To a new occupation with a contract of apprenticeship
in a new home country

Happy and chatty Zehra Otajagic came to Finland from Bosnia as a quota refugee in 1996. Zehra describes her childhood in Bosnia as “normal”. However, she had to leave her home country when she was still young during the backwash of the Balkan war. Uncertainty of her husband’s fate was pressing on her mind until she received her first letter through the Red Cross, and then, she got to Finland in the end, Zehra told. The journey to the far North started from Sarajevo and passed through Croatia and Denmark on the way to Helsinki. Zehra’s husband already lived in Jyväskylä when his wife arrived in summery Helsinki four months later from where the journey continued towards Central Finland and Jyväskylä by coach. When Zehra could see only woods and hardly any habitation or people, she started feeling a little scared: Where have I got to? When she saw the sign for Jyväskylä she knew she had reached her destination and she felt great relief.

Right from the start, it was clear to this young woman that language skills are an important factor in integration to a new society as well as acquiring a new job. Learning the language gave her also a change to get herself an occupation. After the language course, Zehra was at home for a couple of months, but as an active person, she wanted to get on with her life. In the end, Zehra went to the Employment Office to ask if she could have a place on the advanced course in Finnish. The Employment Office advised her to get a work training place so that her language skills would get better. In 1999, she found her first work training place at the nursery working with children.

“I was hoping to get a place in the group with babies and small children because I thought it would be easier with the language.” However, the work training place was with 6-years-old children in the pre-school group and at the beginning, it was hard. After that in 2003, she worked at the SPR* Flea Market in Kirri. The duties at customer services at the check-out strengthened her language skills as she got to talk with the customers every day. After the SPR Flea Market, she went through a ten month course of catering and customer service training. The next work training place was at Euromarket in Palokka. Her colleague told her about training under an apprenticeship contract and I asked her what it meant. However, she could not find an apprenticeship place so Zehra got in touch with Divisional Director Raija Koikkalainen of the SPR Flea Market at Kirri. In March 2005, she started her commercial studies under the apprenticeship contract, but the abstract studies proved to be challenging for a woman who had lived in Finland for only a couple of years. She did not, however, want to finish studying and, together with the school and Raija, the commercial studies were changed to a salesperson’s qualification.

Zehra trained to be a salesperson and she has fulfilled her youth dream after the war broke off her earlier studies. In 2005, she started her vocational examination of a salesperson under the apprenticeship contract at Jyväskylä Institute of Adult Education. She now works in Jyväskylä (in the Seppälä area) at the SPR Flea Market. She has found in her new home country a new occupation for herself that she really enjoys. Her responsibilities are acting as a person in charge, instructing new employees about the workplace, working at the check-out and customer service as well as receiving the donation articles. Zehra says that a good point about her job is that a salesperson’s job is a kind of “one’s own thing” so there is nothing really that would seem too hard. Even when thinking hard, she can not find bad points about her job. “We have a good team of seven employees and it always feels nice to come to work. I feel that Finland is my home country. The best things in Finland are good service, friendliness and how people are helping others”, thinks the mother of two children remembering fondly her Finnish neighbour whom she got to know on the playground.

Taija Pyykkönen

This article has been provided by Jyväskylä regional office of SPR.

SPR = Finnish Red Cross (Suomen Punainen Risti)

Käännös: Keski-Suomen tulkkikeskus