Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Nordic Place Branding Conference 2018 and follow-up Nordic Talent Ambassador seminar in Copenhagen

On 8th February, I was selected as one of five Business Tampere Ambassadors (BTAs) representing Tampere in the Nordic Talent Ambassadors (NTAs) pilot programme. The first successful pilot was from August to December 2017. I was also invited to the Nordic Place Branding Conference 2018 (the largest annual place branding, marketing, and investment promotion event in the Nordics) and follow-up Nordic Talent Ambassador seminar in Copenhagen 7th-8th March. This involved meeting for an interesting programme with the rest of the ambassadors and doing short video testimonials. The purpose of this was to create a valuable NTA marketing input for ambassadors and cities, network, and learn about what matters for recruiters in the Nordics. Although we are going virtual and digital, meeting in person was essential, particularly related to ambassador programmes and peer-to-peer marketing activities. I had some free time until 11th March, so they kindly booked me a later return flight so I could stay in Copenhagen a bit longer (at my own expense of course).

On 6th March, I took a bus with Maiju (the Talent Tampere Marketing Project Assistant) from Tampere to Helsinki Airport 14:30-16:40. There we met another BTA and NTA from Brazil called Junior. We flew from Helsinki to Copenhagen (1 hour behind) 18:25—19:05, and checked then in to hotel Maritime.

On 7th March, we decided to walk for about 20 minutes to the venue (Langelinie Pavillonen) along the coast past the Copenhagen Opera House and through Nyhavn (a 17th-century waterfront, canal, and entertainment district). We arrived at the Nordic Place Branding Conference at 8:30 for the welcome and coffee. The agenda featured the best practice examples of cities, regions, and countries that have done outstanding and recognised work in making their place more attractive to their target groups and citizens.

The first module 9:00-10:30 started with opening words from the hosts, and then included seminars entitled:
  • ‘Greater Copenhagen brand – Building a leading business hub through digital marketing’ (Louise Juhl, Communication Director, Copenhagen Capacity)
  • ‘Using values and stakeholders to create a brand of Greenland’ (Lykke Geisler Yakaboylu, Senior Consultant / Acting Director, Visit Greenland)
    • Lykke said that places should be, and not just conform to the brand. If free entry is allowed, guests will do the marketing for you. Such activities can improve participation and integrate immigrants.
  •  ‘Place Branding: How to maximise global audience engagement with your brand’ (Nelly Gocheva, Head of Editorial, T Brand Studio International at The New York Times)

The first module then ended with a panel discussion.

After a coffee break, the second module 10:45-12:00 included seminars entitled:
  • ‘Innovating Talent Attraction’ (Nikolaj Lubanski, Director of Talent Attraction, Copenhagen Capacity)
  • ‘Rethinking the place experience with digital partnerships’ (Martin Güll, Chief Digital O­cer, Helsingborg city)
  • ‘e-Residency: digital disruption and country branding’ (Kaspar Korjus, Managing Director, Enterprise Estonia)
    • Estonia is gaining business by allowing people to apply for an e-Residency, which could grow in demand as jobs increase that involve working remotely.

The second module then ended with another panel discussion.

After lunch, the third module 12:45-14:00 included seminars entitled:

  • ‘Place branding through sustainable cultural events’ (Erik Ruth, Managing director, Nordic Surfers Sweden)
  • ‘How tiny places far away can be in the lead of innovative thinking and doing’ (Moa Björnson, Head of Development, Træna Island & Artica Svalbard)
    • This was perhaps one of the best speeches in my opinion. The population of Træna Island in Norway is 456, but even though she’s not originally from there, Moa still enjoys living there. Whilst urbanity is the norm, small paradises can be made mainstream. She said that you sometimes don’t know what you need until you have it. For example, some places have a ‘rough’ tourism season, but this can be reframed rather than seeing oneself has a victim, such as by attracting thrill seekers when the weather isn’t at its best. However, I thought maybe this point was a bit idealistic and unrealistic.
  • ‘Reimagining a city as the curriculum for the learning environment of the 21st Century’ (Jouni Eho, Business Service Director, Kotka, Finland)
    • Jouni spoke about the (entrepreneur)*ship Startup Festival at Marinetime Centre Vellamo in Kotka in Finland during which some entrepreneurs take a ride on an actual ship. The university experience can sometimes be considered out-of-date and accelerator (fixed-term, cohort-based programs that include investment, connections, mentorship, educational components, and culminate in a public pitch event or demo day to accelerate growth) programmes offer competition and turn something old into something new with a new model. This is reimagining what you don’t have. Since Eho, like me, seemed critical about the effectiveness of universities to prepare students for the outside working world, I wondered if non-students are also able to participate in *ship Startup Festival. Finland is known for its education system, but initiatives such as this one could be an alternative since Finland introduced tuition fees for non-EU students last year (and probably will eventually also do the same for EU and Finnish students).
The third module then ended with another panel discussion.

