Eva Gram Toft, president of SWEA for the MEMA (middle Europe middle Africa) region, shown at her home in eastern Luxembourg City Photos: Mike Zenari
In the latest Community Spotlight, Delano caught up with two Swedish professionals to learn more about how Sweden is not only a modern country in the driver's seat, but also one with plenty of cosy traditions.
Integrating in Luxembourg was a quick process for Eva Gram Toft, who says she always had “two different cultures in my soul”. Born to a Polish mother and Swedish father, Toft was raised in Lund, where she studied informatics and data science which has led to a successful career in the grand duchy. “I already spoke German quite fluently when I arrived, but I was forced through my first work to speak French. Language is the first way to ease up integration,” she says.
And Toft should know, having lived in places as far as Australia and South America. Now at home in Luxembourg for the past 18 years, the mother-of-three says that despite her ease of integration, when she was expecting her first child she “had this natural need to get back to my roots and be with Swedish people”.
So she joined the Luxembourg chapter of the Swedish Women’s Educational Association (SWEA), which today has a global network of around 7,500 Swedish-speaking women in over 70 chapters in more than 30 countries. SWEA also awards $250,000 of scholarships and donations annually to Swedes and foreigners alike in a bid to promote Swedish culture and tradition. Toft now serves as SWEA president for the middle Europe and middle Africa region.
As a professional who seems to have struck the right balance between career, motherhood and her volunteer activities, Toft says, “I need my work and I love it, but there are other things important in life. And here I think the men are missing out on this.” In Sweden, by comparison, “It’s just expected the dads are home. It’s a no-brainer. The dad either takes [parental leave] or it’s gone.”
Toft still likes to surround herself with reminders of her roots. “There’s a lot of Swedish stuff in my home, cosiness, candles.” Particularly around Christmas and Midsummer (one of the most important holidays in Sweden), she and her friends like to visit Ikea or Scanshop to stock up on Swedish food or supplies. Toft, who was fond of Saint Lucy’s feast day each 13 December in her youth, still enjoys it as an adult. “It’s the darkest night of the year, so Santa Lucia comes with light on her head, and all the girls also have lights, sing traditional songs,” she says. “It’s a celebration to light up that dark period of the year.”
Although Toft says she had wanted to move out of Sweden since she was young, “I’m very proud to have it in my luggage… Sweden’s seen as a country in the driver’s seat, there’s a lot of respect. We know that we are responsible and tidy, follow the rules, and try to do the best for the world.” She also finds Swedes down-to-earth, as people who like being close to nature.
Catharina Biver is another Swede who needs nature--including her horses--in her life.
Catharina Biver, founder and managing director of Sparx Factory, shown here with her horse in Hobscheid
“I need to get dirt under my fingers and connect with Mother Earth. It’s my way of recharging my batteries.” Biver, born and bred in Stockholm, arrived in Luxembourg in 1987, leaving her banking job to follow her then partner to the grand duchy when he got a job here. As she wasn’t working, she began studying German and picked up horseback riding again, which “gave me the opportunity to very quickly get into local life”. After two years, he wanted to return to Sweden, but she didn’t.
She stayed and has since built her life in Kehlen, where she lives with her husband of 27 years who runs a stable with retired horses just up the road from her home. Her three children are fluent in Swedish, and Biver says her previous work through the foreigners’ committee at her local commune, her involvement on the SWEA professionals committee and formerly in the Nordic Women’s Club all have afforded her “a possibility to give back to the community. Many [Swedish] newcomers turn to SWEA, and it’s important for me, supporting females to progress in their careers”--perfect for someone as outgoing as Biver, who loves working with people and which also led her to founding Sparx Factory. “What I discovered in Luxembourg is this freedom of doing business… it’s multicultural, international with a wonderful openness and mix that was not the case in Sweden” when she left.
Still, Biver brings Sweden into her home with candles and light. “This is a constant fight between me and my husband,” she jokes. “I turn lights on, he turns them off… I have come to realise this really comes from Sweden and the long, dark period we have.”
In her Kehlen home is also a painting of the house she had in Sweden until she had to sell it in 2012--a place for which she and her family still feel a deep attachment. For six months, she says, she didn’t have any place at all in Sweden. “I felt rootless, which is weird, because I love Luxembourg… I really am half Luxembourgish. But my roots are in Sweden, and I don’t want to lose that.”