Story, pictures: Lena Hartikainen – West Palm Beach, FL

The Hartikainen family - from the left: Nico, Seppo, Lena and Robert

It was May 1999  in  Helsinki. My husband, Seppo Hartikainen came to me and asked, “If I was to be offered a job in America, would you go with me? Spontaneously I replied: “Sure as long as it is not Florida!

Lo and behold, its now 2012 and I’m writing this, out of all places, in Florida. But back to 1999.  My husband is a Lutheran pastor and in August 1999 he was offered a  job to serve at the Finnish Lutheran Church in Seattle,WA.  We though it would be a nice one-to-three-year experience. Our sons, Nico “the drummer” was 12 and Robert a first grader. We are still on that same trip.

The Hartikainens settled in a Seattle suburb called Edmonds, purchasing a fixer-upper there.

When our good friend in Portland, Oregon heard that we are moving to Seattle, he predicted it will take us exactly five minutes to get used it. It proved out to be true. Naturally, the fact that we had both spend quite a bit of time in Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada, which is literally next-door, helped, as we had many friends in the Pacific North West region already.

We loved every minute of the seven and a half years that we lived there, except the traffic. My worst traffic experience was on Monday after Thanksgiving in 2006, when I got stuck on the freeway for nine hours in an ice and snowstorm!

The first years were a bit of a struggle financially for us, as it took longer than we expected to get work permit for me. So I spent the first two years renovating an old house built in the 1950’s . For a city girl from Helsinki, who has never even held a hammer in her hand, I have to say I did pretty good job. I learned how to paint, sand hardwood floors, build drywalls, lay tiles and you name it.

Lena renovated the Hartikainen family home by herself.

I loved every corner of that old house. It was a house with an unfinished basement, which we totally finished adding some 1, 000 square feet of  living space. Eventually we even added a sauna. The house was located in the suburbs of Seattle in a little town called Edmonds. It has a terminal where the ferries take you to the Olympic Peninsula.

The Washington state ferries dock in Edmonds.

It was a quaint little town with a lot of charm. We had the Pacific ocean/Puget Sound within walking distance from our home. We couldn’t have asked for more. The public schools were great and our kids blended in in no time. For the 12-year-old Nico, it took a bit longer as he was missing his friend. However, the language of music is the same everywhere. Since he was a talented drummer, the other kids and his music teacher adored him. Nico was enrolled in the pre-IB program and eventually graduated with the IB-diploma from Edmonds-Woodway High School.

The Edmonds marina

It took less for Robert to adapt as he was such an easy going little kid. On the first day however, he was a bit nervous and asked me what he should say if someone says something. “Just use what ever language skills you have and it’ll be ok,” I advised him. So we walk into the room together. As he walks in, he says: “hastala vista baby, I’ll be back!” That was all he knew in “English”. “This boy will do just fine,” the teacher smiled. And so he did.


While living in Washington, Lena had to re-invent herself.

While doing the renovation, I studied for a new career. Professional Life Coaching was not well known yet in the year 2000. My original intention had been to continue my studies in Social Psychology, but as an out-of-state student, the tuition was totally out of my reach, so I found coaching.


The Hartikainens

In Finland, I had worked for Pan Am, Delta and China Airlines in various positions – sales, customer service and management for some 10 + years.  But the travel industry jobs were scarce in the late summer of 2001 when I received my green card. Especially after 9/11 they became almost extinct. I still managed to get a job with a tour operator. My job was to organize tours to Scandinavia, Finland, Russia and the Baltic states.

My unfinished degree from Finland was bothering me. So, in 2005 I enrolled in the University of  Phoenix, and graduated with B.S. in Management two years later.

While a student, I found a job as a Call Center Manager for AAA Washington. I greatly enjoyed the job for its fast pace and great teamwork.

I also ran my first marathon in November of 2005.

At the end of 2006, my husband told me there was an opportunity for him in Florida. So in February of 2007 we found ourselves in the Sunshine State. This time just our younger son Robert came with us.

After living in the Pacific Northwest for seven years, Lena Hartikainen found herself in balmier Florida.

Nico was already 20 and had just signed a record contract with Photo Finish Records. He and his band Danger Radio were ready to tour the world. We accepted the fact that one must follow one’s dream.


While the rest of the family moved to Florida, the eldest son, Nico Hartikainen pursued his dreams in Hollywood.

Now we are in Florida.

My husband Seppo works at the St. Andrews Lutheran Churchas the Senior Pastor. Robert was enrolled in a small private Lake Worth Christian School in the last quarter of his last year in middle school. Again he acclimated to new surroundings without any qualms.


The Hartikainens at church

In 2007 recession hit Florida, which again made it challenging for me to land a job. I used my coaching skills to help others find jobs and develop their careers by launching FindYourJuice-coaching.  But I missed the energy of a larger company. While wondering how to get integrated into the local business world, I co-founded the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce Florida with three other businesspeople. I soon discovered the Finnish companies needed more help than what the chamber could offer. So, with another entrepreneur, I co-founded  Optimus Consulting Group Inc. in February of 2011. The first year has been full of excitement and hard work, which is starting to pay off. I look forward to each working day!


Lena Hartikainen went into business by herself in Florida, founding a consulting company.

Meanwhile Robert has graduated from high school and is finishing his first year in Palm Beach State College. Nico has lived in L.A. for the last five years, producing music, both independently and working as a sound engineer for Atlantic Records.


Nico Hartikainen is making a career in Hollywood as a sound engineer and a song writer.

Now that we live in Florida, a steadier stream of visitors come from Finland – most likely due to the more favorable climate and the pool in the backyard.

