"Helsinki is a can-do city"

Mariam Shodeinde stands in front of a blue, wooden house smiling at someone behind and to the right of the camera.
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Mariam Shodeinde was meant to become a fighter pilot in Nigeria but her plans changed when she moved to Finland to study. She found her passion and a job at a Helsinki start-up company.

"My life took a big turn when I realised what brings me immense joy. It's helping people. I want to help young people find their passion. I moved to Finland in 2008. It was the idea of my uncle who lives in Finland. I had planned to move to Northern Nigeria to study but my uncle said that I could head even further up north. I applied to the Lapland University Of Applied Sciences to study engineering while I was still in Lagos. I picked Rovaniemi as my study town because that's where the rock band Lordi is from. I like their concept! 

I flew to Helsinki via Istanbul and continued by train to Rovaniemi. The start was quite a shock, but I liked Rovaniemi. It felt great to become myself, to be free. Nobody knew me. I didn't know anything about Finland, and I had no expectations regarding the studies. The best thing about it was my fellow students. We had an international bunch and I made many friends."  

Portrait of Mariam Shodeinde, she is smiling broadly and looking to the left.
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"I graduated in four years as an engineer in information and communication technology. Studying in Lapland was the perfect opposite to where I come from. I attended military school in Lagos. The discipline was tough, and I always knew what I had to do. You did well if you followed orders. 

The difference with the Finnish educational system was huge. All of a sudden, there were no borders and no-one to monitor what I'm up to. Instead, I had to think for myself and act independently. This line of thinking cuts through the whole society in Finland, both in school and in working life. There is an expectation that you are personally the one to do the math and know what to do. Finns know this unwritten rule well, but it was difficult coming from a different background. It took me many painful years to realise this. 

Had I stayed in Nigeria, I would have probably followed my original plan and taken the path laid out by my grandfather. In Finland, I discovered something completely new about myself, which felt amazing. I'm really happy when I can help others to dream big. 

Mariam Shodeinde sitting on large rocks in a city park, looking to the right, the tops of city houses seen on the horizon behind her.
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I moved to Helsinki after graduation. It was sad to move, but a change in scenery also offered another adventure and kickstarted my own career. It was well worth it. I work as a chief growth officer in the learning technology company Claned. Furthermore, I am a cofounder of Adar Impact, an education company, that promotes the right to quality education for all, this I am very proud of. I live in Vuosaari in Eastern Helsinki, it's a lovely place. A lot of nature. Helsinki is a very diverse city – not too small and not too big. 

My former hometown Lagos has 15 million inhabitants, the whole country of Finland has fewer than six million. I joke with my Nigerian childhood family that all of Finland would fit in the nearby market square.       

I turned thirty earlier this year, which is still a shock. Now I'm all grown up and no longer a teenager. I'm also a mother. My son Eli was born during Christmas time a year ago in Helsinki. The birth took very long, but I had a fantastic midwife to help me through it all at the Helsinki Women's Hospital. I took a year off for maternity leave and then returned to work." 

Mariam Shodeinde sits alone at a long table in a restaurant, facing the camera and smiling, large windows showing an elevated view above the city behind her.
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Public libraries are my favourite places    

"The longer I have lived in Finland and in Helsinki, the better the path I have found for myself here and I have learned to recognise the beautiful and positive things. You get to be just as you are here and study exactly what you want. Understanding this has alleviated the pressure I used to feel.

In Helsinki, I don't need to follow a pre-determined path nor meet the expectations of others. 

I've worked, for instance, at Slush, a big international start-up event. Now I work in the Vallila district, just over a half-hour's bus and metro ride from my home, in a start-up that combines Finnish pedagogical methods with machine learning. Claned was a start-up when it was founded in 2011. I have been involved in developing the company's learning platform. 

With every project and every client, I tend to consider how I could help others to remove obstacles from their lives and helping them achieve their best. Realising this was a turning point in my life: I realised what I truly love.

In my work, I am in touch a lot with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Culture. The core of the blooming learning technology scene is here. I find Helsinki to be a can-do city. Lots of new start-ups, more and more good places to eat. The city has taken an active role in online learning, which is also to the benefit of our company. I found it very brave of Helsinki to agree upon a collaboration with the UNOPS Social Impact Investing Initiative steered by the UN. UNOPS founded an office in Helsinki in 2020. 

In my free time, I like to cook and meet friends. The international evangelical church in Sörnäinen forms an important community for me. Its members are like family to me. My Nigerian husband and I were however not married there, but instead at the Helsinki Cathedral in 2017. My parents came to my wedding. For them, a wedding in the middle of winter was a fun adventure." 

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Mariam Shodeinde was meant to become a fighter pilot in Nigeria but her plans changed when she moved to Finland to study. She found her passion and a job at a Helsinki start-up company.