Finnish globetrotter Pini Kemppainen shares the ups and downs of nomadic life, her relationship with global citizenship, and what truly makes a house a home.
On an evening walk, we saw a picture of this place in a realtor’s window, and the next day, we went to see it and just decided to buy it. It sold itself to us. At the time, my husband and I were living in Belgium and visiting Finland for Mother's Day. Ironically, my husband said just a few days ago, “little did we know what meaning this place would have to us.” It has become the most permanent home throughout our years of constant change and travel. So, my object of affection is not a small object, it's a country house in Loppi that we bought 39 years ago. The name of the house is “Anttila”. That is Finnish for “a place of Antti”, which is a Finnish male name. It is fairly sizable because it used to be an old farmhouse, but it's not built as a cabin. It has a little land around it, with a field and forests and a green yard for children and grandchildren to run around in. You don’t see any neighbours, so it's a very, very private place. It's a happy place. There's a very nice feeling here. Even though we call it our country house it feels like a home, and we often spend Christmases here, too.
I would say that our country house has three areas of significance; continuity, togetherness and gathering. With our children living around the world, it has been an easy place to come to. When the children were small, we gathered here as extended family, but now it has become particularly important with our grandchildren. There is a story about one of our daughters, who now lives in the Netherlands. Some years ago she showed a picture of a palace and the country house to her sons and asked, “which one would you choose?” Three of the boys said “Anttila” and one of them selected the palace. It shows that as soon as our grandchildren learn how to speak, they start talking about Anttila and its significance in our family.
My name is Pini Kemppainen. My real name is Raija. And my middle name is Marketta. So Pini, the name I go by, has nothing to do with either of those names. You know when you are a teenager and you give nicknames? Well, I am a brunette and when I was young, I happened to have brown corduroy jeans that I would wear with a dark brown pullover. My friend said, “you are like a bean.” Maybe also because, physically, I'm teeny tiny. So for a while, I was called “Bini”. Sometime later that name then turned into “Pini”. It just somehow fit me, so I started using it from the age of 12. I have friends who don't know my real name. Even in official church and academic contexts, I’m announced as Pini. As I said, it fits me.
I think that the continuity of our country house needs to be understood by the fact that for over 20 years, I lived away from my native Finland. We’ve lived in multiple countries; we’ve had homes in Germany, Belgium, the US twice, Estonia and Saudi Arabia. Also, in my youth, I worked in Sweden for a while. When I move abroad, I adjust immediately. I have a saying that I change countries as easily as I change a t-shirt. You are kind of floating in the world. It’s lovely when you, in a way, genuinely get to be kind of a “world citizen”. But, particularly now that we have aged and are retired, we sometimes find ourselves asking, “where is home?”
What's interesting is that I don’t feel a connection to Siuntio, the small town we currently live in. Or even to Jyväskylä, the city that I am originally from. The surroundings we live in now are beautiful, and I love to be very close to the ocean, the Baltic Sea. But beyond that, I don't feel a connection to the town generally. Being a global citizen and a nomad causes some questions for me, and especially for our children. I remember reading a school essay that my daughter wrote, and she was describing herself as “third culture” or a “luggage child”, not really belonging anywhere. Another daughter, when she was graduating from high school said, “I would like to be a diplomat, but I don’t know for which country.” For my children, who mostly live abroad themselves, this country home has been a place to come back to, a home. I think some of our children, and me perhaps, have multiple cultural identities, which is wonderful. You don't have to have one single culture you identify with, especially in a global world. When you don’t feel you belong, there's also this fantastic freedom when you don't have to be connected to a certain place. It has its challenges, but the positive side is that you are so free.
For the first 20 years of our marriage we moved quite a bit for my husband’s work, then the next 20 years it was for my work. We had four kids, one right after the other, then we had a three-year break before having another two, so we have six children. There were usually two in diapers at any given time! All the while, I was studying and we were moving abroad constantly.
My Master’s is in Education, and I have a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. My youngest was nine and I had a few teenagers at home when I studied for my PhD. I think if I was to ask them how they felt, I do believe that they would say that I wasn't home enough during those years. I could have had a better work-life balance. I think my teenage girls may have needed their mother to be around a little more. And although I don't hear any negative feedback, I do carry some guilt due to that experience. However, I wouldn't change pursuing a PhD degree, not at all. I think it has been a blessing for my family and, interestingly, has allowed me to connect academically with so many of my children. We have common interests. Whether that's in innovation, education, cultural and social studies or in business. My desire to study language and culture was driven by my own experiences and observations in life which has always been very important to me. After completing my PhD and working for a few years at Brigham Young University in the US, I changed my career and started working for a leadership institute. I was still looking at leadership through national or other levels of culture, and it was here where I really started putting my passion and research into leadership and cross-cultural management.
I am also interested in women’s role in organisations – any organisation. When we were part of opening Russia and the Baltics as an area for missionary work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I observed what powerful women can accomplish. The women’s organisation within the Church, called the Relief Society, was usually the first to be up and running and well organised. I really admired the women there. They were very much the backbone of the Church's organisation in those areas. As I emphasise women, something comes to mind that I’ve not thought of before in this context: the words that the prophet of the Church, President Russell M. Nelson, said about how we need women in these times and how women are going to change the world. About how powerful they are. I very much saw that in Russia and the Baltics.
My experience in Saudi Arabia from 2012 to 2018 was also very special. Again, it felt like I was on the frontier of things opening up or seeing something new. I was intrigued by the changes that took place in women's lives in Saudi. Personally, as a mother of a large family (six children and nineteen grandchildren) and as a woman of faith, my values made me fit in so well over there. My values were so close to the values of the Saudi women. At Dar Al-Hekma University, a female university, I ran a large department of over 50 professors and lecturers, and, sometimes, I felt like I was running the Relief Society. I am 100% sure that what helped me most in this job was being a woman of faith. I was part of the University Council, and we often started the council meeting with a prayer. When I worked at Brigham Young University, there were also prayers offered on some occasions. We connect with people through our faith. Faith was not a divider–it was a unifier. That made all the difference to the work we did.
So, as I have spent time travelling across the world in many different capacities, I think the country house has been the one constant for me and my family. This is home. I’m sitting in it right now. It has been the place that has rooted us to Finland. Take the bird as a symbolic metaphor –it’s like a bird on a long flight. It has to land on a stone somewhere, on a surface, to rest and then it can continue on its journey. This house has been a place of continuity and stability for our family. The place where we come for reprieve, gather ourselves and then we can continue our flight. The bird is free, but it has to have a surface to land on from time to time.
Pre-production: Krischelle Joseph
Interview: Krischelle Joseph
Assistant interviewer: Emily Pauna
Transcription: Sarah Smart
Writing: Krischelle Joseph
Editing: Zinta Jauntis & Amy Epps
Audio: Emma Reyelts
Photography: Pini Kemppainen (self) and Emillia Kemppainen