“My name is Jaanika. I’m 37 years old. I have been living in Finland for 13 years. Mainly in Tampere, with a one year escape to Turku. In general, it has been a permanent place to live all those years, but I have also been to Australia, Canada and Estonia. However, I always knew I was going to come back here.
I first came for studies, the usual stuff. I came in 2004 when Estonia had just got into the EU. Then you still needed a visa in order to come here. I was studying sociology at the University of Tartu and then I got the chance to come as an exchange student. It was partly a rational choice. The life standard between Finland and Estonia 13 years ago was much bigger in terms of salary and money and everything so Finland was a good choice.
I also really wanted to learn the language. It was not only about studying sociology, the idea behind my decision was also to make the effort to really learn the language. I had some knowledge from before; it was my minor subject at the university. It was a funny combination of studies, sociology and Finnish. I didn’t consider other places because economically it was not possible for me. I come from a quite low class family. I was hanging out with other Eastern Europeans, mainly Polish. They lived in the same dorm. We had our own community and compared to the Polish girls I was better off then because the university was paying my scholarship. They didn’t have that at that time. I remember on the third floor there was German and Dutch and they were doing well. They were always calling a taxi when we didn’t even think about it.
My parents were working in agriculture, I come from the countryside. The possibilities in the countryside have got so much worse after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The life in the countryside was just a total struggle, the financial means were just not enough. It was impossible to finance another household. When you study in Estonia you go either to Tallinn or Tartu. That means that you have to pay the rent and food and everything. I think that if I hadn’t found ways to finance my studies when I was 18 I wouldn’t have got a university degree. The toughest jobs I’ve had were in the countryside in the collective farms where everybody shares the tasks. My father was working there in a middle position, lower-level manager. It was normal to use kids at that time and we got pocket money. We worked a couple of weeks during summers. At the age of 12 we always did something. I didn’t enjoy it, I hated living in the countryside. I wanted to go to the city and never go to the countryside – and now I live in the middle of the forest.
A year ago I moved to Lempäälä, about 20 km from the center of Tampere. Our closest neighbour is 400-500 meters away. There is nobody. We have a log house. There is a lot of forest and lake nearby. We are happy for now, most of the time. My partner is Spanish. Sometimes we think we went nuts, you know. He has been in Finland for two years longer than me, also an exchange student.
Occasionally I think ‘how on earth did I end up here’, but in general it has been good. Now I have a doctoral thesis to write and I work for an Estonian association. When I came I was a bit older than the exchange students in general and I quickly figured out that I wanted to stay for longer if possible. I got a job from an international company called Lionbridge. It was a huge thing here in Tampere. It employed a lot of foreigners on a temporary basis, it was software. Basically Nokia. We were testing. The position was software engineer, but the real job was that you got a test pack and you followed the instructions. Then you tried to reproduce errors. The language part was important. They needed me to test the Estonian.
The big reason why we decided to stay was that we both found some value living in Finland. We have common reasons why we like to live here.
But when you get kids your values change and you get new perspectives. Before we got kids we were sure that we wanted to stay here. We had a dream to live in the countryside and have a big house, no neighbours and do what we wanted. So that was my dream and it’s fulfilled now, but there are other “buts”. We don’t have grandparents here, really no family here. When you have kids these things get a meaning. So now more and more we, or he, dreams of moving back to Spain one day. But we try to focus and enjoy the life as it is now.
The weather is another thing. That’s a cliche, but it’s so true. You know, when you are young and without kids, just moving around, you don’t have responsibilities, you just enjoy the best parts of everything. We were never bored, traveling a lot. My partner ran marathons so we traveled often. Somehow you don’t pay so much attention to the weather.
Nowadays things like these don’t exist anymore: now you go to work and then home, the kids don’t want to go out because it’s cold. My partner always says things like: “I can’t believe we are in April and it’s minus 7. I have to put my gloves on”… “It’s Juhannus and I have to put my gloves on”… “Now we are in August and I feel like I want to put my gloves on”. At the same time we realise that Finland makes our family routines really easy to handle. We could maybe escape for better weather and grandparents, but at the same time we are afraid of how we can manage in Spain. To accept the lifestyle, the traffic jams, working to 7 or 8pm.
Many things have happened and the dream has changed. He was unemployed for 4 years and then the kids came, so the last 5 years have changed what our values are, what is rational, what you want to do and what is possible. The Nokia crisis really affected us because he is an engineer. He worked for a subcontractor of Nokia.
I won’t tell my kids what they need to become. I will give rational advice and let them follow their dreams. I think being a doctor would be good, that’s what I see. Even engineers are not that secure anymore. Even 5-6 years back yes, you could go from company to company to ask for more money and they would give it. I can see the world is changing from one day to another and you really don’t know. Even making plans, like collecting money for your pension. I don’t believe in any pension. I think it is rubbish. What is today won’t be in 20 years. I mean, live the life as it is.“