Originally from Glasgow, Sarah Mazzone has lived in Åland for a year and a half with her Swedish husband, Sebastian, and their children Maximilian (soon to be 5), Aria (3) and Sofia (14 months).
From Malta to Åland
Before Åland, the family lived in Malta, where Sarah had relocated from Glasgow in her 20s. ‘I wanted a change and I was so tired of the weather in Scotland. My dad is from Italy, so I considered moving there first, but instead took a marketing job in Malta.’
After only three months in Malta, Sarah met Sebastian, who was on holiday from his home in Stockholm, Sweden. ‘He chose to stay on after the holiday and, eventually, we ended up living together in Malta for eight years. After four years, we bought a house and had a little baby boy, Maximilian. Two years later, we welcomed 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 Nordic region and Scotland. Initially, their idea was to travel around for 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 we changed our plans. 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 a day-care facility, the 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 in Åland were a lifesaver. Had I not found the open preschool, I probably wouldn’t have settled down here as smoothly. Sebastian was working, I didn’t know anyone and the children hadn’t started day care yet. So, I was alone with them at home all the time. And pregnant!’
Right now Sarah is on parental leave with Sofia, 14 months, while also working on starting up her own business, The Positive Birth Group, which specialises in providing hypnobirthing techniques in Åland.
‘I teach relaxation techniques that help women to feel more confident and calmer during the birthing process, and I offer courses and training for both mothers and their birthing partners.’
The process of moving the business from Malta to Åland is proceeding well.
‘I registered the company in Åland, found an accountant and launched the website Thepositivebirthgroup.com. The Åland Chamber of Commerce has also been very helpful, providing many tips and advice. Starting up a business as a parent with small children is tough, however, and right now it still requires a lot of work on evenings and weekends.’
The goal is to offer courses for parents, preferably in collaboration with midwives working for Åland’s public health care service.
Yoga and cycling
As a self-employed mother of three, Sarah recognizes that she also needs to take time for herself. ‘So I started to attend a yoga group here in Mariehamn. I go once a week and enjoy it a lot.’
Another new thing in her life in Åland is the bicycle. ‘In the past, I always drove my 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 close proximity to the forest.
‘Sometimes we have roe deer in the garden – and we really love the seasonal changes here! In Scotland, the weather is mostly grey and seems to be either autumn or winter all the time. In Malta, it’s just constant summer and heat, but here, there are four distinct seasons.’
Even if Åland doesn’t offer summer in the same way as in Malta, there are still opportunities for beautiful days on the beach. ‘We live near Nabben beach, which is shallow and perfect for children. Sometimes, I pack a dinner and we’ll go down to the beach and stay there until bedtime.’
Focusing on the family
Changing homes from Malta to Åland turned out to be a smooth process, both in terms of the paperwork and the family’s everyday life.
‘Åland places a strong focus on children and families. 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 reflects on how difficult it was to place Maximilian in day care when he was only four months old, but the family could not afford for her to stay home to care for him every day. ‘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! You truly have options and can choose what suits you best.’
Right now, Sarah is on parental leave with Sofia while the older children go to day care within a short walk from their home. Apart from playing and making friends, Maximilian also gets help with his communication skills at the day care. He has had difficulties with speech and language due to his bilingualism, and he sees a speech therapist once a month. ‘His language skills have improved so much since we moved here. He has learned a lot and can now separate English and Swedish.’
Sarah is also grateful for the safety that comes with a small community.
‘In big cities, you worry more that your children will be teased, even if you know that children are children and bullying can happen anywhere. I do think, however, that it’s easier to intervene and put an end to it in a smaller school, and I find that reassuring.”
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, since we really like to travel. But it all works out with good planning!’
Going to Sweden, on the other hand, is easy, and the family travels there whenever possible. ‘No matter how much we enjoy it here, it’s nice to go shopping and experience the pulse of the big city. After travelling, it’s also great to be able to come back home again to Åland, where everything is so relaxed!’
She also notes that there are not so many shops to choose from in Åland.
‘It’s almost an advantage when you have children, however, since you don’t have that additional stress that comes with 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 certainly welcome!’
Another positive thing is the high standard of the restaurants and all the fine local ingredients. ‘We always try to shop locally, since it supports the local businesses and provides us with healthy food. The farming areas in Malta are so minimal that they can’t afford to risk their harvest. Therefore, they use a lot of heavy pesticides. We had to wash the fruit with vinegar before we could eat them.’
Currently, Sarah and Sebastian are looking for a house to buy in Mariehamn, preferably nearby so that the children can stay in the same day-care facility. Max will soon start playing football, and when Aria gets older, she will start dancing and gymnastics.
Sarah has her hands busy with the children and her business, and Sebastian is enjoying his job. ‘Most of all, however, he’s just happy that I also enjoy our life in Åland!’