‘Ireland has been good to me despite the mouldy apartments and high rents’

New to the Parish: Aapo Latvala arrived from Finland in 2011

Aapo Latvala at his home in Coolmine, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Aapo Latvala at his home in Coolmine, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Aapo Latvala had €60 in his pocket the day he arrived in Dublin. With no friends in Ireland, no apartment and no confirmed income, he was hopeful he could survive on these few euro notes for as long as possible. He checked into a cheap hostel and bought some bus tickets so he could travel around the city.

“I thought €60 was quite a lot of money back then and felt like yeah, I can deal with this. I ate pasta for a week but thinking back on it now I was an idiot not properly taking care of my money.”

Latvala had been working Barcelona before coming to Ireland but was too busy enjoying life to save money for his move. Luckily his application for a job at a call centre was accepted and he began work the following week.

Latvala never imagined growing up that he would live in Ireland. Born in the town of Kuusamo, near Finland’s border with Russia, Latvala spent his childhood and teen years moving between the northern cities of Rovaniemi and Oulu.

“It’s very cold obviously but we also have two days in the year when the sun doesn’t come up at all. Your sleeping rhythm gets mixed up and you feel dazed for those few days when it’s pitch dark. People just try to remain positive even though it’s quite a depressed nation.”

Latvala moved away from home when he was 17 and began studying a course in renovation at vocational college. The following year he joined the Finnish military.

“It’s mandatory for men to join the military. Young women can apply if they want but it’s not compulsory. Personally I was really excited to go because my grandfather used to tell me war stories. I was supposed to stay for a full year but I got sick during my stay and my service was put on hold.”

After a few months of living with 300 other men in barracks, Latvala discovered he had a severe allergy to mould and was unable to continue his service. He returned home and found a job as a cleaner with the ISS international cleaning service provider.

“In northern countries trains tend to hit wild animals and somebody has to clean them up. You put on a rubber suit and take some pressurised water, some cleaning liquids and wash the train.” After five months of cleaning animal body parts from trains, Latvala decided he’d had enough and started looking for jobs abroad. He and a friend eventually found work at a call centre in Barcelona where they moved in 2010. A few months later, he was in Dublin.

“Guinness, that was literally all I knew about Ireland. It was a country at the edge of Europe and would get the worst storms and they enjoy their stout.”

Settling quickly into his job at the call centre, he found a place to live with colleagues. He began travelling around Ireland on weekends with them and developed a love of the Irish countryside and west coast. In 2013, he began studying Game Development at Pulse College in Ringsend and discovered he had a real talent for designing games. Around the same time he met a young Japanese woman who also had a passion for video games.

“My friend at IBM had told me about this Japanese language exchange and asked me to come with him. I’ve always liked Japanese animation and food so I thought, let’s give it a go. My wife was one of the first people I talked to there. Her name was Saori. I told her I was a games student and she said she used to work in the games industry in Japan. ”

With Saori’s limited English and Latvala’s non-existent Japanese, there was some confusion when he plucked up the courage to ask her out on a date. She presumed it was a business meeting and brought her portfolio along. It was only when she sat down at the table that she realised this Finnish man was not particularly interested in her animation skills.

“I like her straight away, from the first moment I set eyes on her. She’s really attractive but it was more I looked and her and thought, something’s going to happen here. We communicated using simple English. You get the knack of it once you learn your second language and learn to pace yourself.”

Three months after their first date, Latvala proposed. He says his parents and sisters were not surprised by the news that he was planning to marry a young woman from Japan. “I’d been watching Anime all my life and talking about Japan since I was 14 so they though, okay, you finally did something about it.”

The couple were married at a registration office in Dublin exactly one year after their first meeting and both their families travelled from Finland and Japan for the celebration.

Meanwhile, Latvala graduated from Pulse college and set up his own video game business which he called Green Sawdust Studios. He also found a new job as an IT engineer at Hewlett Packard. Shortly after Saori got pregnant he began designing an adventure game about an Irish father and his relationship with his family.

“I guess it was because I was going to be a dad myself I started thinking more about Irish culture and the relationship between parents and children and life and death in general. I thought about this soul travelling the earth and it turned into the idea of an Irish dad.”

In August 2013, Latvala’s daughter Sayo was born. “It’s wonderful to see her grow and develop so quickly. The day when she got sick the first time, the day she started lifting her neck from the ground, it’s lovely to follow the development of such a tiny human being.”

The couple plan to stay in Ireland for the next few years. “I have a business here, I have a stable income with Hewlett Packard, we’re just going to take it one year at a time. Ireland has been so good to me and despite having hot and cold water in separate taps or the mouldy apartments and high rents, I couldn’t see myself spending my 20s anywhere else.”