I was a first-time mother, far from home, when I discovered that my three-year-old son had a hearing impairment.

In the 12th article in our “Inside View” series Lesley-Ann Brown shares what her deaf son taught her. Lesley originally published her story on The Murmur.

Black Girl on Mars
Kai. Photo from Black Girl on Mars

I was a first-time mother, far from home, when I discovered that my three-year-old son had a hearing impairment.

It was a shock because he had passed all his hearing tests and was even one of the first babies in my mothering group to say “bye bye” on cue. I thought he was not only developing by the book, but excelling too.

In retrospect, there were signs that something was amiss. When he played alone he was so deeply concentrated that he was hard to reach (“he’s just ignoring you”, people told me), he had a deep physical attachment to me (he would never just run off on his own), he hit other kids in daycare and kindergarten (anything to get a reaction he could understand) and he had started to mouth the words I was saying (apparently he was teaching himself how to lip read).

I was relieved when we received his diagnosis. The worst part was not knowing what was wrong. It also explained so much, and of all the things that could have been ‘wrong’ with my little boy, deafness was certainly not the worst. His father took the news less well. “But I wanted him to study music!” I remember he exclaimed.

We later learned that it’s quite normal for a parent to experience this depression and mourn the “perfect” child they used to have. The trick is to see that your child is still perfect, that they are the perfect expression of what they are meant to be.

Kai’s world blossomed after getting his hearing aids. It was obvious that he needed them from the moment he put them on. Having not heard for so long, he appreciated how this piece of technology could change his life completely.

Fitting in

But even though he took to his new technologically-improved life, I needed him to know he wasn’t alone. I made sure he was surrounded with imagery of other children with hearing aids and brought him into contact with other hearing-impaired children.

Ironically, he isn’t actually “deaf enough” to join the deaf community and we did not have the choice to send him to a special needs school for deaf children. If we had, he would have learned to sign and would now be part of – what I have experienced to be – a proud parallel society with its own culture, identity and role models. Instead we gave him hearing aids and sent him to ordinary schools where he received additional learning support.

This approach is called ‘mainstreaming’ and superficially it sounds like a good idea. If we could choose to be part of a bigger society, wouldn’t we? However, studies have shown that children like my son with moderate to heavy hearing loss tend to experience a lower quality of life than children who are more profoundly deaf. The latter go to school with each other, where they learn sign language and spend time with people who have the same issues as they do. This trend has been changing, to great debate.

Ambitions

Kai is now a teenager and seems to be thriving. His father’s fears were unfounded and he has already been in two bands, playing guitar in the first and drums in the second. He is even experimenting with music production. I’ve seen him design his own t-shirts and his father told me he’s a great skier. I know he’s not too bad on a skateboard either.

He still sticks out, though. One morning, a little girl came up to us and asked me, “Do those hearing aids help him?”

She was sweet – I love it when people just come right out and ask instead of gawking at him. And I understood why she asked. I was on my way to pick Kai up from school one day, when a group of kids from the deaf school boarded at Østerport Station and sat across from me. Despite having a deaf child, and against my better judgment, I stared at them.

I stared at their hands and the speed that they signed. I stared at their hearing aids and wondered if Kai would have preferred hearing aids like the blue pair worn by one of the boys. They didn’t notice me, so wrapped up and secure in their own little world to give me notice. I wish that my son was sitting next to me so we could witness this silent beauty – the incredible ability of human beings to adapt.

Then I remembered the little girl who so openly approached us the other morning. Some day, she and Kai could get on a Copenhagen train and talk, and continue their lives together with everyone else in the city. He too has adapted and, despite his limitations, is thriving.

I remember when he first learned about Einstein and he asked me what type of scientist he was.

“A physicist,” I replied.

“Well, I want to be one like him when I grow up.” I smiled, knowing that Kai didn’t necessarily want to be a physicist; he just wanted to earn people’s respect like Einstein had.

