Nowadays it seems like you should have a perfect, linear life without any hesitation in the way. Our art teacher's story reminds us that in most cases, it doesn’t go that way and that’s normal. Life is about the journey, not the destination.
Erika spent her childhood in a small municipality called Säkylä. Thinking about her childhood, the first things that came to her mind are memories of her grandfather. More specifically the way he made an impact on her life. Her grandfather was used to having a lot of influence over other people because of his background as a CEO of a sugar factory and as a war veteran. He had a lot of expectations towards his three granddaughters, which for Erika led to continuous overperforming. To this day, she still finds herself struggling with it. However, she understands that through her grandfather she had some privileges that not all had in their lives, such as to see the world and get to know other cultures by travelling with him.
Also, a strong sense of not belonging was a big part of Erika’s childhood. She didn’t enjoy living in her hometown. She even had to change classes because of bullying. Luckily, she had a best friend who she’s been friends with from a very young age. Through this friendship, she managed to grow up trusting her own strong inner voice. Because there wasn’t much diversity in their school, Erika and her friend seemed unique and different from the other classmates. The harsh bullying could’ve led to a terrible place for both of them, but it didn’t. The girls managed to find strength and go forward even though the times were horrible. Erika took something out of the situation that she carries to this day: her confidence.
Due to her demanding grandfather, our art teacher was a straight-A student. But she mentioned that she was privileged in a way that she didn’t need to study obsessively to get good grades. However, Erika remembers how she frequently panicked if she had forgotten that there was an exam or some kind of a project coming up. Not doing well wasn’t an option for her. Looking back, Erika thinks it’s such a horrible way to live, to not let yourself get a worse grade than usual or fail at something. As an adult, she started going to therapy because she never learned to accept herself fully. When you are told something as a child, you take it as a fact even though it might not be true. Erika was told that she needed to be successful to be worthy.
I learned really valuable lessons working in a jelly factory
Erika’s first job was at a jelly factory where she worked for many summers as a teenager. Erika highlights that nowadays when it’s hard to find any kind of job, it’s important to try to get in anywhere. It doesn’t need to be a “cool” job that teens tend to seek. You can learn highly important lessons in any workplace. For example, our art teacher learned how to be proactive and serve a customer and not just wait until the customer comes to you.
After upper secondary school, Erika had no idea where to apply. Although she loved visual arts, it wasn’t an option in her family. It was a long path for her to find her way careerwise. Nevertheless, she secretly applied to the academy of fine arts and got in! There she started studying design but very soon understood that it wasn’t the right place for her. Otherwise, she would’ve ended up selling a brand like Marimekko, not designing it, as she wished and wanted. With her grandfather pressuring, she decided to take “the easy” way out and applied to study English philology and got in straight away.
In the beginning, she felt like she didn’t belong and couldn’t relate to any of the much younger students. Anyhow, after some time had passed, Erika understood that she could take any classes she wanted, and not just follow the frame made by someone else. She was interested not only in literature but also in participating in activities outside of her field. On the side, she studied multiple minors like North American and art history studies.
I thought I wouldn’t graduate because I didn’t want to work as an English teacher
As Erika often says, everything tends to work out in the best way possible in life in general. Even if it doesn’t seem like it at the beginning. It worked out for her as well. She accidentally found out that she could take this programme for art education at Turku university where she was already studying at the time. It was this “coming home” - experience for her when she got there. After a year of studying art education, she had two options: to continue studying art education at Aalto University or at Lappi University.
The logical place for her to apply was Aalto University but on the day of the examination, she got extremely ill. She was hospitalised and certainly couldn’t take the exam. Without a doubt, Erika then decided to apply to Lapland university because Aalto wasn’t an option anymore, that year at least.
After graduating from the University of Lapland, Erika had various job experiences. For example, teaching in Salo upper secondary school and working as an author for Studeo’s (Tabletkoulu) E-learning platform. At some point, she moved to Helsinki to work in a language-oriented upper secondary school. After working there she was offered a place to work in the Center for Educational Assessment at Helsinki University as a pedagogical specialist. During the time Aalto University had open workplaces and Erika decided to apply and got in! Among other things, there she taught the staff of Aalto how to teach. After working there intensively she decided to apply to our school and since 2020 she has worked here in Kulosaari. Still, Erika has goals and dreams careerwise for the future and one of them is to work internationally!
As probably we all, Erika has a personality description that she tells to an employee or co-workers and then a little different description that she tells to somebody else. In her opinion personality is something that changes through a lifetime. Here is the description she told us: she’s spontaneous, ambitious, brutally open and loves to interact with people. Erika also gives a lot to other people and says that she’s trying to learn to respect her own boundaries more than she does at the moment. By ambition, Erika means that she’s trying to compete with herself rather than with other people.
Visual arts are integrated into all aspects of society
One of the proudest parts of her career is that she’s never underestimated the value of visual arts. “Everything is related to them”, confirms Erika. For example, many companies don’t hire visual art workers like designers simply because they can’t see the value visual art holds. However, the most successful companies in the world have heavily invested in designers and other visual art workers. The ones that do are more likely to be noticed. Take Apple, for example, people buy their products not only because they function well but also because they look aesthetically pleasing.
What you can learn from Erika’s journey is that even if you don’t know what you want to study or where you would like to work or maybe you don’t know what you want to do with your life in general, it’s completely okay. Our art teacher reminds us that the focus should be on the journey rather than on the goal itself. Everything becomes a tempting challenge rather than a task you feel like you can’t complete when you add a little creativity to your work.
Text: Lauriina Heikkanen
Pics: Erika's home album