Kristine Harlamova – The Medic-in-Waiting
by Andy Goram
Continuing our series on looking at what it feels like to work for Technical Foam Services, the UK’s best and most trusted foam conversion business (well, in our opinion anyway), Andy Goram from Bizjuicer, sat down with Production Operative, Kristine Harlamova.
Here I am again. Pen poised, ready to meet another of the TFS team, unsure about who I’m going to meet and what story will unfold. I’m introduced to the quiet and smiling Kristine. The story I hear over the next 35 minutes in some ways isn’t that different to many of the others I’ve heard to date. But for some reason, again I’m humbled by the tale of sacrifice, determination and sheer positive spirit that Kristine shares with me.
As a child, Kristine cannot remember a time when she wasn’t active, or busy. A keen hip-hop dancer in her younger days, energetic movement was part of her life. Now at work, Kristine likes to be kept busy. Something that Oscar, her supervisor today, sees everyday at work. But ever since she can remember she wanted to be a doctor or dentist. She can’t tell me when that started, but she tells me “It’s always been my dream.” Back in Latvia, 8 years ago, she graduated with a First-Class Degree in Biology. But did she want to go down the Dentist or Doctor route? It was a big decision to make. The study lengths were different, and jobs were very hard to come by, especially in the dental sector. Unable to make a decision, she was persuaded by a friend to take some time out for 6 months and join her in the UK, so she could figure it all out. 8 years later, she’s still here, happily living and working at TFS in Corby.
The plan changed shortly after arriving in the UK. She got a job in a warehouse, which lasted for 5 years, until that business lost a big contract and laid people off. During this time she met her partner, Erwin, also from Latvia, and had a son, David, who’s now 5. And two and a half years ago, her friend Kintia Cabule, a previous interviewee in this series, told her about a job opportunity at TFS and the rest, as they say, is history.
“It’s a great place to work and compared to my other factory job it’s so different.” When I ask her why that is, she tells me that despite it getting busier and busier over the last few years, the atmosphere is relatively stress-free. “Yes, there are times when we’re going at full pace and juggling lots of things, but we “You wouldn’t have got that in the other place I worked” she said. “It’s lots of little things that all add up to make you feel at home here.” It’s a sentiment we’ve heard a few times in these interviews, but Kristine makes her point so well when she talks about “lots of little things.” It’s not always the grandiose actions that have the biggest impact. Small things that genuinely come from a good place are far more powerful.
“So, what’s happened about being a Doctor or a Dentist?” I ask. “Circumstances change, but dreams don’t” she replies. “I love my life. I’m happy. I have a beautiful son, a loving partner and a good job. But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on my other dreams. Things just change and you do what you have to do.” “I made the decision to leave my family and stay here to try and create a better opportunity for myself. Now, I have to do that for my family. It’s just hard sometimes.” Like lots of us Coronavirus has disrupted family life recently, but she explains the hardest thing is that she hasn’t seen her family for over a year and a half. They were due to go back to Latvia to see her parents in the Summer, but COVID-19 put a stop to that. “I really miss my family and friends. That’s the hardest things about being here.” There is a tear in her eye when she’s telling me this. “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I’m happy. I made these decisions, but it’s hard and at the moment with everything going on, it feels a little more difficult than usual.”
You can’t help but to talk to people about the effect that COVID is having on people at the moment. As a mother, Kristine has noticed a change in her own attitude towards the virus. “If I wasn’t a mother, I think I’d be more relaxed about things, but because I am a mother, initially I was really scared. I was worried and wanted to make sure I protected David. He’s my future now.” Over the past few months, I’m less scared, but still very vigilant. It’s been good the way we’ve dealt with it here at work, as that has helped me deal with it all, more confidently.” We talk about what our plans will be when we’re eventually on top of the virus. Kristine is very clear on the first point of order to address. “I want to go on holiday and get some sun on the beach. I’m thinking Spain, or maybe even The Maldives!” I think there’s a lot of people who’d happily go for either of those two options when we’re done with all this.
We move the conversation on to her new plan. The dream to work somewhere in medicine is still very much alive, though it will probably have to take a different path. There are other priorities to work in too. Things like having a brother or a sister for David (I’m assuming Erwin is aware of and onboard with this element of the plan!). Then there’s saving for a house. That’s going to take another 2, or 3 years. “Then I can move on to studying for the medical job.” She explains that she would need to give her studies a full-time approach, which would mean giving up work. To do that they will have to save hard. Now her sights are set on either a dental assistant, or nurse, or even re-training herself as a massage therapist. There is something very attractive about working for herself that Kristine is keen to explore, not least because of the flexibility that would bring.
It’s that very thing that Kristine says is the very best thing about working for TFS. “They make it so easy for me to be a working Mum. If I ever need to change my shift, or rush off to school for David, or anything like that, there’s never any problems.” “How does that makes you feel?” I ask her. After a brief pause, she looks up at me and says, “So relaxed and happy. And I’m so grateful for it. It’s a big part of why I’m still here.”
And there you go, another interview, another story with similar parts, but always individual. But, maybe it’s the culmination of all the conversations to date, but I’m left pretty inspired. Someone who’s clearly so intelligent and qualified to do something very different, has given that all up, for a while, to do what they need to do, to set up a better future for themselves and their (new) family. I for one, am absolutely sure that Kristine will realise her dreams of being a medical professional in the future, and I’m sure it will be all the sweeter for the path she’s trodden to get there.
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Andy Goram helps create stickier, more successful businesses by connecting strategy, brand, and culture to their people.