Kai may go on to learn about general relativity. He may even study music at the Royal Academy. We really don’t know what he will do. As long as the society he finds himself in is committed to accommodating everyone, the only limits he will ever experience are the limits he chooses to accept.

Lesley-Ann Brown

A Caribbean American freelance writer living in Copenhagen, Lesley-Ann studied writing at The New School, NYC. Lesley-Ann blogs at Black Girl on Mars.

A tale of two cities: Bruges and Ghent

In the 11th article in our “Inside View” series Madalena Pedro Miala recounts growing up in Belgium.

Not so very long ago a video of actor Jesse Williams surfaced on the net, in it he explains quite eloquently – as we’ve grown to be accustomed by now coming from him – why he, like many others, was not interested in (American) history growing up. The essence behind his explanation reminded me of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk about ‘The Danger of A Single Story’. At the risk of being accused of namedropping, I would in closing like to cite director Tim Reid, who in an interview given some time ago last year so rightly pointed to the fact that we are no longer living in a time in which only one narrative is relevant. We are now in fact dealing with a very mobile diaspora in which all voices and stories are very much deserving of a listener.

This long preface just to bring me to a a point we often discuss when talking about Black women living in Europe: racism. We often wonder whether one has experienced discrimination as a Black person living in Europe? Yes, I have. It ranges from petty behavior like always having to show my bus ticket when I step into the bus to more institutionalized forms of discrimination that I believe are part of the culprit that have kept me and many others stagnant in our career paths despite being fluent in numerous languages and possesing an array of much needed and employable skills. I am not going to focus on either one of those two stories, we have enough dichotomies going on in our worldview today. I’d rather share a more nuanced, humorous story that coincidently also consists of two parts, hence the title ‘A tale of two cities’.

Bruges

Madalena in 2nd grade in Bruges.
Madalena in 2nd grade in Bruges.

Caspar* threw a puzzling look my way as we were going up the stairs after the break. He repeated this about two or three times. I braced myself mentally for what I was sure was about to ensue: the generic N-word was going to verbally be tossed my way. Imagine my surprise when instead Caspar asked me whether I was a fan of Cercle Brugge. I must’ve given a negative response because the next question he threw my way was why then, if I wasn’t a die hard fan of Cercle Brugge, did I decide to wear their scarf. That’s when my attention shifted to that thing around my neck. We had just moved to Bruges and despite having lived most of my life on the Northern hemisphere, even till this day I am not accustomed to the weather conditions and always prefer spring and summer over the colder months. So in all my haste to protect myself from the winter, I just threw something on without thinking too much about it. No, it had not occured to me that Caspar and most people living in Bruges preferred Club Brugge (the blue soccer team) as opposed to Cercle Brugge (the green soccer team).

Ghent

Madalena in 3rd year of high school in Ghent.
Madalena in 3rd year of high school in Ghent.

After a decade of living in Bruges, my mother decided it would be best for us to move eastward for a better chance at receiving permanent residence papers and pursuing our higher education. Seeing that me and my siblings are close in age and were all soon about to embark upon another journey in our lives, my mother saw this as most fit. Being an introvert – at the time I didn’t have a word for the way I was, I just knew I had a hard time opening up and making friends – made it hard for me to be happy about moving to another town and changing schools. In hindsight it was one of the best decisions my mother made for our lives, some of the friends I made in my new school are still in my life today. But at the time I didn’t see it that way. One particular accident that stands out to me till this day is about my first days at the new school. I had moved from a Catholic school in Bruges to a public school in Ghent, the system was more relaxed for lack of a better word. In my former school we had to stand in line prior to entering our respective classrooms, in my new school we were allowed to get up about five minutes before the bell rang. We would then all huddle to the door and stand there for another five minutes, just chatting away. I dreaded this time, especially since I was new…and had a foreign accent. I had a West-Flemish accent, which differs significantly from an East-Flemish accent, even after living for a decade in Ghent (that is in East Flanders) my West-Flemish accent persists (as I was told during a recent job interview with a fellow West-Flemish man). The difference can be compared to that between Americans from the south and those further up north. Each time I tried uttering a word, laughter would ensue. I understood that they weren’t making fun of me, but rather laughing at my accent but try telling that to an awkward, shy, introverted, sole teenage black girl in the entire class. Nowadays I can laugh about it, and it gives nuance to our perspective of discrimination. A comedic one at that, which we can all use this day in age.

