Sarah Mazzone from Glasgow has lived in Åland a year and a half with her husband Sebastian from Stockholm and their children Maximilian, soon 5 years, Aria 3 years and Sofia 14 months.
From Malta to Åland
Before Åland, the family lived in Malta, where Sarah had moved from Glasgow before her 30s.
“I wanted a change and I was so tired of the weather in Scotland. My dad is from Italy so at first I thought of moving there, but instead got a marketing job in Malta.”
After only three months in Malta, Sarah met Sebastian who was on a holiday from Sweden.
“He chose to stay after the holiday and finally we ended up living together in Malta for eight years. After four years we got a house and had a little baby boy, Maximilian. Two years later we had our daughter Aria.”
Malta is perfect for young couples, but not as easy for families with children. Therefore Sarah and Sebastian began to search for jobs in the Nordics and in Scotland. Initially, their idea was to travel around a year before settling down, but the family didn’t make it further than Cyprus.
“In Cyprus, I discovered I was pregnant with our youngest, Sofia, so there was a change in plans. Instead, we started seriously looking for jobs and Sebastian found one at the gaming company Paf in Åland.
Sebastian had visited Åland before and thought it was a quiet and nice place. He took the whole family on a visit last spring.
“And we loved it, says Sarah. After the initial step, everything happened quite naturally. With the help of the HR department at Paf, we rented a house owned by Sebastian’s future colleague, and now we have lived here for a year and a half. Our home is close to kindergarten, beach and Sebastian's work.”
It’s a challenge to move to a new place as a pregnant parent of small children. For Sarah, the open preschool activities for children and parents became a rescue.
“If I hadn’t found the open preschool, I probably wouldn’t have settled down here as smoothly. Sebastian worked, I didn’t know anyone and the children hadn’t started kindergarten yet. So, I was alone with them at home all the time. And pregnant!”
Right now Sarah is on maternity leave with Sofia, 14 months, and she is working on starting up her business, The Positive Birth Group, specialising in hypnobirthing techniques in Åland.
“I teach relaxation techniques that help women for a more confident and calming birthing experience, and I offer courses and training for both mothers and their birthing partners.”
The work of moving the business from Malta to Åland is proceeding well.
“I have registered the company also in Åland, found an accountant and started Thepositivebirthgroup.com. The Åland Chamber of Commerce has also been very helpful with many tips and advice. But starting up a business as a parent with small children is tough, right now it's a lot of work on evenings and weekends.”
The goal is to offer courses for parents, preferably in collaboration with the midwives at the maternity ward at Åland's public health care service.
Yoga and cycling
As a mother of three and self-employed, Sarah feels she needs some time for herself too.
“So I started yoga here in Mariehamn. I go once a week and enjoy it a lot.”
Another new thing in her life in Åland is the bicycle.
“Earlier on I only drove a car or took a bus, but now I ride my bike. It feels very Scandinavian. I like the idea that I don’t need to take the car everywhere, and it’s so easy to cycle into town or to yoga.”
Also, the family enjoys nature and living in a house near the forest.
“Sometimes we have roe deer in the garden – and we really love the four seasons! In Scotland, the weather is mostly gray and it’s autumn and winter all the time. And in Malta it's just summer and hot, but here we have four distinctive seasons with spring, summer, autumn and winter.”
Even if Åland doesn’t offer summer in the same way as Malta, there are still opportunities for beautiful days on the beach.
“We live near Nabben beach, it’s shallow and perfect for children. Sometimes I pack a dinner and we go down to the beach and stay there until it's bedtime.”
Focusing on the family
Changing homes from Malta to Åland turned out to be a smooth process. From paperwork to the new everyday life.
“Åland is very family-focused, it's all about the children and the family. In Malta, you are on maternity leave for only three months before you have to start working again. Also, you get very little financial support from the government if you want to stay at home.”
Sarah tells how sad it was to let Maximilian start kindergarten when he was only four months old because the family could not afford her staying at home.
“When we had Aria, we were lucky to be better off financially, but it’s tough for young parents. In Åland, it’s almost the opposite, and it’s fantastic! Then you have options and can choose what suits you best.”
Right now Sarah is on parental leave with Sofia while the older children go to kindergarten, within a short walk from home. Apart from playing and making friends, Maximilian also gets help to practice his communication skills in kindergarten. He has had difficulties with speech and language due to bilingualism and he sees a speech therapist once a month.
“His speech has become so much better since we moved here. He has learned a lot and can now separate English and Swedish.”
Sarah is also grateful for the safeness in a small community.
“In big cities, you worry more that the children will be teased, even if children are always just children and you can have bullying here as well. But I think it's easier to stop it in a smaller school. It's a relief.”
Travelling and vegetables
When it comes to the pros and cons of living in Åland, the only negative thing that Sarah comes up with is the time it takes to travel to and from Åland.
“Travelling is not as fast and easy as before, which is a pity for us who really like to travel. But everything goes with good planning!”
Going to Sweden, on the other hand, is easy, and the family often does it whenever possible.
“No matter how much we enjoy it here, it's nice to go shopping and feel the big city pulse, and then come back home where everything is so relaxed!”
She also notes that there are not so many shops to choose from in Åland.
“But it’s almost an advantage when you have children because then you don’t have that additional stress of shopping. Before I moved here, I thought I would hate not having so many shops and things to do, but now I don’t miss them at all. It makes life nice and simple. Life is tough enough with kids, so anything that makes it easier is good!”
Another positive thing is the high standard of the restaurants and all the fine local ingredients.
“We always try to shop locally to support the local companies and we enjoy the healthy food. Malta has such small farming areas that they can’t afford risking the harvest. Therefore, they use a lot of heavy pesticides. We had to wash the fruit with vinegar before we could eat them.”
Right now, Sarah and Sebastian are looking for a house to buy in Mariehamn. Preferably nearby so that the children can stay in the same kindergarten. Max will soon start playing football and when Aria gets older she will start dancing and gymnastics.
Sarah is busy with the children and running her business and Sebastian enjoys his job.
“But most of all he’s probably happy that I also enjoy our life in Åland!”