After another coffee break, the fourth module 14:15-15:00 included ‘Place Branding parallel workshops’ entitled:
  • Business Attraction Management - for better investment promotion’ (Mats Segerström, senior talent consultant)
    • Mats said that being small and an underdog can be beneficial because you don’t have to live up to a reputation. We should consider attracted talents as short/temporary/part-time locals rather than just tourists or visitors. I think this is an issue that really needs to be addressed because more people tend to be nomadic with the increasing development of technology and mobility nowadays.
  • ‘Talent Attraction Management - getting and retaining talents’ (Morten King-Grubert, senior business consultant)
    • Morten said that it’s important to be careful in talent attraction because a life is being marketed, not something like shoes that you can return. Talent attraction requires cooperation across boundaries, municipalities, and egos. Bureaucratic decisions and having one place to settle everything can change minds. For example, even when people leave, they should still get support because they will continue to give recommendations afterwards. Foreign/international talents are often attracted by love, education, or work. For many people, the city itself is more important the job (or somewhere in between). After Brexit, it is perhaps worth marketing in the UK. University tuition fees in the UK are high, and I myself know/have heard of some people who are planning to leave the UK because of Brexit and its subsequent increase in hate crime and racial abuse, as well as uncertain business opportunities.
    • Problems in talent attraction management are politics, bureaucracy, and whether it is possible to deliver. Politics sometimes comprises inherent biases, such as South Africa and the holistic view of ‘developing’ countries. Boards sometimes don’t include any foreigners, despite some foreign candidates having phenomenal experience and backgrounds. Some companies interview people with foreign names just for reasons related to bureaucracy and quotas. However, nationalistic views are expected in Scandinavia. Nationalism doesn’t always differentiate between refugeeism and immigration for talent attraction. The Danish government provides free language lessons, but the Morten’s spouse had previously received a letter about this in Danish and thrown it in the bin, which demonstrates a bureaucratic approach in the wrong language (one solution could be a 2-sided document in different languages, such one in Danish and one in English)! For everything a place uses on retention, they save on talent attraction. There could be a focus on recent graduates who are desperate for jobs, although on the other hand, perhaps there is a need to support those with less professional experience.
  • ‘Change management - how to lead change with multiple stakeholders?’ (Pärtel-Peeter Pere, CEO)

After another coffee break, the fifth module 15:15-18:00 included seminars entitled:
  • Engaging business, civic, cultural and scientific leaders on a common strategy to promote the city’ (Mateu Hernández, Director, Barcelona Global)
    • Barcelona is the fourth most visited city in Europe. According to Mike Bloomberg (an American businessman, engineer, author, politician, and philanthropist), talent attracts capital more than capital attracts talent. Mateu claimed that Barcelona Ambassadors are independent from politics and the mayor and I was even surprised to learn that they receive no public grants. However, welcome events are apparently not expensive due to sponsors’ donations. Companies pay a fee of €10,000 to join, and the joining fee for individual professionals is €300/€1,000 depending on which services they want to access and how long they want access for. I thought this is a little excessive since I feel that I’ve actually been rewarded for being a Business Tampere Ambassador (and I certainly don’t/won’t pay anything!), although I suppose that this allows the network to be more selective about who is a member. Access to certain names must be really valuable if someone is willing to pay that much. Mateu claimed that the benefits of committing to the network through an agenda are headhunting and individuals’ ability to promote the importance of their job (especially if they have been abroad).
  • ‘Destination marketing and nation branding – The Singapore Story’ (Claire Tan, Director National Marketing O­ce, Ministry of Communications and Information)
    • This was particularly interesting because I visited Singapore last October. Claire spoke about Singapore’s new brand ‘Passion made possible’ since August 2017. Whilst Singapore has a similar land space to that of Helsinki, the population is around five times higher. When asked about their perspective of Singapore, the audience said it is clean, modern, safe, with well-paid jobs. Claire said that whilst some people might question why Singapore needs a rebrand because its international reputation is already pretty good, but it’s important to maintain competition, authenticity, and destination marketing (how you want the world to see you). Being somewhere that is small and expensive (hardware) can be perceived as weakness, therefore the people (software) can be emphasised to create a balance. However, places are also not just defined by things that are measurable and quantifiable.
  • ‘Rethinking the concept of place branding’ (Tobias Grut, Brand Manager, Nordic Council of Ministers)
    • Tobias discussed traces of the Nordics abroad, such as the maternity package Nordic model being used in Japan, and Fadumo Dayib (a refugee in Finland and the first woman to run for President of Somalia). We should show the Nordics in the world, rather than to it. We can’t own certain qualities (and they are also often just stereotypes), and therefore we should emphasise shared values and states of mind.

The fifth module then ended with a final panel entitled ‘Future of place branding’, closing words, the end of the conference, and a reception hosted by Visit Denmark. It was mentioned that it’s important for the Nordic countries to cooperate because it makes more sense to have a common joint story the further you go as people sometimes get places mixed and confused, for example there’s a difference between Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) and Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, including their associated territories (Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and the Åland Islands)). However, it can be difficult to measure messages’ effectiveness. A boat ride had been scheduled, but unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the river still being quite frozen.

After leaving the venue, we went to see the nearby Little Mermaid statue. I was surprised how small it actually is. We then had a rest at the hotel, another BTA and NTA also from Brazil called Carlos joined us, and we went for dinner at ‘Madklubben Bistro-De-Luxe’ with other Finnish delegations from Business Finland, Finnish ministries, and the Student Ambassadors of South-West Finland. Two years ago, myself and another Business Tampere Ambassador called Mira presented the Business Tampere network at the official nomination event of the first Student Ambassadors of South-West Finland at Turku city hall. Therefore, some of us recognised each other. I had a cauliflower dish which was delicious, but I’m not sure whether it was worth 125 DKK (€16.78, £14.75).

