Kirsti Westphalen and Juha Markkanen welcome Andrea Hautala-McAleenan to the residence.

Kirsti Westphalen and Juha Markkanen welcome Andrea Hautala-McAleenan to the residence.


DATE: 5/23/2013

At the Consul General’s residence in Bel Air, a change of guards took place Wednesday night. Kirsti Westphalen, who has served as Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles for the past five years, bid a fond farewell to the local Finnish community and friends of Finland. Then she introduced the new incoming Consul General, Juha Markkanen. Finntimes was there to record the memorable evening and to interview both the incoming and outgoing Consul Generals.

Outgoing Consul General Kirsti Westphalen introduced her successor Juha markkanen to the audience.

Outgoing Consul General Kirsti Westphalen introduced her successor Juha markkanen to the audience.

The nature of the event was evident already at the front door. Both the old and new Consul Generals were there to meet and greet the guests. They then mingled in the crowd. People were eager to say farewell to Kirsti Westphalen and to meet her successor.

Susanna Golche and Ava Anttila

Susanna Golche and Ava Anttila

Henry and Eeva Syvänen, Kirpi Uimonen-Ballesteros and Tiina Purtonen

Henry and Eeva Syvänen, Kirpi Uimonen-Ballesteros and Tiina Purtonen


Scandinavian Film Festival director Jim Koenig and actress Irina Björklund

Scandinavian Film Festival director Jim Koenig and actress Irina Björklund

David and Mira Scott

David and Mira Scott

The new Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Juha Markkanen, will assume his post September 1st, 2013

The new Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Juha Markkanen, will assume his post September 1st, 2013

Juha Markkanen has had a long career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. He has worked in the  EU secretariat and the embassies of Tokyo and Bonn. His latest post was in the Embassy of Stockholm, where he served as Minister. He has also worked as Editor-in-Chief of the trade policy magazine Kauppapolitiikka and as Director of Information in the Department for Communication and Culture. He is married with Tuula Markkanen. She will be working on her Master’s thesis in education while in Los Angeles.

Juha and Tuula Markkanen get refreshments at the residence.

Juha and Tuula Markkanen get refreshments at the residence.

We sat down with Juha Markkanen for a chat.

Please introduce yourself to us.

-My name is Juha Markkanen. I think I’m going to use the name JP Markkanen – it’s easier here. I’m the new Consul General of Finland as of the first of September here in LA.

-I am 50 years old and I’m coming from Stockholm, Sweden. I have been in foreign service for the past 22 years. I hope to be of assistance here in promoting Finland in various ways and deepening the Finnish – U.S. relations. That is my task and I need co-operation with the locals. Let’s make this a win-win situation!

What did you do in Stockholm?

-I’m the number two at the Finnish embassy in Stockholm – the Deputy Chief of Mission. That work entailed a lot of administration and also reporting on various subjects.

-Here in California, I will also deal with Arctic issues, since Alaska is one of the states under the Consul General’s territory. In Stockholm I was evaluating the Arctic perspectives.

-Last week in Kiiruna, Northern Sweden, we had a ministerial meeting that the Secretary of State, John Kerry attended.

Juha Markkanen with Abdellatif Moufakkir, the spouse of Kirsti Westphalen.

Juha Markkanen with Abdellatif Moufakkir, the spouse of Kirsti Westphalen.

You couldn’t come to a more different place than that – Los Angeles – have you been here before?

-No, unfortunately I haven’t. We have only been here since this past Sunday – four days.

What are your first impressions?

-It is an enormously interesting and challenging city and state – huge traffic problems, but very friendly people.

Juha Markkanen will become the next Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles.

Juha Markkanen will become the next Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles.

Tell me about your family?

-I have two children – daughter Maria, 16, and son Juho, 18. We are now seeking high school options for my daughter and a college or university for our son. We have considered both public and private high schools. I have asked people’s opinions tonight and I also learned about a couple of schools nearby.

Your son could complete his undergraduate studies during your four-year term?

-Yes, that’s his wish. I think Santa Monica City College will be his starting point.

When you formally start this fall, what are the first items on the agenda?

