If your happiness resides somewhere between the bushes of the Botanical Garden, or near the riverbanks where the self-made thinkers sit, then you are in the right place – in Tartu.
Listen to the podcast interview with Mika Keränen:
We met for a talk at the UT Botanical Garden, a special and beloved place for Mika in Tartu. When he writes children’s books, he can easily visualise kids having adventures in these settings here. And wherever Mika travels, he always tries to visit botanical gardens. So far Tartu rules them all out, it seems. He feels almost as though he is in his home garden here.
Back in 1993, Estonia was just the name of a new country to him. Having encountered an old university town with rich history, Mika experienced a positive cultural shock.
When asked about his student life, Mika acknowledged that he did not really need pubs or clubs, but he enjoyed spending time with his friends, sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea and pepper vodka, and talking: “It’s enough when I have friends near me and all the time in the world to talk.”
At the time of his studies and before Tartu’s lecturers could easily travel and learn abroad, Mika recalls two types of teachers: those who didn’t have experience with an international class and those who “were not afraid of foreigners”. He knows that in Estonia it takes time before your students start talking to you. Estonians are pretty shy.
To provoke dialogue with his students, Mika tries to discuss books by Sofi Oksanen with them. Oksanen is an award-winning Finnish author whose novels elaborate on Estonian history. Now his students must go see the new cinematic version of “Purge“, which Mika believes to be an Oscar film.
Autumn is Mika’s favourite season, especially on warm sunny days like the day we met last week. He misses autumn in Finland, or rather his family and friends there, many of whom have settled down beyond Finnish borders by now. But then again, you can’t be in two places at the same time.
Still, Estonian winter is the best – at least for work: “The climate is perfect for me, since I need colder seasons to think and work.”
Currently Mika is working on another children’s book. He carries along notebooks and a pen to write down dialogues for his characters, or the meatier part of his books. Only then does he sit behind the computer to type in what’s ready. And he likes to work in empty cafes, which he needs to switch as empty places tend to go bankrupt.
“The city has inspired me a lot”, says Mika. Besides, Tartu has suited his life philosophy pretty well: “You don’t feel strange here if you think differently. I mean, if you are not fond of making a career, getting a new car, and if money is not the meaning of your life.
If your happiness resides somewhere between the bushes of the Botanical Garden, or near the riverbanks where the self-made thinkers sit, then you are in the right place – in Tartu.”