I had to forget who I was and what I did in the Czech Republic…

wish

I met Vendula thanks to our children attending the same school and same class. Not only they can speak Slovak together, we were also lucky enough to become friends. Vendula has been living in Finland for more than 10 years and she has gone through the same difficulties and experiences as I have so far. Having similar backgrounds, there is never silence when we are together 🙂 She is a social, talkative and willing person and I am happy that we met. You can read Vendula’s story and find out what it was like to change a career in Finland? And whether she regrets her decisions.

Vendula Fischerova, or Vendy, has graduated from psychology in her home country, The Czech Republic. Even if she hasn’t been active in that field for many years I can still see the connection between her current and previous careers. Both have in common caring for people’s well-being. Before she decided on studying psychology, she had been under the influence of her father, who is a paediatrician. 

“I wanted to be a doctor just like him. All my childhood games were around being a doctor. I read all the medical books in our local library. When I was maybe 10 years old, I started to flip through the books about neurology, as there was nothing left at the kids’ section (laughing). I was interested in everything at least remotely connected to medicine. In the last year of high school, I was heavily in my teenage years, and I told myself that I will no longer do what is expected of me. Everybody was saying, oh, yes, you will be like your dad, you will become a doctor, right? My father has his own practice and a large group of patients, and it was kind of expected of me to become a paediatrician too and get in charge, once he retired.” 

But teenage years were precarious. Vendy met a boy who told her about Freud and Jung: “I began reading psychology books and one day I woke up and knew I didn’t want to apply for medicine. As a kind of rebellion act I applied to study psychology instead, and eventually got accepted. My father never told me anything and supported me throughout the studies, but I think I broke his heart a little the day I told him I had not applied to be a doctor.”     

Some rebellious decisions might be regretted after a while: “In the middle of my studies, as we were going through our own therapeutic process and self-reflection, I realised with unease that I had chosen psychology mainly because I myself needed the therapy, and to actually help myself and my family. I was convinced that it was a stupid reason and started to doubt whether I actually wanted to be a therapist. If that is a role I can believe in…” 

Vendula believes that the role of a therapist is more or less a supplement for a dysfunctional community. She said that in the past individuals had much bigger support in their social network. Family and communities were looking out for each other. Also, people were better rooted in their religious community, so if they needed to talk to someone outside their circle, they went to see a priest.

“I went through a huge disillusionment and I was considering quitting the studies. But then I met a wonderful teacher, Bohumila Bastecka, who introduced us to the intervention in crisis and working with trauma. And that ignited my passion for psychology again. I felt like that had a real meaning – to work with clients here and now. To stabilize someone in an acute crisis. To help them navigate through their emotions and make them feel safe. To be with them and witness as they (with your help) sort out the situation and find the solution that lies within their existing network. I loved every part of it – studying it, as well as practising it later on a helpline for children and young adults. Even though it was very demanding and difficult work.”

As the job of a phone consultant is very demanding, plus did not pay well, Vendy experienced burn-out and decided to switch into project management. After she moved to Finland, even though her educational background and work experiences were solid, they did not help much during job searching. Having a Master degree in psychology from abroad was back then tricky, especially if it was in a Middle or Eastern European country.

“Many people told me to just get a licence, and open my practice as a psychologist. In their opinion it did not matter that I haven’t done it for many many years, the important thing was that I had the paper. But I probably have too high standards, because back then I felt too responsible for the wellbeing of my possible clients. I could not just start working, knowing that for the first year or two I will be just “faking it until I make it”. I needed to study again and it was not possible in English. Also, I was not that sure if I actually wanted to be a therapist, and working in the field of intervention in the crisis was out of the question because of my lack of Finnish language skills.”

Working in Finland as a project manager didn’t work for her either: “I simply didn’t find any job at my level of education and skills. What I basically ended up doing in Finland was babysitting and cleaning. And in the first year of my life here I was also modelling for several drawing classes in the different art schools in Helsinki. Then I became pregnant and went on maternity leave for almost 6 years.”

After the maternity leave Vendula got some help from the Unemployment office and ended up with concrete ideas on what to do with her work life in Finland:

I promised myself that after the maternity leave I am not gonna do any cleaning or babysitting anymore. And if within a year, there will be not even a little prospect of a decent job that would make me happy and that would pay bills, I would move back to the Czech republic. I was already divorced, so it became an even harder decision, as the father of my children is not from the Czech republic. As it comes to my possibilities back then, the first option was the area of massage and physiotherapy. You remember, I wanted to be a medical doctor before, and I still had it in me. The drive to work with the body, to understand it.”

The second option was to study something more related to medicine that would help Vendy sneak back into psychology: “I would first study for a practical nurse or a caregiver (in Finnish lähihoitaja) as many other immigrants in Finland do so. After that, I could have continued to become a nurse in a hospital, and later on maybe become a nurse in the psychiatric area or so-called depresiivihoitaja, which is a position specifically created to take care of people with the early signs of depression.” 

