“I have been living here for four years. I studied sign language in the Czech Republic, but it’s not possible to use it in Finland. In the end I think it’s probably not the thing I want to do. I don’t really know what I want to do. The main point is that I just want to be in Finland and I’ve made sacrifices to be here.
When I came here one of the first jobs I had was harvesting cucumbers in Kitee. In the winter I always went back to Czech Republic for a few months. For the last three years I worked on a different vegetable farm, picking asparagus, cauliflower and broccoli. Last autumn I had my first job interview in Finnish and now I work permanently in a hotel in Kitee as maid and breakfast waitress.
I first arrived 10 years ago, when I was 18. But Finland all started for me when I was 13 and at school.
We had this class and we were asked to bring a music CD in. I didn’t want to bring the same as everyone else. I have two older brothers, older by 7 and 11 years. For my brother nearest in age I was the annoying sister I think, but I asked him anyway if he could give me a CD that would be special, not like all the other kids’ CDs.
“The main point is that I just want to be in Finland and I’ve made sacrifices to be here”
I took the CD to school and started to listen to it and it totally changed my relationship with my brother. He became my friend and we started to go to festivals together and do many, many things. The CD was Nightwish, a Finnish band from Kitee.
After that I wanted to see where all this came from and I wouldn’t stop going on about Finland and the language all the time. Eventually mum told me that if I could raise the money myself and find someone older to take me then I could go.
In one year I had the plane ticket and an older cousin to take me here. We travelled through the whole of Finland to places connected with Nightwish. I paid the trip all by myself, so the only thing we could afford was hospitality club – nowadays couchsurfing.
We stayed with 11 different families in Finland and I’m still really close with some of them, even today. Back then there was just one person in Kitee who was a member and he’s one of my best friends now ten years later. In his sixties now. After that first visit I started to travel here more and more until I moved here.
“I wanted to see where all this came from and I wouldn’t stop going on about Finland and the language all the time”
One funny thing that ties this all together is that my friend in Kitee used to teach Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish songwriter and keyboard player) and he introduced me to him. We are not close friends or anything, but Nightwish was originally why I came to Finland, so this was a very special moment. What I like about Nightwish is that they always pay attention to the fans. If you see Tuomas on the street he will never tell you that he doesn’t have time to speak or that he is busy – never.
There’s another story.
When my mum was little, maybe 14 years old, she was on a summer camp. There she met someone called Liisa, who was in her forties and from Finland. They became friends, even though my mum was young, and they have been writing letters to each other ever since.
Liisa would always send me something for my birthday and every Christmas my mum would send something to her in Finland. Liisa also visited us a few times in Czech Republic, but I knew that my mum’s dream was to visit her in Helsinki.
Six months after my first visit I came back with my mum. When we met Liisa I felt like I was in a movie, everyone was crying at the railway station. I told my mother at the time that it was ‘now or never’, because Liisa was very old. She was already over 80 at the time.
When I came here to stay I had a plan about what to do because I always need something concrete. I started out at a small farm making honey, totally out of my depth. I was just finishing university and it felt like a good time to try moving here. I didn’t want to regret not trying for the rest of my life. I said, if I come and everything goes wrong then I will just go back home and I will know I tried.
I didn’t need to learn Finnish when I came, but now I’m working on my Finnish. On the farm we also kind of had a deal that half of the day we would speak Finnish and the other half English. We would play children’s games in Finnish, like ‘My ship is loaded with.’ We also told stories so that one person would say one sentence and the next person would say the next one. I’m learning vocabulary that way, it’s better than sitting with a dictionary. I’ve found that I can speak Finnish now when I go to the tax office or something, but with my friends I just can’t speak Finnish. I think I’m just so shy when it comes to that. It’s so hard to change when you are used to one language with certain people. I have a boyfriend, with him we always text in Finnish but we only speak English.
“I’m a part of the local community, not just a foreigner”
Farm and hotel work are good because I like working with my hands and after my studies it was a welcome change. I studied for a long time and I felt like my brain never switched off. Now it’s more physical work. You get tired, more physically than anything else, and then you can sleep and the next day you can work again. I use my brain to study Finnish. At the farm we had a really good group of different nationalities and I never felt like not going to work. We communicated in different languages, we communicated, well… as humans.
Back home everyone says that I’ve been interested in Finland for as long as they remember, so it’s no surprise I ended up here. They tease me saying that it’s cold and there are loads of mosquitos. I’m always telling them that they must come and see Finland. And it works like that. They say, “Oh yeah, Finland,” but then they come and everyone falls in love with it. I like the fact that Finns are so similar to Czech people, but at the same time so different. It’s hard to describe, I can’t put my finger on it.
Another thing is that people always say that Finns don’t speak, but that’s not true. I have never had this problem. Everyone has always been super nice to me and it has always been so easy to speak to people. But here you can just close the door and go somewhere. Here people just don’t care, everyone knows the doors are open, but no one goes there. Privacy is respected.
I’m very thankful to my brother for all this. He completely changed my life and the music changed my relationship with him. I’m teaching my six-year-old niece all about Finland. She knows that I love hirvi (elk) and she sends me postcards of hirvi. When she visited she made friends because my friends have children her age.
I’m really happy in Kitee. I feel so comfortable. The city is very similar to my hometown. I think I could stay here forever, I would love to. My friends back home are making their families and moving away from the cities. There is no one in the same place. In Kitee most of my friends are older than me and they are settled there. They are not going anywhere, and that’s something I feel really comfortable with. I have so many people in one place. I don’t feel lonely. I’m a part of the local community, not just a foreigner. I just want to have a home in one place and I will do everything to be able to stay.”
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Interview by Peter Seenan recorded in Joensuu, Finland in 2017. If you wish to support our work in sharing the reflections of people who’ve moved to Finland please like our Facebook page and share Doris’s story.