Although the Järvinen family had talked about the possibility of an intercontinental move for several years, they were not totally sure what to expect or how smoothly such a transition might go.
Still, when the career opportunity arose for Henna Järvinen to direct and manage the Hopkinton-based diagnostics department of PerkinElmer, Inc., the American medical device company she works for in Turku, Finland, the family traveled the 4,861 miles (by air) from their cozy home in scenic Naantali and began the journey of assimilating, at least temporarily, into American culture.
“My husband, Janne, was all in from the beginning,” Järvinen said with a broad smile. “We’ve been together now for 20-something years, and he has always been a positive and supportive force in my life.”
Their 13-year-old daughter, Liinu (lee-nu), 10-year-old son, Nestori, and even the family pet, 13-pound border terrier Peppi (named after a fictional superhero of tremendous strength), came along for the adventure of their lives.
The family arrived last August, on the 24th to be exact, and were thankful for the company’s assistance in relocating to Hopkinton. There were many other hurdles to overcome, like the mounds of paperwork this kind of move involves, finding a healthcare provider and securing appointments when the children had the flu.
Henna’s sister, Suvi, is watching the family home in Finland while other family members are making the long trek overseas for weeks at a time to visit their loved ones in this new setting.
Janne’s parents came for a week and a half during the initial apartment set-up timeframe, and Henna’s parents enjoyed a recent two-week Christmas holiday with the family here.
Nestori’s cousin (two years his senior) and best friend, Samu, will be traveling here with Aunt Sannamaria (Henna’s sister) for five weeks in the spring, and that brings an amazingly wide smile to his very expressive young face. As do video games and American cheeseburgers.
Each family member agrees their biggest challenge is the language barrier, followed by the cultural nuances. Although children are exposed to English from third grade on, it is not a spoken language in Finland, so there is much to learn.
A top-notch student, Liinu loves mathematics, aesthetic group gymnastics (a hobby she has enjoyed since age 6) and anything Harry Potter. Her parents believe she might be an engineer or scientist one day. As an eighth-grader, Liinu finds the math courses challenging at Hopkinton Middle School, but she likes it that way. She is serious about studying, and like any youngster, finds enjoyment connecting with friends via Skype or phone and has fun on weekends with the family, taking in sporting events and finding new dog parks to take Peppi.
Nestori is a fourth-grader at Hopkins School. The family often plays a pickup game of basketball outside or catch, so it wasn’t a total surprise for Nestori to sign up for the Parks and Recreation in-town basketball program last fall.
“Basketball was good for him. He loved it. The coaches [Hopkinton High School students] took him in with open arms and gave him the special attention he needed to get comfortable in a new environment,” Henna said, adding, “We haven’t pushed the children into any hobbies. We’re giving them time to settle in and see what their interests here might be.”
Janne is a stay-at-home dad now. Back home, he is a baker. Janne and Henna met while taking courses at Turku Vocational Institute for their degrees in food industry, followed by several years working together in a local bakery.
When Henna was given the opportunity to continue her educational training in that industry for another year or take advantage of a brand-new course offering in biotechnology, the latter spurred her interest. She now holds a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology engineering and a master’s in technology competence management from Turku University of Applied Sciences.
With 17 years’ experience at PerkinElmer, Henna directs the diagnostics department and oversees about 90 employees here who manufacture liquid handling and microfluidics instruments for applied genomics customers all over the world. She enjoys her responsibilities and her colleagues and feels this move was important for her career.
According to Järvinen, day-to-day living costs here are quite similar, except for gasoline, which is three times cheaper, and rent, which is 60 to 70 percent more expensive. Finland is 13 times bigger than Massachusetts, but with a population of only 5 million people (vs. our 6.8 million), it is less densely populated. The weather is somewhat comparable, but daylight lingers longer here. In Finland, there may only be eight hours of light in a given day, and frequently it’s cloudy or overcast, adding to the prevalence of darkness.
According to Järvinen, Fins value family, first and foremost, as well as their privacy. Their friends are important, too. She finds Americans more optimistic and outgoing.
The Järvinens do miss the many natural resources surrounding their seaside home in Finland where forests and lakes abound, and that has inspired a trip to Niagara Falls when the weather turns warmer. They already visited New York City and plan to take the children to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando sometime soon. During summer vacation, they will reunite with family and friends once again in Naantali.
“We’re taking things as they come,” Järvinen noted. “We’re a tight family unit and confident that we can figure things out, together, one step at a time.”