-I need to have a chat at the office, because we have moved to a new, more affordable premises. Kirsti Westphalen fought for the survival of the Consulate General of Los Angeles (that was under the threat of being shut down). I need to meet with many people to gain knowledge on issues in order to start my work.

You don’t come in with a set agenda?

-No, no. I need to learn, I need help from my friends – Finnish and U.S. citizens, the media… This is a collaboration.

Is there anything that surprised you upon arriving here?

-Well, I knew that people would be friendly here, but that turned out to be an understatement. I have been received very warmly – also at the schools I’ve been evaluating for my children. After having spent four days in California, I am starting to understand how it is up to oneself to accomplish one’s work. You are on your own.

-I had a chat with the former Consul General Maria Serenius two months ago in Helsinki and got good advice from her. I highly respect both Maria Serenius’ and Kirsti Westphalen’s work here. We have had two excellent ladies here. Now it is a man’s turn here and I am trying to do my best.

-I am enormously excited!

Honorary Council of San Diego, Kathryn Mautino, gave Kirsti Westphalen a picture depicting San Diego.

Honorary Council of San Diego, Kathryn Mautino, gave Kirsti Westphalen a picture depicting San Diego.

An endless stream of well-wishers inundated the outgoing Kirsti Westphalen and her husband Abdellatif Moufakkir. I finally got a change to catch up with Kirsti at the end of the evening.

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Kirsti Westphalen with Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen.

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Kirsti Westphalen with Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen.

We are sad to see you go. Thank you very much for the wonderful five years that you’ve been with us here. Now you are heading toward new adventures as the Ambassador to Thailand – your feelings?

-Well, we are going to be really sorry to go. We are going to have wonderful memories of California. And I’ve got to tell you: California is going to follow us in our footsteps. I have a life-long interest in anything that is new, dynamic, progressive, sustainable – that is what California is to the United States and to the world.

-So, I am sure I will be following this sort of dynamics, wherever I will be in the world.

Kirsti Westphalen with real estate agent Janice Hiltunen.

Kirsti Westphalen with real estate agent Janice Hiltunen.

Over the years, what has been the biggest surprise to you here?

-I had lived in California as an exchange student, as a youngster. I was always fascinated by the diversity in California. Through this more professional approach, it has not been a surprise, but I have been so grateful of the fact that I have gotten to know so many talented people. I have learned so much of the direction that the world is going to take in the future – how people are going to consume, how they are going to behave online, what the world is going to look like and what direction it is going to take and what California is going to predict for Finland as well.

Ava Anttila and Christel Pauli from the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce Pacific Chapter handed a plaque of appreciation to Kirsti Westphalen.

Ava Anttila and Christel Pauli from the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce Pacific Chapter handed a plaque of appreciation to Kirsti Westphalen.

-It has been tremendously rewarding working as a liaison, communicating what is best in Finland to California and to the United States – for example, education. But also communicating vice versa, because the world is not a two way street. The world is a place of networks. Where the best brains, that counts. And that’s where the Finns should be.

And indeed you have been very active in communicating with other countries as well, in addition to Finland and the U.S.?

-This has been a particular honor that has been bestowed upon me last year, when I became the dean of the Los Angeles consular core, where we have the representation of 98 countries altogether. Virtually the entire world is present here in Los Angeles diplomatically.

Actress Lisa Niemi and Kirsti Westphalen

Actress Lisa Niemi and Kirsti Westphalen

-Part of the honor of representing the consular core is that you have the opportunity to take part in so many events and that you meet people from all of these countries. And you meet important Californians. You get to hang out with the mayor and the governor!

Tell me about the new premises of the consulate?

-We, as a part of the Finnish government, are counting our pennies. We want to make sure that where we use money, it is wisely used and invested. So, the premises have been changed to more modest and smaller ones.

-This has brought on important savings of taxpayer money. So, while we can cut down on fixed costs, like rent, we are able to retain the basic core functions of the consulate – servicing our Finnish community nearly ten thousand strong in 13 western states.

-And the important political tasks that we have here, in communicating what is best in Finland, whether it’s education, science and innovation, clean technology, sustainable solutions, whether it is supporting our creative Finns in the “Silicon Beach” kind of thinking that is so important to the growth of Los Angeles, California and Finland in the future.

