Andruta Ilie, Tampere. Photo Finland My Home

“I was always looking for this place that I could call home”

Andruta, Romania 

“My name is Andruta and I am 30, originally from Romania. Before I moved to Finland I lived in the southwest of England, in a county called Devon. I worked at a company selling marketing data, and I was living with a gay couple and I was having the time of my life. How I ended up in Finland is interesting because it all started with a concert in the UK.

I’m very interested in music and during high school I would listen to a lot of classic rock, heavy metal, glam and so on. Back in the UK I was chatting with one of my Romanian friends on Facebook and he introduced me to a Finnish metal band. We talked about how we both wanted to see the band and I discovered they were touring UK at that time.

The concert was really cool and afterwards I found myself thinking, “What do I know about Finland aside from heavy metal, saunas and that is located in Northern Europe?” Not much was the answer.

So my first reaction was to google Finland and I saw these stunning photos of lakes, nature, forests. I was hooked; it was raw beauty.

“Seeing the other women were so comfortable with each other’s nudity made me more willing to embrace my own body with its imperfections.”

I went to the library to find out some more about Finland and there I discovered that Finland has a fascinating and proud history. I read about the culture and some crazy aspects, like their festivals; mobile phone throwing or wife carrying.

“These people have some craziness,” I thought, “they’re people of my own heart!” I felt so strongly that I knew I had to make it to Finland one day.

In December 2014 I had holidays for a month. I didn’t want to go back to Romania because after my great-grandfather died in 2012 Christmas hadn’t felt the same. But I missed the snowy winters we have back home, so I thought, “I’ll go to Finland instead.”

When I was checking online I came across a town called Toijala. I knew I wanted somewhere not very touristy, not a big city, a place without tourists and all that nonsense stuff. When I arrived it felt very isolated somehow. There were not many people. The first three days I spent at a hotel called Hotel Ackas and I was the only customer at the time. It was quite funny.

After that I went to stay with a family I met through couchsurfing.

Annika, the woman, picked me up in their car from Tampere and I felt this very warm connection. We drove to her and Hannu’s place and we arrived in the evening. It was completely dark. The first thing we did was go for a walk in the woods with torches and some hot glögi. It was just magical in a way you can’t describe.

The next day Annika took me to a swimming pool with a sauna. I wasn’t familiar with the sauna thing and the fact that women go there naked.

There’s all this kind of body shame, but not in the sauna. It didn’t exist, no one seemed judgmental. Nobody looked at each other in a strange way. It was unique, such a unique experience, that kind of acceptance towards a woman’s body. And it’s almost like I didn’t see bodies anymore, just souls and people who are similar to me.

Seeing the other women were so comfortable with each other’s nudity made me more willing to embrace my own body with its imperfections. It was honestly empowering, the whole body shame just fades away. There were so many different women of different ages and some with their daughters, and I felt it’s what these young daughters, small girls, really need to see. What the media promotes is not real. But there they can see what real is. In the sauna there’s an ambience, a feeling, people are relaxed, they’re equal.

On the bus back to Tampere airport I cried and thought to myself, “what if I don’t go back to the UK? What if I just drop everything and stay here.” But I had a job and friends there and I wanted to end things properly. So during the next five months I saved money and I bought a one-way ticket to Finland. 

I didn’t know anyone besides the owner of Hotel Ackas and the Finnish family I stayed with during that holiday. I couldn’t speak the language and I didn’t have any idea where I was going to live. But that didn’t scare me.

When I returned in June 2015 I lived for two months in Viiala and I was constantly applying for jobs. I only got rejections or no responses at all. I had no idea that sending CVs doesn’t really work in Finland. A Finnish guy opened my eyes and encouraged me to go to companies and introduce myself. I hadn’t done that before but it made me really aware of myself and how to sell my skills.

At the end of those two months, I ran out of savings and went to Romania. I needed to think what I was going to do next and I wanted to be there for my great-grandmother’s birthday because I’d promised I would come back for it. I had the option of returning to my life in the UK, but I really wanted another chance with Finland.

During my last week in Viiala, two amazing things happened.

One night I was coming from the gym and I thought I’d take a different route home because I wanted to walk a bit more. Out of nowhere a lady on a bike said hello to me in Finnish and I said hello back. She slowed down and then she stopped and said something in Finnish like “how are you?” I replied to her and at some point I switched to English. But she couldn’t really speak English so she asked me for my phone number and my address and I gave it to her. She looked very genuine. Her name was Airi.

Two days’ later sometime in the morning there was a knock on my door. I wasn’t expecting anyone. To my surprise it was Airi. I invited her in and offered her coffee. She presented me with a piece of paper written in English and she said, “my name is Airi and I live in a small flat with my pets and would you like to come and visit me one day?”

Airi and I became friends that day and she even called me a few times during my short stay in Romania.

So did my new friend, Adriana, a very kind Romanian lady who’d taken an interest in me during my last week in Viiala. Adriana provided me a chance to return to Finland by promising to provide food and accommodation if I would help with some simple household tasks. I accepted the offer because I saw it as a stepping stone.

In September 2015 I came back to Finland and I moved in with Adriana. Around the same time I saw an advert for a marketing and communications trainee at Tampere University of Applied Sciences and as I was reading through it I said, “oh my god! This is my dream job!” Luckily the interview went great and they offered me the job. It was one of the happiest moments in my professional life and so I started as a trainee.

I was always looking for this place that I could call home. I knew actually from when I was a child that one day I would leave Romania. I don’t know why, I just knew. I feel like I really belong here. I left Romania because I felt like I didn’t fit in. It’s a beautiful country, but there’s corruption at all levels in all institutions and there are many things that just don’t resonate with me as a person and with my personal values.”

More like this: 

Jisook, Korea: “I usually sing in Finnish and people are moved to tears”

Seida, Finland: “I don’t remember thinking “I’m in a refugee camp”, I was just a child”

Joffrey, France: “A third of my life has been spent in Finland”

This interview was recorded in 2017 in Tampere by Peter Seenan. If you’d like to be involved in this project please visit our contact page and submit the form. 

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