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 Overall, he feels most Brazilians are very social and open, but in the area of Porto Alegre, people are a little more withdrawn and perhaps closer to Finns.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