Is there a particular item that you were able to accomplish that stands out that you are proud of?

-Perhaps I can say that the new way of doing things in a wider Finnish foreign service and Finnish public service – the team Finland thinking, in which all of us have to pull together to achieve results. That is what we have done here in California – not only during my time, but the time of my predecessors.

-I’m very grateful to see that the rest of Finland is going California way!

Abdellatif Moufakkir and Kirsti Westphalen are getting ready to move to Thailand.

Abdellatif Moufakkir and Kirsti Westphalen are getting ready to move to Thailand.

And now onto the new challenge – what do you know about your upcoming post as the Ambassador to Thailand?

-Well, I wish I knew more. Our embassy in Thailand covers countries of Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. This is a new part of the world and our employer is so kind as to always offer us new challenges, which I really will have in front of me. I have lots to learn.

-You referred to the fact that the consulate here was in danger of closing and we have been able to save the consulate through savings. I want to thank you personally, Tomi and Finntimes and all your efforts in getting the Finnish community organized and in communicating the strong desire of the local Finnish community here in supporting the activities of the consulate. Not only its service functions, but the fact that we are doing important work for the success of Finland here. So, I’m very grateful of that.

And I’m sure I will speak for all Finntimes readers in saying that we are glad we were able to help.

The Finnish community toasts Kirsti Westphalen.

The Finnish community toasts Kirsti Westphalen.



Maria Serenius was consul general of Finland in Los Angeles 1997-2001

Maria Serenius was the consul general of Finland in Los Angeles 1997-2001

Maria Serenius has had a long and successful career as a diplomat. She joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland in 1975. Since then, Serenius has served in Egypt, Japan, Sri Lanka and Switzerland. She was the Consul General in Los Angeles 1997-2001. After L.A., Maria became the Finnish Ambassador to Turkey and then served as Ambassador to Latvia. She retired last fall. Alongside throughout her various adventures has been husband Tapio Serenius. He is known as a jovial people’s person with a twinkle in his eye, seamlessly blending in wherever his wife’s work took them.

Tomi Hinkkanen interviews Maria Serenius on February 2nd, 2013 in Bel Air, California.

Tomi Hinkkanen interviews Maria Serenius on February 2nd, 2013 in Bel Air, California.

Finntimes interviewed Maria exclusively on Saturday, February 2nd 2013 at attorney Ava Anttila’s  Bel Air home during a garden party the gracious hostess gave in honor of the beloved consular couple.

One achievement from Maria’s consular years in L.A. shines prominently even today. It is the Global Access Program she helped launch with other Finnish agencies, such as Tekes. Each year the program brings around a dozen Finnish high tech companies to UCLA. There they connect with a team of MBA students who create a business plan for them.

Maria in front of the Finnish Consulate General in Century City in 2001

Maria in front of the Finnish Consulate General in Century City in 2001

How does it make you feel that the GAP process that you started is still going strong?

-It’s a very rewarding feeling that something that one has planted the seeds has grown and has been so beneficial to Finnish companies. It has also created a quite vast network of people, who have been in contact with each other over the years. It’s been very valuable.

You introduced two new concepts to Finns – small talk and networking – what did you have to go through to get the message through about those concepts in the early years?

-It wasn’t characteristic to Finns to do small talk. We thought it was something for others to do – superficial. If somebody’s talking about the weather or something else that has no meaning or significance right away, the person is shallow (laughs). We didn’t quite understand the significance of that. Then later on they organized courses in Finland on how to do small talk. But Finns and Finland have since changed. Still there is a lingering feeling that talking about petty things is not really dignified.


Serenius in her consular office back in the day

Serenius in her consular office back in the day

Tell me if I’m wrong but I think in Finland the feeling is that in order for anything to get done, things must go through proper official channels but here it depends more on whom you know and who knows you?

-It’s not only here. I was serving four years in Cairo. In the Middle East and Turkey as well, it is very important whom you know and who is networking with whom. You need to know the connections. In most of the countries in the world it’s not necessarily your position in the government or somewhere else that indicates, how much influence you have in the society. An important part in the work of a diplomat is to dig out those people who are really influential and then network with them. It’s hard work. I did learn to do that here in Los Angeles, because networking is the key to everything here. The consul general in L.A. doesn’t have any position among the people here – they don’t know what a consul general is. It’s up to you to give an impression that you might be useful to people whom you are meeting. When one is an ambassador in Turkey or Latvia, the title is enough. You are an ambassador – more or less all the doors open for you. Here you need to work to open those doors.