Madalena

Madalena Pedro Miala is a 29 year old who has been living in Belgium for over a quarter century. Her parents first came to Belgium to work at the Embassy of Angola, the country from which she hails. Five years later they decided to return to Angola following the cease-fire. Three years later the war resumed and the family were forced to leave Angola for Belgium, this time as refugees seeking permanent residence. My father stayed in Angola and shortly after we got news from our family that he was deceased. She grew up with my a brother and three sisters to whom she remains close. Next summer she is set to graduate with a Master of Arts in African Studies from Ghent University. Her long term dream is to be fluent in several languages, write for a living and be a walking billboard that harbors the potential of the African continent.

 

An Unexpected Road to Life in Europe

In the 10th article in the “Inside View” series, Terra Robinson shares how education lead to her life in Europe.

During my undergraduate days, I decided to do a semester abroad programme in England. Little did I know this experience would be the spark that led to me living, studying and working in Europe for most of my adult life (thus far).

After graduating with my BA and spending a few years of working – mainly bouncing between Atlanta, New York and London – I decided to get my Master’s degree. My undergraduate experience studying abroad really left a mark on me. I was intrigued by the English teaching approach I experienced while studying abroad, so in 2007 I applied for graduate schools in the United States and the United Kingdom, ultimately ending up at King’s College London in the Fall of 2008.

After assuring my mother that I would be back in the United States by the end of Summer 2009, I spent a year in London exploring the city and studying international relations. While still a student, I applied for a six month competitive internship in Brussels. My work background was mainly communications (my undergraduate degree was in journalism) not international relations (the main focus of the organisation), so I figured my chances of getting the internship were slim to none.

But lo and behold, I was chosen for the internship, which didn’t start until a year after I finished my studies. So I had a choice to make: wait for a year and do the internship or try my luck at getting a paying job now and forgo the internship. I picked the first option. While filling the year-long gap between finishing my MA and starting my internship, I took a temporary job in London then relocated to France for six months to take intensive French courses (something I’d wanted to do for a while) and teach English part-time (something I’d done in the past), and spent some time with my family in Atlanta. At the end of my self-imposed gap year, I headed off to Brussels for what I thought would be a six month internship. It turned into a nearly 2.5 year stint (six months as an intern and nearly two more years as a consultant with the same organisation) in the city that bills itself as the capital of the European Union.

Funnily enough, my time in Brussels is what led me to my current job working as a corporate journalist for a Danish firm just outside of Copenhagen. Working in Brussels showed that I was comfortable working for an international organisation in a city far away from my family for an extended period of time – something I think came in handy when my boss was shortlisting and interviewing candidates for the position. A year and a half after moving to Denmark, I just passed the six year mark of living in Europe. What was meant to be a one year stint in London ended up being much more – and ended up taking me to countries I never even considered living in.

Terra Robinson

Terra Robinson is an American Black Chick in Europe. She chronicles her time living, working and travelling in Europe through the filters of being an American, a woman and black. One part travel, one part expat and one part personal blog, American Black Chick in Europe serves up tidbits and information about life in Europe straight up with no chasers. Having lived in Europe since 2008, with stints in England, France, Belgium, and currently Denmark, this American Black Chick in Europe seeks to demystify what she affectionately refers to as these crazy Europeans.

Lessons learned: From my mother and while living in Sweden

In the 9th article in our Inside View series Faith set out to travel the world while making a difference in people’s lives. While in Sweden she got a phone call that changed her life forever.