On 8th March, at 8:30, we checked in at Copenhagen Capacity (Copenhagen's official organization for investment, promotion and business development). The agenda included a welcome from Copenhagen Capacity, a debriefing from previous day’s Nordic Place Branding Conference; and discussions on the latest trends in place branding, the Nordic Talent Ambassador programme (lessons learned from 2017), and the programme for the day. Morten said that the Nordic countries should encourage cooperation and talent circulation rather than compete with each other. This made sense to me, as I’ve been struggling to find work in my field Finland, and I have been applying to other Nordic countries. After visiting Copenhagen, I decided that I could be happy living there. Common concerns and questions that arise in Nordic talent attraction are about high taxation and benefits. Posting something on social media and praying that it will work isn’t always effective, whereas getting connected for recruitment, headhunting, and hiring could be more effective. It should also be considered that tourism is very valuable and that tourists are like short-term locals. Smaller organisations sometimes have more options because they are subject to less bureaucracy. Whilst the candidates choose their job and lifestyle, we should accept that some people will never move regardless of the circumstances. There is a new mindset among young people because there is a connection between talent attraction and foreign direct investments. Negative aspects in one place can reinforce positives in another. Soft values (values that are not explicitly stated as important but are still relevant) should be emphasised.

At 9:30, we left by bus to arrive at 10:00 at DXC for a visit to a tech company with activities in the Nordics, during which we discussed the main challenges in attracting and retaining tech talent from a corporate viewpoint, and how can the ambassadors support such corporations. We weren’t able to take photos because DXC stores encrypted American data. DXC also handles IT disruption (the change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect existing goods and services), tailored and selective mission-critical systems and operations from the public sector, defence and aerospace, and resilience to natural disasters. The speaker referred to himself as a 72-year-old working in the public sector, but said that it should be more about culture than age. The company has feedback sessions more than once per year in order to facilitate change adaption. Challenges that the company faces are skills taxonomy (classification), such as universal and personal skills as well as specific skills.

At 11:30 we had lunch in the DXC cafeteria, and then left by bus to arrive at 12:30 at Copenhagen Fintech Lab (a co-working space for entrepreneurs) where we discussed how to build an ecosystem in Fintech and then promote it internationally to attract talents through campaigns and international partnerships. General Manager Oliver Sjöstedt told us about Copenhagen Fintech Lab. He said that it had started 15 months ago and grown from 15 to 170 people. This involved a talent pitching event to find candidates. There are 30-40 working spaces in Copenhagen, although unfortunately they aren’t always friendly towards startups. Having long working hours and hierarchies isn’t necessarily productive, and this is something that isn’t as prominent in Nordic countries. It can be easier to market the Nordic countries abroad rather than being country-specific. Furthermore, the Nordic countries are sometimes perceived as leaders in the positive immigration outlook. However, in countries such as Finland, international talent attraction is often lacking as talents usually just circle around. 75% of Denmark and 98% of Sweden is cashless, which I noticed when many people paid for small purchases by card and there also weren’t many cash points. Perhaps this is related to the high levels of trust and the low levels of corruption in the Nordic countries. However, just because you use technology doesn’t mean you always should, for example due to the risks that come with Artificial Intelligence (AI). He suggested that there could be a green card (denoting permanent residence) for startups because they tend to be more passionate and money follows talent, not the other way around.

Oliver continued by talking about financial deregulation for start-up and their hubs that offer mentorship programmes and connect academic and corporations, and he mentioned that Copenhagen Fintech Lab is trying to bring universities closer. Some companies want to hire candidates straight out of university because they can’t afford candidates after they’ve gained lots of experience. He discussed the Revised Direction on Payment Services (PSD 2), which an EU Directive administered by the European Commission (Directorate General Internal Market) to regulate payment services and payment service providers throughout the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA); as well as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the EU and the EEA). Oliver referred to the lack of regulation for cryptocurrency (exchange that uses strong cryptography to secure financial transactions) and blockchain (a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography (techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties)), and Initial Coin Offering (ICO) (a fundraising mechanism in which new projects sell their underlying crypto tokens in exchange for cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether). Finland is changing its regulatory constitution. Finland's Finance Ministry is preparing legislation by which financial service providers offering cryptocurrency trade opportunities would be subject to the same national regulations that govern other currency transactions. This includes rules that seek to prevent money laundering and organised crime activities.

Oliver claimed that regulation is important because it protects consumers and their transactions. Chainalysis (blockchain analysis) is used by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) to track money in order to spot money laundering or money that’s used to fund terrorism. Around half of the startups at Copenhagen Fintech Lab have collaboration in cryptocurrency, and some are also associated with microfinance. Banks are still trying to figure out how to deal with cryptocurrency, and Nordic banks tend to be behind others but are gradually making progress. Oliver considers the Nordic market as experimental before scaling abroad. 79% of the startups at Copenhagen Fintech Lab have increased their hiring since being there, hence he said that there is a long waiting list for joining the Copenhagen Fintech Lab, and its constantly expanding. Many successful startups don’t want to leave and find a new office because of the events that Copenhagen Fintech Lab offers, benefits such as discounts for participating in conferences, and the ability to network with and hire from/use the services of other startups. Oliver referred to two Copenhagen Fintech Lab resident startups as examples, ‘Engagement International’ (that supports banks, pension funds, and other institutional investors to act as active owners and responsible investors and ‘Jobkeeper’ (that helps businesses to share skilled workforce, links staff shortage and overcapacity; and connects, keeps and simplifies staffing). He said that he has seen competitors become collaborations/partners. The average adoption rate of the startups is 33%, perhaps due to their ability to market their partnership with Copenhagen Capacity and other fintech (financial technology that is the new technology and innovation that aims to compete with traditional financial methods in the delivery of financial services) hubs in Oslo, Helsinki, and Stockholm.