Power couple: While Maria was scouting Finnish businesses in Silicon Valley, her husband Tapio worked as a consultant for many such businesses.

Power couple: While Maria was scouting Finnish businesses in Silicon Valley, her husband Tapio worked as a consultant for many such businesses.

And you really did that. Even on weekends you went to Silicon Valley to build relations with the local Finnish companies and movers and shakers there.

-When I came here, nobody in Finland knew what a venture capitalist is. I didn’t know either, but I wanted to learn. So, I flew to San Francisco, rented a car and drove to Sand Hill Road. That is the road where the most important venture capital funds are located (comparable to Wall Street in the stock market). So, I made appointments to meet with some of these people and I did. I started that really from the scratch. They explained the system to me. Once you have had a meeting like that, in the second meeting you must have something to give back. Otherwise you are using too much of someone’s time that is not useful to them.

Silicon Valley - home of the American high tech

Silicon Valley – home of the American high tech

So, what did you give back?

-The high tech miracle of Finland! During those years Finland was like a high tech utopia of the world. That lasted only a couple of years. Nokia was on top and we were the most wired and wireless country in the world. So, everybody in America dealing with ICT, high technology, knew about Finland. It was a unique time in history. Most companies and investment funds knew about Finland. The Wired magazine and Red Herring had Finland on their cover.

Maria and Tapio connected with an old friend - chef Sirpa Welch in Los Angeles

Maria and Tapio connected with an old friend – chef Sirpa Welch in Los Angeles

You were able to generate a lot of publicity for Finland. Your predecessor, Jörn Donner had given a statement, in which he said one can do the work of a consul general in two hours a day. With all due respect, I think he missed the point. In reality each consul general creates the job description by themselves – isn’t that true?

-Maybe he tried to concentrate on cultural affairs and and didn’t find it interesting. So yes, Los Angeles is one of the few places where you have to create the job. You have to decide the focus. You can spend 24 hours a day doing this and that here and there. But the main thing is: Is it adding value to your work for Finland – to Finnish companies, to people? That value comes only by focusing. We are a small country, a little over five million people and America is so big. So, focus, focus, focus. I was privileged to come at that time. There was momentum in my life and career at that particular stage.

Consul General Maria Serenius outside her residence in Bel Air, spring 2001

Consul General Maria Serenius outside her residence in Bel Air, spring 2001

You recognized that momentum and focused on high tech?

-I stumbled on it. I needed to do something that would be valuable to Finland.

Out of those contacts that you created in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and elsewhere, are they still relevant today and have they yielded results?

-For Finland, yes indeed. It has created even more networking and relationships. Not all, but quite a few of them and I’m very proud of that.

Maria at the consul general's residence, spring 2001

Maria at the consul general’s residence, spring 2001

What kind of an experience was it for you to be the consul general in Los Angeles?

-It was great. It was energizing. There’s a feeling here that anything is possible, just do it! Another sentiment here is to think big. Coming from Finland, I was not used to this positive American atmosphere that anything is possible, if you work hard enough. I love that type of a sentiment. Since my time in Los Angeles, I tried to use that kind of a spirit in my work as well. Wherever I went afterwards, I always started by saying: I need you to be proactive, innovative. So much so, that people were joking about me!

Maria and Tapio Serenius said good bye to L.A. in 2001.

Maria and Tapio Serenius said good bye to L.A. in 2001.

-After L.A. I went to be the director general for Africa and the Middle East in the Ministry for Foreign affairs. I did that for three years. It was very challenging. The Middle East was higher on the agenda than Africa in those days and it still is. So, I traveled a lot in the Middle East.

-In the 1980’s I had been in Cairo for four years. So, I already knew about the mentality there and I even spoke a little Arabic. It was a great job to be the director general in the ministry.

