below to learn his tactic!
My name is Mark Badham. I’m an Australian public relations professional, writer, entrepreneur and university lecturer very much enjoying life in Helsinki over these past five years. I’ve also been a ghost writer and editor of 24 books by 13 authors who mostly lead large or influential organizations in Australia, Singapore and Europe. Although I was born and raised in Papua New Guinea until my teenage years (where I learnt fluent pidgin), I lived most of my life in Australia. I’m currently doing my PhD at Aalto University School of Business in Helsinki and hoping to complete it by the end of this year. I am on the board of the Finland Australia Business Council (http://www.fabc.fi) and am chair of the International Communications Group for ProCom (http://procom.fi/english/).
What's your relationship with Australia and Finland?
My connection with Finland began 25 years ago when I met my wife-to-be, Anita, in Townsville when she was studying tourism at university and I was working there. Of course, she introduced me to her family on the Gold Coast and other Finnish-Australian relatives, including her grandparents. Her parents had moved from Finland to Australia as teenagers with their families in 1959 and they were still quite Finnish. When Anita’s parents inherited a cottage back in Finland, they flew ’home’ to check it out, and then they kept returning to Finland every year and spending more and more time there. They kept inviting us to go and experience life in Finland with them. So in 2007 we went to live with them in Lempäälä, two hours north of Helsinki, and stayed for about a year. Anita and the kids have dual Finnish and Australian citizenship. We had to return to Australia, but we decided in early 2011 that we wanted to return to Finland and live there. I am very thankful to Kim Väisänen, co-founder of Blancco, for offering me a job. So in mid-2011 we sold everything and moved to Finland with our two children who were then aged 13 and 15.
Have you noticed any differences between the two countries?
There are stark contrasts in many ways. Our favourite Christmas experience has been in a ski resort called Levi in the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t rise in December so you’re skiing under lights surrounded by a magical dark wilderness. It can be -15 to -25 up on the slopes looking down at Levi village lit up with Christmas lights. You can’t get that experience in Australia! Another difference is the four seasons, of course. Although my favourite season is winter, if it’s a particularly dark and freezing winter you always know spring is just around the corner. Also, unlike Australia, in Finland you can hop on a plane and be in one of several countries in under two hours.
What about similarities?
Do you have any stories or incidents from Finland that have had a great impact on you? Or any funny anecdotes?
Well recently a couple of Finnish friends – including my wife - have remarked that I’m more of a Finn than they are, which is a huge compliment! I’m about the only one at work who regularly drinks coffee, eats Karelian pies and cycles to work. I’ve just embraced everything about Finland – except the language. It’s one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn and it’s one of the least spoken languages in the world (along with Papua New Guinean pidgin). To be honest, most Finns speak excellent English so I really haven’t been disadvantaged that much.
How about the differences and similarities between people? Have you ever had any funny or strange incidents or mishaps when communicating with people from Finland?
Yes, in Australia we are very friendly and we say hi to strangers, but in Finland a smile and a friendly greeting to a stranger on the tram or walking along the street can make Finns uncomfortable. So I’ve stopped saying hi to strangers here, but I still like to smile at them. It’s my way of trying to change the culture. Having said that, there have been exceptions. A few times now an older Finnish lady has started a conversation with me in Finnish while waiting at the bus stop, which can be awkward because I don’t yet speak Finnish. But I don’t want to be rude, so I go along with the conversation, saying a few Finnish words and nodding or shaking my head depending on what I think they’re saying. I consider myself intuitive with body language and I think I get away with it. I think it’s usually about the weather or politics. They just keep talking so it seems to work. We’ve had some great ‘chats’. Finns tend to have a reputation for being unfriendly, but I know most aren’t like that. Most of the Finns I know are actually very friendly once you get to know them, although that takes time.
Is there anything Finland has that you wish could also be found in Australia?
The education system! Our children have experienced the public and private school system in Australia and the public system in Finland. There’s no comparison, in our experience. The quality here is much higher, and it’s free. I remember when we came to Finland in 2007 to experience life here for a year and our kids were in primary school (comprehensive school in Finland) in English-speaking classes, they referred to their teachers by their first names and even had their mobile numbers. In Finland primary school teachers are with their students until they move on to high school, so they get to know their students very well over those years and can work on their weaknesses and improve their strengths.