Helsinki is like a big family

The Iranian Pouyan Mohseninia is a storyteller who has lived on three different continents. In Tehran, Sofia, New York, Abu Dhabi and Kuala Lumpur, he observed the environment and people around him and told stories about them. Then, a couple of years ago, he moved to Helsinki.

In modern terms, Pouyan is a media expert. But when taking bus 506 from his home in Viikki to Otaniemi and Aalto University’s Media Lab, he does not immerse himself in the media, a smartphone, tablet, or even a newspaper. Instead, he is interested in human behaviour in public places.

“The same people arrive on the bus and are like acquaintances, but they wouldn’t necessarily recognise me. Many quickly close themselves off in their own private space.”

Pouyan is fascinated by the interaction between people. What happens when he takes an empty bus seat next to someone else? In Finnish terms, a minor miracle occurs: an initially uneasy neighbour becomes carried away with the chat.

“In Helsinki, the best way to break the ice depends on the time of day: the mornings and evenings differ, as does Sunday from Friday, and summer from winter.”

Helsinki is such a small place, that the person you saw yesterday on the bus may walk past you tomorrow at the museum.

“And the person you randomly chat with in a cafe may be a CEO who invites you for a job interview the next day,” says Pouyan, based on experience.

“Helsinki is like one big family,” he feels.


The story of the first days

“I’ve told my friends the story of my first days in Helsinki. They are all amazed,” Pouyan explains.

“I had no place to sleep before arriving, but was in the queue for student housing. The study coordinator at the Media Lab put out a notice. Within a couple of hours, two faculty and research staff invited me to their places. I will never forget such hospitality.”

A few days later, accommodation was arranged in Käpylä. Pouyan inadvertently stepped off his bus a couple of stops too late. He asked for advice from a passing cyclist, who used his mobile phone to direct Pouyan on this way to Ilmattarenkuja, a bit of a mouthful for someone who had only been in the country  for two days!

“Before I continued my journey, the landlord called me and came to pick me up with his car.”

Pouyan says:

“If you come to Helsinki to study, or because of love, work or just accidentally, you will experience something far more amazing than you could have imagined. The people in Helsinki and Finland are overly modest. You could do much more to promote this place.”


Listen to the city

“I have great respect for the people of Helsinki. I feel a great responsibility to do more than just take advantage of the hospitality and warm welcome that I have received, but to add my share.”

With his Masters degree in new media almost complete, Pouyan would like to settle down in Helsinki – although getting work seems very difficult.

A similar desire is shared by most of the many international professionals studying at Aalto University’s Media Lab. They would like to make their own contribution to the Finnish media community and the success of the industry.

Pouyan says: “I want to be a creator and not just a consumer.”

As an open­minded expert in the new media, that is just what he is. Last autumn, he hacked the public transportation ticket validator machine as part of the HKL Art Line’s “Metrobeat” project and turned it into a music sampler.

He is also researching soundscapes for his MA, on the topic of mobile soundwalk­sharing experiences in urban public spaces. A digital service based on a participatory design approach will make soundscape recording and sharing easy.

Pouyan exhorts locals and tourists to listen to their surroundings.

“Based on the soundscape, you can locate hotspots, including emerging ones. You can learn to listen more intently if you don’t just pass through your environment.”

The community can learn new things about its own city – as well as others. Our experience of a city can change dramatically; when walking down Aleksanterinkatu you can experience the environment differently by listening to a one-minute soundscape of a city in Syria.

“This experience could be of help when encountering the asylum seekers arriving here.”


Text and picture: Riikka Lahdensuo



Pouyan Mohseninia chose Laura Koskinen as a maker of the Helsinki of the future.