Being a divorced mother with 2 small children, one has to be pragmatic, though:

“I realised that if I become a caregiver, I will have to work shifts, and also during the weekends. As a divorced mother of two, I did not want to leave my lovely kids in the daycare overnight or at the weekends. And so I applied to several massage schools in Helsinki, hoping that I had made the right decision. I was not sure how I was going to like it. It is quite intimate work and not everyone is comfortable with touching other people.  Luckily in my case, it was a good choice. I really like my work and I believe I am good at it.” 

To look back at the beginning, after Vendula’s arrival to Finland, she accepted unqualified job positions to have some sort of income. It is not an easy decision to go from the position of a project manager to the position of a cleaning lady. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about a cleaning position, but if you are forced into it, regardless of your skills, education, etc., it cannot really fulfil you.  

“In Prague, I worked for 3 and a half years in an international environment. I had quite a big team, a huge responsibility. When I was deciding to move to Finland I thought that with my fluent English and with the few contacts I had in Helsinki I would find good work within several months. First 3 months I was really motivated. I moved in in the summer and summer in Finland is really beautiful. I would wake up at 5 in the morning with my partner who worked at the building construction. I cycled or walked around, exploring life in Finland, then I would sit at the computer and spend hours sending job applications, writing motivation letters, and browsing the internet looking for different organisations I would love to cooperate with...

As time passed and nothing was happening, I started to slowly lower my expectations. The first couple of months, I kept applying only to the positions I would pick in the Czech republic. However, I realized very soon that without perfect Finnish I have no chance there. Gradually I had to lower my demands. I tried to apply for everything within the helping sector. From the highly qualified project management positions, down to the unqualified lower positions in the daycares – about 150 applications, and nothing, only one interview, that turned into a complete disaster…

I was left with one option: to open my own company and to offer cleaning services and babysitting. Back then even cleaning companies demanded at least good spoken Finnish, so I did not have any chance of being employed. Thanks to my contacts, I was slowly building a whole network of my customers. For example, my next customers were two international families and I really loved those kids! We were always joking, that they had the most educated babysitter they could have wished for (laughter)...

So these are my beginnings. It all happens slowly. At first, you have ambitions, big dreams, which slowly but gradually you have to give up. And after some time you are left with the feeling that you cannot do anything, but clean and taking care of other people’s kids… It completely kills your self-esteem. And of course, you forget a lot of things. Honestly, I am not sure if I would find the courage to do psychology or project management again. After such a long time. Maternity leave itself has a huge impact on your self-esteem. This was a terrible combo for my career. But on the other hand, it was a very humbling and teaching experience. I had been identifying myself with my career way too much. I was overworking. It wasn’t healthy. The job was an important part of my identity and it was a very important experience to suddenly lose it and be literally no one.  It either breaks you or pushes you to grow up. I think I grew up.”

Does Vendy regret that she stayed in Finland regardless of the circumstances?

I regret almost nothing in my life. I believe that even the bad experiences have taught me a lot, pushed me to be a better person. I also talk about my experience with other immigrants. I think it’s good for them to know what I have gone through, as they may feel less helpless and lonely in their own journey. On the other hand, if I lived in the Czech republic, my life would be completely different. I would never become a cleaning lady. I would not have been standing naked in art class or cleaning in the travel agency, where the owner stands behind your ass to show you where he wants you to vacuum clean again. I was so desperate that I accepted almost any job opportunity that would bring me some financial independence and a feeling of worth (well, not everything obviously!). I would do anything to gain my independence and self-worth back. And if you are not careful enough, out of that desperation you can lose your pride, self-respect. I believe I would not have to face that back at home.” 

In some other interview with my other friend, we mentioned that the impact of unemployment on the self-esteem of immigrants in Finland is so huge, that we might actually never completely recover from it. For Vendy the new beginning in the new career did the trick: “I had to, unfortunately, forget who I was and what I did in the Czech Republic. As pursuing my old path felt impossible, I accepted that I had to start from zero, from the very bottom. And I did.” 

And how does this story continue? What is it like to start a new business as a massage therapist? You will find out soon in the second part of the article.

Vendula Fischerova

Who is Vendula Fischerova?

BIO

Life enthusiast, who always believes in the goodness of people and fullness of experience.

Vendula is a mother of two, a Czech expatriate, a former psychologist and a future physiotherapist.

She loves talking, singing and dancing like crazy. Until the end of 2019, she wrote regularly a blog about life in Finland.

If you would like to try how good a massage therapist she is, you can book your time at Kehokulma where she currently works with 4 other amazing colleagues.

6 Comments

  1. “It is not an easy decision to go from the position of a project manager to the position of a cleaning lady. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about a cleaning position, but if you are forced into it, regardless of your skills, education, etc., it cannot really fulfill you.” well-said. sadly this situation apply to too many people.

    1. Thank you for your comment! Exactly, it’s very sad that people cannot fulfill their full potential. But as Vendy said, it will either break you or you will grow from it. Let’s hope that most people will grow… But still, also structural changes in the society have to be done.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Yes, I believe it is sad when people can’t contribute to society with all their skills, knowledge and experience they have. While for many is meaningful to have a job regardless their level of education, for some others it’s important to stay in the field of expertise they like. But I agree, that just the fact to have paid job position has an enormous impact or your self-esteem and belonging to the community.

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