How I became me

I have often been asked, how I ended up doing what I do. That is a good question! Is it a coincidence or the outcome of deliberate aspirations? I think it’s a little bit of both.

As a small-town girl, I always dreamed of exploring the world, having a little adventure. When I landed a job on a cruise ship sailing between Mariehamn and Stockholm, my friends, and especially my family members, were quite apprehensive about it. I, however, was ready to embark on the journey. Born and raised in Eastern Finland, my only contact with the Swedish language had been in school. At first, my most-common phrase on the ship was ursäkta mig, “excuse me”. But necessity is the best teacher, and so I learned more Swedish during that one summer than during the six-year syllabus at school.

The job on the cruise ship gave a huge boost to my desire for adventure. I worked there for 18 months, continuously longing for new experiences. Moving back to mainland Finland felt like a boring option. Nevertheless, I lived in Helsinki for a short while and worked on Viking Line ferries (between Finland and Sweden) whilst searching for new challenges. Then, one day, my friend called me and suggested that we’d leave to Spain to work ‘in the tourist business’. I immediately agreed. I spent the next two winters in the Canary Isles, and the summer in between in Portugal. We drove from Scandinavia to Portugal with a friend of mine in my Nissan Micra. That was an adventure I would not repeat today – driving across Europe, over mountains, in a tiny car that has a 1-litre engine! We had a printed map and lots of cassette tapes; I still know a good many of those songs by heart. Sweden – Denmark – Germany – France – Spain – Portugal. Five days later, we arrived at our destination.

Even abroad, we mainly lived and spent time with other Finns or other expatriates. We didn’t really get to know the locals, which also explains why we didn’t always speak very highly of them. Now I know better and understand the big picture, and I always encourage expatriates to be active and open towards the local people and customs. In the late 1980s, I didn’t understand why the original residents of foreign countries sometimes felt a bit stupid or simple. Now I’m familiar with many theories and reasons behind these feelings and attitudes. However, similar attitudes still come up in the late 2010s, albeit often unconsciously. We, people, haven’t changed as much as we’d like to think.

As for me, I continued my journey to Japan and onto the United States, Manhattan and Vermont, for years. But that’s another story.