“We decided to start our own company called Lumi Video and work for ourselves. We don’t really have a need for Finnish – Ella’s family speaks English and my field is very technical with camera stuff.”
I have been here for 5-6 years now. It’s a bit of time, but compared to a lifetime it’s really not that long. Even in that short time things have changed in the way I look at life here.
When I first came here everything was a holiday, ‘Wooah, this is so cool! The language is so wonderful and different’. Then you have these things which you just think you are going to absorb, like the language.
For most of the time I still just view it as an amazing place – we just had a baby girl, and to see the healthcare system and how it took her through everything before and after the birth. I can compare that to Australia, because my sister had three kids and my brother had two kids – and dude, it’s like polar opposites.
Our baby was in the hospital for 3-4 days after she was born and the nurses would come in and I was allowed to stay at the hospital – with three meals a day. When it was time to go home they told us that if we wanted to stay we could. When my brother had their child in Australia it was like ‘take a number, in and out, okay, next’. You know what I mean.
Here they take care of families and that’s pretty cool. It’s the small differences here, you know. Here if you start to talk to someone on the train you really have to talk to them. Or someone at the cash register, you ask ‘How are you doing?’ And then you get to know he has not spoken to his dad for four years.
There’s a lot of my mum in me and that makes me an eternal optimist and so I always see things like Australia is a great country, but Finland is a good one too. I don’t feel torn between two things, I’m just really lucky to have both. I imagine for some it might be different. Like, say if you felt stuck here, that completely changes it…
ROSCOE LEE: “My first job in Finland was working as a personal assistant for a guy who had a muscle condition, who would need help the whole day.”
One of the big things is also the school system. In Australia you have to go to a private school because only in some areas the state schools might be good. Here the state schools are good everywhere. I grew up in Sydney and went to a public school. I thought it was normal, my friends were awesome, sometimes there were fights. But the difference between a good public school and a private school is still astronomical. In Australia you have to pack your lunch, but here you get great food. I used to work for the international school of Helsinki, and at lunch the kids would go to the canteen and there would be these chefs making a full buffet. That’s the best I have ever eaten in my life. It was a solid meal and then you went out to play in the field. When I was in school it was a packet of crisps, a white bread sandwich and an apple juice.
I did a bit sucky jobs when I first arrived, but then because there’s so much of my mum in me I just tend to think everything is wonderful. So even if I ended up walking away from a job, I still had Ella’s wonderful family and friends on the weekend.
The first plan was to stay for 6 months and then fly back, because my brother was getting married. Then I was working as a personal assistant for a guy who had a muscle condition. He would need help the whole day and I would spend the day with him. He had two assistants doing shifts. I had never done that before, I just found it on MOL.
That was in 2012. Everything happened really quickly. We met in March 2012. I first got a working holiday visa for Finland and when my brother got married that year Ella came with me to Australia on a 6-month holiday visa. She was not allowed to work. In June 2013, her brother got married in Finland and that’s when we decided to come and stay here.
When we came back to live I did not have the personal assistant job anymore, so I did some substitute teaching, but there was also a period where I was on benefits. Then I got into an integration course.
ROSCOE LEE: “When I was working for an ad agency the office language was English. They had even better English than me and they would correct me. Like ‘Satu and me are going for lunch’ and they would go ‘Yeah, but it’s ‘Satu and I’, though’.”
I had worked as an English teacher in Australia before. The school must have been looking, because as soon as I sent the mail they asked me to visit. I come from a family of teachers so I feel really comfortable in a classroom, but at the end of the day it was not my thing.
I always had a strong passion for video and being in the creative field and so I sent my resume to all these video agencies and eventually one responded. I just kind of chased it and said I could do an internship.
When I was working for an ad agency the office language was English. They had even better English than me and they would correct me. Like ‘Satu and me are going for lunch’ and they would go ‘Yeah, but it’s ‘Satu and I’, though’. I was the only international person there. Sometimes the office would go to Finnish mode and it was not my place to ask them to change. Also, sometimes I felt guilty for not being able to contribute.
I have not learnt Finnish yet, but I know some words of course. We decided to start our own company called Lumi Video and work for ourselves. It would be still nice to learn the language, but for now it’s not a necessity. We don’t really have a need for Finnish – Ella’s family speaks English and my field is very technical with camera stuff.
Ella’s mum is someone who is really interested in what my passions are. She saw an ad in the newspaper about a cinema workshop and gave me the number and asked me to call them to see what they were up to. I thought it was right up my alley. I have never met anyone so interested in what I like doing – it totally blew my mind. She really wanted to know what I was interested in and what I wanted to do. That totally affected the list of my best friends. It was a film community that makes short films that screen at a festival, but also in Finnkino. It’s so much fun. I never felt alone or isolated.
But you know there’s this thing when you hit 30 you feel like you need to figure stuff out, like what is my goal here, what is my five-year plan? My dad was always asking that. There’s the point when Finland becomes motivating. You realise you need to start building something for yourself, this is your life and you need to build it. You have nothing to lose, you are an immigrant and do not speak the language. So you can’t go the normal route anyway. Maybe you’re no longer tied to the expectations of family and friends back home, It’s all about making a living.
ROSCOE LEE: “When people ask me if I have seen a kangaroo I need to stop and think why they would ask such a random thing.”
My dad is a very old school guy and he does not quite understand the video stuff and even for myself sometimes when I introduce myself I feel a bit embarrassed. You know, ‘I’m doing this video laadidaa….’ But I should not because it’s awesome.
At the start it was hard for me to ask for money, to put a value on it. I was just doing what I loved. When I would go for a gig the photographer would ask me if I was joking when I said my price. I mean, doing a video is a thousand times harder than being a photographer. If you undervalue yourself then you undervalue the whole field you are in. In the summer we do a lot of wedding gigs, but not so much in the winter. We have a perfect division between me doing the creative stuff and Ella doing the social media side and marketing.
Money is not a motivator for me. Some people think they have the power over you if they pay you in the end of the day but that’s where I would say no and walk off. I respect getting paid and I take seriously clients who would pay me.
I have loads of friends who have a similar lifestyle so they keep me plugged in and ask us to go to movies, parades and things. They are awesome and they are in the same field and have this creative, travel kind of love. Sometimes I feel it’s strange that people try and hook me up with other Aussies. I don’t know why I would like to go to the Aussie bar or hang with Aussies. Often when people ask me if I have seen a kangaroo I need to stop and think why they would ask such a random thing. But then I realise it’s their only connection to Australia. But if you think about it, it’s a mad question.
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Interview by Peter Seenan recorded in Helsinki, Finland in 2017. If you wish to support our work in projecting the voices and achievements of immigrants in Finland please like our Facebook page and share Roscoe Lee’s story.