May 22, 2019

Do I know you?

One of Simo’s life missions has been to learn to sing the national anthems of the world in their original languages. He’s now up to number 62!
One of Simo’s life missions has been to learn to sing the national anthems of the world in their original languages. He’s now up to number 62!
Julia Bushueva

In the first instalment of our new series, we get to know development manager Simo Kekäläinen, who is also an aspiring voice actor from Oulu and the host of Polar Bear Pitching.

If you happened to pay a visit to Good News from Finland back in March, you may have stumbled across some memorable live footage of bodies climbing in and out of an ice hole carved in the frozen sea.

If that wasn’t enough to provoke a gaping jaw, then perhaps it was the fact that they were doing it in front of a crowd ­– while pitching their startup company to a panel of investors – that etched it firmly in your memory.

Simo Kekäläinen has particularly fond memories of Polar Bear Pitching. He was the master of ceremonies at the event for the first time, his witty banter with the participants keeping the live stream moving along at a brisk pace.

Such vocal talent is just the tip of the, ahem, iceberg. Read on as he answers a variety of questions, touching on Da Vinci, Robin Williams and the versatility of the ukulele.

Belated congratulations on hosting Polar Bear Pitching for the first time. What did you learn from the experience?

Hosting is always a team effort and there’s no way I could have done anything without my co-hosts, Jason Brower and Viera Karam, and all the people working with us. It was also extremely interesting to work with a professional video production company like Saha Productions, which was in charge of the broadcasting part of Polar Bear Pitching. They really showed us the level of detail you have to get to in order to take an event like Polar Bear Pitching and make it into a TV-style broadcast!

But most importantly, I learnt that hosting something in sub-zero temperatures for two hours straight calls for:
– three layers of woollen socks
– two layers of recreation insulated trousers
– warm gloves, a scarf and a beanie
– a lot of jumping and hot chocolate to keep you alive!

What time of day are you most productive?

Such a classic question – early bird, night owl or something in between. From the bright rays of the rising sun in the morning to midnight stillness in the night, I can definitely see that the different sides of the coin have their own, unique perks.

But when we talk about productivity, it’s the early mornings that do the trick for me. There’s something magical in the air when you wake up and start doing something while the rest of the world is still fast asleep. No interruptions, like beeps from your phone or email, no noise from cars hurrying to work, no – nothing! It feels as if time slows down and you’re able to do whatever you like!

You are currently tasked with creating and strengthening transdisciplinary research activities and collaboration at the University of Oulu. Why do we need this?

In the coming years, humanity will be facing several challenges that can either pose an existential threat (like climate change) or severely affect our lives and wellbeing (e.g. overuse of natural resources). These so-called wicked problems are extremely complex, and the only way to solve them is to make people collaborate across disciplines. However, it’s easier said than done. For example, if you think about the evolution of science and how the amount of information has grown exponentially in the last 200 years, it was necessary to move from Renaissance geniuses like Da Vinci, who excelled in several fields, into well-defined disciplines and institutions, where a researcher can concentrate on a much more focused field.

Now, if this has been the trend for the last couple of centuries, it’s not very easy to take a step back and say: ‘Hey, in order to solve these new wicked problems, we would need to become a little more like Da Vinci again’. However, this is what is desperately needed right now – so desperately that even institutionalised funding systems have started shifting their focus to transdisciplinary projects and activities. What’s unique about the University of Oulu (even on a global scale) is that it’s a full-fledged science university that houses six of its eight faculties, everything from humanities to science, under one roof and minimises the physical limitations for collaboration.

And I gotta say, our university is among the very first to invest this much in these kinds of activities and I feel very proud to be able to work with such pioneers.

You are also a voiceover actor and would one day like to voice a character in a Disney animated film. What is your creative process when creating a voice for a particular character?

I usually start with a lot of experimenting – high or low, rough or smooth, young or old etc. – to get some sort of a feel of what the character could be. Once I feel that there’s enough material to go by, I start to think about the individual persona of each character that was created: for example, are these the kinds of persons I may have met in real life? Usually, I also like to do test runs with my friends to get some ideas from them too. Then the rest of the process is a Robin Williams-style frenzy of trial and error until some persona just ‘settles in’ and you sort of know that this is the right one!

As you are fluent in five languages – Finnish, English, Swedish, French and German ­– what advice would you have for people attempting to learn Finnish?

Firstly, I’d like to point out that learning Finnish is one of the most joyful things you could ever do in life! I mean, Finnish is such a ‘small’ language that whenever we Finns see or hear someone go through the effort of learning our language, we shower them with love and encouragement! It’s so amazing!

Secondly, the best way to learn Finnish is to speak it! If ever there was a safe haven for language learners where you can practice a language that you don’t yet fully know without the fear of making mistakes, it’s Finland and its people! Contrary to popular belief, we are quite talkative and even more so if somebody’s learning Finnish! So, if you want to learn Finnish, approach a Finn and start talking! You will learn the language and get the most supportive and encouraging language teacher, an admirer and a lifelong friend in the same package! And finally, Finnish is the best language for delivering secret messages – even Google and Apple can’t understand us!

What has been the greatest professional challenge you have overcome? How did you achieve this?

It has probably been the mentality that in order to live ‘well’, you should live your life as others have defined it for you. Do this before that and so on.

Professionally, I thought it’d be the degree or something else that dictates how you move forward. Then I came to Oulu and saw how people didn’t let their degree or background hold them back and how so many were driven by their passion to do what they really liked. I really feel that I would have never been able to overcome my earlier mindset without the example, support and encouragement of the people I’ve met and worked with here in Oulu. And for that, I will be eternally grateful!

This year, Finland was ranked the happiest nation in the world for the second year in a row. How does this make you feel?

Extremely happy and humbled. It’s as if you won the lottery, if you were born in Finland. Although there are always things to improve, we’re extremely lucky (and well-off) in so many areas. And to be honest, I think we take happiness for granted too often, and we don’t fully understand how lucky we actually are.

This is why I’d like to challenge you, dear readers, to do the following:

Every day, just before you go to sleep, think about the things in your life that you’re grateful for. And whenever you’re feeling down, start going through the list again and cherish those things. You may be positively surprised!

If you could only take one thing with you to a desert island, what would it be? Why?

This is a difficult question! If I left out all the equipment necessary for survival (like knives and other DIY stuff), I would go for my ukulele. Why? Since there’s one thing I couldn’t live without and that’s music. And in an emergency, I could use the strings as utensils while eating coconuts I collected from the trees!

You also are accumulating a lot of experience with speaking gigs. How do you prepare beforehand?

Just like building characters for voiceovers, I like to spend time familiarising myself with the task ahead. A successful speaking gig is about positive interaction: bringing yourself and your energy to the occasion but also acknowledging your audience. It’s always a two-way effort.

Most importantly, I’ll make sure that I eat and sleep well before the gig. To quote one famous commercial: “You’re not you when you’re hungry (and sleepy)”. And trust me, nobody wants to see me hungry and sleepy!

What is your favourite joke?

My dad told me to invest in bonds. So, I bought 100 copies of Goldfinger. (insert laugh here).

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