Initial Introductions: Pinja Vesen

Published May 05, 2024

Introducing Pinja Vesen, Office and Building Administrator who joined the Woolf in January.

What brought you to Cambridge and how long have you lived here?

A little over 8 years ago I decided to spend my gap year as an au pair while I thought about what I wanted to do with my future. It turned out that I liked living abroad so much that I applied to study English in a Swedish university after 1.5 years as an au pair in Sweden and London.

During university, most of my abroad holidays were to the UK. I was drawn to explore the British way of living and learn more about the people, culture and history. When COVID-19 shut down most of the world and life didn’t feel the same as it used to, I decided to pack my things and move to the UK to be an au pair again while I finished my university studies online.

Now I have been a happy Cantabrigian for 2.5 years. After living as an au pair in Surrey and Huntingdon for some time, I eventually finally finished my university studies, found a job as a receptionist at the Department of Biochemistry and moved to Cambourne with my partner.

How would you describe your role in the Institute?

Since starting in January, my role has slowly started to form into a sort of office multitool. On a day-to-day basis I take care of the background operations of the building, taking care that everything is working as it should and we are legally compliant, liaising with contractors and so on. I also get to help my colleagues with a wide variety of tasks like mailing commission booklets, handwriting names on invitations and sometimes even solving their IT problems.

You are originally from Finland. What would you say is the biggest difference between life here and life in Finland?

I think one of the biggest differences between life here and life in Finland is the cultural, emotional, and practical significance of nature.

Finnish culture and national identity revolve around the natural world with forests, lakes and animals playing a significant role in folklore, art, and names. The most common surnames in Finland are all derived from nature words such as Virtanen and Järvinen (derived from river and lake respectively), and even some first names have roots in nature such as Otso (bear), Tuuli (wind) or Pinja (Finnish name for Stone pine/pinus pinea).

Finns also have a strong emotional connection to nature and outdoor activities are an integral part of Finnish life. We enjoy spending time outside hiking, swimming, and skiing, as the surrounding environment and nature supports us and our wellbeing by providing a sense of peace, tranquillity, and rejuvenation.The Finnish legal concept of jokaisenoikeus (every person’s right) means that everyone has the right to roam freely in nature, including forests, countryside, and bodies of water, regardless of who owns the land. People can hike, camp, pick berries and mushrooms, and enjoy outdoor activities as long as they respect nature and private property.

While the UK has some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen, I often miss the familiar sight of the thick evergreen forests in Finland that surround you wherever you go. Nature is so ingrained into Finnish scenery, life and identity that even when Finns live in cities, undisturbed nature environment is not usually far from their doorsteps. We want to connect with nature on many different levels of our lives too. School children make regular trips to the countryside as part of their lessons, workplaces hold team-building events at the nearby lake and some churches even hold mass in the middle of the forest. We take care of nature because nature takes care of us.

I feel happy that I can live in Cambridge where green spaces are an important part of the city landscape and surrounding areas though I wish there were more lakes to swim in!

Is there one thing that has made the biggest impression on you in Cambridge?

Definitely the scenery and all the amazing buildings! As a daughter of an architect, I enjoy looking at and appreciating all the different styles and methods used in Cambridge architecture. I especially love spotting new little details on buildings I often walk past and wondering whether there was a practical reason for these or did the architect just put them there for the sheer fun of it? I love living in places where water and green spaces are an important part of the city views and Cambridge definitely does deliver on that front with the River Cam and all the parks.

When you were a little girl, did you have a dream about what you wanted to be when you grew up? Do you remember what it was?

As a kid, I changed my mind often about my dream job. After the princess phase, I was determined to be Miss Finland, then to join the mounted police and later to be an air stewardess. History teacher was a strong contender for a long time until I realised that I would have to study and know the “boring” parts of history too… As I grew older, the definition of a dream job became more abstract, but I knew I wanted to work in an educational setting.

I think most would define me as an adult now, but I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up!

What would you say to that little girl now?

That it’s okay to change your mind and not know what you want to do – going with the flow is just as valid an option as any other!

What is the best thing about the Woolf Institute?

I don’t think there is a single best thing about the Institute. One of the main things that struck me in my first interview here was the sense of community and working together, even apart from the interfaith aspect of the Institute. Also (on a rather superficial note), I really like the building, location, and the views! The building itself is gorgeous, and I have a great view of Westminster College from my office window and I’m yet to get bored of either!

What do you hope to be doing in a year’s time, and in 5 years' time?

I hope that in a year’s time I’ve managed to finish all my outstanding unfinished craft projects – or at least scrapped them rather than keep hoarding them in the cupboard!

I can’t even imagine what life could be like in 5 years’ time. Five years ago, I was in the middle of my university studies, living in a ground floor studio apartment with very few concrete plans for the future. I knew I would probably want to live abroad but I was definitely living life a day at a time. Now, I’m living in a completely different country, about to buy a house in the countryside and working in one of the best academic environments in the world. Sometimes I’ve feel like my life has leapfrogged a lot since living in Sweden, but then again, 5 years is a long time! I think my life will be different in 5 years’ time but I know I will be alright nonetheless!

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