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Pörtom Resident Realizes his Dream in California

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A village with an odd name of Velkmoss in old Pörtom has witnessed two important news events in Finland in one week. First, we read on the Internet that Norway’s queen Sonja’s ancestors came from Pörtom. Her ancestor Oskar Wiik was born in a soldier’s torp in Velkmoss. Some days later Hufvudsbladet reported a long interview with California emigrant Mikael Källros also from Velkmoss, which is a little village between Riksåttan and Strandvägen. We reproduce here most of the interview with Källros, an Österbottningar who found his niche in the American construction industry. What is different about him is that he was formally educated as an engineer. All other Österbottningar and Finländers who have become known for their innovations in the construction industry here in this country have, without exception, learned and taught themselves directly on the job.

The USA continues to be the land where one can realize his dreams, said Mikael Källros. He has lived on the American continent for half of his life. After his student exams at home in Österbotten he left his family and friends to study for an engineering degree in Vancouver, Canada. He stayed seven years in Vancouver until he received his Master of Applied Science. In the summer of 1987 he moved to Los Angeles, California. A classmate called him and said there were lots of jobs there. He drove there and called around and was offered several jobs. The first job was with an engineering department in Beverly Hills where he constructed everything from factories to luxury homes for film stars and began a brilliant career.

Today he is project head and partner in EQE International, an international firm that specializes in earthquake-safe building. The company does risk analyses on ways to reinforce buildings, bridges and roads to better resist earthquakes and other catastrophies such as hurricanes and floods. His work at EQE has taken him to many catastrophies around the world. In the fall of 1999 he visited the earthquake-striken areas in Turkey, Greece and Taiwan. He was stationed at Borneo in Indonesia in 1998-99 where he was a witness to the bloody riots. He has also worked in Chile, Italy and the Philippines.

Mikael has been visiting his home in Velkmoss for the first time in four years. His parents live in the little village of Velkmoss in Pörtom in Närpes, 50 kilometers south of Vasa. He represents the typical well-paid middle-class American who gives a lot of his life to the workplace.

He said: “Most of my co-workers are Republicans. But they are not interested in politics.” He is attracted to the Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and says Gore has an intellectual appearance and appears to be oriented to the IT world. He also feels a mutual connection with the ultra-conservative wing in Bush’s camp that claims to ban abortion and the teaching of religion in schools. He would vote for Al Gore if he had the right to vote in the country where he has lived for 13 years. But it doesn’t matter to him whether the new president is a Democrat or Republican. He can’t vote in the November election because he isn’t an American citizen. He feels it’s nothing to fret over. The November election won’t change the American way of life because the country has had good times for several years. He notices the boom mostly in the price of houses and the fact that people continue to buy new cars. He mentioned that people work 48 hours a week; he works from 8:30 to 6 p.m. and has an hour for lunch but he doesn’t take that long. He said the American market is flexible in a way that is only beginning in Finland. Unemployment is low, about 2% in the area where he works. The reduced unemployment has made the community safer. In Los Angeles the crime rate has decreased due to increased employment. But he says the US is not a dangerous country to live in. He doesn’t think that crime in relation to the population is larger than in other countries. He said the media has only focused more on crime in the US.

Today he and his Irish live-in Bernice, whom he had met during his studies in Canada, live in the quiet Newport Beach, 50 km south of Los Angeles. He works 5 km. from there in Irvine which was named the safest city in the US for several years. Irvine is a good example of development in California. Earlier the city was a ranch, but each year new office complexes and shopping centers spread out over the old farming land. There are strawberry fields outside his office, but he said that in 5-6 years streets will be built there.

It is a long way from his parents’ strawberry field in Velkmoss to the strawberry field in Irvine. Obviously Mikael misses his family and friends in the old country. But he doesn’t think life in California is much different than life in Österbotten. One eats, works, and watches TV. The difference is he has more TV channels and better weather. Another difference is that friends in Finland have considerably longer vacations than his yearly three weeks. In return, Mikael can practice his favorite sports year-round: sailing in San Diego or skiing in the mountains at Big Bear, both about an hour away.

When he was asked to compare the Finnish and American society, he said the school system and care for the elderly is better in Finland. In the US the variety of standards depends on how rich the school district is. To have a fairly acceptable old age, people have to use their saved money and retirement pensions. As consumers, people have it better in the US than in Finland. Food, clothing and gasoline are cheaper, while houses and living costs are higher. Health care varies according to what the employers offer. Mikael has free sick care and dental care through his employer. He said that people who have to pay for their sick care may have to shell out up to 1200 MK a month for health insurance. A clear advantage in the US is that it’s easy to start your own firm and be successful. Legislation in the US is not as involved as in Finland and the market is enormous. It’s possible to realize dreams and people do it all the time.



NORDEN, 14 Sep 2000 Translated by June Pelo


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