Having lived in Australia her whole life, first-generation Greek-Cypriot Melissa Georgiou left behind family, friends and a teaching career to follow her heart to Finland where she has remained in the education industry and has become an author of trailblazing children’s books teaching kids and parents alike about emotions. Her original character Manny the Meatball was an instant success and saw him explore feelings such as failure and anger, while her new releases such as Timo Sits With Sadness and Mimi Learns From Her Mistakes allow parents to connect with their children through a fun story and start conversations about emotions.
“I was born in Sydney and raised on the Central Coast. Currently, I live in Finland.
My mum is from the Peloponnese and my dad is from Larnaca, Cyprus.
I was 15-years-old when I travelled to both Greece and Cyprus for the first time. In some ways it felt like I was ‘coming home’ but in others, it felt so entirely different to the life and lifestyle I knew in Australia. My parents were the only ones from their respective families to migrate to Australia so it was also interesting and new for me to understand what extended family was all about.
I moved to Finland in 2010. It was definitely not the weather that drew me here! I made the leap because I decided to take a chance on love. My husband is Finnish.
Before moving here, Finland sounded so exotic. I had never been here before so the idea of this mysterious country in the north intrigued me. Upon arrival, my first impression was that it was a bit old fashioned compared to vibrant Sydney.
The thing that stood out the most at first was how safe and peaceful it was. It makes living here so easy.
My biggest challenge? There have been many. One was building a new social life from scratch. I was a stranger in a strange land. Finns are kind people, but not the type to greet you openly when out on the street for instance. I have definitely shocked a few people with my unexpected hellos! Building friendships here takes time and trust.
The Finnish language has also been a huge challenge, but my son Milo has taught me a lot, so that has helped.
The extreme seasons have also been a challenge. During the winter, the sun rises at 8 or 9am and sets around 3 or 4pm. It feels like the darkness won’t end. Then, you blink and it’s summertime and the sun barely sets. So much about the extreme ends of the spectrum that have been hard to get used to!
What I miss most about Australia is the social diversity, the fresh fruit and vegetables, and the SUN!
There is a small Greek community in Helsinki and I have a few Greek friends here but to be honest I don’t specifically seek out Greeks or Cypriots or Australians- whoever crosses my path is a prime friendship candidate!
I have brought some of my heritage to Finland as well- I have introduced my Finnish in-laws to some Greek tastes, such as my famous tiropita and spanakopita and I have even taken my mother-in-law to Cyprus!
Manny the Meatball, the world’s cutest meatball, came about from a lifelong interest in my inner workings and emotional balance. Oftentimes, my emotions catch me before I catch them! Sometimes my passionate Greek outbursts don’t serve me well so to help me navigate my big emotions, I thought it would be really nice to create some stories about emotions that I could read with my young son.
In essence, I wanted to create a safe place to talk about feelings and to help parents speak openly with their kids.
The books have been surprisingly popular, especially here in Finland. People report that they like them because they provide simple, entertaining stories for kids with some helpful parent notes at the back of each book related to the theme of each story. The illustrations are cool, bold and unique. These books have something for everyone!
Publishing these stories has been a great experience for me. It has allowed me to think and research deeply about one of life’s most important skills- emotional balance. So far there are three in the series about mindset, sadness, and anger. The next one will be about bravery.
Although books are my passion I still work in the education industry. What inspires me most about Finnish education is the trust for the teachers and respect for the system. Also, the ‘success’ of its students without the extreme pressure and striving that seems to happen everywhere else in the world.
In general, I am inspired by nature (plenty of that up here in the north). I am also inspired by human resilience in the face of hardship. Finland is famous for this and it’s known as ‘sisu’. My son inspires me as well. He reminds me of the simple joys in life and reminds me how to have fun as an adult.
Finland is an excellent place to bring up our son. It’s safe and very child-friendly. Also, children don’t start school until they are 7 years old. I appreciate this.
We make the trek home to Australia every 18 months or so. It’s exhausting and expensive but totally worth it!
When I’m not thinking of my next story, you will find me in the sauna or trying to catch rays of sunlight during the long and dark winters.”