Zen was found in Joensuu, eastern Finland
Senior Visual Designer Amy Järvisalo was looking for peace of mind and her dream job.
Amy Järvisalo is not at all surprised that she went from being a preschool teacher from Thailand to a visual designer in Finland.
“I have the ability to adapt to any condition because I’ve been at the bottom, washing dishes and cleaning toilets. If I had given up, I wouldn’t be here today,” Amy says by the table at the sauna area of the Joensuu office. Saunas are very much ingrained in the Finnish culture.
Amy has always believed in working hard, learning new skills and living in such a way that she wouldn’t regret anything.
Amy grew up with her mom and older brother in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. While living in Bangkok, her baptismal name was Prompat and her nickname was Amp.
Early in the morning, twenty-year-old Amy traveled through the hectic city filled with traffic and the scent of Thai food, where it was very important to let others know your social status by using quality brands, to study early childhood education and psychology.
“The food is something I really miss,” Amy says.
Amy studied to become a preschool teacher because she loves children and because it is a highly appreciated profession in Thailand. For a period of six months, she worked as a preschool teacher, but soon she realized that the job was not suitable for her sensitive nature.
“I couldn’t bear knowing that children had problems at home. I wanted to fix all of their problems but my job was to teach.”
Amy is not someone who gives up easily. Instead, she tends to examine situations from different points of view, and she looks signs that could lead her in the right direction towards her dream. Her next sign was found in a children’s toy.
At the preschool, Amy handmade dolls, wooden blocks, storybooks and other small objects that helped the kids to learn, laugh and calm down.
“When I saw how happy they were, the happier I became. I started to think that maybe I shouldn’t be a teacher at all but, instead, create new products and do something fun.”
Amy had the spark in her to study more, but this time, she wanted to do it somewhere other than in her home country. She doesn’t like the Thai culture where it is appreciated that you study as much as possible, without any breaks.
“In Thailand, you have to go to a good school, preferably a private and international school. You have to go to the best school and be the best. A bit too much pressure, I think. In the end, when you finally graduate, you have zero experience about life or work. Even though, you have studied a lot, there is really nothing in your brain.”
That kind of brainless life was not the type of life Amy wanted to live. It was time to turn the page.
When Amy was 21, she moved to Sacramento, California with her mother and older brother to work at their aunt’s Thai restaurant. They decided to leave Thailand because it was the perfect time for Amy to study abroad and help her family business. Her nickname in Thailand, Amp took the form of Amy by her American relatives, and even today, she goes by Amy.
Everything in California seemed bigger compared to Bangkok, and because English was rarely needed in Thailand, Amy was not fluent in English.
“I thought everything was amazing. Due to the language barrier, it was a bit challenging in the beginning, but somehow I still kind of liked it. From time to time, mom sent me to the supermarket and asked me to make a list of all vegetables so that I would learn new words,” says Amy.
One time, Amy went coffee shopping at her nearby Starbucks where a half-American half-Thai woman was working. Amy seized the moment, and soon she had a job as a busser at the coffeehouse. After her language skills got better, it wasn’t long until she was working as a barista and assistant manager.
Amy had also a third job, because she wanted to pay for her future studies. After every visit to her relatives in Thailand, she bought as much Thai stuff as her suitcase could carry, and then she sold them in the US to make money to pay for school. When she had gathered enough money and her English started picking up, Amy moved to San Francisco to study graphic design.
She loved the San Francisco. The weather was beautiful, and the views were amazing. In Amy’s opinion, San Francisco was a thriving city, full of diversity and inclusivity.
However, there was still something about the culture that made Amy feel that she was not quite at home.
During the second year of her studies, Amy decided she did not want to work for someone else anymore, and so she opened a restaurant with her friends. It was not that simple, though.
“We had no idea how business, bureaucracy or taxes worked in the US. We spent a lot of time learning these and finally created recipes, as well as the company brand.”
Amy planned the design for the Thai-Japanese-Western bistro with skills learned at school. Her mother cooked, and Amy did everything from washing dishes to cleaning toilets and serving food. She even completed a bartending course in order to be able to create cocktails.
The restaurant was a huge success. During the second operating year, the bistro with 100 seats often had a line of people waiting outside to get a table. Nevertheless, Amy started to feel like it was time to move on.
“In the restaurant business, I couldn’t focus on planning or working for my dreams. I wanted to do something for myself.”
Amy wanted to see what Europe had to offer. Her plan was to study in Germany because she had a lot of friends there.
But then love struck.
Amy’s German friend told Amy that her Finnish friend was looking for an apartment in San Francisco. By chance, Amy and her roommate’s apartment had a room available, and the Finn moved in.
It was friendship at first sight. The duo traveled around the US, and they visited Mexico. After six months, Amy started to think whether this man had something more to him – some weirdly appealing straightforwardness.
