When Valamis’ Communications Specialist Anna Kosunen moved to Helsinki, she swore that she would never return to Joensuu.
A picturesque apartment located in Etu-Töölö, a neighborhood next to Helsinki city center, was everything Anna Kosunen had ever dreamt of. The apartment had high ceilings, wide window sills and wooden floorboard flooring – it seemed like it was straight from an interior design magazine. Downstairs, there was a brick-and-mortar secondhand store, and, behind the corner, you could find trendy Helsinki cafés. Even though, her commute to Vantaa meant sweating in a bus and tram for an hour and a half each day, at least the job description corresponded to her training in international business.
Anna thinks back the summer 2014 in an open-concept kitchen of an old wooden detached house in Joensuu. She sips her tea by a wooden table that she found from a local flea market. Her Boston Terriers Mimmi and Molly try to jump on her lap.
“That summer, it was extremely hot in our apartment so it was difficult for the dogs,” Anna says.
That’s why each evening was pretty much the same for her: rushing home through the busy city, taking the dogs and a book with her, and then heading towards the park.
Eight years ago, Anna left her home city of Joensuu. Back then, Anna was 25 years old and had just broken up with her partner of ten years.
“I had a feeling that I needed a fresh start. I vowed that I would never return to Joensuu,” now thirty-three-year-old Anna reminisces.
In the shadow of trees in the middle of the city, Anna was thinking whether this really was the great life in Helsinki she had been desiring and the reason she left Joensuu. It is not a fun feeling when you realize that finally, when your dream has come true, it does not feel quite as good as you had imagined. However, there was no way Anna would plan to leave Helsinki behind. She had everything there: friends, a job and a social life.
Then one day, something unexpected happened. Anna was having lunch with her boyfriend when a business associate of his joined them. In passing, he mentioned a job opportunity that might interest Anna. The workplace was in Joensuu.
“The thought of moving back to Joensuu felt impossible, but I still asked him to email me more about the opportunity.”
In the evening, Anna opened her email and read the job details for a communications specialist opportunity at Valamis. The position was everything Anna was hoping for from a job. Immediately, she submitted the job application.
Would it be that bad to go back to Joensuu?
But the days passed by, and no news came. Anna was starting to get nervous already.
“Then I picked up the phone, and it was the Chief Human Resources Officer at Valamis. She wanted to meet with me in person.”
After the interview, Anna left the office with her cheeks reddened by the excitement.
“I was thinking that this cannot be true. The job description was everything I wanted and more.”
Anna had to return to Helsinki to wait and see if she got the job. She was carpooling from Joensuu to Helsinki with her dogs on her lap on the back seat of a stranger’s car when suddenly her phone rang. Valamis wanted to hire Anna for the position.
For the rest of the car journey, Anna sat quiet, preoccupied with her thoughts. She was both excited and puzzled.
“I was thinking about moving back to Joensuu, after I had waited for so long to feel at home in Helsinki.”
Anna asked HR Coordinator Minna Tornberg if she could have the weekend to think this over.
“Minna responded that this would absolutely be OK, and that it was important to take some time to think this over in peace and quiet. She was very understanding, which gave me the final confirmation that I really wanted to work for Valamis.”
It did not take long until a van full of Anna’s belongings were packed and ready for the trip east to Joensuu. After the final boxes had been loaded onto the moving truck, Anna stopped to look at Mimmi and Molly, who were sitting shotgun in the vehicle, and she burst into laughter.
“Here they are again – sitting in the car and waiting for another journey; there’s no way that I will be moving anytime soon.”
“It’s OK to fail sometimes, because that’s when you learn”
It is a Wednesday morning, and the Valamis office is already bustling at full speed. Anna walks to the coffee maker wearing a warm pullover, yoga leggings and sneakers.
“I tend to wear casual clothes here,” she says.
The office has become her second home. Anna thinks it is quite funny that it has been only a year since she started at Valamis.
“Since the first day, I have been very excited. The work feels great and everyone is nice and welcoming, even our CEO made the time to welcome me. He also added that I am allowed to try what works and what doesn’t, and that it’s OK to fail, too, because that’s when we learn best.”
At first, the amount of responsibility almost scared her, but now the worry is all gone. Anna has come to believe in the CEO’s motto, ‘trust and you’ll be trusted’.
“All the employees are encouraged to believe in their own skills and decisions, and are always allowed to ask help from others. There are not too many companies where you can talk with the CEO using WhatsApp,” Anna states.
At the time of moving, Anna was very sad about leaving the best cafés, flea markets and her friends behind in Helsinki. But now, she does not miss living in Helsinki.
“I liked all the gigs and events but not the traffic jams or the hustle and bustle. I am still able to enjoy Helsinki when I visit there for a weekend. And, actually, there are nice restaurants and stores in Joensuu, you just have to know where to find them.”
Planting new roots in Joensuu
After her workday, Anna rides her bicycle home along a forest street. After the 12-minute commute, she lets Mimmi and Molly out in the yard where wild grape vines and raspberries grow. The old wooden detached house, built in 1952, bathes in the afternoon sun. The 1,475 square feet of living space cost the same as a much smaller studio apartment in Etu-Töölö, Helsinki.
The dogs jump in a pile of leaves that glow yellow and red that Anna, her boyfriend Ilkka and their friends raked over the weekend. After the yard work, they ate dinner and relaxed in the sauna. Every time Anna looks at the fire burning in their wood burning sauna stove, she starts to smile.
“I’m thinking about how cool it is that I do not have to rush to my housing cooperative sauna shift starting at 5 p.m. This is our home,” she states.
Actually, this is a house we never were supposed to buy. Anna and Ilkka had just finished renovating their triplex apartment located in the city center of Joensuu when Anna saw a house for sale ad. She joked that this would be the perfect house for them. After two weeks, the real estate contracts had been signed.
“We were thinking that, now that we live here in Joensuu, we really should take advantage of everything we can,” Anna says.
When Anna told her friends about the house purchase, they thought it was a joke.
“Normally, I am the worst decision-maker alive. I tend to consider every decision for ages and still end up returning 80 percent of my purchases. If I was insecure about my job, there’s no way I would have bought this house.”
Goodbye to rushing through life
Anna is already anxiously waiting for spring.
“I initiated my garden project by buying a book called Apua, meillä on puutarha (Help, we have a garden),” Anna laughs.
This summer they will renovate the old building across the yard with another sauna. After that, a new grill shed will be built.
“The property will most likely be a never-ending project for us. The former owners lived here for 38 years. So, there is a lot to do in order to make this look like ours.”
But that’s OK. In Joensuu, you will have both time and money left for renovating.
“The living costs here are just a tiny fraction of what they are in the capital, and we have a lot more spare time because everything is so close.”
There are already some photos decorating the hallway walls and shoes, coats and the dogs’ sweaters have found their place in a home that was beginning to look like home to Anna.
This is the hallway where Anna brought her suitcase recently after returning from Valamis’ company recreation trip to Scotland. Coming home is always nice, but now it felt especially good to come home to Joensuu. The fun company trip was over but, instead, many promising years are awaiting ahead in a city where you do not have to rush anywhere.
Writer: Pauliina Suominen
Photographer: Jirina Alanko
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