Kirsten Eskelinen started teaching at KSYK in 2005 and has been capturing the hearts of students ever since. Having heard her incredible stories, many students know that she hasn’t always lived and taught in Finland, though. How did Kirsten start out, and what made her end up at KSYK?
Kirsten grew up in South Africa with her German-Dutch family. Despite being a teacher at the present, she wasn’t interested in school in her youth. She did well in the subjects she enjoyed, but other than that, studying didn’t necessarily excite her. As a student, Kirsten describes herself as very teacher-dependent, so a kind and driven teacher was the key to her success. Her mother’s expectations for her studies posed a challenge for her. Some things never change since this is still an issue for many students. Her mother especially highlighted the importance of studying the German language. This request resulted in Kirsten moving abroad for the first time at a young age.
Kirsten moved to Germany, and contrary to her expectations, Germany wasn’t all that bad. There Kirsten met a Finnish man that would one day become her husband. Once Kirsten was done with her German A level equivalent, she longed to go back to South Africa. Thankfully, her partner was eager to come with her, so both of them moved back to Kirsten’s homeland. There Kirsten started studying psychology, but she felt like it wasn’t creative enough for her. Her family faced a lot of grief when she was young, so psychology also felt a little too close to home.
One day Kirsten was visiting an art gallery where she became enchanted with the pieces. The gallery was so impressed with Kirsten’s enthusiasm that they offered her a job. So Kirsten ended up becoming the gallery manager, focusing on selling and marketing. She was brilliant at selling the pieces she liked. The artworks she didn’t like as much didn’t get sold, though, as Kirsten isn’t necessarily a superb liar. The pay wasn’t great, so Kirsten added a side job at a restaurant as well (she had worked weekends and holidays in restaurants from the age of 15). “I’ve always had a tendency to do too much,” Kirsten says while describing her career.
Going back to school would get Kirsten’s mom off of her back, and it just happened that her friend was going off to a teacher training college. Her friend asked her to embark on this journey with her, so Kirsten decided to give it a go. While studying, she and her friend happened to stumble upon an after-school program for underprivileged children to keep them off the streets. The students of this program participated in all kinds of activities involving art, drama, and dance. Always having gravitated towards art, this was perfect for Kirsten. Kirsten loved her time with this project, but everything good eventually comes to an end. She had to leave South Africa as her now-husband got transferred to Atlanta in the States for work.
Atlanta brought Kirsten a lot of change: both good and bad. Moving meant that she had to start her studies practically all over again. This time, while pregnant with her son. While studying, Kirsten volunteered at a local school in the SEBD class (Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties). The kids had been transported in from South Atlanta and came from difficult backgrounds. Teachers on the regular side of the school would ask Kirsten whether she was scared to volunteer there as the boys had at times gotten physically aggressive. She never felt any physical threat and was sad to leave them.
Kirsten had to leave her volunteering project and move to Sydney. Her husband got transferred once more, which meant that she had to rush her degree or she’d have to start over yet again. Sydney was beautiful – it seemed like the perfect place to build a family. However it was so far away and something in the back of Kirsten’s husband’s head was drawing him back to Finland. “I didn’t choose Finland; Finland chose me,” Kirsten says. The family took a risk moving to Finland, but things have a way of working out just fine. In the first year Kirsten rented an art studio and painted textiles while her son was at school. Her daughter was two at the time and had her own little painting table in the studio. When her daughter turned three, Kirsten started teaching again. Now Kirsten couldn’t be happier teaching, among other things, her two favourite subjects in life – art and literature.
Kirsten has captured the hearts of an endless amount of students over the years. One of her favorite things about being a teacher happens to be the students. She’s endlessly grateful for her students and for being allowed to bring her interests and life experiences into the classroom. “My hope is that students find beauty in everything around us,” she says. With distance learning, Kirsten has had to adjust her ways of teaching both English and art, but thankfully she’s always had a knack for simply figuring it out. With a hectic schedule comes the need for balance, and Kirsten has it all figured out. Her balance is her hobby of decorating cookies, which has even been brought as an activity to the classroom.
Kirsten says she’s been blessed that people have always been so good to her. She’s come a long way from South Africa to KSYK and cherishes the experiences she’s gained. If you want to see how many students love her for yourself, keep an eye out during the spring celebration. You’ll spot her drowning in a number of gifts and flowers.
Text: Annika Lappalainen
Images: Kirsten's own images