The New Yorker who married a Swede and combined her jump rope passion with her English skills and ended up at her dream job at Husbygårdskolan
Lucie, welcome! Can you tell us about when your decided to move to Sweden?
So, I met my husband in 2012 and visited Sweden several times in 2013 and loved the place, it was really nice. I am born and raised in New York City, and my family is from Martinique. In 2014, my husband proposed and we got married. But, at that time I thought that I would be living more in New York and not really come to Sweden, and I thought I could maybe spend 20 percent of my life in Sweden and 80 percent in New York. I was travelling back and forth, but in 2015, my husband told me that “we can’t do this anymore, you have to decide, it’s either New York or Sweden”. So, I had to come to Sweden and this was officially in 2015.
So, the year is 2015 and you decided to move to Sweden. What was different about moving to Sweden than what you expected?
Where can I begin…there are a lot of things I would like to say about this, seriously. I am from the Big Apple, it’s 24 hour non stop action, this is what I am used to. People being very open and that kind of lifestyle is what I had. My husband did tell me that Stockholm is exactly the same and that I would not miss New York at all. But then the minute I got here, even coming to Arlanda, the difference right there…I mean when you are at JFK, it is like non-stop crazy, and I love it. And when I got to Arlanda, everything was very peaceful very quiet…
…you instantly feel that you are in Sweden.
Yes. As soon as I got to the airport I was thinking “Ok, this is very dimmed down…maybe it is going to be crazy when I go outside!”. It wasn’t. I got to Stockholm and told my husband “Oh wow, this is really different, babe”. He was like “Oh no, you’re gonna love it, it’s just like New York!”. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t at all. It took me a little while to come to terms with the fact that Stockholm is not New York City. That’s the first thing.
It is also a culture shock for me because I was in a more metropolitan and diverse area with all types of people before. I know that Sweden has many types of people but New York City is a true melting pot, which Sweden is not. Sweden is more segregated in my opinion, and that’s the truth. I have spoken to many people and I have gone to many places here. Yes, there is segregation in the United States, but it is more of a melting pot. People are more together I would say, in terms of diversity. So that, for me, was a big disappointment.
The third thing that struck me the hardest was the fact that, I live in Östermalm, and when I was back home I was like an activist, and I always try to find inclusivity wherever I go, especially when it comes to diversity. I am one of those people who believe that representation matters. Whether you are black, white, Chinese, Indian…you have to look around and see yourself. And that was what struck me the hardest, living in an area with no real diversity and not seeing myself represented there. The fact that, I look at television and I don’t see myself, and if I do it is in a very dimmed, dark light. A lot of stereotypes. I don’t see myself represented that much. I have said this to a lot of people, especially some of the Afro-Swedes, but being an Afro- Swede is not the same as being a black American. It’s not at all the same. You are Swedish with an African background. I am from Martinique, I am an American, a black American, it is a different type of vibe and a different type of feeling. That’s the best way I can put it. And I don’t really find that here. There are Americans here, but there is just such a gap between Afro-Swedes and black Americans. I have tried to tell myself that maybe it is just because I miss home so much, but it’s not the case. And it is sad for me to see that there is not so much representation. That is something I want to say to people moving to Sweden, you have to do your research. Before you move into an area, find out about it, find out who lives there, what do people do, what it’s like…and how comfortable you think you will be there. It is not enough to say “I married a Swede”, that’s what I did, I married a Swede. That’s not enough, you have to be comfortable where you are. That is something I hear a lot of foreigners and immigrants express, a discomfort, especially working here in Husby. A discomfort that they have that they can’t express. And that’s one of my jobs here, to help the kids express themselves in a manner that is intelligent, honest and forthright. Because it is only then that you can make changes.
Some of the reluctance that I had with learning Swedish, was because I was so homesick. I was trying to hold on to my Americanism and I didn’t want anything to dilute it. I thought that was just me, but I came to find out that many of my students who come from other countries, they come from all over the world here, they do the same; they resist the Swedish and the culture because they are so homesick. I talk to the rektor* about this; how can we rectify this, how can we make the kids feel more comfortable, not just here in Husby; but in Sweden, this is their country now, where they live, where they go to work, where they are going to work. How can the country and how can Swedes help true integration? I am diverging a little bit but, it is all intertwined. It is like, you want integration, but you don’t understand the populations and where they are put. Rinkeby, Akalla, Husby… there is a big gap between Swedish life and the people who come here. I have to say, be very careful where you go and know who is there. Visit a few times before you make that final decision.