Tomi Hinkkanen & Maria Serenius in Bel Air

Tomi Hinkkanen & Maria Serenius in Bel Air

Then you were rewarded for your efforts and you became ambassador to Turkey, a country of over 75 million people. You were stationed in the capital Ankara, instead of Istanbul, which probably would have been a more interesting place to be?

-Most of my colleagues in Ankara complained bitterly about that – why can’t the capital be in Istanbul! Being a woman there is no problem. I brought Tapio along, but for a spouse it’s quite a challenge if the spouse wants to work. In Istanbul it would have been much easier. All the companies and business world is in Istanbul. It’s a 5-6 hour drive from Ankara to Istanbul. Ankara is more or less an administrative and political capital of Turkey. So, the country is divided in that way. I did travel to Istanbul once or twice a month.

A central business district of Ankara, the capital of Turkey

A central business district of Ankara, the capital of Turkey

What was the residence and the embassy like there?

-We rented a house that had four floors. The residence was on the top of that building. It’s a big embassy. There was an office of the military attaché of Finland there. So, at one time we had 37 people working there. I had seven people working at the consular section alone.

What was your focus in Turkey?

-The focus of course deals with the political dialogue with Turkey. At that time Turkey was applying for the EU membership. All the issues related to that fell onto me. Finland supported Turkey’s membership application. Therefore I needed to follow the international political situation very closely. Turkey is a regional superpower. It is also  a very important country to Europe. I started a chamber of commerce in Istanbul. We have had business with Turkey for the past 50 years. We had about 30 Finnish companies there. Our trade was one billion Euros a year.

What sort of Finnish companies are there in Turkey?

-All the big ones – the paper companies, Kone, Ahlstrom, Nokia and a whole lot of smaller companies. They have been there for a long time. If you ask about job satisfaction, the starting the chamber of commerce in Istanbul was great.

Tapio & Maria Serenius with hosts Jack & Ava Anttila in their garden in Bel Air

Tapio & Maria Serenius with hosts Jack & Ava Anttila in their garden in Bel Air

What is the major difference in doing business between the U.S. and Turkey?

-Here you are more or less alone. There is a consular core, but every consul general is on his or her own. The co-operation between the consulates in L.A. is non-existent. We do meet, but we don’t have anything in common. If you are in the capital of a country, embassies work very closely, especially the EU countries. In my time in Turkey, Finland had the EU presidency for six months. It was a big challenge.

Tapio Serenius has adapted to his wife's various posts. here he is hugging the hostess, Ava Anttila.

Tapio Serenius has adapted to his wife’s various posts. Here he is hugging the hostess, Ava Anttila.

What is it like to live in Ankara?

-Well……(a smile and a long pause). L.A. is a wonderful location in every respect – the people, the American mentality… It does snow in Ankara and it gets quite cold in the winter, but it is sunnier there than in Finland. Summers are hot.

What’s the mentality of people there?

-Turks seem to think that we Finns are their relatives. So, we are always welcome with open arms wherever we go. People in the countryside, everywhere think we are their cousins. I did promote that concept. It’s the language. Our languages are distantly related to ne another. Turks think a few thousand years ago both peoples were living near Mongolia. We started to cross Siberia to Finland, whereas they came down to Turkey.

Maria and Ava

Maria and Ava

Is there any truth to that?

-No, I don’t think so.

Are Turks outgoing and friendly?

-They are friendly. They have a high sense of honor and integrity. They are hard working. There’s that same kind of entrepreneurial spirit there that you have here in Los Angeles.

Maria and Tapio met new and old friends on their visit to L.A.

Maria and Tapio met new and old friends on their visit to L.A.

-The Ottoman Empire, which lasted for 700 years, encompassed the whole Middle East. The Turks are not Arabs and they don’t speak an Arabic language.

-What is happening in Turkey right now, is very interesting. It is at the same time an Islamic and a democratic country. So, everybody is following, how Islam, democracy and capitalism can live side by side. All the Islamic countries are following Turkey very closely.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was built in the 6th century.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was built in the 6th century.

Did you run into any culture shock in Turkey?

-No, if you have a position of an ambassador, there is no problem about being a woman in Turkey, not at all. Not even in Egypt, where I was in the 80’s. It is more challenging to be a local woman there. But to a foreigner with a position, everyone is very friendly and helpful.

