Riina Liutu and her husband Richardson “Richie” Maurissaint live the life of a multinational family in Lappeenranta with their three daughters Kailey, Elsa and Alissa. In their work, school and leisure time, they speak both Finnish and English.
Riina Liutu was born in Lappeenranta and Richie Maurissaint moved to the city from Boston fourteen years ago.
“I started studying mechanical engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in Lappeenranta and quickly felt at home here. I’ve met many local people, and they have all been easy-going and wonderful,” Richie says.
Bilingual everyday life
Riina and Richie spent a long time considering where to settle down before deciding to stay in Lappeenranta. They could not be happier with their decision, says Riina.
“Day care centres here are excellent. They have lovely staff, small group sizes and a warm atmosphere.”
At home, Riina speaks Finnish with the children and Richie speaks English – though a little Finglish also finds its way into the conversation every now and then. As a bilingual family, the parents feel it is important for the children to hear English outside the home as well.
“The girls go to Kesämäki school and attend classes primarily in English with some Finnish teaching thrown in. Another big plus is that they can also attend an English-language university,” Riina adds.
Riina and Richie also know other multinational families, giving the children an opportunity to speak English with more people. They can also chat and play games in English online with people outside Lappeenranta.
An easy balance between work and leisure
Though Richie was surprised by how good the English-language skills of many Finns are, he is still glad that he started learning Finnish as soon as he moved to Finland. Currently, he works as a technical product manager at a local company named Flowrox.
“When it comes to work culture, there’s a big difference between Finland and the US where the work days are longer. When I told my sister that, here in Finland, we have a four-week summer vacation and a winter vacation to boot, she could hardly believe it! I love that it’s genuinely possible to balance work and leisure here.”
Riina, who works in customer service at a bank, says that family life is hectic right now.
“Whenever we do have leisure time, we try to stay active and find things we can do as a family. We go skiing, ice skating and swimming at the indoor swimming pool during the winter and, in the summer, we swim at the beach and go cycling.”
The family also does a lot of travelling in the summer.
Lots of hobbies for both children and adults
Riina is especially satisfied with the varied hobby opportunities for children and adults in Lappeenranta.
“The children have tried all kinds of things: dance, a fine arts course and swimming. Currently, the girls play basketball and do gymnastics. I visit the gym regularly with Richie, who also plays in a local football team.”
Out of the children, Kailey is the most enthusiastic about gymnastics.
“It’s the best hobby because you get do all kinds of tricks and sometimes even compete.”
As Richie sees it, hobbies are a central part of life and important for developing social skills, particularly for children.
“Hobbies have helped me meet different kinds of people, both foreigners and locals.”
A safe and nature-loving city
With bus stops near their home and his workplace, Richie finds it easy to commute to work on the bus. Riina, on the other hand, cycles to work regardless of weather or season.
“The children can safely walk or cycle to school, thanks to Lappeenranta being such a peaceful and safe city. All the services you need are also within walking distance.”
Richie has been struck by the nature-loving personality of Lappeenranta.
“Sometimes, it feels like you’re living in the countryside rather than in the middle of a city. Finns have a very close relationship with nature.”
The family each have their own favourite places in the city. Alissa prefers to spend time at home.
“Here, I can play board games and watch movies with everyone and play with my sisters.”
Riina loves Lappeenranta, particularly in the summer.
“This is a wonderful place regardless of the time of year, but my favourite places, during the summer especially, are the city centre, the fortress and the harbour.”
While he also enjoys places like the fortress, Richie agrees with Alissa and says that home is his favourite place.
Both Richie and Riina agree that the people of Lappeenranta are easy-going and open in nature. Even though Finns have a reputation for being withdrawn and unsociable, Richie feels that this is not actually the case. What he finds wonderful is that people have time for themselves.
“In big cities, you don’t necessarily ever get to spend time alone in peace, but in Lappeenranta, you do.”