At 14:00, we left by bus to arrive back at Copenhagen Capacity, where we finally discussed the next steps in the programme including upcoming marketing activities and how to launch the talent committee concept. The structure of Nordic Talent Ambassador project consists of the 1st phase ‘Recruitment of local talent ambassadors from a city’s ecosystem’, the 2nd phase ‘Training ambassadors and network managers’ and the 3rd phase ‘Marketing’. Throughout the project there will be ongoing activities with NTAs in partner destinations. NTAs could participate in conferences/panel debates as case stories; and give input to be part of branding campaigns, retention activities, talent committee, surveys, parties, etc. Step 1 (February/March) consisted of NTAs being featured on, giving video testimonials during the conference, filling out ‘destination statements’, and shooting ‘personal’ pictures. The photo brief for all NTAs includes everyday activities (family, commuting, cycling, shopping), work (lunch, presentations, conferences, travels, office), and leisure (sports, nature, family, shopping, landmarks). We had to shoot a minimum of 15 pictures with horizontal framing, no filters, getting personal and close to the objects, getting someone else to take our pictures if we are in it, and taking selfies. Future Place Leadership will design digital postcards and build personal profile pages on the website. Step 2 (April) consisted of NTAs kicking off first burst of posts on social media with links to personal pages. Future Place Leadership will oversee posts and stats, share them with us, and make adjustments. NTAs will then kick off the second burst of posts on social media, including the film made with ambassadors quotes ready to be shared by partner destinations and ambassadors. Step 3 (May/June) consists of NTAs kicking off the final social media burst.

These personal ‘postcards’ will be sent from the NTAs to their networks back home, such as old colleagues, alumni, personal networks, sporting forums, etc. We are focusing on three existing platforms; Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. These platforms are considered to be the most personal yet still career and business-focused, and relevant for this message. Each postcard will be built from a destination stamp, a personal picture and a catchy statement. Posts will lead to profile pages and destination pages. Ambassadors will receive a ‘How to make a great social media post’ guide once Future Place Leadership has assembled the parts. Future Place Leadership and our partner city will send back three digital postcards, we will edit them (if needed), and then Future Place Leadership and our partner city will send guidelines with tips and tricks for sharing on social media platforms. Initially, all NTAs will share these postcards and our partner city will share, like, and boost the posts with paid advertising. This task could reflect the need for talent share within the Nordics rather than outside, and sharing each other’s postcards and/or cross-combining stories might resonate more with some of the people that we have relationships with (rather than using the ‘network’ buzzword). Our postcards could also change ideas about immigration internationally as well as locally, and people may be more likely to perceive immigrants as being of equal value. This is considered real storytelling rather than marketing.

It was discussed that talent attraction is about connections rather than performance, and not so much about what others say but what resonates with individuals by sharing personalised qualitative immigration stories and per-inquiry advertising (PI) (a form of direct response marketing) peer-to-peer marketing efforts in the media that creates a fun and win-win situation. For example, I consider that women’s rights are good in the Nordic countries in general, and that Brexit can bring new opportunities to competitor countries.

My ambassador statements:
  • What made you study in the Nordics?
    • I am studying in the Nordics because…
      • … there are no tuition fees and the education and welfare systems are internationally-recognised
      • … I want to learn about Finnish language and culture
      • … my Finnish partner recommended that I do so
  • In your opinion, what makes studying in the Nordics different to where you came from
    • Studying in the Nordics is different to where I came from because…
      • … there are no tuition fees and it is therefore cheaper, and even the quality of education is higher
      • … students are treated more like individuals than consumers
      • … there are more opportunities to volunteer in networks that relate to my interest in social and environmental responsibility
      • … society seems more conscious of social and environmental responsibility
      • … both winter summer and are beautiful, and there is time to enjoy a variety of affordable leisure and sports opportunities
      • … I can move freely without a passport in the Schengen zone (an area that includes most EU states)
      •  … I can have friends and family to visit
  • What has been the most challenging thing about studying in the Nordics?
    •  … has been the most challenging thing about studying in the Nordics
      • Learning Finnish …
      • Getting to know Finnish people, who are stereotypically quiet and shy, …
      • Coping with the cold and snow…, but it got better once I learned to check the weather forecast and dress appropriately; and make the most of the different sports and experiences that are possible in the cold and snowy weather
      • The high cost of living …
  • What has impressed you the most, in a positive way, about your new study life?
    • … has impressed me the most about my new study life
      • The opportunity to participate in networks, events, and activism both within and outside of the university …
      • The opportunity to get involved in the international community and improve my intercultural awareness…
      • Space due to small populations and accessibility to nature close to the main cities …
      • Cycling infrastructure …
      • Effective governance as a result of very limited levels of corruption and gender equality …
      • Environmentally-friendly attitudes and vegan-friendly restaurants are easily found, which …
  • What is the most important and personal advice you could give to someone who is thinking about studying or working in the Nordics?
    • It may seem scary, but moving to another country, going outside of your comfort zone, and learning a new language can really help you to improve your confidence and develop new skills. You become a different person.
    • Be active and open to new opportunities, even those that are outside your own area of knowledge or comfort zone. By doing so, you will develop a network of contacts in the Nordics who can help you.