At about 10:00pm on August 28, 2007, I arrived at Stockholm Arlanda airport. I remember the day so vividly because it was the eve of my 24th birthday. I had just left Phuket, Thailand after spending about two weeks there, most of which were spent with me suffering and recovering from food poisoning.

About three months prior I had just received my Master’s degree in Educational Administration and Policy at Howard University in Washington, DC. Instead of joining the work force like most of my peers, I decided instead to travel with a global education program called Up with People. The program is an opportunity for participants to travel for 6 months with others from around the world to volunteer and perform a show of cultural peace.

I can remember a couple of days after I arrived in the very multi-cultural Sodertalje, Sweden, I emailed my mother to tell her that one day I hoped to move to Sweden. To me, Stockholm, especially reminded me of Chicago. Perhaps the Swedish immigrants in Chicago felt similarly. My mother’s reply was that she and I could move there together for a couple of months. It was a great suggestion; one that I hoped would come true. After all, she was my best friend.

It was only about 20 days later, while in Vimmerby, Sweden that I got a very disturbing email. My father emailed me to say that I should come home right away. He told me that my mother was sick. I knew immediately that my mother was dead. She was gone and I was all the way in Sweden.

My journey back to Chicago from Sweden was long and physically taxing. After planning my mother’s service and taking care of her estate, I decided to rejoin my cast for the last 6 weeks of our tour in the US.

After my tour finished, I traveled to other countries visiting my castmates from Up With People and eventually settled into a career as a teacher in Chicago. It wasn’t long before I landed a job as the Dean of Students at my alma mater; an all-girl high school on the south side of Chicago. My passion to empower girls and young women became even more evident.

Even as a school administrator in Chicago, I decided to connect with the large Swedish population in my hometown. I joined the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce, and became a volunteer at the Swedish American Museum. Since I knew that I had hoped to one day hoped to live in Sweden, I applied for a scholarship with the American Swedish Institute to research bullying in multi-cultural schools in Sodertalje, Sweden.

So, in August of 2011 I moved to Sweden for one year to perform research in schools in Sodertalje about bullying among 6th grade girls. Additionally, I spent the year working on my recently published book: Ten Lessons My Mother Taught Me Before She Died, which is dedicated to “girls” without mothers.

Initially, it took me a while to adjust to the idea that I was taking more than just a vacation to Sweden, but actually living there. It was quite an adjustment for me, but living in a Swedish host family helped make the transition a lot less stressful. Admittedly, I was not used to living a “green life”, but even now, I am a lot less wasteful than I was before I moved to Sweden. I am must move environmentally friendly. I grew to appreciate the Swedes appreciation for the environment.

In Chicago I wasn’t used to taking public transportation everywhere, so in Sweden I would get lost at least twice week: especially if I was going to Stockholm. My Swedish friends still joke with me about how horrible my sense of direction can be.

There were adjustments that did not frustrate me as much, like being able to take a “fika” or coffee break in the middle of meetings and even church service. The dress code at school was much more relaxed than in the USA which helped with my level of stress and anxiety. I did not feel as constrained. Actually as a Lupus patient, I was happy that I spent much of the year there without experiencing many symptoms of the disease. I was able to better under the health care system in Sweden as a patient who received amazing care from doctors who communicated about my status regularly. As an American I wish that we could adopt a similar method of healthcare.

I hated to leave Sweden, but was so happy that I had the opportunity to return to a country that means so much to me. Organizations like the American Women’s Club of Stockholm provided me with friends that I still keep in contact with today. Perhaps one day I will return Sweden to live permanently, but for now I remain connected here in Chicago to the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce and the Swedish American Museum. Most of all, I try to practice speaking and writing Swedish as much as possible. Jag hoppas att jag ska aldrig glomma Svenska.

