Spaniard Alejandro Pedregal

Spaniard Alejandro Pedregal has had his struggles in Finland, from surviving with the lack of communication to finding a thick enough coat for winter. Nevertheless, he appreciates the security and stability of Finland, as well as the extensive educational opportunities. Having already left his mark on the Finnish film scene, Alejandro now contemplates leaving the country.

What do you do here in Finland?

I’m working at Aalto University in School of Arts, Design, and Architecture as a researcher, and finishing my doctoral studies hopefully this year. I’m a director and a screenwriter. I have worked for many years in Kuvataideakatemia, through which I established Lens Politica Festival nine years ago. By now, I have passed the festival arranging responsibilities on to others, though – last time I took part in setting it up was in 2011. Since then I have concentrated on my research and film work.

When and how did you end up here?

The first time I came to Finland was in 2001, when I received a grant for a different research I was doing back then to study over here. I was splitting my time between Finland and Spain until 2004 when I decided to officially settle here. I stayed because I got offered a job in Kuvataideakatemia. I’m travelling a lot, often spending time outside the country, but I’m based here.

What attracts you about Finnish culture?

It would have to be the general sense of social respect, some kind of communal feeling. I find it that people are less attached to their families here than for example in Spain, but more respectful to people they don’t know. There’s a certain sense of security and stability. The educational opportunities, as well as the quality of education, would also have to be mentioned. What I specifically like is that the society here is horizontal rather than vertical, by which I mean that there’s not such strict hierarchy: it’s easy to gain access to institutions and people on a societal level.

Have you had any worries about your life in Finland?

When I first came here, I didn’t think too much about it as I thought I was only going to be here for a year. After that my worries have had more to do with work rather than the culture. And with certain practicalities, such as learning the language, and whether I’m going to find a thick enough coat for winter! Of course, I miss my family and friends, which sometimes makes it difficult.

How has Finland changed you?

I’m probably not the best to judge on this one myself but I think that certain social, Finnish-oriented things, as those I’ve mentioned, have caught up on me, and maybe some Spanish-oriented things have merged with them. But I must say that it was probably easy for me to adapt to those as I was brought up in a politically active family that paid a lot of attention to education. Due to that, I have always been aware of being socially respectful to others, or so I have tried. So I’d say it’s been more of a transition than a change.

What culture shocks did you experience when coming to Finland?

The lack of verbal communication is sometimes shocking. It also stretches into the lack of emotional communication: people tend not to express their feelings unless you are very, very close. And even then it seems to be a struggle sometimes.

Have you been able to settle and integrate into Finnish society?

I think so. I have friends here, I have a job – I have managed to find my place in this country. Lately, I haven’t been doing so much integrating, though, as I have been working on my thesis – I feel like a hermit locked in most of the time! I’ve had difficulties with the language and some other things, and even though I’ve tried not to make such a big deal out of them, at times they pile up and easily develop into greater obstacles. But generally, I think I have done quite a good job.

What are your future wishes for your life here?

First of all, I want to finish my dissertation. After that I need to find a job within the academic field. Then my doors are open for any new opportunities to come. Being a filmmaker is what I want to do, and I’m not sure I can do it in Finland. I’m not exactly itching to leave and could otherwise stay, but I have been waiting for some work-related things to take place here that haven’t. And that is why I’m open to the option of emigrating.

What is your favourite Finnish word?

I don’t know about a word but the Finnish pronunciation creates funny situations sometimes. For example, the way that the Finns pronounce The Beatles makes it sound like the band was called ‘The Beatless’, which I find very amusing. I even thought of starting a mockery band of that name that covers The Beatles’ songs. You wouldn’t have to be very good doing that – I mean, what can you expect if the name of the band is The Beatless!

Mari Storpellinen