THE EXCLUSIVE STORY OF YVETTE LARSSON – The Swedish Teacher who is Rebranding Romania

by Oana Silviana
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“I am looking at Romania now from the leadership point of view. I sell seeds of moving forward, of making the world a better place, this is why I always have hope for Romania. I tell the stories of those people who actually do something. We need to create communities. I want to bring the Scandinavians back to Romania, we want to have them explore the country and enjoy the traditions, to connect people and to create relationships between the Scandinavian countries and Romania.”

Hellen Keller once said that “The best and the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

When I first met Yvette last month in Bucharest, I discovered not only a fairytale lady, but  a beautiful and strong woman, who inspires you from the first eye contact. She is a true leader in her personal and professional life and when you talk to her and she tells you her story, you can stay for more than 24 hours and it wouldn’t have been enough to discover the whole Yvette.

Yvette Larsson is the type of woman you meet and she makes you believe that you know her for a lifetime.

In Bucharest, interview taken in December 2018

In Bucharest, interview taken in December 2018

A leader is not only doing things with the heart, but her attitude and actions around the world, transform her into an icon. Yvette is an icon of success, a symbol of truth, beauty, kindness, gratefulness and joy.

I invite you to discover the Swedish language Teacher who is rebranding Romania. She is a mother, a fighter and an inspiration to all of us.

She is a drop of change in a Romania dominated by prejudice and a model of leadership for all the European countries.

Since 2011, Yvette is changing everything about Romania through her wonderful projects, through hundreds of photos and articles published on her Facebook page and on her blog, The Bucharest Lounge.

The beginning – Yvette’s first visit in Romania

My story started in 1985 when my parents and grandparents decided to go to Romania because in the 80’s people were going here, as well as in Bulgaria, France, Spain, Italy so… Romania was just another country over there. Of course you add the fact that Romania was behind the Iron Curtain and it added a little bit of adventure – my parents said they were curious to know what was life in the countries in the Eastern block. So we went here. That was the time when I was a teenager, I didn’t want to be with my parents, I wanted to speak with young people, but it was difficult to speak with young people. They were looking at you, but really not approaching you to talk and there was a group of young people at my hotel (Hotel Dacia), and there was one young boy who could speak English and he was approaching me with a lot of energy and with a lot of enthusiasm and with questions flowing like a river.

That was Mihai and he could speak English because his mom, who was a scientist, she had made sure that her son was able to speak different languages if he would have been given the chance to go from Romania. So he was asking me many questions, they were asking me about music, about clothes, about how life was and then of course… and then Mihai asked me if I wanted to write to him.“

Discovering real Romania

Communism in the eyes of a Swedish teenager, before 1989

I think freedom was in people’s hearts and minds. Because freedom is a big concept. First of all I didn’t understand at the beginning, we were in Romania only for two weeks, but then bit by bit I started to understand, we started to ask questions, like why there was always a guy in our bus with Swedish tourists – a Romanian guy who was always looking at us and why wasn’t there light in the evening and on the streets, or why were people in restaurants so shy when we wanted to speak to them, why were people coming to ask us if they can buy cigarettes.”

Freedom of speech in Romania – a dream hanged

“This has given me goose bumps, because these are the biggest things that I have learned so early… A seed was planted in me. I saw what freedom of speech meant and what it meant not to be able to express yourself or how you feel, what you want, your own needs and those kind of things. This is very important for me.”

A letter and a true friendship – Romania in 18 years of writing

When I started to write to Mihai… this is also important because we were writing to each other for 18 years and that’s a whole lifetime in a way. When he wrote to me… that’s when I really started to understand what it was in Romania, I started to read about Romania, I started to see what is there in our magazines and there was nothing about Romania in the newspapers, really, really nothing. Because nothing was coming out. You didn’t know what was happening in Romania, or about Ceaușescu. It was a strict dictatorship and when I started to write to Mihai, I started to learn about the traditions, I got the first Mărțișor in 1986 and I started also to realize how rich traditions there are and how many things were put a lid on. I also started to ask a lot of questions, to be very angry and frustrated that I couldn’t do anything.