Ms. Faith Elle

Ms. Faith Elle is a life coach, providing life coaching services to girls and women. Her company Faith Elle Enterprises also conducts workshops for youth and staff development in schools. Faith is currently an adjunct faculty member at Harry S Truman College, where she teaches College Success, an interdisciplinary class which prepares students to matriculate through the collegiate pipeline. She is a noted speaker, author and global citizen: to date she has traveled to 25 countries on five continents. Faith is a girls advocate and expert. The product of an all-girl school and a lifetime member of Girl Scouts of the USA.

In 2010, Faith was diagnosed with, Lupus, a chronic auto-immune disease which can affect the entire body. In order to raise awareness, Faith has committed to donating ten percent of all this book’s proceeds to Lupus research. Her book: Ten Lessons My Mother Taught Me before She Died is dedicated to “girls” without mothers worldwide.

Editor’s note: Faith’s fee for writing this article was donated to an organization dedicated to Lupus research, in her name.

Laura Bazile asks, “How is it to be the only Black Woman entrepreneur in the room?”

In the 8th article from our new series from women on the inside, Laura Bazile examines business networking as an entrepreneur in Europe.
As an entrepreneur, I chose to start my business on my own, providing full services to my clients, with subcontractors joining from time to time -depending on the type of projects.
 
All in one, it means that most of the time, I attend networking parties or meetings on my own, representing my company and my (real) expertise. No big deal as it is part of the business, isn’t it? What I notice is the way people interact when you are the only black person in the room.
 
I mentally make a list of what I am and of … what I am not.
 
I am …
  1. A female entrepreneur.
  2. A woman in the business.
  3. A French woman sharing her time between France and the UK for professional reasons.
  4. A shy woman, still learning from the networking exercise, keeping in mind that some events might be amazing, others might not.
  5. A not-so-shy woman who knows how exciting and rewarding it is to mix and mingle with peers.
  6. The one you would remember if we bump into each other after the event. (“Oh, yes, we met recently! How are you?”).
  7. An enthusiastic entrepreneur.
  8. Curious about the future.
  9. Pro-active, with strong values: amongst them there is my community.
  10. A Black woman
Note for the reader : point #2 could be point #1. Point #7 could rank #1. So could #10.
 
I am not …
  1. The Black woman you would say is from [ write country _____________ ] … for sure.
  2. A close friend of the Black guy who just entered the room.
  3. The one who will comment loudly about any famous Black novelist/entertainer/business (wo)man/fashion designer …. What does that have to do with our social gathering here?
  4. The one who will laugh all the time, just because I welcome everyone with a warm and honest smile. I might don my business’s gear when appropriate.
  5. The one who would act just as you “imagined” it.
  6. Fluent in whatever you think is Creole. Note for the reader: different Creole exist. Creole languages are spoken by different people … in different countries.
  7. That sensitive just less patient when I think the person in front of me deliberately miss the right point: “Could we get back to business, please?”.
  8. Only curious about things directly related to my community. And nope, my business is not community-oriented. These types of business exist, run by talented people. I happen to be one of their clients.
  9. Supported by any specific program. I am delighted for the lucky ones who did take advantage of these opportunities. Smart and a source of inspiration.
  10. A person whose name is exotic enough to be unforgettable (in a certain way). Mine is quite common, not that I wouldn’t have loved a more ‘exotic’ one. In both cases, this would be me and no one else.
What about you? Have you been upset (or delighted) by unexpected circumstances in a whirl of networking events?

Laura Bazile

Laura Bazile is an events professional, addicted to traveling, meetings & helping people. She is passionate about digital mix, live arts and design. Laura founded blufreelance, an event marketing boutique.

Feeding the spirit in France – Erica found a way

In a new series of articles, black women living in Europe share their views from the inside. In our seventh article, Erica Smith-Escassut found a way to feed her spirit in France.

Over the past few years of living here I have made a few observations.  The most striking one for me was when I arrived in France,  December 1999 to live and establish a long-term relationship/partnership with my beau, as I would describe him to my grandmother.

