(Ed. Note: Entrevista con Nata. In this section, our correspondent Nathaniel Sisma Villaluna will share with us his creamy and delectable stories, 100 % inspiring yet zero in fat.)
“…Sju, åtta, nio…tio”.
Everybody gave Luke a warm of applause as he finished counting from one to ten in Swedish. Five-year old Luke shyly bowed down his head and paced slowly towards his dad.
“Very good Luke, now in Tagalog.”
As Luke started to count in Tagalog, his dad Andre proudly assured us that Luke and his younger sister Venice also speak fluent Tagalog and English at home. We congratulated him for a job well done. I personally admire Pinoy kids who can speak Tagalog or their native dialects even if they were born and raised outside the Philippines.
After Luke finished reciting, he ran to his other cousins who were busy with their Playstation. We were in a children’s birthday party when we met Andre and his family who are based in Sweden. We were not invited to the party, mind. It just so happened that Tita Evelyn, the grand mom of the birthday boy, Francesc (cousin of Luke and Venice) tagged us along. Thus, the gatecrash.
Our next meeting was at the house of Tita Evelyn who invited me to join them for dinner on the last night of the family in Barcelona. They were flying for Stockholm the following day. Andre, his wife Novie and their two kids were here to spend summer in Spain. During dinner, Andre narrated his move to Sweden in 2003, a move that drastically changed his life.
At the age of 25, it was a big decision for Andre Carlo Coloso Suñaz, to finally quit his job in Manila and to apply for a position in an IT Consultancy firm in Stockholm. Single and care-free, he easily got along well with his workmates. He also made friends with many of the local Filipinos who helped make sure his weekends were busy. Needless to say, he was liking his new life abroad. Andre observed that Stockholm was more laidback than Manila.
“The quality of life is different. Manila is a very busy city. In Stockholm, we just take our time. People are liberal, in terms of sex and religion. They are generally open-minded and the most important thing is, they uphold independence and equality.”
He was grateful that he was not obliged to learn the language.
“Swedes are happy to talk to you in English. They want to practice their English with English-speakers. In the market, in the restaurants, at work, they take whatever opportunity to strike a conversation in English.”
Working for almost eight years in the same company, Andre has nothing to complain. He has handled around 16 staff at one time, all coming from different countries.
“It was very interesting. I learned a lot about different cultures. I didn’t experience any acts of discrimination in the workplace. We respect each other. No such problems have happened to me. I have heard of stories of some sort of discrimination in schools and in some remote areas but fortunately I have never encountered it in the eight years I have been living here.”
One thing that he likes about Sweden is how the government thinks of the welfare of its citizens.
“There is job security. The people are dependent on the government. With minimum of 30% tax imposed by the government, people expect a lot from it. They can afford to specialize. The Swedes have this mentality that they deserve the good life. The government has the obligation to make life easier for them. There are enough jobs for all. If you work hard in Sweden, things will be easy. Sipag at tiyaga, at abilidad.”
Andre happily declares that his decision to move to Sweden was definitely God’s plan. Not only blessed with a good job, but also with a loving wife and a caring mother to his two kids.
“Before I met her, Novie was the president of the youth group in Barcelona. It was in 2003 when I went to Barcelona as a lone delegate for the Singles for Christ conference when we first met. Not so long, she became my girlfriend. It was a long-distance relationship. It was a little bit hard but we managed. We were and still are very much in sync, considering that we weren’t together physically for a long time. We got married the following year. Then Luke came. Then Venice. I am blessed with a beautiful family. Now, we are both active members of Couples for Christ. Novie is also handling the Pinoy choir of the church in Stockholm.”
Another thing that Andre likes about living in Sweden is that the Swedes know how to separate work from family.
“Which I really like. There is always time for the family. In Sweden, after 5 p.m., everybody goes home, to their family. At weekends, they try not to disturb family time. For them, time with the family is very important. Family comes first. When I say ‘My kid is sick’ , no more questions asked. I can immediately avail a leave of absence. Swedes really look forward to having kids, spend time with them, raise them up and educate them.”
“What I don’t like however, is when the kids reach 18, it is expected and often times “requested” for them to move out of the house. Sure enough, independence is important, but I don’t agree to it when raising kids is perceived as a mere “project” where some parents would say, “I have done my job. Now I have to enjoy my life.” This is why many old people nowadays don’t expect to be taken cared of by their children. For them, their children don’t have obligations to them. This is one of the few things which I would not want to impart on my kids. Novie and I are determined to raise our kids with only the best of all worlds inasmuch as we can.”
Sweden has around 9 million population. It has been more difficult for immigrants not belonging to EU countries to settle in Sweden for labor market policy reasons.
“Most Filipinos are married to Swedes. Some of them work as house staff. There are also a number of Pinoys working as office staff in embassies other than the Philippines. Lately, there has been an influx of Filipino professionals working in Sweden.”
Among the Asian immigrants, the Thais and Chinese make up the most number. The Filipino community in Sweden numbering around 18,000 is far fewer than its counterpart in Spain.
“Filipinos in Sweden, not like in Barcelona are scattered. But one thing that unifies us is the one Catholic church that celebrates a mass in English. The Filipino community lobbied for a Filipino priest. And once a month, there is a mass in Tagalog.”
Talking of religion, Swedes are one of the least religious people in the world and Sweden has one of the highest levels of atheism.
“What I do is, I have to stand for my belief. Making the sign of the cross is like “WOW!” for the Swedes. For me, it doesn’t mean that if I am a Catholic, I am an alien, that I am weird. They have this impression that Catholics are closed-minded. One time, one drunk Swedish friend asked me, he said “ I can’t understand why Catholics can’t have sex before marriage. It’s hard.”
“Well, my reply was simply we just have to live with it. He was too drunk to remember what I said anyway. But like I said, Swedes value individualism and equality. So no problem with that.”
After the second baby, Novie started learning the language as part of their long-term plan. They are contemplating to settle in Sweden for good.
“At first, we thought of moving to the US or Spain, but in the end, we have always preferred to stay. My kids love it here. We are doing okay. Though we don’t have families in Sweden, we keep ourselves busy. Family work. Community. By doing so everything is connected. We are active in the Filipino community here. We have done fund raising activities for the victims of the Ondoy tragedy. We love what we do.”
Was it worth it? Was moving to Sweden a good decision?
“Yes! It was worth it. I believe it was God’s plan because I never intended to go abroad in the first place. But one thing led to another. The good thing is, it made me value my family more, the things that I have. God has a plan for everything. When I look back, God provided for me, for us and for my kababayans, wherever they may be, keep God in mind. If your plan doesn’t work as you planned it to be, maybe He has got other plans, even better.”
True enough, for this young father, whose number one priority is his family, has made use his blessings wisely.
“It’s always good to strive for a dream. Work hard for it. Huwag susuko. Wherever you are, you can always make the best out of it. Fill your life with good things, so that bad things won’t have a place in it. Nasa iyo na yan. Kung bago ka lang sa isang bansa. Kung mag-isa ka lang. Lumabas ka at makipagkaibigan. Then you will not feel alone or out of place. And who knows, mas maraming bagay ka pang matutunan. ”
It was already 30 minutes past midnight when we ended our conversation. I prepared my things to leave. We shook hands. I passed by the living room. Luke and Venice were lying on the sofa. With eyes half-closed, they were already drifting into snooze land. I extended my hand to Luke to say goodbye but he was already too heavy-eyed to reciprocate my adjo.