We planned to build the dimension of a Talent Committee into the project. The Talent Committee concept idea is an advisory board that will consist of the NTAs. We’ll consult pro bono local startups and companies within the Nordic regions on how to attract and retain foreign talents. City partners will ensure that this resource will be known in the ecosystem. For example, a Chinese talent will consult local startups about the Chinese market (the city where they are from). The Talent Committee is a valuable asset for local companies and startups. We’ll involve startups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and larger companies looking for talent. The result would be an increase in knowledge sharing between local stakeholders, the Talent Committee, businesses, and within the Nordics partners
on the topic of attracting international talent. We also discussed reasons for talents leaving, including problems with the size of the country (it often matters to some people), language, and integration into society. In such circumstances, promotion could focus on the Nordic countries as an opportunity for a career boost.

There was video filming throughout the conference and seminar, some of which were one-on-one, with the aim of creating 1-2 min testimonials). This was used to produce social media marketing content including, among others, video interviews with the ambassadors.
For the interviews, each ambassador was asked the following 2 questions:
  1. Finish the sentence: I joined the Nordics because… I enjoy getting to know new people from different places, and I would like to network in order to learn more about the Nordics, as well as to develop my job prospects.
  2. Finish the sentence: I love the Nordics because…. There is space due to small populations, accessibility to nature close to the main cities, environmentally-friendly attitudes, cycling infrastructure, internationally-recognised welfare and education systems, gender quality, and effective governance as a result of very limited levels of corruption.

The next steps for NTAs were connecting with our city partner representatives and make sure we know what they are up to next and how we can be part of it, connecting with all the other NTAs, waiting for the email about digital postcards, waiting for our 2-minutes video, and liking and sharing the video and the digital postcards.

I had done some research before the trip and found a modern hostel called ‘Steel House’ in a central location with good reviews near to vegan restaurants. I paid slightly more to be in a 4-bed room (252 Danish Krone (DKK) (€34, £30) per night) rather than a 6-bed room. The beds are like pods and they are pretty comfortable and private. Inside you have your own light, plugs, and storage pouch. When you check in (using a self-service computer), you’re assigned a bed and corresponding locker number, presumably to avoid arguments. Luckily, I had bed number 3 on the bottom. I saw on the website that there were lockers in the room, but it failed to mention that your own lock is needed to close them. The hinge on my locker was broken, and I had to ask reception several times for it to be fixed. The website also advertised a shared kitchen and swimming pool, although unfortunately, I didn’t realise that these came at an extra cost, both 20 DKK (€2.70, £2.35) for access to the kitchen for your full stay (open daily from 6am – 10pm), and two hours in the pool. However, the games room and cinema are free to use. My roommates were generally nice and quiet, although one made crumbs on the bunk bed above me and brushed them all over the floor, and I suspected the same person when I returned one evening to a toilet covered in sick.

After a rest, I went out to have dinner at a vegan restaurant called ‘Green Burger’. I took a burger of the week meal, which included a burger, fries, and a raspberry Danish soft drink. On the way back, I stopped at a nearby store called ‘Netto’ to get some soy milk and cereal for breakfast. I didn’t want to have the breakfast-to-go bag for 49 DKK (€6.58, £5.77) since I guessed that the vegan options might be limited and it would probably be easier and cheaper to eat my own food. I was thinking about hiring a bike because there were so many in Copenhagen and the cycling infrastructure is so good, although the cyclists seemed quite serious and fast, and I wanted to save money and take photos, so I decided against it.

On 9th March, when I was heading out, I got talking to an Italian girl called Serena in the lift. We agreed to go sightseeing together. As my girlfriend Maria was still in Australia, I didn’t have a camera (I always borrow hers!), so I made do with my phone camera. We thought about going to the National Museum of Denmark, but it was quite expensive at DKK 85 (€11.40, £10.00) per person. We walked past the City Hall (which for some reason had a gay pride flag on the flagpole outside it) to the Christiansborg Palace, where people outside were riding horses and one horse was pulling a cart. We headed towards the Church of Our Saviour past some government offices and Børsen (a 17th-century waterfront building & former stock exchange with a striking spire that looks a bit like a dragon). I wanted to go up the Church of Our Saviour tower, but unfortunately it was closed due to rain, ice, and snow. To get out of the cold, we then went to a café called the Organic Boho that I had marked on my map. There I had a vegan cheesecake and a smoothie.

We then walked on to Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district. Christiania has been a source of controversy since its creation in 1971. Its cannabis trade was tolerated by authorities until 2004. In the years following 2004, measures for normalising the legal status of the community led to conflicts, police raids, and negotiations. Apparently, you’re not allowed to take photos except in certain areas, most likely because of the cannabis trade, which was clearly present because of the smell. We walked around and admired the graffiti before stopping for a drink at a café and bar called Nemoland.

Next, we headed through the city centre past the Magasin Du Nord department store with an impressive exterior to Rosenborg Castle that houses the crown jewels. The student entry price was 75 DKK (€10.07, £8.83). By the time we got there, it was only going to be open for just under an hour, but we still managed to see almost everything. The best parts were the Porcelain and Glass Cabinets (with a huge number of items that are beautifully displayed), Christian III’s Sword of State, the Order of the Garter (sent to Christian IV by James I in 1603), the Queen’s Crown (made for Queen Sophie Magdalene in 1731, in use until 1840), Christian V’s Crown (used by the kings from Christian V to Christian VIII), and Christian IV’s crown (made 1595-1596).

Christian IV’s crown

Christian V’s Crown and the Queen's Crown

For dinner, we went to a restaurant called ‘RizRaz’ that my friend Edward who I met in Finnish classes had recommended to me. There is a vegetarian and vegan buffet that is 89 DKK (€11.95, £10.47) 11:30-16:00 and 99 DKK (€13.29, £11.65) 16:00-24:00. We then went past Copenhagen Cathedral, Copenhagen University, and Studiestræde (where there are many gay shops, cafés, and bars) back to the hostel and for a quick rest before using the swimming pool until the peace got disturbed by some children and noisy Italians.

