“I’m an architect, but I also studied computer science. Nowadays I’m doing a PhD at Aalto University in urban planning and smart cities. It means I’m combining my two backgrounds: I’m researching how to improve urban planning with technology. I also run a startup called CHAOS architects. We are launching an AI platform where you can bring your dream city to life.
I have been in Finland for around five years. I got into politics when I participated in an election campaign, but not as a member of any party. At the last election I was asked to run as a candidate both in Helsinki and in Tampere. “That does not happen”, I thought. I didn’t know what I could achieve – I’m a foreigner, I didn’t grow up here. But I decided to give it a try. My friends were encouraging me and after that it just snowballed.
“I didn’t know what I could achieve – I’m a foreigner, I didn’t grow up here.”
I originally helped a Green in their campaign, but I didn’t know right away that I wanted to be a Green. Sometimes you are not sure about the values of the party are, so before I joined the Greens I read very thoroughly about what the values were and checked if they were things I believed in.
I believe in equality, freedom of speech, sustainability, technology and being open for new things. Those are values that I respect and like, so it was easy for me to go for the Greens. The Greens told me that in Tampere they didn’t have anyone with my profile. My campaign themes were urbanism; city life and sustainable development. And then entrepreneurship, we need more support for that and for innovation – and also internationalism. These three things surround me every day.
I was worried about how many votes I would get because my Finnish is not perfect – and I hear myself having this thick accent. I’m not in my comfort zone speaking Finnish. It was scary to wait to see the results. We had planned to go out with the Greens, but then I decided I just wanted to be at home with my campaign team. In the end I went to to a restaurant just with my team and luckily we talked about what everyone else was doing and not just me. I enjoyed that, the focus was off me at that moment.
“I was worried about how many votes I would get because my Finnish is not perfect – and I hear myself having this thick accent.”
I started my campaign doing avanto (ice swimming) and there I presented myself on camera. I was going to film it with my phone, but then my team arranged a microphone and everything. It went really well and it was viral for some weeks. People identified me and told that they saw my video.
One time we were doing videos with my campaign team and of course it was really cold, –14 ℃ . We recorded for several hours and in the end I could not even move my jaw. But the last video I did in like 10 minutes and they were like, “Oh my God! That’s the fastest you’ve ever done”. I was very conscious of my Finnish, but I think in the last one I just let go.
I think the best way of learning Finnish is to have hobbies in Finnish. If you go to a Finnish class then it’s hard. I have been involved in different associations in Finnish and that has helped. Now I have had to make these campaign videos in Finnish and rehearse over and over again. I’ve noticed that my accent is getting better as well.
I like Finnish politicians who question the status quo, who are bold, and who are able to do that diplomatically. Internationally Michelle Obama is one political figure I look up to. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. She is very approachable and down to earth. I think everyone should be more like that no matter your profession. I like improving. I like helping others. You need passion for whatever you want to do. Passion is contagious. I mean, you don’t hope for amazing things to happen when you’re doing what you love.
“Passion is contagious. I mean, you don’t hope for amazing things to happen when you’re doing what you love.”
I don’t want to say this as a cliché, but here in Finland you can see that people are quite alone, even if they have a lot of friends. I think it’s important you enjoy what’s happening in your life, the good and the bad. The bad helps you grow and it also reminds you that there is some feeling there and you can overcome whatever you’re facing. You have to embrace life as it comes.
I think you should show your passion in everything you do. If you are pursuing a startup, trying to make it in political life or falling in love you just need to be how you are and do the things you love, and enjoy every moment – and also be with your friends.
Right now I’m most happy. My heart skips a beat when I’m doing the startup thing. I feel really blessed over all. Amazing things happen every day. When you do an interview, help a grandmum or even just when someone smiles at you. I really believe that these things count. I come from a different background and I have seen all sides of the society and I have been living in good and bad. You learn to appreciate what comes. I’m not always jolly, but I’m always content.
“My heart skips a beat when I’m doing the startup thing.”
I like going to the mökki and sauna. We used to go to the cottage with my Finnish family. I loved spending time with the grandmum and grandpa. The grandpa was a fisherman and he would go with an old rowing boat to put his net out. Once I asked if I could go with him. He said it would be at 6am, but I said it was okay. So we jumped in the boat and you could see nothing. We could hear only the sound of the motor. And me with my poor Finnish, here I was speaking with someone from Savonlinna. Only the two of us. I helped collect the net – he taught me that. We were separating the “muikkus” and he showed how to clean and cut them. That moment was special for me. You see through his eyes the life that he had been living. And he told me stories about how he met his wife and how they used to go by boat to meet one another.”
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This interview was recorded in 2017 in Helsinki by Peter Seenan. If you’d like to support our work in promoting the voices of immigrants like Natalia please like our Facebook page and share her story.