We did not want to acquire another renovation job in Florida, but purchased a house that had been recently upgraded. Our little Oreo-dog has been with us since 2003 and is loved by visitors and family alike.

The Hartikainen family pool attracts visitors from Finland.

Naturally, due to the role my husband has with the church and I with the FACC we have strong connections to the local Finnish community. So much so, that we don’t feel the need to visit Finland that often – perhaps every two or three years. The boys seem to long for Finland even less, as they are busy with their own lives.

Lena Hartikainen on the beach with her mom, Sisko Antturi

I can’t say I miss anything specific from Finland anymore, as the world is so global and even “näkkileipä” and rye bread can be found at a local supermarket. Naturally we miss family and friends.

The Hartikainen family has happily settled in the United States.



Founded in 1861, the University of Washington (UW) is one of the oldest state-supported institutions of higher education on the West Coast of the United States, and one of the preeminent research universities in the world.  In 2010 the Times Higher Education Rankings placed the UW in the 23rd place among the world’s universities, 17th in the United States and the 4th amongst the public universities in the US.

The UW is widely known in the United States for its strong language programs, with over 60 different languages offered on a regular basis, and many international “area-studies” programs. Yet, it may surprise some that Finnish has been taught on the Seattle campus for over twenty years. Finnish-language instruction and courses on Finland in English are offered as a part of the Scandinavian Studies Department curriculum. Over the years the program has expanded from occasional language teaching to systematic instruction on three levels, graduate-level study and research, and active research by the facultyThe UW and the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center For International Mobility (CIMO) jointly fund the lectureship.

Associate professor Andrew Nestingen has held his position since 2001. The beginning of the academic year is usually a busy and exciting time. ”First of all, we organized a summer course in Finnish this past summer. Thanks to high student demand we were able to secure funding for intensive second year Finnish taught over the summer quarter,” professor Nestingen said. “Five students got together daily with their teacher Jenni Salmi and are now a year ahead in their language study. We also welcomed a visiting Fulbright student from Finland in September, Anna Peltomäki. She is teaching first year Finnish and taking classes to fulfil her own degree requirements at the University of Tampere. As much as this is an excellent professional opportunity for the visiting graduate student, it is also an irreplaceable experience for the students in beginning Finnish. The visiting graduate students add a nice breath of Finnish air, both culturally and linguistically,” Nestingen also said. “Naturally, we also have our own students here in Seattle as well as UW students who are spending a year abroad in Finland.

Faculty have published books about the national epic Kalevala, Finnish folklore, cinema and literature. Professor Nestingen teaches and writes on Finnish popular culture and has recently completed a book on Aki Kaurismäki. ”Aki Kaurismäki has many contradictory sides. The contrasts have interested audiences. He and his films integrate a compelling mix of art, bohemianism, nostalgia, and Finnishness.”

Professor Nestingen and lecturer Elg celebrating the graduating students in 2011. Two out of the program’s eleven major students have already graduated and two more will graduate at the end of 2011.

 In addition to the professorship, there is a visiting lectureship position in Finnish, currently held by Ms. Aija Elg who was hired from Finland in 2009.

“I teach second and third year Finnish, function as the departmental Teaching Assistant Coordinator and lecture in English about Finland-related topics,” says Ms. Elg about a typical quarter.

“In addition to that, fundraising and outreach is a big part of the faculty’s job. This year we received a major donation of $100,000 thus doubling the program endowed funds, and that has obviously been a major step in securing the program and helping it become ever more successful, “ Ms. Elg says with delight.

A major donation and a chance for more

This spring a generous donor, Mr. Eero Tetri, made an endowed gift of $100,000 to support the teaching of the Finnish language at the University doubling the endowed funds supporting the program.  While the program has become a success, the finances of the University of Washington have become more and more stretched due to rapidly decreasing state funding.  More and more of the cost of the program must come out of the endowed funds, and not out of operating funds. 

In addition to his significant gift, Mr. Tetri promised to match donations made by others by the end of 2011, as well as pledges made for 2012, up to $50,000. 

“To me, it is the most beautiful language in the world.  I do not want it ever to disappear.  I want it to continue to delight people, in Finland and in Seattle,” Mr. Tetri says of his love for the Finnish language.

Mr. Eero Tetri delivers a gift of $100,000 to the Finnish Studies Endowment, represented by College of Arts and Sciences Development Officer Molly Purrington. Mr. Tetri has committed to match all gifts and pledges to the Finnish program during 2011, up to a total of $50,000.

Making its mark

The Finnish program enrols 20-30 students in language instruction annually. Department faculty teach some three hundred students about Finland in cultural courses taught in English.  Three doctoral students have completed PhD. degrees including research on Finnish literature, cinema and folklore since 2000. In 2009, Finnish became a major. Students choose to major in Finnish in order to explore their ethnic heritage, to gain a competitive edge, or as for linguistics students, to fill a requirement, to mention some of the motivating factors reported by the students. The program has already had eleven majors enrolled, and two students have already graduated with a Finnish major.

The activities of the program’s students, supporters, and faculty have made a significant contribution to the knowledge of Finnish culture in the US.  A good example is a Finnish Studies graduate Lola Rogers who has become a well-known translator of Finnish literature into English.  Her credits include the English translation of Sofi Oksanen’s 2008 best-seller Purge (Puhdistus in Finnish), the graphic novel The Sands of Sarasvati, based on Risto Isomäki’s novel of the same name, as well as an upcoming translation of Riikka Pulkkinen’s True (Totta).

Please visit the Scandinavian Studies website or friend us on Facebook to find out more about the program. If you would like to make a donation please go to the Scandinavian Studies page  at and click on Support on the left hand side corner.