It’s a great and an important country and it was a privilege to serve there.

What is the greatest misconception about Turkey that the westerners have?

-They are suspicious about Islam. It has such a negative connotation nowadays. It’s not really fair to judge the whole population because of problems and challenges we have had lately. I think there are also some reservations regarding Turks. There is a large Turkish population in Europe, especially in Germany and Austria. It seems that those Turks that went there in the 1950’s and 60’s are more conservative than the Turkish people in Turkey nowadays. Europeans get their image of Turkey from the migrants. Those immigrants are not so interested in what is going on in the modern day Turkey. They like things just the way they were.

A siluet of Istanbul with minarets raising in the distance

Silhouette of Istanbul with minarets raising in the distance

After Turkey, Maria Serenius was appointed Finnish ambassador to Latvia.

-It’s a small country of 2.2 million people, but all the Baltic countries are important to Nordic countries. We are a part of the Baltic sea countries.

How did it feel to go from Turkey to Latvia?

-It took some adjustment. It was my own wish to be closer to Finland. Latvia is also an interesting, fascinating country. History in the Baltic states and Latvia has been very tough and painful. It is still alive there. That caused a lot of challenges – how to deal with the Baltic countries. Latvia is an EU and NATO country. They don’t have the Euro yet but they want to join the monetary union. Their currency is Lati.

Riga, the capital of Latvia is seen here from the Daugava River. It is the largest city of Latvia with 700,000 inhabitants.

Riga, the capital of Latvia is seen here from the Daugava River. It is the largest city of Latvia with 700,000 inhabitants.

-It is a small country, so for the Finnish ambassador, all the doors are open there. The Latvians admire Finland, the Winter War, our achievements and politics – their opinion is very positive.

-People do speak English, but Russian is a more important language there. 40 per cent of Latvians speak Russian as a first language. More than half the inhabitants of capital Riga are of Russian descent.

Old Riga has historical charm.

Old Riga has historical charm.

What was your focus in Latvia?

-Because both Finland and Latvia are EU countries, the focus was to follow Latvia’s EU policy and security policy, because they are members of NATO. Another task was to promote business between the two countries and culture – everything.

Latvia was the long term diplomat’s last assignment.

-I retired September 1st last year – five months ago. I was in the  Ministry of Foreign affairs for 37 years. Retiring felt great. It was my own choice to retire at 64. That was the end of that part of my life.

Maria arrives in Matamanoa, Fidzi

Maria arrives in Matamanoa, Fidzi

After retiring, you and Tapio departed for an around-the-world tour – tell me about that?

-We started two months ago. We went to Australia and did the Great Ocean Road (A 150-mile heritage road along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Warrnnambool). We went to New Zealand and visited mostly national parks. We hiked and did other relaxing things, concentrating mainly on nature.

Tapio and Maria on the Great Ocean Road in Australia

Tapio and Maria on the Great Ocean Road in Australia

Maria and Tapio’s around-the-world tour concludes in Los Angeles.

-We are here for 2.5 weeks. It’s wonderful to be back, really great!


Maria with a Green Rosella bird in Australia

Maria with a Green Rosella bird in Australia

It’s wonderful to have you back. How long has this whole trip been?

-Two and a half months. We have never been on such a long trip before. I thought that it would be too much but it hasn’t been. It’s been very nice. I recommend this to the people who can do it – to go and forget about all the problems and challenges at home.

Maria toast life at sunset in Fidzi.

Maria toast life at sunset in Fidzi.


Reporter, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen

Consul general Kirsti Westphalen hosting the Finnish Hub on the tennis court of the consul general's residence in Bel Air.

The newly created forum for the LA Finns, the Finnish Hub, was held Tuesday night at the Consul General Kirsti Westphalen’s residence in Bel Air. 130 guests gathered on the tennis court, where Westphalen outlined the future of the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles. The consulate has been under a threat of closing down due to financial reasons. Finntimes has been active in gathering signatures for the consulate to remain open right here in LA, where it rightfully belongs. We thank each and every person who kindly signed our petition. Westphalen revealed, that the decision about the consulate will be made within days in Helsinki. We will bring you the latest news as soon as they become available. Westphalen would like to create a Creative House of Finland, where artists, scientists, business people and everybody would be welcome under the same roof. It would also serve as an address for Finnish start-ups that require a local presence. Since in the current economic environment funds are scarce, the consulate puts its emphasis on green technologies and education.