The letters that I have and that you should see from 1989… I was trying to write to him between the lines – is there something that I can do for you and all those kinds of things that I can show you. I was feeling so… there was nothing I could do for Mihai. It was so unfair.”

Letter sent to Mihai, 1989 (Personal Archive)

Letter sent to Mihai, 1989 (Personal Archive)

The lost friendship – a book kept alive for 18 years

“When he contacted me, it was like time stood still.”

“I remember I wrote a letter to Mihai, asking him if he knew what was going on in Europe, because I was so fed up… I was asking him  <Do you know what happens there, do you know what happens in Poland, do you know what happens in Eastern European countries?> Then he called me, he talked to my mom and he said I can’t write about all those things.

All my letters to him were open. Then in 1990 when everything fell apart, came another story. I came back in 2011 and that was when Mihai contacted me on Facebook, because he moved, I moved and after 18 years we lost contacts and you know… life goes on…

We met again in 2011. You know… when you write things, it is not like when you talk like this. It will be how you feel. You try to tell stories. We were in our own world in a way when I was writing to him and when I saw a letter from him, it was something magical. Something very, very special and when he contacted me it was like time stood still…

I saw him in 1985 and the second time I saw him was in 2011. So we never saw each other, because I moved to places, he moved to places.”

A story like a puzzle – putting pieces together

18 years of friendship in a MANUSCRIPT – “A window to my soul”

“We met in Denmark in Copenhagen, where I lived at that time, and it was fantastic! We were trying to put the pieces together, putting the puzzle together and then was the time when we realized that he had kept most of my letters and I had kept most of my letters, so the next thing was to put them together.

Now we have a manuscript in chronological order, so you can read the story. I have also added stories, so now it’s like a full manuscript that we call “A Window to my Soul.” That is a book, we are just searching for somebody to publish it or I publish it myself. After “A Window to my Soul” I am writing a story which is what happens with the Romanians afterwards.

What we were talking earlier about – what is happening here now, what is happening when Romanians want to go abroad, what is the perception and why is it like this. Also what happened with Romanians after 1989, what happened with leadership. This is also an area for me – leadership and education, because I am a teacher.”

A dream born from a friendship and a common vision – Rebranding Romania

I am looking at Romania now from the point of leadership. When you don’t have strong models in leadership, what happened to the people then? I am very lucky, because I have my community, The Bucharest Lounge where I put consciously the mission to show the good examples. A lot of those kinds of people are attracted to come to The Bucharest Lounge because of this.

So I see there are a lot of people who want to do good things, who have initiative, who have projects, who do what they can to create something else, to become a role model. It can be a baker, an activist or it can be in politics, it can be a writer or a designer, a priest. That’s why I feel hopeful.”

Yvette promoting Romanian "IA" (Personal Archive)

Yvette promoting Romanian “IA” (Personal Archive)

A new destination for travelling – Yvette’s idea for a better Romania

In 2011 what happened was that I came here and I thought “Wow”, Romania can be the new destination for travelling, because everything is here, you have Bucharest that is the capital, that no one seemed to know anything about, you have the seaside, you have the Carpathian Mountains, you have fantastic food, you have those traditions!

 Romania has a very rich culture of the country as well.

“There is so much to explore here! So I was thinking: this is crazy! Why don’t they do anything? It’s like: hello, tourism office, I was very, very surprised in a bad way, like: why aren’t they doing anything here and of course, combined with corruption and people struggling, so I can understand where is coming from, but still…”

Christmas in Bucium, Transilvania, 2014

Christmas in Bucium, Transilvania, 2014 (Personal Archive)

Valea Screzii – the tragedy that changed Romania and the help from Sweden

The beginning of Bucharest Lounge

“My friend showed me a reportage on TV where an orphanage had a fire and they were asking people to support and help them, those 2 things were the moments when I thought that I will start a blog: the fire and eagerness to help and the drive to do something about the rebranding of Romania. I thought : will not think too much about it, I will start a blog and I will show pictures of people who inspire and then I started both The Bucharest Lounge and  ONE ITEM. I don’t think so many people know about One Item, because I don’t publicly publish that much.  My friends in Sweden know about it, because that’s where I act. With One Item we thought everybody has one item to give. If I had a big Facebook page, I had at that time probably 600, which I thought was a lot. So I thought if 600 people would give me one item I will have 600 things to give to the kids.”

