In her career, Ira Vihreälehto has always followed her own curious mind, which has led her to a range of jobs. She has been particularly interested in people in marginal areas, intergenerational transmission, and the untold stories of wartime. She is a history teacher by training and currently works as an expert in the Association of Cultural Heritage Education in Finland. Ira is also one of the leading DNA experts in genealogy in Finland.
Ira Vihreälehto is from the town of Mikkeli. She never had any professional dreams and didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up: “I didn’t know when I was younger, and I still don’t know.”
After upper secondary school, the doors opened to study history in several universities. Ira chose the University of Tampere. Friends had recommended Tampere, so she started her studies there: “If you want to make the wrong choice, ask what others think,” she says, laughing.
Her studies at Tampere were short-lived. After the first year, she transferred to Jyväskylä to study, as her boyfriend had received a place to study in the city. She was already familiar with Jyväskylä and found it interesting. Ira also knew that the city was popular among young people.
It was not easy becoming friends with people in different study groups, so Ira concentrated more on studying than the actual student life: “I completed my master’s degree in four years during which I was an exchange student in the US where I did my thesis. I also worked as a substitute teacher alongside my studies.”
The best memories from Jyväskylä are in fact related to the buildings at Seminaarinmäki. During her university years, Ira became an Alvar Aalto fan.
“I would watch how the light beautifully bounced off the piles of books on the table and think to myself what a wonderful place this is.”
During the last year of her studies, Ira became pregnant with her oldest child and returned to Tampere where she completed her teacher education. “I feel that I have graduated from the universities of Tampere, Tennessee and Jyväskylä,” she says.
“Through many twists and turns, I ended up in and left Jyväskylä.”
After her graduation Ira Vihreälehto worked in lower secondary schools as a teacher. She left the museum sector to be a teacher, as she felt that it was too relaxed for her. It was hard to get a permanent post as a teacher. “It was very time and energy consuming,” she says. Ira supplemented her degree with studies in, for example, psychology, specialist pedagogy and rector education, but it was challenging to land a job as a permanent teacher. Other permanent jobs were not available either. It was hard to shake off the teacher’s image.
Ira worked in different organisations until she was offered the chance to get involved in a textbook project. So, she became a textbook author for Otava Publishing Company’s book series Forum historia. Ira encourages everyone to join a textbook project whenever there is a chance. These types of projects offer financial security in the long term.
“They say that life is short. To that I would like to add that a person’s working life is long.”
Ira currently works as an expert in the Association of Cultural Heritage Education in Finland. Her job includes, for example, managing the training aimed at teachers, the educational material bank as well as various communication tasks: “I got my first permanent job when I was 45 years old,” Ira
explains. “The same spring, my oldest daughter got a permanent job, but she worked in the commercial field at the time. I have never dared to wish for financial stability. I have been motivated by enjoyable tasks and meeting interesting people.”
Since 2014 Ira Vihreälehto has also written non-fiction books. Her first non-fiction book dealt with the search for her unknown Russian grandfather and the Soviet Union’s prisoners of war in Finland. Since then there have been more books, and at the moment Ira is a popular lecturer and one of the leading DNA experts in genealogy in Finland.
During her professional career, Vihreälehto has not wanted to be linked to any one set of skills but has gravitated towards a wide range of activities, acquiring the necessary skills according to her interest at the time. Being active has started to pay off: nowadays she is asked to be part of different projects, such as content creation for Muisti Centre of War and Peace and an upcoming television project.
“Do not sacrifice yourself to working life but give yourself all. It also benefits your working life.”
Ira Vihreälehto is an author guest in the first non-fiction book evening of the year on 12 January at 6 p.m. The event be streamed online, or alternatively, you can attend the event at the University’s library, Lähde, in the Tietoniekka exhibition space.
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