I noticed in a previous visit that Spring that there was something missing in the overall air of the environment, but without fully understanding the language I could only feel that something was missing. I could not hear,  nor read about what it was until several months later. Upon my return and further investigation,  the gig was up. I tired to understand if it was just local, or generational, or just by household, which is a discussion for a whole ‘nother day. May be it was just a fluke in the media: tv, newspapers, films, radio. What was it that I felt was lacking? What did I notice? Other than the lack of brown peoples in the media–people that represented the French population that I saw on the streets every day in Toulouse and Paris, what was it?

A Spiritual connection of the God/Creator kind.

It seemed as if the grandiose cathedral-like local churches were only attended by a handful who were 70 and over, walking that fine line between life and the thereafter. However, there were exceptions like the  sprightly, elderly gentleman who would tip his hat when we greet each other in the street and a large devout Vietnamese family. They had enough children to sing in the 5 person choir and play various accompanying instruments. The two youngest in the family are still on to lead the church in song and at least one of them still plays a flute to accompany the organist. They seem to have it, but what happened to the rest of the people?

My soul became hungry. I wondered did others have this same hunger. Did they even feel hungry for something greater, for the intangible, the unexplainable?  Was it from their lack of solid educational programming like Sesame Street? And why was their second national anthem O Happy Day? Did they even know what that song was really about?

I was not going to let my soul starve on the account of others lack of interest or disregard or the feeling that this subject was irreverent and more taboo than sex and open drug usage.

Finding love in a hopeless place, in pop culture, is easier and less confusing  than finding God or even one’s soul in a laïque country such as France. Even the definition of laïque is contradictory, so it would only be normal that the population would be just as intellectually confused about it all and capable of spiritually starving to death without even knowing it, and opening doors to all sorts of other kinds of mayhem.

Laïcite established in France in 1958 is “simply” the separation of church and state in which the church cannot be involved in administrative or political roles. However when looking at the word Laïque, in the church, from what I understand is  faithful follower of Christ , through their baptism, incorporated into the body of Christ and becomes a member of the household of God, by also being members of the church, which represents the lifeline of the world. Or at least that’s how I translated it from a religious website. Simply put, they are the lay members of the church.

But with the first reference to Laïcite it removes religious expression and even discussion of from the classroom. So it wasn’t just the teachers who were not allowed to discuss religious practices to a certain extent, but students were stripped of their freedom to wear veils, crosses, yarmulkes or any religious paraphernalia, in the 2000’s. To me it felt as an unnecessary removal of otherness from every vestige of French society that could remind the majority of the minorities ability to be French and something else. As if taking away the ability for immigrants to practice their professions here weren’t enough they also took a freedom of religious expression, in the administrative workplace and school yard. This only could have lead to the fanaticism that is seen among teens today. No religious expression at school but they can wear caps, t-shirts and jackets with the brand Comme da Fuckdown embroidered across the front in gold lettering.

Oh, but I’m sure you’re wondering how I kept my soul from going hungry? Well, I had the opportunity to host a gospel radio program in French from 2003-2007. Music has an amazing way of maintaining spiritual connections and develop relationships…

NB: By  the way that reference to Sesame Street is not far off in dealing with other aspects of society that involve innovation, creativity and independence as one may think. But that’s a thought for another day.

Erica Sith-Eccassut

Erica Smith-Escassut was born and raised in Baton Rouge, La. She moved to France 14  years ago. She’s married and has two children. She has been dabbling in radio broadcasting, writing, and figuring out ways to get paid to be herself & help others along the way.

Next month Laura Bazile examines business networking as an entrepreneur in Europe.

 

 

 

 

Gloria Dixon-Svärd – An American in Norrland

In a new series of articles, black women living in Europe share their views from the inside. In our sixth article, Gloria Dixon-Svärd traded her dreams of being a diplomat for a life way up north. 

So what made a big city girl like me venture off to a small town way up in the north of Sweden and stay there for 19 years and become a “Norrlänning”? Well I suppose this question can’t be answered in one short story since there are so many factors which play a part. Some have to do with the person I was before coming to Sweden and the rest has to do with experiencing Sweden as a new arrival in the north. I had a lot of the quietness that is the stereotype of most people from the north and I simply fit right in.