Yes, I was going to ask you how you can find these things out, but just visiting areas, talking to people, looking around..?
Yeah, but the thing is that there are people who move to Sweden who don’t know anybody. What do you do then? You can go to meetup groups and what have you, but even in those groups, you kind of need to know somebody. Research first, then try to find a few people with whom you identify. I am trying to say this in the most lagom* way, just know where you go and be sure this is what you want and a place where you want to be.
What you are describing, for yourself, is kind of a lack of community.
Let’s say you would have moved to a different area than Östermalm in the beginning, do you think that would have changed anything?
Hm. Oh boy. Södermalm is more hip, I would say. It is more like Greenwich Village in New York I would say. I think I could have been happier there, but then what if I didn’t know anybody there. But then on the flipside, I would be more apt to go out more and meet people, as opposed to now, when it is not the way I had envisioned it. It is not like I am unhappy, but I had these thoughts of how things would have been for me here in Stockholm. I am a very outgoing and friendly person, in New York I am a social butterfly, and I thought it was going to be the same way here, but it’s not. It is a matter of culture, a matter of feeling comfortable. And I still have issues with these things and it has been five years. I am still trying to navigate my way through Swedish life.
But maybe there is a need for some sort of change in this and maybe you could be a part of that change?
Actually, I am glad you brought that up because that is what I am doing here.
Tell us about your job right now.
Oh, my gosh, where do I start! I love it! In November 2017, I was hired here to be an English teacher. At first it was just a supportive role for the teachers in the 8th and 9th grade, and then as I started to take on a little more responsibility, and really having a relationship with the kids, the rektor* asked me to take on more grades. The job that I have here is weird, I teach English but I also came here with a skill that I knew the kids would benefit from.
Just to describe the school, this is a school in an area where a lot of immigrants live so a lot of the kids will come from families with an immigrant background or even be new in the country themselves?
Absolutely. It is an area populated with a lot of people from other countries and a lot of minorities. I told my rektor*,” I have the jump rope program that I would like to begin here, I think it is going to do a lot of good for the students here. Not only for their health and fitness, but for their mind. Get them to jump rope, get them happy, they will be able to focus a little more. Concentrate more and it is going to translate into their grades”. At first he was like “Well, you Americans, you always come here with all your stuff, are you sure?”. And I said I am sure. He is great, my rektor*, Magnus Duvnäs. So we started the jump rope program and it was an instant success. Parents were calling to say they wanted it in the community, because the kids need something to do after school. My job here is like the dream job. I had had so many problems the first three or four years here trying to figure out what I am going to do in this place. I came from the United States with a skill that I created a business around, a thriving business in my home country that I can’t do here. So this job allows me to teach kids what I know about life, motivate them, inspire them, be a role model and also use my skills in jump rope. I can’t ask for anything better. I can’t.
That’s wonderful. And I am sure also that the struggle you have described with the culture and finding your place here, makes the kids see that you understand them.
You have told us a lot about your expectations and what you ended up meeting here in Sweden, but if you look back at what you knew before you moved here, is there anything else you wish you would have known before coming here?
I wish my husband would have told me that it is hard to make friends here in Sweden. My husband is so outgoing and not the typical Swede. When I came here, it was very difficult to make friends. You had to break into these cliques to make friends. Otherwise, you need to go to organisations like Internations, which I am a council for, I had to be in order to meet people. There are meetups, but it is not easy to make friends here. I would have made more trips as a visitor here. To network and to see if this is really the place I want to move to. Because friends can make or break you. I mean, the weather, I have no problem with the darkness, I love it. I think it is beautiful in the wintertime. What I have a problem with is…and I am not saying Swedes are cold, but they have a way, and it is not just being shy, it is a Scandinavian reserve. It’s not just Sweden, it is Denmark too, Finland…it’s a reserve. But we feel it more, if you are a woman of colour. I want to look around and see at least one person like myself there. That matters to me.
