Cheering the Pride Week in Oulu and our wonderful international community who lives here, we would like to share one more great story of the wise person, LGBTQ+ activist and coordinator at Oulu Pride RY, Kajetan Żelech-Alatarvas.
Kajetan is originally from a small place called Zielona Góra, a beautiful town in Poland that is surrounded by vineyards. He has completed his bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management and master’s degree in Enterprise Management from Wrocław School of Banking. He also has a post graduate diploma in IT management from Gdańsk University of Technology. Kajetan has had a successful career in Poland. He worked as a junior IT specialist and then was promoted to a process owner and change manager position at IBM. The next big step in his career is joining the Nordea Bank in Poland in which the headquarters is located in Helsinki. In both IBM and Nordea Bank, Kajetan took an active role when it came to projects related to diversity and inclusion in the organizations.
“In both organizations I was a founder and a leader of employee resource groups that were focusing on LGBTQ+ environment. And besides leading the group, we were organizing multiple events: charity events, educational events, events related to awareness about LGBTQ+, workshops etc. We were cooperating with several NGO’s. And we took part in the pride inclusivity.”
Love has played the biggest role in Kajetan’s life decision to move to Finland. He has met the love of his life when he was still in Poland and together, they have decided to move to Finland since his partner is originally from Finland. According to Kajetan, there is another important reason as to why they left Poland and settled in Oulu, Finland.
“We were comparing both countries. I had a really good job at Nordea Bank with a really good salary and bonuses etc. I had my friends and family over there, but we thought to move to Finland after I received some threats from people in Poland, and because I’m not a member of LGBT+ community who is still hiding in the closet, I’m quite loud and I’m fighting for rights. I’m also supporting women’s rights, rights of people with disabilities… We thought that maybe it’s not the safest country in the world…And we thought, well, nothing like that is happening here in Finland. Maybe it will be easier for us, even though it’s not easier for me to find a job here. It’s easier for us to live here, to hold our hands and to not hide our relationship.”
Kajetan states that unlike in Poland, here in Finland people are less judgmental towards the LGBTQ+ community and even the government is taking measures to secure their rightful place in the society.
Even though Kajetan was lucky enough to be in a secure environment, enjoying his life with his husband, he has not yet been lucky enough to find a suitable career in Finland. But he has been preparing himself for this new culture even before he left his home country. Kajetan has taken several Finnish language courses before and after coming to Finland. Then he enrolled in several other courses offered by the Oulu University of Applied Sciences. Having no luck in finding a suitable job, currently he is attending the Finnish Integration course offered by the Oulu Municipality. It is a full-time Finnish language course offered to foreign residents with the intention of helping them to find good careers after taking the course. But it was surprising for Kajetan to know how crucial it is for every employee at any organization to be very fluent in speaking Finnish.
“Here even for jobs like cleaning, working as a cashier, housekeeping in hotels, everywhere the Finnish language is mandatory, and the basic knowledge of the language is not enough…after applying to hundreds and thousand jobs here, starting from the manager role that I had in Poland and finishing with cleaning, they always said: ‘Sorry, but you don’t speak Finnish fluently’. That was quite surprising and depressing for me, thinking to myself that I am not good enough to be a cashier or at least a cleaner.”
During the discussion, Kajetan raised an important point regarding the success rate of the integration programme offered by the Finnish government. He argues that while the programme is hugely beneficial for foreigners living in Finland, it has a missing component. He suggests that it would be more effective if the programme has some allotted time for internships which can be carried out at the same time as the language course. He says “to be immersed by the language at the workplace and at school” will help the immigrants to get hands-on experience on how to operate the language in different scenarios. He also says that it will help them to become more fluent in handling the language.
“I know that there is an internship at the end of the courses for a period of one month or so, but I think that it should be more diverse and more balanced…”
Kajetan then expressed his opinion on diversity at the workplace. He states that the more diverse the workplace is the more productive the work would be. He says similar to the effort the Finnish government takes to teach the foreign residents the Finnish language, the culture and integrate them into the Finnish society with the aim of making the society more international, the effort from the Finnish citizens to accept, to communicate and to collaborate with the foreign talent in the country is essential to make the society a diverse and an international place. Unless the citizens of the country are ready to be more open and welcoming towards foreign residents, it would be difficult for them to truly bend into the society even if they become fluent in communicating in the country’s native language.
“The foreigners who are coming here, they are not coming here only to work for Wolt, Foodora or to clean etc. But yes, some people do and they can do that and they would like to do that because still, the salaries are much higher than in other countries. But some people are expecting something more than that, right?”
Kajetan is a coordinator in the Oulu Pride RY. His passion to take part in similar projects back in the day made him think that he could actually support the LGBTQ+ community in Oulu by offering his skills and competencies to the Oulu Pride.
“I thought why not support the environment here in Finland. By comparing the quality of life of the LGBTQ+ communities here in Finland and in Poland, it’s much higher here, but still, there are some areas that can be improved.”
To conclude the discussion, we asked Kajetan his opinion about living in Poland and then living in Finland after coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. His answer was simple and precise. After all, it all comes down to peace of mind no matter where you live and how difficult life would get. According to Kajetan, Finland is one of the best countries to live in without fear, judgment and refusal by society.
“I never felt discriminated here in Finland, I feel freer here.”
Author: Hansika Ambahelagedara
Editor: Arina Lykova
Photographer: Arina Lykova