Yvette and Alex, in Valea Screzii, after delivering donations (Personal Archive)

Yvette and Alex, in Valea Screzii, after delivering donations (Personal Archive)

ONE  Item – Kindness and community, to change Valea Screzii

“Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make, makes you. Choose wisely.” ( Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart)

“What happened was that my school community where my kids were, started to hear about this and they started to give like crazy, so I had a full truck with many things to give.

The people at school started to give a lot of things – clothes, school materials, can food, furniture. All sort of things. At the end, my storage was full with donations. We had the truck coming to take it to Romania,  that was the first time. And then, I  had a friend, Betty Djordjievska,  who had a restaurant. She started to make another collection, so we had so many things to bring down!

 That was my first meeting with the community in Valea Screzii. That was the first time and I don’t know how many times we went now, I think 5.

Then I was there for a couple of times to be with them and this Christmas we brought 3 children from there, to celebrate Christmas with us. So, this is not something I talk so much publicly about, but it is something very, very important for me.

Christmas in Râșnov, Romania, 2017 (Personal Archive)

Christmas in Râșnov, Romania, 2017 (Personal Archive)

It touches your heart when you do this. I am a mom myself and it really touches your heart when you see the people who work in Valea Screzii. It is not only Valea Screzii, they have places all around Valea Plopului. When I see those people who work with no money from the state, everything is donated for them and how they manage themselves…

This is incredible! Their community skills could be adapted in many areas of the society, there is a lot of strength and a lot of power to work from nothing and to create something really, really good.”

Valea Screzii, motivated by change – believing in good

“This community started already before 1989. Today I can see that they are growing stronger, but they are still struggling. When I go there (we were in Valea Screzii 2 days ago), it is in a beautiful setting because it is a lot of greenery, so I think if you have a child who has a lot of trauma, it’s very good for those people to have natural surroundings, you hear the cows, you have animals around you, but in the same time there are kids who were abandoned by the family, a lot of things that are challenges.

The man who is the most admirable in Valea Screzii  is Father Tanase, who created this community. Every time I speak with him, I get incredibly inspired. He is very admirable -how he has managed to have so many challenges to create hope for those people, that is really, really admirable.”

Yvette and Father Tănase, Valea Plopului, Romania (Personal Archive)

Yvette and Father Tănase, Valea Plopului, Romania (Personal Archive)

Double places called home – Romania and Sweden

Bucharest Lounge – a dream of change and motivation

“It is like I have 2 lives. Every person has different areas. When I am in Romania, it’s 2 weeks holiday, so I have time to sit down with you in a café, I have time to write, I have time to take pictures, I have time to meet people, I have time to go to events and all sorts of things.”

Yvette in everyday life

“When I am at home, I work as a teacher, I work in an international school, and I teach languages, which I love. I am very fortunate in this way. I feel very fulfilled and I feel that I am doing a very meaningful job, because I can see kids growing and I can learn myself about motivation, about how human beings learn.

 I work full time, 100% percent. I have 2 kids, so my everyday life is different than the one I have while I am in Romania for the holidays and do Bucharest Lounge.

Yvette and her children in Dobrogea, Romania (Personal Archive)

Yvette and her children in Dobrogea, Romania (Personal Archive)

When I am at home, I do all the things that you do in a family. I make breakfast, usually I go up at 5.30 in the morning, so I can have a shower, make myself a coffee, all by myself. Then, the kids wake up and we eat breakfast and we walk to school together and afterwards in the afternoons I make dinner, I take them to their activities, we meet with friends, I make sure my children do their homework… all those kinds of things that you do in a family. And then when my kids are asleep, then is the time for me to plan my lessons, write, because what I really, really love to do is to write and to read. It’s like two of my biggest passions. My mom sometimes says when I go somewhere – “You should go and relax a little bit.” And I say – “But I enjoy so much writing! I love so much indulging in a text and do research and for me… I get so much fulfillment from writing and from reading and getting inspired. I read books, newspapers, I listen to poems, I am a very, very curious person.”