On 10th March, I headed back towards Church of Our Saviour past Wallmans Circus Building, the City Hall, City Hall Square, Tivoli Gardens amusement park, and Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek fine art museum. This time the weather was much better and the sun was shining. The student price for the Church of Our Saviour tower is 25 DKK (€3.36, £2.94). There is a total number of 400 steps to the top of the 95-metre-high spiral tower, the last 150 being outside. When I got outside, the steps got higher, narrower, and steeper; and the railings got lower. It was a struggle because the steps were a little slippery as they were still a bit wet and icy from the day before. I almost made it to the last step, but not quite because I thought I might get stuck or fall over. The view was incredible, but it was slightly terrifying even for me, and I like heights. I realised how unpleasant it would have been to climb up that tower if it was raining.

The City Hall

Church of Our Saviour

I was almost late to meet my friend Asta (who lives in Copenhagen) because I underestimated how long it would take to get up and down those stairs. I met Asta at the Amnesty International Nordic Conference in Oslo last year. We went to the Next Door Café near Studiestræde, and then walked around the city centre. She showed me a lesbian bar called ‘Vela’, which wasn’t not too far from where I was staying. After resting and snacking at the hostel, I then went for dinner at a restaurant called ‘Halifax’ recommended to me by a friend called Luna who also lives in Copenhagen and who I also met at the Amnesty International Nordic Conference in Oslo last year. I had the vegan Berlin burger with the rösti patty (100 DKK (€13.43, £11.77)) with classic fries (30 DKK (€4.03, £3.53)) and a large coke (45 DKK (€6.04, £5.29)). I didn’t realise the burger would be so big, and I regretted taking the fries because of that, especially as the entire meal cost 175 DKK (€23.50, £20.59). This is probably normal for many people, but this was a lot for me. However, the food and service was really good, and I didn’t feel too bad because I had saved on my budget on other days. I was also a lot more satisfied and full after the meal than I had been at the extortionate ‘Madklubben Bistro-De-Luxe’.

On 11th March, I went through Ørsteds Park and the Botanical Garden and saw the University of Copenhagen Department of Science Education, Geological Museum, and the National Gallery of Denmark. I then walked towards the city centre to see Amalienborg (18th-century rococo complex of palaces) and the Changing of the Guard ceremony at 12:00. I then headed towards Kastellet, a star-shaped 17th-century fortress. I stopped in the Design Museum Denmark to use the toilet, but ended up staying there for a few hours since it seems to be one of the few museums in Copenhagen that were free of charge (this doesn’t seem common in the Nordic countries). My favourite part was the ‘Danish Design Now’ permanent exhibition, a section of which addresses design from a sustainability perspective. In the exhibition there were wooden bikes, taps with water saving functions, and the LifeStraw (a water filter designed to be used by one person to filter water for drinking, for example in ‘developing’ countries). I also liked that the museum used reusable badges for guests rather than disposable stickers (even though I usually keep those as a souvenir).

I then made it to Kastellet and walked all the way around the fortress and saw the Danish King Frederik IX statue, Princess Marie statue, what looked like a military ship, Langelinie Park, and the Ivar Huitfeldt Column (a monument built to commemorate the death of Admiral Ivar Huitfeldt and his men in a naval battle off Stevns during the Great Northern War). I saw crowds of people at the Little Mermaid statue again as the city sightseeing bus stops there. I walked all the way back to RizRaz for another buffet dinner before collecting my suitcase from the hostel (there are lockers in the basement that cost 20 DKK (€2.70, £2.35) to rent) and taking the train from København H to the airport (it only took about 10 minutes and cost 36 DKK (€4.83, £4.23)). I flew back to Helsinki 21:35—00:15 (an interesting interpretation of my request for an ‘early evening’ flight), and then took the bus back to Tampere 01:30-03:45 on Monday morning. I was a little tired when I went to class at 9:00, but it was worth it!

The main things that I learnt from this trip were that the Nordic countries should encourage cooperation and talent circulation rather than compete with each other. It’s important for the Nordic countries to cooperate because it makes more sense to have a common joint story the further you go as people sometimes get places mixed and confused. Before joining the Business Tampere network, I knew very little about business and marketing, and to be honest I had very limited interest in them as a result of my academic background in humanitarian work. However, I have been motivated to develop this interest after seeing the importance of marketing at a local level, and the significance of international talent attraction in my own life. I hope that the skills I have developed will be useful in my future workplace.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Art Hunt in Backwoods Paradise

Art Town Adventure is a series of art-based adventures and unforgettable experiences in and around Finland's world-class Serlachius art museums of Gustaf and Gösta in Mänttä-Vilppula, just 1.5 hours from Tampere or 1.25 hours from Jyväskylä. The very first adventure was Art Hunt in Backwoods Paradise, and it took place on 12th-13th December 2017.

Travel bloggers, tourism travel students living in Finland or abroad, and internationally oriented individuals with a passion for Finland who love seeking adventure and sharing their experiences with others via blogs and social media were encouraged to participate in order to win join a 2-day, 1-night unique, all-inclusive, free of charge Art Town Adventure in Mänttä-Vilppula, during which we would see and experience the most interesting locations and sights of the Art Town! An advantage was having plenty of international contacts, friends, and followers on social media who are willing to share our Art Town Adventure with. I shared my application video on this event page explaining who I am, why they should choose me for this amazing adventure, and how I would share my experience (good or bad) with my networks and the world.