Kirsti Westphalen said that the faith of the Finnish Consulate general in LA will be decided within days.

Among the audience, there were executives from Tekes – a Finnish Technology Agency, as well as Aalto University. Also the music world was well represented due to the Musexpo convention that is going on in Hollywood. Merja Laaksonen from Tekes told that they have a budget of 600 million euros that helps Finnish high tech businesses. There is also a 70 million euro creative fund for such endeavors. Laura Laaksonen from Aalto University was doing her dissertation on the internationalization of Finnish heavy metal bands. Local attorney and Finntimes blogger Ava Anttila spoke about the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce, of which she is a member and invited new  businesses and individuals to join in. Sami Häikiö was here from Finland. He works for Music Export Finland, an organization dedicated to advancing Finnish music exports around the world. He told the organization has achieved great results, especially in Japan, where Finnish heavy metal is popular.

Cheers to Finland!

After the official speeches, there was an open mike for the audience members. Actress, singer and songwriter Irina Björklund wanted to see, if anything could be done to the facilitate Finnish and other international performers’ entry to the U.S. She said oftentimes performers have to wait for months to get a work visa to perform in the United States. A recent example comes from FinnFest, that was held last August in San Diego. The Finnish musicians had tough time in getting into the country and were questioned by the U.S.  immigration officials, who had asked,  couldn’t an American performer do the job instead. Westphalen replied that the Finnish government has tried to influence the powers to be. Of course it is up to the American officials to adjust their procedures and practices.

Irina Björklund with guitarist Steven McCormick and cameraman Janne Tamminen

There were also high flying ideas of creating an inn for Finns wanting to visit LA, complete with a restaurant and all. The reality of it is that if anything else, budgets are being tightened and as I mentioned before, the very existence of the consulate is in jeopardy. The government can’t do everything, Westphalen said with a smile . Maria Kizirian had a more realistic idea: Why not create an email list of volunteers, who would be willing to put up guests visiting from Finland in their own  homes. And she puts her money where her mouth is. Maria and her husband Paul Kizirian are currently hosting ex-Miss Finland, the lovely Pia Pakarinen in their home, as Pia is busily crafting a career for herself in modeling.

Maria Kizirian, in the middle, suggested an email list of volunteers who want to house Finns visiting Los Angeles.

The meeting lasted an hour and a half. It was truly the most comprehensive information package and a brainstorming session in recent memory held by the local Finns and their friends.

Fitness guru Pauliina Talus

After the meeting,  it was party time. There were many celebrities among the guests. Fitness guru Pauliina Talus had finished her Talus Integrated Training System – a workout program that fits the needs of any age or ability.  The new Lutheran pastor Jarmo Tarkki was there. He lives in Solvang, California and represents a large area encompassing Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and even Mexico City. The next LA area service will be held at St. Paul’s church in Santa Monica on May 20th. Pastor Tarkki was happy about the Easter service’s attendance – 85 people.

Finnish celebrity Sauli Koskinen, right, partied with his friends.

Finnish Big Brother winner from five years ago and singer Adam Lambert’s boyfriend Sauli Koskinen was partying with his friends. Sauli was in great spirits and tanned as ever. I asked him, if it was a real or spray tan. Sauli then took off one of his many rings, revealing a white spot on his skin underneath. Sauli said he takes every opportunity to tan on his rooftop in the couple’s home in Hollywood Hills.

sauli_koskinen_finntimes_com by Tomi Hinkkanen for Finntimes

Sauli Koskinen was tanned as ever and in great spirits.

Early on I spotted a familiar looking blond lady in the audience, then realizing it is Patrick Swayze’s widow Lisa Niemi. She came to the festivities with her mother-in-law Mary.

Patrick Swayze's widow, Lisa Niemi attended the Finnish Hub.