Bucharest Lounge –Yvette’s second heart

More than 30 travels to Romania

“Bucharest Lounge it’s me. I produce all the material, all the contacts, but I do have a community of 22.000 Facebook friends or let’s say community members. They are very active and they love to send me emails, messages, or places that I should go to, things I should see, events to go to. I get a lot of ideas from the community and I get ideas from people to go to places that I didn’t go so much.

I have friends in Transylvania, so that’s why I go so much to Transylvania. I have friends in Dobrogea, that’s why I go a lot to Dobrogea. So it is a mix, then it comes to something very basic as budget as well, because people think that I am a company, but I am not – yet -,  and my travels are basically budget oriented.

I think I have been to Romania between 30 and 35 times and I think there were 3 or 4 of those times that somebody else paid for my ticket, because I was invited to the UNWTO conference, to Tedx Talk twice and to a Female Entrepreneur Conference.

Everything else it’s from my own budget.”

Yvette in Mândra village, Sibiu County, Romania (Personal Archive)

Yvette in Mândra village, Sibiu County, Romania (Personal Archive)

THE TRAVEL and a MOTIVATION – about  leadership, Romania and Bucharest Lounge

“I have 2 perspectives right now. Let’s take the perspectives that I meet through my community first – The Bucharest Lounge. Very, very early when I decided to start Bucharest Lounge, I decided what I want to share there, what stories I want: constructive stories. Me as a person, ever since I was a kid, I was very driven, I got bored fast, because I wanted to reinvent myself, I am a very curious person and I am trying all the time to find solutions. If solution 1 doesn’t work, there must be a solution 2 and 3 – this is what I am trying to teach my kids, that there are always at least 3 solutions. Try to come up with them.”

Selling seeds of moving forward

“I decided that The Bucharest Lounge has to be a constructive place, where people will realize that this is not the place for complaining without coming up with an idea, a constructive idea, because complaining without an idea is something that really, really annoys me.

If this is not working, what can you do? What is the smallest step that you can do? So with The Bucharest Lounge, very quickly people understand and if there is hate or anything like that, then that’s not a place for me. I sell seeds of moving forward, of making the world a better place, so because of this I always attract opened people, this is why I always have hope for Romania.”

Yvette at home, in Sweden (Personal Archive)

Yvette at home, in Sweden (Personal Archive)

The role models who make Romania to go forward – 2 perspectives about leadership

 “I have met so many people who do things, for example in Făgăraș, in Târgoviște, in Vișina, in so many places you have people who work for the better of their communities.

I want to go back to the initial question about leadership – I said I had 2 perspectives, one is through Bucharest Lounge where I meet great people who do fantastic things, even if there are poor communities… they still go on. The other perspective that I have is doing good in society as a whole, contributing in the fields of leadership, education and culture too.”

Romania and Taking RESPONSIBILITY

“I think there is a big lack of role models here ( in Romania )  in many aspects, and role models within the area of  leadership – how to be a leader it’s not something that you learn from one day to the other. It takes practice, everybody can be a manager, but leadership is something that you need to be very conscious about, how do you speak, what words do you use to people, how do you encourage people, what about blaming and judging, I think there is a lot of blaming and judgement amongst Romanians, people are afraid to take responsibility.”

Bucharest, December 2017

Bucharest, December 2017

I think this is very important, because when you take responsibility of your own action you can say : – Hey, look, I did a mistake.

It’s ok to make a mistake. A lot of Romanians are afraid to make mistakes or at least admit the mistakes.

You can say :  – Yes, I did a mistake, but let’s see what I have learned from this and move forward.

There is a lack of leadership in many aspects and it’s from the top, and spreads down to all levels. It spreads down to school, to hospitals, to all these things that are important for us, and then it makes it hard.

It’s hard if you just have to struggle with a day, it takes a lot of energy to fight all those kinds of things, and with this struggle there are a few people who manage to turn it into a fight for the better. I think most people are maybe tired or they want to give up. I can understand that, and I admire those who stick and who fight.

For example, my mom in the 70’s. She was fighting for our rights. My parents were fighting for the things I can take as natural now – a long maternity and paternity leave, payment when you are home with sick kids or you are sick yourself, all those kind of things were fights that people in Sweden had to take.