The deadline had originally been 23rd November, and the winners were chosen on 24th November and announced on this event page, but luckily, it was extended, so I had the chance to enter on 28th November. Their panel selected 9 applicants who had the best ideas for how they will use this experience to help them promote and share Art Town Adventures with the world in their own networks. Invitation letters including all the details were sent to all winners on 27th November, and I was selected. Miraculously, I had these two days free.

This tremendous event-filled adventure began on 12th December at 10:50am at the main door of Tampere Railway Station, where we met our private guide, Heidi Savolainen, from the programme adventure company Adventure Apes/Seikkailuapinat. Heidi seemed relaxed, helpful, and friendly. We went by the Serlachius transfer bus to the Art Town Mänttä-Vilppula. We were showed an introductory film to the history of the town and its museum, which lasted almost the whole bus ride. I really enjoyed it, and it made the trip feel faster. There were nine of us in the group: three from Russia, two from Japan, one from South Korea, one from Vietnam, one from Brazil, and myself, as well as Heidi, and the photographer/ videographer Joni Heinonen from Videotiiviste Oy.

At 12:30, we arrived at our accommodation in Art Hotel Honkahovi with welcoming drinks (apple juice, I guess it was too early to drink!). We then had some time to take our luggage to our rooms and settle in. By chance, I was given the ‘Kuninkaan huone’, the ‘King’s room’ where the King of Sweden has stayed, probably when he comes to Mänttä-Vilppula to shoot pheasants (as mentioned over dinner at Ravintola Gösta). I was under the impression that I would be sharing with someone else, but I had the whole room to myself! My room was incredible, and it had a beautiful view over Melasjärvi lake! There was even a bath (the biggest one I had ever been in), which isn’t as common in Finland as in the UK. Just to be safe, I left the key at the hotel!

At 13:30, the Art Hunt began in this Backwoods Paradise began with a Nordic walking trip in the locality from Art Hotel Honkahovi to Mäntän Klubi, where we had lunch. We went past a pink wooden house, where it was said that the ‘pink lady’ lives. It was a really nice idea to walk after sitting in the bus for some time, and I felt that I saw more of the area that way. However, it took a while to get ready because some of the Nordic walking sticks were broken. The lunch was fantastic and my vegan dietary requirement was very well-catered for. It was good to eat after working up some hunger by walking there. I had salad, pulled oats with pasta, and raspberry and rhubarb sorbet. A member of staff (who we had also seen in Art Hotel Honkahovi who had gotten there before us, and who said she worked in both when I asked) gave us a tour of Mäntän Klubi, including Göstä’s room where former Finnish President Urho Kekkonen and the King of Sweden have stayed, and a secret room. However, the schedule felt rushed, partly because of the ‘skull hunting’, during which we searched for a skull which had a question (it was found in the secret room). It was fun and an interesting way to learn more about the history of Mänttä-Vilppula. However, I think the tour would have been still been great and even less rushed without the skull hunting (perhaps that would be better for younger guests or children). It felt like there were too many people so I didn’t even get to read all of the questions when the skull was found. Maybe I’m becoming too Finnish, but some of the galleries and activities also felt too crowded with all of us there. On several occasions people kept backing into me and treading on my toes and apparently didn’t even notice, or didn’t bother apologising if they did. Therefore, I think it would be really important to adapt and personalise the trip according to age and group size. On the other hand, having to hurry and compromise is probably a normal part of participating in a group tour.

Next, we walked to Serlachius Museum Gustaf. The employee started talking about the museum, when it was interrupted by a woman (Rebekka Tolonen) in costume who was pretending to find suitable jobs for us all in those times. Rebekka was absolutely fantastic and her tour captured my attention. I later found out that it was the first time that she had performed in English, which surprised me because it was so good. She quickly took us around the museum, and then we were able to try papermaking. Apparently my paper wasn’t too shabby, as I was given the job title of ‘press boy’, and a badge to prove it! We then had some coffee and cake (my vegan version also had delicious cherry and chocolate sauces), when Rebekka came in her museum work outfit after changing out of her costume, and I hardly recognised her (the glasses made a big difference!). We were then given a chance to take an audio tour through the ‘Paper Devil’ exhibition that tells the story of Gustaf Adolf Serlachius, who established a paper mill in Mänttä, and then find the skull. However, we didn’t get to spend much time in the exhibitions, although perhaps this worked well for some people, because generally I spend much more time in exhibitions than others.

We were then taken by bus to Serlachius Museum Gösta (we again had to hurry because the bus had a schedule and seemed to be available to the public). Rebekka gave us a tour around the older part of the museum and its extensive art collection (including a Monet painting!), and were then given wine and a snack of bulgur and potato (others had venison) in the old basement/cellar that was decorated by a 16-year-old girl in the past, which was lovely. It felt really personal and VIP that the museum and shop stayed open later for us. I really enjoyed the refugee exhibition and the screen where photos of our faces could be put into artworks. However, there wasn’t much free time at the exhibitions, and I was more focused on looking at the exhibitions than trying to find the skull. Serlachius Museum Gösta is currently showing the exhibition by the political artist Riiko Sakkinen called 'Closing borders', which "explores a turning, fortunate Europe". Last year, he travelled around European external borders. He visited Melilla, a Spanish city in North Africa on the Moroccan border, where I lived for one year. For me, his most interesting piece of work was one that was created on paper from one of the hotels in Melilla, which were enlarged and modified for the exhibition. It was interesting to me because I could understand his message to some extent based on my own experience, and I have never heard of such an exhibition in Finland.

