You have to believe it – Joensuu can rival the likes of New York. Thus declares Tsultrim Tamang, 27 years old. During the course of his life the young man has travelled a long way from Tibet to India and to New York via Nepal, all the way to Joensuu. Now his home is in north Karelia and life is on the right track.

In the spring of 2019, I worked with photographer Jarno Artika to produce a series of articles about people who have moved to Joensuu from all over the world. The experience also left its mark on the two of us. It evoked feelings of surprise, joy and occasionally something akin to embarrassment. We are so used to things being good that we take the excellence of our hometown for granted.

More than one of our interviewees thought that Joensuu should be marketed as the dream city for people with families. The day-care centres and schools receive praise. Special mentions are given to cleanness and safety – in Joensuu, parents do not need to worry about their children all the time.

Karthikeyan Natarajan, from the multilingual and multicultural India of 1.3 billion people, found a range of culture and internationality in Joensuu and immediately felt at home in the city.

Marc Palahí from Barcelona spent the summers of his youth in the Pyrenees. Now the family with three children enjoys the local woods and nature to the fullest. According to Palahí, education is the most efficient way to cherish democracy. He wants only the best for his own children, and Joensuu has it all.

I had to get to Finland no matter what, says Olga Davydova-Minguet as she recalls the moment of trying to get across the border to Finland from the Soviet Union that had been thrown into chaos by the coup d’état. Several decades later, Davydova-Minguet has now become an authentic citizen of Joensuu and considers the proximity of the Russian border important.

The Welsh-born Claire Lacey also gave us some food for thought. She enthuses over the excellence of the Finnish railway company VR. Joensuu is at the end of a wonderful rail connection, travelling is easy and the trains have several car types to choose from! I was reminded of Finns moaning about trains being late when winter or autumn leaves are playing tricks on the rails. Lacey sees things very differently – trains are on time, there are no rush hours. She can also carry out her passion, cycling, in Joensuu. In her English home over in Ditchling cycling equals risking your life. The streets are narrow and there are no traffic lights, let alone cycle tracks.

Have you encountered discrimination, prejudice, anything related to racism? I asked the question from several interviewees. The answer was negative. Someone mentioned that people with bad attitudes exist anywhere regardless of nationality. Many emphasised that adjusting to a new culture requires will and even studying. The Finnish language is tricky to a newcomer, but learning it is possible – there are many language courses available. Another option is to do independent learning like Jaroslava Kotorova who moved to Joensuu from Moldova. She learned the language by reading the subtitles of an American soap opera.

The photographer of the article series is from northern Finland. He published a book called ”Joensuu virtaa uusin ilmein” (“Joensuu flows with new faces”) a couple of years ago. In his book, Joensuu appeared as energetic and eventful – just the way it is. According to Artika, the people of Joensuu rarely notice how wonderful their city is.

I moved to Joensuu from Helsinki 27 years ago. While pushing a pram across the Suvantosilta bridge, I hardly felt like I was in Finland anymore! The dialect, landscape, chatty people, commuters rushing across the bridge on their bicycles in the biting cold. In the course of a decade, Joensuu has expanded and grown more beautiful. The best home a person could have.

I wish you an eye-opening read!

Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen
journalist, entrepreneur

You can read all the articles at Business Joensuu website.