Assistant Liisa Rutanen has worked at the Finnish Embassy longer than any other current employee. We talked with Liisa about the past thirteen years and learned how life at the Embassy has changed during that time.
I have lived in the U.S. for more than two decades now. My husband got a job offer from here in 1993 and we moved over with our firstborn who was only one year old back then. Before that, I had done a couple of short internships in Wyoming and Florida, but had never imagined that I would move back someday.
As years in D.C. metro area went by, I realized that many people in the Finnish community were somehow attached to the Embassy and started to keep an eye on what was happening here. In 2003, ten years after our move, I was hired by the department of Cultural Affairs.
Since 2012, I have worked as an Assistant in the Office of the Defense, Military, Naval and Air Attaché. Unlike other people working here at the Embassy, everyone in our office is actually an employee of the Finnish Defence Forces. However, all of us are located in the same building and there is constant interaction between our office and the other departments of the Embassy.
My job is to assist in anything that is required to keep our office running: I pay the bills, update calendars and assist in organizing events and visits of the representatives of the Finnish government. Sometimes the working days can get pretty hectic, especially when there are lots of visits, and prior to the most important events such as the Finnish Defence Force's Flag Day and the Finnish Independence Day celebrations. Sometimes the pace is more relaxed.
When I first started working at the Embassy's cultural department, the internet was not being used all that much, which is why people called in way more often to ask all kinds of questions. They were curious about so many things – from education and healthcare to climate and Finnish design. Naturally we did use e-mail already then, but there was no social media yet. The biggest differences are thus related to the ways we communicate with the surrounding world.
It has been very rewarding as I have experienced so much. During the thirteen years I have spent here, there have been four different Ambassadors of Finland. Obviously there have been plenty of other changes in the personnel, too. In the Office of the Defense Attaché, rotation of employees is really fast, which means that somebody leaves almost every year. Goodbyes always feel sad, but on the other hand you get to know a lot of new and interesting people.
I have worked here longer than any other current employee. It is quite common that the Embassy employees only work here for five years or less. However, it is not completely unforeseen to stay here for a long time. When I started working here, the Ambassador's Social Secretary of the time had been in the house for forty-two years!
Both Finland and U.S. have their good features, but nowadays my home is definitely here. It has been easy for me to adapt, mostly because I moved here with my family. It also helps that I work at a Finnish-speaking environment. Besides, I get to make a business trip to Finland each fall, which is always nice.
I have been lucky enough to witness many interesting events here. I will never forget our first EU Open House celebration back in 2007. We were expecting approximately 500 guests but got 2,500 people instead! At first it seemed chaotic, but eventually we did very well, thanks to our team members' patience and positive attitude. I believe those are important qualities to have at any job.