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.