We were wined and dined at Restaurant Gösta in the same building, and joined by the Museum’s Development Manager Päivi Viherkoski (the ‘pink lady’ who lives in the pink wooden house). The dinner was fantastic and my vegan dietary requirement was very well-catered for. I was even given oil for my bread instead of butter. For the first course, we had a creamy pumpkin soup seasoned with Christmas spices. For the second course, I had roasted cauliflower with nori, pickled chanterelles and lovage mayonnaise. For the third course, I had black bean patty and aubergine with Jerusalem artichoke, and for the fourth course, I had raspberry sorbet with mango and vanilla-soy cream. The Hungarian chardonnay served before dessert was delicious. I liked how the menus were placed on the tables after the meal, so we could have a souvenir and remember what we ate (and find it if we wanted to eat it again). The meal was prepared by Henry Tikkanen, Finland’s Chef of the Year in 2001, who has represented Finland in several international cooking competitions. He came to talk to us, and afterwards I thanked him for the amazing food! It was good to relax and not feel the need to rush. Before leaving the museum, we discovered a screen where our faces could be placed into old artworks, which was fun.

To end the day, we had a walking trip through the forest on the Lemmenpolku/Path of Love with Heidi at the front, Päivi at the back, and Joni filming somewhere in the middle. I really enjoyed walking in the nature. It was nice to walk after being inside for a while and sitting down for a long time for dinner. I’ve never walked in such deep snow, and in the dark. It was more difficult to walk, but good exercise for the legs. We were given headlights, but encouraged to only use them when really needed to (or when Joni needed us to have them on for filming) so that we could enjoy the silence and the darkness (it’s possible to see due to the light reflecting from the snow). It was thoughtful that socks and rubber boots were provided, otherwise the snow might have even ended up inside my winter boots. Luckily, I was walking quite towards the back, so I was able to walk in the footprints of those in front of me. On the other hand, it became a bit slippery, and someone behind me fell down. I thought we had almost arrived when Päivi announced that we were halfway. It turns out that the ‘short’ walk was 2.5km.

When we made it back to the hotel, I enjoyed a long soak in my bath before going down the common room to chat with the others. I felt a little bad because not everyone had their own bathroom and I had said that someone could use mine, but I ended up spending a long time in there.

On 13th December, I didn’t want to get out of bed because the room was a bit cold. At 9:30, we started the day with breakfast, and then a Honkahovi presentation at 10:00. It was thoughtful that a soya yoghurt was provided for me at breakfast. However, there could have been a bigger variety of food at breakfast, for example, vegan cheese could have been provided for me.

Breakfast with a view!

At 10:30, the Art Hunt continued in the area of Art Museum Gösta. We worked together to solve the ‘Christmas path’ challenge that gave us a whole new perspective on the featured exhibit and introduced us to people from the past. For this, we went around Taavetinsaari island, where Rebekka opened boxes and read questions about Finland’s Christmas traditions that we needed to answer. I learnt that she was also a Master’s student and is writing her thesis (apparently at the same time as raising four children and working!) about letters that her grandparents wrote to each other during the war time, which sounded very original and unique.

We then had lunch at Autere Cottage. At the bottom of the ‘Christmas path’ quiz sheet we were able to write our details and post it in a box to be in with the chance of winning items from the museum shop. I almost forgot to ask for the answers to the questions. It turns out that I only got one wrong, which was about how many people sent Christmas cards in Finland in some year in the 19th century. I chose 10,000 because I thought the population in Finland wouldn’t have been so big back then, but the answer was actually 100,000, which makes sense because each person usually sends multiple Christmas cards. It was really lovely to have an outside activity before lunch and going home, and I felt that I learnt new things. I liked the opportunity to enter a competition. However, the answers to the questions weren’t clearly announced to everyone at Autere Cottage. Again, the lunch was fantastic and my vegan dietary requirement was very well-catered for. I had pumpkin soup, salad, roast vegetables and cabbage, a beetroot patty, and some kind of raspberry dessert. ‘Santa’ made an appearance and we were all given gift bags, which was a lovely unexpected surprise.

The adventure finished at 12:45 when we returned to Tampere by train from Vilppula, arriving at 13:45. The train consisted of only one carriage, and it was the smallest train I’ve ever seen, so I couldn’t help laughing when I saw it. The train was a bit too crowded. I preferred the bus, even though the train was slightly faster. There seemed to be a lot of snow in Mänttä-Vilppula, although I realised that it had also been snowing when we got back to Tampere.

Afterwards, we were asked to provide honest feedback and a detailed description of our opinions and views on the whole trip and its programme, including all of the different activities and tourism attractions. Our comments and suggestions of improvement regarding the overall experience about what we liked best and what needs to be improved help them to develop the whole package of services and events. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience, I appreciate the opportunity, and I felt that we were cared for because it was so personalised. We had unforgettable experiences in and around the world-class art museums Serlachius-museums Gustaf and Gösta, enjoyed the finest food we can imagine from Mäntän Klubi and Ravintola Gösta, and slept like a king in the amazing hotel Art Hotel Honkahovi next to a pure Finnish lake. Inevitably if I had paid for the trip (I estimate several hundred euros per person), maybe I would be more sceptical. When I mentioned the trip to many people they seemed surprised that I had gone to Mänttä-Vilppula and they had negative prejudices about it. I think it will take a lot of work to change this. Hopefully they will be able to find more open-minded people who like to go somewhere more local and less ‘mainstream’, and who are interested in art.