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My Oulu: From Teams to the classroom – Vanessa Cunha is finally able to see her classmates in person


Most of the Finnish courses offered by the Multicultural Centre Villa Victor have been organised as in-person classes after a long period in distance learning. Vanessa Cunha started her Finnish studies directly by enrolling on a follow-up course.

The atmosphere in the United States had turned uncomfortable during Trump’s presidency, her child’s commute by subway took 45 minutes – and then the Corona pandemic hit. These are the reasons why Vanessa Cunha and her family decided to move from New York to Oulu last October.

Cunha’s husband is from Oulu, so it was not completely random that they ended up here. Cunha comes originally from Brazil and speaks Portuguese as her mother tongue. In February, she started her Finnish studies at Villa Victor by enrolling on a follow-up course.

“We’ve been together with my husband for 20 years. I’ve heard him speak Finnish and I understand the language. Now I really wanted to learn how to use the language. 20 years ago I took a Finnish course at the Columbia University. Back then it was the only class in the whole New York City. I got an idea how the language works”, she tells about her background.

Suomenopiskelija ja suomenopettaja
Students on the follow-up course have recently been learning Finnish word types and their conjugation. For example, the Finnish word kuusi conjugates to kuusen or kuuden in genitive form, depending on whether it means a tree or a number.

Her voice was familiar

Throughout last spring, Vanessa Cunha studied Finnish on Teams. Finally, in August, the students were able to return to the classroom and meet in person.

“On Teams, there was no dynamic between the students, because we could not see each others’ reactions. Now it is easier for us to understand each other as we see facial expressions.”

The Finnish teacher Riikka-Maija Gardemeister is also delighted to be back in the classroom.

“In the beginning of the autumn, we still had face masks on so I could only see the students’ eyes. But I recognised their voices. Although I had not met Vanessa before, I felt like I knew her because I had heard her voice”, she says.

Gardemeister started as a teacher at Villa Victor in February, at the same time as Vanessa Cunha started her studies.

“Back then, I did not see my students or colleagues in person. With my colleague we asked each other how many bubbles did you have on your class on Teams”, she says with a smile and refers to those round-shaped name symbols on Teams meetings.

Towards integration training

Vanessa Cunha has made her career as a pianist. Now living in Finland, she hopes to perform and teach as before.

“I did my PhD so that I could teach at the university-level. I can teach in English, of course, but I hope that one day I can teach in Finnish”, she says.

Cunha’s and her teacher’s paths will soon part, because Cunha has been admitted to an integration training. That will mean Finnish lessons five days a week from nine to two.

Gardemeister thinks that Cunha’s case is an excellent example of Villa Victor’s purpose:

“We bring people together and help them to leap forward.”

See a video about learning Finnish at Villa Victor:


Mun Oulun tavoite on vahvistaa oululaisuutta ja sen näkyvyyttä lisäten Oulun kaupungin pito- ja vetovoimaa kirjoittamalla paikallisista ja ajankohtaista aiheista, kuten kaupungin päätöksistä, tapahtumista, kolmannesta sektorista, yksittäisistä kaupunkilaisista sekä mielenkiintoisista ilmiöistä. Mun Oulu on osa Oulun kaupungin viestintäorganisaatiota.
Finnish teacher Riikka-Maija Gardemeister ja Finnish student Vanessa Cunha
Vanessa Cunha (on the right) has attended a Finnish course led by Riikka-Maija Gardemeister at Aleksinkulma this autumn. Photos: Sanna Häyrynen

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