Here to Stay: a chance encounter led Brazilian Alexandre to Joensuu

Here to Stay: A series of inter­views about inter­na­tional pro­fes­sion­als liv­ing and work­ing in Joensuu.

This art­icle is a first in a series called Here to Stay, where we inter­view inter­na­tional pro­fes­sion­als liv­ing and work­ing in Joensuu and explore the pull factors of the Joensuu region to find out what encour­ages migrants to stay and build lives in Joensuu. In our first art­icle, we get to know Alexandre Figueiredo and learn how he ended up from Brazil to North Karelia.

Alexandre Figueiredo is a Brazilian migrant liv­ing in Joensuu. Originally from Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul near Uruguay, Alexandre moved to Finland thir­teen years ago. Before com­ing to Finland, he was already a seasoned trav­el­ler, hav­ing moved from England to Brazil to make a career for him­self. His path to Joensuu star­ted with a chance encounter, when he was briefly vis­it­ing his home coun­try. It is there that Alexandre met his future wife. 

“She was study­ing in Brazil, and on her last day, when she was at the air­port, I was also at the air­port, and then we met. I went back to work­ing in England and she went back to Finland.” 

The couple vis­ited one another between England and Finland, until the inev­it­able ques­tion came up, and they had to choose where to settle. Although he finally moved to Finland at his wife’s encour­age­ment, the decision was any­thing but rash.

“I had to [talk it over], yes, because when I was liv­ing in England, I had my job there, my house, my car, and everything done. When I moved here, I had to start from zero. It was dif­fi­cult to make this decision.”

Alexandre shares some of his exper­i­ences in Brazil and brings up two things that eased his integ­ra­tion some­what: the cli­mate and social life in Finland. Overall, he feels most Brazilians are very social and open, but in the area of Porto Alegre, people are a little more with­drawn and per­haps closer to Finns. Southern Brazil is also cooler than the rest of the coun­try. 

Ultimately, Alexandre’s main con­cerns were whether he would get by with English and find employ­ment with know­ing much Finnish. After com­plet­ing his bachelor’s degree in International Business in Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Alex wound up work­ing in forestry, where the issue was soundly settled.

“I was work­ing for a forestry com­pany. It was the first com­pany I have worked for here in Joensuu, and I told them I was doing this Finnish course at Kansalaisopisto, and then they told me ‘Oh Alex, you’re just wast­ing your time. If you want someone who speaks Finnish, you have five mil­lion people in Finland, who speak Finnish. We want you because English is big, Spanish is big, Portuguese is big.’ The lan­guage in the com­pany is English. They took my motiv­a­tion for learn­ing Finnish,” Alexandre laughs after recount­ing the story.

The con­ver­sa­tion moves on to city itself. Alexandre’s homet­own Porto Alegre is a city of approx­im­ately 1.4 mil­lion people. Alexandre appre­ci­ates the rel­at­ive quiet of Joensuu’s centre. While per­haps busy in rel­at­ive terms, it simply does not com­pare. To Alexandre, the best qual­ity of Joensuu by far is nature. In his lim­ited spare time, Alexandre enjoys run­ning in the woods, kayak­ing and pho­to­graphy. 

He admits to not hav­ing had the chance to indulge in the cul­tural life of Joensuu. His two chil­dren, an eight-year-old daugh­ter and ten-year-old son respect­ively, take up most of his time. On occa­sion, he gets to enjoy local theatre at Teatteri Traktori, which he first vis­ited with his chil­dren, but has him­self grown fond of the shows.

When chal­lenged to say what factors, besides fam­ily, would tie him to Joensuu, Alexandre pon­ders for a moment and answers, say­ing he has actu­ally given the mat­ter some thought.

“I feel I’m home now here in Joensuu. I don’t know if I could go back to my home coun­try and adapt to the life there. I think I would be very annoyed with a lot of things, because I have got­ten so used to how life is in Joensuu.”

All and all, it sounds like Alexandre’s life in Joensuu is happy and well adjus­ted. If he had more time, he would most likely spend it in the out­doors or work­ing on his pho­to­graphy. He then excitedly shows his latest find, a vin­tage film cam­era. 

“What I have is a pas­sion for pho­to­graphy. If you knew how many cam­eras and lenses I have…” he laughs. “I think I would spend my time doing pho­to­graphy.”

Text: Lauri Vuori