My first encounter with Sweden was back in 1974 when I came as an exchange student to small town outside of Katrineholm. That doesn’t say much for those who don’t know Sweden but at that time Katrineholm probably had a population of about 20,000 as opposed to Washington DC’s over 700,000. The fact that I had fallen so deeply in love with a Swedish exchange student at my school the year before had a lot to do with it. Still, in my junior year I had expected to study abroad in Paris. I was very focused on becoming a diplomat and working at the US State Department so an international experience was mandatory. The romance with the Swede and contact with Sweden became a big plus in my quest for international knowledge. When I got to Sweden I simply fell in love with the country – its simplicity, the standard of living; the people, one couldn’t help but love the country. It was the closest thing to a “Utopia” which I had read so much about in my history and political science classes during the 70’s. But that’s another story.

Boden

The years came and went. I finished a 2 year visit in Sweden and went back home to become the diplomat I thought was my destiny. It didn’t happen! I continued to vacation in Sweden and on one such vacation I met my future husband who just so happened to be from a small northern town called Boden. I could write an entire article to describe my encounter with Boden and the north. In terms of “area” Boden’s Kommun is a very big town comprised of several small, neighboring towns. Up until the late 90’s Boden was Sweden’s northern most strategic, security point of protection. And yes, my husband like so many other men who lived in Boden worked for the military. So in the spring of 1979 I was living a life I never thought was possible: married and living in northern Sweden. Boden is a beautiful town in the summer. Like Stockholm it is a city on water but without the stress and the masses. I was now in the land of the midnight sun and it was truly an experience to find oneself up at midnight wondering when you would get tired. That comes at the price of November and December when there is approximately 3 hours of daylight! But there was something very exotic about that contrast which enthralled me for about 10 years. Experiencing the northern lights for the first time, Wow! I considered myself enlightened back then but I had never heard of the northern lights until I found myself on a dark, lonely road on my way home one night. Mine was the only car for miles around and the lights suddenly appeared in the sky, dancing as they say in the north in all its magnificence. I was terrified! I was sure that I was experiencing an encounter with the unknown. This is before mobile phones so I was “ALONE” and scared in every sense of the word.

Northern Lights
Northern Lights

In the north you find yourself living in wait of the return of spring and the new life waiting around the corner.  Still, Boden turned out to be my door into the world of international business. As an American I was quite unique for that part of the country so I can truly say that I was a novelty in the right place at the right time. And I was a novelty because I was American, black, female in high heels and skirts, spoke not only Swedish and English but I also possessed at the time a working knowledge of French which was exactly what was needed for the job I secured. I was in charge of all the international contacts with both customers, suppliers and several sister companies around the world. So my studies of diplomacy came in handy after all.

My husband, son, daughter and I moved to Stockholm in 1998 as my son had just started to become a person to reckon with in track and field and the opportunities in the north were not many. We wanted him to have the best possibility to fulfill his dreams and I would come closer to an international scene and maybe work for the Swedish government. The job with the Swedish government didn’t happen, but I work for another international company and my life is here. My husband passed away 5 years ago but my son and daughter and granddaughter are within reach. They mean the world to me which is why I am still in Sweden. Yes I think about moving home but I have lived here longer now than I have lived in the US. I have become European and I don’t know how I would fit in to American society, trying to go back to being the American I once was after the exposure to a life in Sweden! Not just a Swedish experience but a European experience!!

Gloria Dixon-Svärd

Gloria Dixon-Svärd was born and raised in Washington, DC. She moved to Sweden 34 years ago where she married, had two children and became a grandmother. Instead of becoming the US diplomat she dreamed of she built a career working for International companies in northern Sweden and Stockholm.

In our next article Erica Smith-Escassut found a way to feed her spirit in France.