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Tips from a Finnish expat mum in Singapore

Finnish mother Sanna Massala and her family have been living the expat life for 14 years. She talks to me about bringing up her sons Olli (16) and Sampo (6) in Singapore.

Sanna and her family 

Over half of your expat life has been spent in Singapore; what about the rest?
We moved to the Czech Republic when Olli was two years old and lived there for three years, before moving to Jakarta for another three years. We had relocated to the second-biggest city in the Czech Republic, and I had to learn to speak the language. The difference between there and Asia is that you are fully integrated into their society, whereas here, even if you are a permanent resident, you still belong to a group of expats.

Did you enjoy your time in Jakarta?
Living there, you get to experience many nice things about Indonesia. The living standards are high, you get a big house, and everyone is so friendly and helpful. In Jakarta, everything is possible but nothing is easy; but here in Singapore, not everything is possible, but everything that is possible, is easy.

Was the transition from Jakarta to Singapore difficult?
I felt a little bit of culture shock when we moved here, as we did get spoilt in Jakarta.

Olli studied at the American School in Jakarta, so for convenience we enrolled him at the Singapore American School, which was a very smooth transition.

I got pregnant again when Olli was nine years old, and I had to learn everything from scratch as I couldn’t remember anything about looking after a baby. Luckily, in Singapore we have access to excellent health care services and many essential products are easily available.

You’re obviously very settled after eight years of living here. What about Singapore appeals to you so much?
We’ve always loved living in the Sunset area; it is peaceful, green and mature. I love the house we live in, and we also have a very good community playground around the corner from us.

One of the many reasons I love my life here is that I get to work at something I really enjoy. I’m a painter with a background in fine art and I did an online graphic design course while living here. As a freelancer I can work odd hours, and there are many businesses needing high quality graphic design services. The wide-ranging clientele means I can work on something different every day.

Is there a strong Finnish community in Singapore?
Yes, there is a Finnish Association that has a lot of activities for kids, including a music group, soccer, Sunday school and two playgroups, all in Finnish, which has been a great benefit for Sampo. There’s also the Finnish supplementary school, which has up to 70 kids in different grades.


Our favourite things
I enjoy going to the library with our children; the libraries and their resources are magnificent. In Finland we have good libraries, but the ones here are amazing.

My personal sport is stair-climbing, which I do twice a week with friends. We walk up the stairwells of high-rise buildings, 40 floors five times, which can take up to 90 minutes.

Singapore has many great restaurants, but my favourite hawker is the Vietnamese stall at Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre. Its food is heavenly, and whenever we have visitors we take them there.

My husband and Olli dive, and we have been to the Raja Ampat islands in Indonesia’s West Papua province many times. The Papua Diving resort is excellent even for non-divers, and it’s fantastic for experienced divers.