Dinosaur Days

Thursday, September 10, 2020 /

Carmen sweeps the floor during an office renovation at the computer software firm, Trimble, where she has worked for the past 19 years.

As the Coronavirus emptied out the streets in the Finnish city of Espoo, sidewalk life became less vibrant.

But that changed in one neighbourhood in the city of nearly 300,000 when a red, six-foot-tall T-Rex dinosaur arrived on the scene.

The T-Rex in question is none other than Carmen Pekkarinen (HBOR ’95) – the president of Lakehead’s Finland Alumni Chapter and a documentation specialist with the computer software firm, Trimble.  

“I had a brainwave one day back in March that it would be fun to stand on the street in a T-Rex suit to cheer up people driving by.”

Her next step was to investigate how much a T-Rex suit would cost – it’s quite expensive – and put up a poll on Facebook asking her friends if they thought it was a good idea.

“They said, ‘You only live once, just do it.’”

That’s why, every day, you’ll find Carmen at her local bus stop waving at passing cars. “Most people wave back,” she says. “I also have a few signs I hold up – Wash your Hands, Have a Nice Day, #BeSafe, and Stay at Home.”

The dinosaur suit isn’t the most comfortable get-up to wander around in. It’s made of nylon and can get very hot. There’s a battery power pack inside that runs constantly to keep the suit inflated, and in order to see, Carmen has to peer through a plastic window in the dinosaur.

As news of the red dinosaur spread through Espoo, people began sharing photos on Facebook. One of the first Facebook posts said, “Thank you to the person in the T-Rex suit for waving at us, my kids were still talking about it at bedtime,” Carmen reports.

As her fame grew, readers of Helsingin Sanomat – the biggest daily newspaper in Finland – wanted to know who the person was. Carmen’s husband outed her, prompting the newspaper to feature a story about her in their supplement, Helsingin Sanomat Espoo in Finnish and English. The story also appeared on Helsingin Sanomat’s website.

So how has a Lakehead outdoor recreation grad from Elliot Lake, Ontario, ended up in living in Finland for over 20 years?

“Just after I finished my second university degree, I travelled around the country for three months and then returned to Canada. Just over a year later, in 1998, I got a contract job teaching English at a nursing college and came back,” Carmen says.

“The first time I came to Finland, I was so homesick my first two weeks here. I kept asking myself why on earth I’d come. Then I realized that that I was there to learn something I would never learn from a book or sitting in a classroom. That summer I travelled all over the country and met lots of people. When I had to leave, boy, did I every cry.”

She had such a great experience that when she returned to Canada after her six-month contract at the nursing college ended, she began searching for other employment opportunities in Finland. In early 1999, Carmen secured a freelance job teaching English to employees at telecommunications company Nokia. And she hasn’t looked back since starting with Trimble Solutions (formerly Tekla Corporation) over 19 years ago.

Carmen also appreciates the landscape that surrounds her. Even though she lives in a busy city, she only has to walk 10 minutes to be in the wilderness.

“You could put someone from Thunder Bay on a plane with a blindfold and drop them in the middle of Finland and they’d swear they were still in Northwestern Ontario.”