Lisa’s grandparents came to the U.S. from Finland. She said her father’s family was from northern Finland and mother’s family from Karelia. Lisa was in a good mood as well. Her husband Patrick died two and a half years ago of pancreatic cancer. Niemi wrote a book called “Worth Fighting For”, detailing her husband’s battle against cancer. It made it to the New York Times list of bestsellers. She is also a spokesperson for Pancreatic cancer Action Network and has her own website lisaniemiswayze.com


Lisa Niemi wrote a book "Worth Fighting For" about her husband's struggle with cancer

“Patrick lost his battle, but the fight against pancreatic cancer goes on,” Lisa Niemi declared.


Reporter, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen, Los Angeles

Life coach Susanna Goltche

Already as a teenager, Susanna Goltche, neé Nieminen, knew she wanted to help people. She studied social sciences in Finland but decided she wanted to see the world. So, Susanna packed her bags and came to the United States as a student. She fell in love with an American businessman and had a child. After her marriage ended, at 35, she found herself  in a turning point in her life. The mother of a seven-year-old daughter returned to her original idea of helping people. She decided to become a life coach.

Susanna sees some of hers clients at her beautiful home in Bel Air

Susanna welcomes me at her lovely home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. Her condominium building sits on a mountain road between the city and the San Fernando Valley. Here the air is crisp and clear. Incents are burning and so is the fire in the fireplace – to create a peaceful and open atmosphere. There are pictures of her daughter Juliet on the shelves. A balcony offers a view to the woodsy backyard with large pine trees. It is a perfect setting to discuss life issues – in fact, some of Susanna’s clients come here to sit on her couch and unload their worries in this serene setting.

Susanna creates a calm atmosphere in her home so that it is easier for her clients to open up to her about their problems.

Susanna grew up in Tampere, Finland. She first enrolled in the school of social studies in the nearby city of Hämeenlinna. Then her adventurous side took over. Susanna enrolled in the Santa Monica C ity College, taking general subjects. She also studied film at the Los Angeles City College. The attractive blonde soon found companionship with an American real estate tycoon. They married and had a daughter. When her marriage ended after four years, Susanna wanted to find a new direction in her life. She had been a housewife, taking care of her small daughter. Then she heard about life coaching and last August enrolled in CTI – Coaching Training Institute, which specializes in the field. CTI has trained over 35,000 life coaches all over the world.

The curriculum consists of three parts – theoretical lessons in workshops, field training and final exams that are both in written and verbal formats. Susanna has finished the theoretical part. Since February she has been seeing clients as a part of her training. People come to her with all kinds of problems – health, career and relationships. Life coaching is not therapy.

“A therapist looks more into a person’s past. We concentrate on the present and the future,” Susanna explains.

She doesn’t see clients who have mental issues – those she sends to a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Life coaching is for otherwise healthy individuals, who need help in their working or private life.  A life coach is like a friend who listens and lends a helping hand.

The process starts by going over a person’s situation. Oftentimes it takes a while to pinpoint the areas that require improvement.

“We see each individual as creative, able and perfect as a human being,” she says.

Once the specific problem or area in need of improvement is identified, Susanna gives her clients homework related to that issue.

“I hold them countable to those tasks. Then in the next session we go over the homework and set goals.”

A life coach has to be firm. Susanna holds her clients accountable to finish their home work.

At the present time Susanna has seven clients, among them a housewife, a real estate broker, an artist and a businessman. Over half of them come to Susanna with a career-related issue. Almost all of them are in some kind of a turning point in their lives. They are all between 40 and 60 years of age. More tend to be women, but men have also embraced life coaching.

“I have noticed that men are especially open to life coaching, since there is no stigma to it.”

Problems are not usually solved in one or two sessions. It typically takes about six months to improve a person’s life. Life coaches charge per hour or monthly. Rates vary, but an hour on life coach’s couch could set you  back 150 dollars. Susanna has both phone clients and people she meets in person. She says she can read emotions in people’s voices. In our little test session, she was very keen on picking up cues on my physical gestures, like rolling of the eyes.

Whether you need help in your career or love life, Susanna is there to help.

In the future, Susanna plans to expand her coaching into seminars and lectures. She invites people  interested in her services to contact her directly at

“If you want to improve your life, please contact me.”