Zlata Stipakova is from St. Petersburg, Russia. She graduated from ITMO University and worked at the Engineering Bureau, making blueprints and drawings of planes and space stations. Her salary was low, and after working there for some time, she started to wonder why she had been studying for five years to have this barely paid job? At some point, she switched her career to the banking field and continued working there until she decided to move to Finland.
She has never been dreaming about relocating abroad. In St. Petersburg, she had everything she needed: her family, friends, and permanent job. The initiative came from her husband, who was looking for a job in Estonia and Finland. He was a programmer and had good chances to find a well-paid job in Europe. After several trips and interviews, he announced they are relocating to Finland as a fait accompli.
In 2009, they moved to Finland. Firstly, they lived for one year in Espoo and then moved to Oulu. Her husband’s career was blooming, while Zlata had a feeling that she didn’t have anything. That’s why she had to start her life from scratch and find her unique path. She thought they would go back home after some time, but time was flying, and they settled in Finland. Their first son went to the Finnish daycare, her husband had more and more projects, and then she understood that it was time for her to act.
She started to think about her childhood, her dreams, and how she imagined her future life and career when she was a little girl. She understood that she had never seen herself as an engineer. Zlata understood quite fast that no one was really waiting for her, neither in the engineering bureau nor in banks in Oulu, and she decided to switch her professional path. She went to OAKK for one year to study the Finnish language and then continued her studies in Oulun Diakoniaopisto.
“I had a funny situation when I just started to learn the Finnish language. I came to daycare to get my son, and the teachers told me, “Your child fell off the bed and hurt himself”. I didn’t understand a single word and kept saying, “Very good! Fantastic! Thank you very much!”.
But later on, she developed her own method of communication with teachers at the daycare. Zlata asked them to write her a little note in Finnish about how they spent their day. And every evening she wrote a short reply describing their evening activities. Finnish education was different from Russian. In Finland, she received very practical knowledge, while in Russia, it was theoretical. After graduating from the University in St. Petersburg, she asked herself, “Who am I? What can I do? How will I work?”.
In Oulun Diakoniaopisto, she studied applied science and professions. The big plus of this kind of education was that during her studies, she had many directions for her future career: social support of older people, daycare work, primary education, hospitals, healthcare support of disabled people, etc. Zlata chose to work with kids and teenagers. Her studies included internships in different places where she could see if this work resonated with her. She worked in several public daycares, observed teachers’ and children’s interaction and behaviour. She checked how well children could understand her and how fluently she could understand them.
“I love children’s immediacy and sincerity. When they asked why I had such a strange name or why I spoke so differently, it gave me the chance to open up, tell my story and build trustful relationships with them. I was saying that Finnish was not my native language, and I was learning it together with them”.
Studying in Finnish was not easy for Zlata. There were many written assignments, reading and group discussions. Zlata highlighted that her biggest mistake was never asking for peer support or assistance from the teachers, even though they were willing to help. While some people completed their tasks in a few days, Zlata spent months on that. But these circumstances and deadlines helped her rapidly develop her Finnish language skills and be brave to speak and truly understand the language and culture. It took her five years of everyday practice to realise that she was finally fluent in Finnish.
Very soon, she recognised that social work brings joy and meaning to her life. She could see the impact of her commitment, especially while working with children.
“When I see the first steps of children or hear their first words, I film it and send these videos to their parents. I see absolute happiness and pride in their eyes. I feel satisfaction in my work. Everything I give is getting back to me through these first words, first little steps and open smiles.”
After graduation, she continued working in two languages, Finnish and Russian. Zlata was supporting over 40 Russian-speaking children in 20 daycares around Oulu. Despite primary interaction and playing, she could discuss difficult moments, adaptation or other concerns with kids in their native language. Sometimes, it helped her to recognise logopedic problems at the early stage when caretakers thought that the problem was only with the Finnish language. Zlata identified that those issues existed in both languages. Furthermore, she was helping not only children but also their parents.
“When I moved to Oulu, I had no one except my husband and children. It was a lonely and difficult period of my life. While I was working in public daycares, I organised meetings for the Russian-speaking parents. I tried to enhance their communication outside of daycares, helped them to find new friends.”
During her second maternity leave, Zlata was already aware of different options for creating daycares in Finland. She loved working in the native language and understood the need for something unique for the city. The Russian-speaking community is quite significant in Oulu. However, there are no educational centres or activities to support the Russian language in Oulu. Therefore, she decided to create the first family daycare for Russian-speaking children in Oulu and started her entrepreneurial path.
“I understood all the risks of entrepreneurship, especially during the pandemic. But when I founded my own company, I didn’t think about stability. I just wanted to try something new and follow my passion.”
Zlata likes the freedom that entrepreneurship has given to her. She can decide with students and their parents where they want to go, how long time they want to spend outside, what games to play, and how much they want to eat. Despite her primary job, Zlata has several hobbies. The first one is an illustration. This hobby started not so long ago. When some of her little students had a birthday, she painted unique postcards for them. Then she began to paint the characters for their little puppet theatre in the kindergarten. Children started to ask her to paint different characters or animals more and more often, and it began almost a daily hobby for Zlata. Her second hobby is art therapy. Through her art, she understood that it doesn’t have to be beautiful or perfect. The purpose of art is to express ourselves and to express our emotions.
“I love to draw. I love to work with people. I love helping. And art therapy is combining everything I love.”
Interviewer: Arina Lykova
Interviewee: Zlata Stipakova
Author: Arina Lykova
Photographer: Arina Lykova