“He was very direct, and I mean REALLY direct. Like nothing at all compared to Americans. First, it felt pretty harsh, but then I just fell in love with it. I thought that, at least, this man is honest.”
The friendship between the two deepened into love, and the Finn persuaded Amy to visit Finland. The visit was supposed to last only a few weeks. Amy left her belongings and apartment in San Francisco, and left for a trip to Finland. And she is still on the same trip.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” were the first words Amy heard from the straightforward Finn when they met at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport in November.
Amy was wearing flip-flops and shorts in late fall, early winter.
“I didn’t even check the weather because I just assumed it would be as good as in San Francisco,” Amy says laughing.
Amy was surprised by more than just the weather. She wondered where all the people and cars were. The airport was a ghost town in comparison with Bangkok and San Francisco.
“Then I thought that, well okay, this is another new place for me to find out about.”
First, the duo drove to Savonlinna, where her partner’s parents lived, and then to his home in Joensuu.
“And here I still am. And I’ve never studied in Germany,” Amy says as she looks through the window to the bustling marketplace of Joensuu.
During Amy’s visit to Finland, her partner just popped THE marriage question randomly, in his direct way, in the middle of conversation. And so they did marry.
The newlywed couple rented an affordable apartment located on the edge of the city of Joensuu. Her partner was still studying in school and Amy spent her days alone at home.
“Back then, free web design courses started to emerge on the Internet. I thought that those could be a great addition to my graphic design skills as, after all, Finland was an IT country.”
And so Amy learned to code by herself. At the same time, she was studying Finnish language and culture at the University of Eastern Finland. On weekends, she familiarized herself with cottage life, agriculture and fishing.
“I believe that, due to karma, I always catch bigger fish than my husband,” Amy smiles.
Taking language courses inspired me to study more and more about other topics. So, Amy completed her third higher education degree in international design at the university of applied sciences located in Joensuu. As studying itself did not feel like enough of a challenge for Amy, she started to work alongside the studies. As a part of the web design traineeship, Amy got to visit Valamis to familiarize herself with Liferay platform. Immediately, she realized that this is the place where she would like to work.
Amy started as a trainee at Valamis having the job title media assistant. Her job was to design better-looking websites.
“Back then this was purely a coding company. It was challenging to work in an environment where everyone understood coding but nobody understood graphic design at the time.”
However, for the first time, Amy felt like she was doing something that really suited her. She still wanted to create visual products, like the ones she had created when she was a preschool teacher. But now, in addition to creating, her job was to solve problems as she fixed bugs in websites.
Amy was not too surprised when she was hired after her trainee period because she had worked as hard as she could. During the years, she has asked for new kinds of challenges. And these challenges have helped her to develop professionally. Her job title has changed from media assistant to visual designer and, finally, to her current title, senior visual designer. Finally, Amy feels that she has found her dream profession.
The graphic design department around Amy has grown to be a team of several members. From time to time, her colleagues tend to call Amy by her Finnish nickname Rompatti.
Amy is happy she can tell her colorful life story to her smiling little son, whose picture stands on her desk.
The boy in the picture is five-year-old Akseli, whom Amy and her husband had dreamt of long before he was born.
It was motherhood that made Amy’s life pretty much perfect in Joensuu. She felt that every piece of her life was just the way it should be.
“In San Francisco and Thailand, I felt that I couldn’t breathe. The pace was so hectic, and I slept maybe four hours per night.”
Amy is extremely happy that Akseli has the opportunity to grow up in the “village” of Joensuu, as she calls the city. There is something gracious about Joensuu. You do not have to hide your bag under the seat when leaving your car unattended in a parking lot, and you do not have to spend half a day in a traffic jam.
“Now, I have time to do and explore things and try my ideas, whenever I feel like it.”
One of her favorite things is bikram yoga, which is a hot yoga style, that Amy became infatuated with when she was healing from a car accident in San Francisco. Unfortunately, there is no bikram yoga school in Joensuu, but Amy has solved this problem, by thinking outside the box: she heats their sauna, opens the door and does yoga in the warm bathroom.
Recently, Amy participated in a weekend-long yoga teacher workshop in Helsinki because a Valamis colleague from Petrozavodsk requested that Amy lead a yoga class for everyone using the company’s video chat platform. Amy is planning to organize the class only after she has studied enough.
“When you teach, you have to know, for instance, all the poses and the health benefits related to those from head to toe.”
Amy is never going to stop studying although she has a job and a life situation where she feels good.
“I love to study. Whenever I meet new people and hear about new things, immediately, new ideas start to pop in my head.
However, at the moment, I am not too obsessed about finding something new because I feel so good all the time here.”
Text: Pauliina Suominen
Pictures: Maria Moulud
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