Be sure to research the types of jobs that you want, and If you know you are zoning in on one particular area or sector, find out who is there. Find out what the environment is like, find out what the colleagues are like, because the colleagues make or break a job too.
What is your favourite thing about Sweden?
Husbygårdskolan and my husband. Let’s reverse it! My husband, and Husbygårdskolan!
Have you made any mistakes in Sweden?
I have made many mistakes. The big one: being too enthusiastic too fast. Swedes can’t handle that. I mean, it’s just the culture! My advice to everyone with a very enthusiastic personality is this: dim yourself down just a little bit. Not your personality but your enthusiasm, because it’s perceived as being a show-off, that you think you are better than someone else…That’s not what I was trying to come across as at all, I was just communicating with people in my way. A person with an over-exuberant personality can be mistaken for someone who is arrogant or narcissistic or thinks that they are better than someone else. So, bring the energy down a little bit.
Maybe you can apply that to different situations, like in the workplace, I agree with you that this is an important skill. While in other cultures you might think more about how to dress and hierarchy which is not something you need to think about too much in Sweden. However, you do need to be aware of how enthusiasm or confidence can be perceived, and I can see how that is frustrating. But on the other hand, when you are with friends or in a social circle, you can go ahead and be yourself.
Exactly. Which is what I lack, I don’t have that balance, so I think I got kind of shot down. But now I’m better. I understand things a little bit better, that it’s not me, it is just the way things are and you just roll with the flow.
Another person we interviewed called it “Breathe like a Swede”. To calm down a little bit, let things take their time and take it easy. It reminds me of what you’re saying.
I wanted to ask you if you had any specific advice but you have already given some advice: do your research, it’s important where you end up living, try to network before because it is important to know a few people when you get here, and also specifically in the workplace; think about how your personality can be perceived because it might not be the same way as in your home country.
Any hidden gems in Sweden? Like a Smultronställe*?
Oh yes! Go to the park! Sweden has the best parks! I love nature, and Sweden is just: wow! In terms of nature. That is a great place to just unwind and it’s beautiful. Also, if you should be so lucky to have friends or family who have a country house, Sweden has the best countryside.
Do you have a favourite Swedish word?
I do. But it’s a curse word. My favourite Swedish word is fy fan*! (laughing)
When do you use it?
Well, sometimes if I am a little annoyed with my husband I just go “Fy fan, what are you doing?” (laughing). I probably use it in the wrong way!
Do you have any favourite Swedish food?
Meatballs. But I have to tell you, since I am from the Caribbean, I add more spices to the Swedish meatballs.
We have a Spotify playlist with Swedish music, and we ask the people we interview to add a song they like from a Swedish artist to it. Do you listen to any Swedish music at all?
Maybe one of your students can give us one?
Yeah, they are outside the door, they can probably give you a name!
We will ask them! Before we do, thank you so much for taking the time to do an interview with us and is there something else you would like to add?
I want to say this; every single person who comes to Sweden, get involved! Find something that you really love and then infuse that with your talent, whatever talent you have and make a difference here in Sweden. That’s my goal. To empower the next generation with my own strengths. Make a difference in somebody’s world.
Thank you so much! So we will ask the kids for a song.
Open that door!
We have a playlist where we ask everyone we interview for a Swedish song to add to it. And Lucie, your teacher, could not think of one single song. Do you know a song?
Lucie’s students: Hotspot!
Is that a song or a band?
Lucie’s students: It’s a song, a rap song.
Lucie: it’s a Swedish rapper?
Do you know what the rapper is called?
Lucie’s students: Greekazo!
Perfect, thank you so much!
Lucie has just started a partnership with Fryshuset where she does jump rope training classes for kids ages 7 to 18. A group of selected students will travel to China in October for the International Jump Rope Championship in 2020.
*rektor means principal or headmaster
*Lagom is an adjective that translates to “just right” or “not too much or too little” and is very often used to describe parts of the Swedish mentality and culture too.
*Smultronställe literally means a place where wild strawberries grow but is a word to describe a hidden gem; a special place that not a lot of people know about.
*fy fan is a curse word meaning something like “damn it!”
Follow our playlist on Spotify to get weekly adds and listen to Lucie’s students favourite song Hotspot with Swedish-Greek-Polish rapper Greekazo.