Home is where you heart is. For Cecille Basco-Östlund, this couldn’t be truer as she found not only a home, but a lifelong love in Sweden.
Since when have you been staying there? Can you recount briefly why you moved there?
I have been living, for a year now, in Stockholm and in Sweden since 2007. I work for a Swedish multinational company. I started with them in the Philippines in 2000 and was assigned to Shanghai for three years in 2004. After China, a job in Gothenburg, Sweden seemed like a good next step for me, so I relocated. Three years on in that post, I moved to the company’s headquarters in Stockholm. It’s easy to think that all the moving was because of the job, but the truth is I am in Stockholm because this is where I found love. All the steps that I took to get here were simply following a greater plan.
In 2005 while in Shanghai, I met a Stockholm-based Swedish guy online. We did not think we would ever meet in person and I had no idea that my next assignment would be in Sweden. As fate would have it, we did meet when I was in Gothenburg for interviews, 14 months after we started talking online. For three years, we commuted between Gothenburg and Stockholm, a 500 kilometer and 3-hour train distance, to see each other. In November 2010, in front of families and friends, we got married in Manila.
Tell us about your host city/country
Stockholm is a beautiful city. Spring and summer are fantastic. They make up for the darkness and coldness of winter. You can easily see the effects the weather has on people. During the winter, people tend to keep to themselves staying mostly indoors, lighting lots of candles to make their homes cozy. As soon as you can wear flip-flops again (for some who can’t wait, this happens even if the temperature is just above 10 degrees Celsius) the atmosphere changes to one that is festive. The restaurants start putting tables outside and people gather with friends and families where they can expose themselves to as much sunshine as possible.
The most famous landmark in Stockholm is probably the city hall which faces Lake Mälaren. This is also where the Nobel Prizes are awarded every 10th of December (all Nobel prizes are awarded in Stockholm, except for the peace prize which is awarded in Oslo, Norway). My favorite place in Stockholm is the old town or “Gamla Stan.” I can spend hours sitting on a bench in the town square simply admiring the old buildings around and watching people passing by.
What do you there do for a living?
I work for SCA (Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget) as head of Group Business Control. SCA is a hygiene, forest and packaging company operating globally and employing some 45,000 people. I am proud of working for SCA because sustainability and care for people and the environment are integrated into how it operates.
Is there a Filipino community there?
There are a few organizations listed at the Philippine Embassy in Stockholm website, but I have not been able to participate in any of them yet. There are about 13,000 Filipinos living in the whole of Sweden.
I think Asians in general are treated well here. The country’s society is based on people working and I think Asians are perceived to have good work ethics. Some people also think that Asians assimilate relatively easier.
Many Swedes are not very familiar with the Philippines. If I ask someone new what they know of the Philippines, they would say “not much except Imelda’s shoes and the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.” That’s my cue to talk about our beautiful beaches and the warmth and friendliness of Filipinos.
Tell us about your life there.
Moving to a new country is always a challenge as you learn how things work. Settling in Sweden was relatively easier for me compared to how I did in China mainly because of the language. Swedes speak English very well so asking for directions, eating out, locating things or shopping is fairly straightforward. The flipside of that is that my spoken Swedish has not really progressed as I would have wished, as it is always so easy to switch to English.
My husband and I like to travel and in the years that I have been in Sweden, we have managed to visit a lot of different places both in Scandinavia and in continental Europe. If we usually don’t fly into city break locations; we like to take the car and go on road trips.
The traffic situation is different from how it is in Manila. I remember a taxi ride from the airport on my first time here. The driver warned me that it was rush hour, so I was mentally prepared for heavy traffic on the motorway. After a while, and as we continued to drive as fast as the speed limit allowed, I asked the driver about the rush hour. He pointed to the other vehicles and said that if it was not rush hour, there would hardly be any other vehicle on the road.
I also appreciate that a lot of information can be found online. Whatever you want to do, chances are, you can do a large part of planning via the Internet. Once, I typed in my name on a people finder website and saw that not only were my address with a map and a street view photo of my living room window displayed, but also my phone numbers and my birthday for everyone to see. I was so spooked that I immediately called my then boyfriend. He said, “Welcome to Sweden!”
What I still find difficult though, is adjusting to the darkness during winter. I have learned to cope with the cold by dressing appropriately, but the short daytime for an extended period is tough. On the other hand, when it is so sunny, the Filipino in me wants to walk around under an umbrella. Swedes don’t do this and they think it’s strange when I always try to find shade under which I could sit.
What cultural practices/behaviors have you acquired from your host country? Do you still observe Filipino customs and traditions?
My in-laws practice a lot of traditions. Herring is a big thing in Sweden and you will find it on the table in a lot of occasions; whether it is mid-summer or Christmas. Easter is celebrated by exchanging colorfully decorated Easter eggs filled with candies and other goodies. Real spruce trees are decorated for Christmas.
I have learned to eat and like traditional Swedish food; some of which you eat with lingon berries. Thursday is pea soup and pancake day. Most restaurants serve these for lunch. You start with a bowl of pea soup and then you finish with some pancakes topped with whipped cream and strawberry jam.
For our wedding, while we had a traditional Catholic ceremony, we also combined some Swedish traditions. My husband’s whole family did the pamamanhikan, bringing gifts to my family and had lunch at our home a few days before the wedding. On the other hand, we also practiced the Swedish tradition of “morgon gåva” or morning gift where the groom presents a gift to the bride the morning after their wedding.
There are two things though that I have refused to adapt to at home: square pillows and eating with a fork and knife. The Swedes use square pillows which I can never get used to. I also eat with a spoon and fork at home and with knife and fork elsewhere. It amazes my husband how I can cut my food with my spoon and fork.
Your message to Filipinos across the globe –
It is not easy to be far away from home. Still, regardless of what brought you to where you are now, I believe that it is an opportunity to enjoy life, to learn and to grow. It is our humanity, not our nationality, which matters when we reach out to people and find the special connections and build relationships that will last a lifetime.
Each place I have lived in has become a part of me. My experiences have shaped the kind of Filipino I am today. I am proud of my heritage but I am also here looking out for opportunities to make myself a better person everyday.
Thank you for reading snippets of my life in Stockholm. I hope that you are having a good Pinoy life wherever in the world you are.