For me, I really, really hope that there are people who can be resilient and can continue to fight in Romania, even if it’s hard, because democracy means people’s power. It’s not the politicians who will give away their power, it’s the people who need to change, to push the politicians to change. And now we have social media, we can create communities, the whole economical situation changes, we have sharing economy, there are a lot of things that interfere with leadership.”

December 2017, Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest

December 2017, Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest

So maybe we will have a different kind of leadership.

And if I see these kinds of similarities, elsewhere… ? Yes, of course, you will have a group of people who will be resilient, but you will have also a mass who will be tired, who will not have the power and the drive. That’s why I am always trying to lift those people.

I try to tell the stories of those people who actually do something.

When I started The Bucharest Lounge it wasn’t for a Romanian audience. I was doing it for people abroad, who should be curious about Romania, to come here and to connect. My mission was to have less prejudice and more  curiosity. Then after only a year, I think I realized that because all the emails I got from Romanians , they said they cried when they saw my page. I was blown away. That was like – what?! At that point I thought I have to take responsibility of this.”

THE Role Models – the power of dignity and strength for Yvette

“My absolute role models are my own mom and my grandmothers, of course.

I was born in the very north of Sweden, 100 kilometers north from the Arctic Circle, and when I grew up in the 80’s… well, it was  a very… isolated place, not isolated as Romania during communism, but it’s geographically isolated, very far from everything and it costs a lot of money, if you want to travel.

The winters are very harsh and dark… it’s like minus 30 degrees. It’s dark from November until January. We are talking about resilience here, you have to be very resilient, you have to believe that after a long, dark and cold winter there will come a new spring and there will be light again. People living over there are very, very strong like in their minds, cause they push forward in a climate like this, and I think this has shaped me as a human being actually and if I think about my mom, how she has been fighting for the things that she thinks is right… without stopping and you add unconditional love and you add a lot of fierceness, a lot of courage and a lot of determination, then I think she has been a great role model for me.

Her mom, my maternal grandmother, she raised 7 children. These 2 people are definitely my role models for their inner drive. Then my paternal grandmother for unconditional love, that I felt so safe with her , I felt like I wasn’t judged or blamed,  I was encouraged.  I think these women have inspired me a lot in different ways.”

Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest, December 2017

Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest, December 2017

Projects in 2018 – Romania and abroad

“When I plan and when I dream… I dream in 3 stages, I have plans and dreams for me personally, as Yvette. I have plans and dreams for my community, which can be as a teacher, my neighbourhood or The Bucharest Lounge, that is the second stage community, and the 3rd is planning for the world, for bigger purposes, so if I look at my activities in Romania, that would land in the second category. With the The Bucharest Lounge I will continue to share stories and I will continue to share more in depth stories, so the horizon can wide for the people abroad.”

THE TRAVEL AGENCY – New beginnings

“To see the Romanians, to visit places, this is something that I will continue to do. Social Media is constantly changing, it means that I have also to learn new things on social media, which is good for me… because I get bored quickly, so I need to reinvent myself often. What is growing out from the Bucharest Lounge is also a partnership and a travel agency.

The travel agency is www.visitromania.se and we are a team of two people who want to bring Scandinavians back to Romania. There will be a web page shortly and my version for the Swedish travelers will be boutique travel and for the Norwegian Travel Agency it will be a bigger program. We want to bring the Scandinavians back to Romania, we want to have them explore the country and enjoy the traditions, to connect people and to create relationships between the Scandinavian countries and Romania.”

Yvette’s Facebook page is her private page – Yvette Larsson, The Bucharest Lounge Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TheBucharestLounge/also and www.visitromania.se

You can find her also on Instagram, here.

Yvette Larsson, Bucharest, December 2017

Yvette Larsson, Bucharest, December 2017

“What I want also to do more is to work with the community in Valea Plopului, Valea Screzii, this is what my heart wants and also another thing is to work with the young people with leadership and to create models of constructive leadership, to move things forward. I am also very interested in education, these are the 3 areas that I want to continue to develop.”

I invite you to discover the woman who has Romania in her heart!

YVETTE LARSSON – A fairytale interview, taken in Bucharest

December 2017.

Take a change, knowing the Fairytale People around us!

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