“I met my boyfriend in Helsinki on the first day I put my foot on Finnish ground. It was September 2010 and I had come alone for a holiday. We have been together for 7 years now. I would like to think my story is all about being at the right place at the right time, but to understand why I came to Finland I have to give you some background.
The reason was another Finnish guy. I am a big fan of motorsport, especially Formula 1, and for many years I followed one driver, Ayrton Senna, but he died in 1994 and after that I stopped watching. In 2001 I just happened to see this young rookie, a Finnish guy called Kimi Räikkönen. He was starting out and I thought, ‘interesting’ – he was very fast. After that I started to watch a bit more Formula 1 again.
In 2006 I moved to Mexico for work, from my home country Chile. Moving to Mexico was one of the worst experiences of my life. It was an awful, awful experience. I was very lonely, but Formula 1 and Kimi Räikkönen kept me pretty sane. At that time I had lots of troubles, but 2007 was the year Facebook started to be more mainstream and I joined a Kimi Räikkönen fan club. Because of that Kimi group I started to meet people from all over the world and some of them are still my friends 10 years later – very close friends. This guy, Kimi Räikkönen, has made many friendships around the world without knowing it. I hope that one day I can speak to him and thank him. He is responsible for my happy life and happy moments.
When I was a girl I used to watch Formula 1 with my dad back in Chile and it was a Chilean driver we’d watch then in the 1980s. I think he only drove for one or two seasons, but that’s the reason we were able watch Formula 1 in Chile. When I was five years old I wanted to be an F1 driver, not a princess or doctor. After I started to follow Kimi Räikkönen I got very interested in Finland. I was not only impressed with his personality – he is very ‘Finnish’ now that I know Finnish people – but also with how he was very straight-forward, very humble and he couldn’t care less about what others think. Kimi was the reason I came to Finland in the first place.
“When I was five years old I wanted to be an F1 driver, not a princess or doctor. After I started to follow Kimi Räikkönen I got very interested in Finland”
In 2008 I moved back to Chile. I always felt that it was not my life and that somehow I didn’t fit in there. Maybe because lots of my friends were already married with families and I was single. In 2009 I decided to come to Europe for my first ever Formula 1 race. I came all the way from Chile to Belgium, to Spa [Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps]. That’s Kimi’s favourite track and I met some of the friends I made in the fan club. It was fantastic! I promised myself that if he won the race I would go to Finland.
Around the same time I started to be very burnt out and I got sick, I didn’t sleep and I was not happy. In 2010 I decided to quit everything, I quit my job and I decided to move to Spain. I have a double nationality, Chilean and Spanish, so I could come to Europe as a Spaniard. My grandmother had a place close to Valencia, and I went there just to be quiet and heal. It was summer and I stayed there for three weeks. After that I finally decided to start my trip to Finland. First I went to Sweden for a few days, like a soft landing, and I came here on the 4th of September 2010. That was the first time. And since then, since the airplane landed I felt, ‘oh my God, this place is awesome’. It’s difficult to explain with words. But I felt peace, I felt safe.
When I arrived at the hotel in Helsinki the guy told me there was some exhibition in Helsinki Senate Square. It was the United Buddy Bears exhibition of 140 countries, promoting friendship and trust between people. I had just landed and I thought, ‘let’s just start there’.
Of course there was a Chilean bear and I wanted a picture with it, so I asked some guy to take a photo of me. He asked me why I chose that bear and I explained that I was from Chile. We started to speak and speak and he asked if I had time for a coffee. Then we had a coffee. I was supposed to stay here for one week and he showed me around all week. He was not living in Helsinki, but Hyvinkää, so he just happened to be there. He was not supposed to be there at all! That’s how I met Jaakko, and that’s why I say it was about being in the right place at the right time.
“I woke up one morning and I was having a coffee and looking out from the window and thinking, ‘Oh my God, this could totally be my life’”
Since then we never separated. At first we were in a long distance relationship and we were travelling between Spain and Finland as much as possible. It was amazing and this is why I thought my story was worth sharing – a real love story.
I remember one time in 2011–2012 when I was visiting and Jaakko had to go to China for work and I was left alone here at his place. I woke up one morning and I was having a coffee and looking out from the window and thinking, ‘Oh my God, this could totally be my life’. It was so simple, that’s what I always wanted. A simple life. For me to hear the silence in Finland is the most valuable thing and it’s what I love the most in this country. I love Spain in the summer, the heat is great and I love Chile, but oh my God we are so loud! I have always wanted the solitude and peace and I think that’s why I did not fit in my country. Many times I have felt very non-Latin.
I love the equality between men and women in Finland. I think it has a lot to do with how my dad is because he has always treated us equally. We are three sisters and my mum. He’s the kind of guy who cooks for us and cleans the house and helps my mum – always. So for me it was that I can’t be with someone who is not that way. Latin guys are often quite macho, like they come home from work and they want to rest instead of help around the house. Usually women have to stay home and only men go out to work. Of course this has changed nowadays, but still my home country is far away from the gender equality you can find in a country like Finland. And Jaakko is so similar to my father in other ways. They are both engineers and have the same way of thinking. They get along very well. They like each other a lot and they chat daily. They are very close, and I just love that. It makes my heart warm and content
When I came I could not speak Finnish, so the first thing was always to try and find someone that would speak English. Jaakko has always been with me, he is always there and luckily everyone speaks English. It’s what I told my teacher a few months ago, when I started to learn Finnish.
Do I want to learn Finnish? Yes. It’s part of my son’s life. Lukas speaks Finnish and Spanish perfectly and of course I want to learn – it’s gonna be my life forever, I don’t want to move from Finland. But do I need to speak Finnish? No, I don’t need to. The fact that I speak English probably works against me learning Finnish. I have a Spanish friend from school who has been here for a year and she already speaks Finnish. But she can’t speak English. I have been living here for 5 years already and my Finnish is still very basic.
“Do I need to speak Finnish? No, I don’t need to. The fact that I speak English probably works against me learning Finnish”
When I moved to Mexico I was very aware of many things. I wanted to grow in my career and transform it. I studied law and I was working in Santander bank. So they moved me from Chile to there. It was a rational choice. When I moved to Europe in 2010 it was absolutely irrational. I had a great job, but I wanted to leave that. Loppu (“stop”). I wanted to go. I needed to leave everything or I didn’t know what would happen to me. Before Mexico I was working too many hours a day, coming home past midnight. It was crazy. When I went back to Chile my job was amazing at my university, but I was very unhappy. My dad thought maybe I should have left earlier, but I needed to protect my mum’s heart. I was stubborn.
Looking back I feel sorry for myself. I was really suffering. But I would not change anything, because without all of those things I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have found my happiness. When I came here I felt complete. I felt quiet and safe. I know my son is safe, he can go out and he is going to be safe. My country is not that safe. You have to be careful when you move around. I wouldn’t let my son walk alone to school the way you see kids doing here. Bad things happen.
For me, home is Finland and it will always be Finland. Some of my foreign friends and their Finnish spouses want to leave the country at some point, but I don’t. I need to pay back to this country for everything it’s given me.”
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Interview by Peter Seenan recorded in Jarvenpää, Finland in 2017. If you wish to support our work in sharing the reflections of immigrants please like our Facebook page and share Gabriela’s story.