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THE WAY of Life in Sweden (EN)

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

Every month on WOMENCANFLY.CO’s blog series, The Way, we introduce inspirational women who live around the world.

This time we meet Mari Widetoft who lives in a small town called Habo located in south-central Sweden. She is a photographer and also publishes a free magazine called ‘MAGAZINE195’ which is loved by locals in Habo. Her husband Robert is Swedish and she went to Sweden where she did not understand the language or culture, after the birth of their first daughter. She is now a mother of three girls.

Mari originally worked as a Japanese language teacher in China and found her job rewarding but decided to move to Sweden when she had a baby. We asked her about the challenges she experienced in starting a business in a foreign country and raising children in a country with gender equality that boasts the 5th place ranking on the gender gap index.

A series of miracles that guided Mari to China

Mari's interest in China began in primary school when she had a Taiwanese classmate in her class. For some reason, when Mari talked with Chinese people, energy came out of her and she felt joyful. Her interest in China has remained somewhere in her heart ever since and she majored in Chinese culture at university. In her sophomore year, she studied abroad in China for a short period of time. Looking back on Mari's career, she once worked for a Japanese company as a new graduate but was then led to change jobs in China.

“After returning from a short-term study abroad program, I was speaking Chinese on the train when a Japanese woman sitting next to me suddenly spoke to me. She was a business owner in China and introduced me to a job. I was very interested but I was still a student at the time, so I passed on it.”

Although she was unable to take advantage of the opportunity that presented itself at that time, Mari had not lost her interest in China and went there on her own for her graduation trip while her friends went to Europe and the United States. Perhaps because it was unusual for a young woman to travel alone in China, a Japanese man spoke to her there as well.

In fact, this man was the one who inspired Mari to work in China. At the time, she only received a business card from him but she kept it with her, with the name "Japan-China Friendship Association" written on it.

After graduating from university, Mari worked in human resources for an education-related company but couldn't stop thinking about going to China. She suddenly remembered the business card she received during her trip to China. She made an appointment with the man and when she arrived at the Yokohama branch on his business card, she found the woman who had approached her on the train after her short-term study abroad. To her surprise, they had met separately and were both involved in the same business in China!

They were in the business of teaching Japanese in China and were in need of Japanese language teachers. Mari had passed on the opportunity once before but this was the only time she raised her hand without hesitation and she finally found a job in China.

“I was surprised that such a coincidence could happen. It was a moment when the "dots" of various experiences and encounters were connected by a line. We should not look at everything only in terms of dots but rather connect them and see them as lines.”

At a Mid-Autumn Festival event with Chinese students

Living in China

In China, Mari taught Japanese to about 50 students per class in a small town called Jikei in Ningbo. Having studied Chinese herself, she believed that the most important job of a Japanese language teacher is to promote interest in the Japanese language and convey the joy of learning it. Mari felt like representing the Japanese people to the children of Jikei who told her, "The only Japanese person I know is Mari-san.”

“I wanted to be a bridge of friendship between Japan and China. That was my sole intention.”

At that time, the average monthly income in local China was 20,000 to 30,000 yen and Mari was no exception. The starting salary at the Japanese company she joined as a new graduate must have been six to seven times that amount. The fact that a young woman gave up her starting salary and career to come to China alone for the sake of developing Sino-Japanese friendships attracted enough attention locally to be featured in the documentary program "A Day in the Life of Mari".

“Yes, the pay was lower but I wanted the experience more than the money. I had a house and food so I didn't have to worry about making a living. I spent my days off with my students and I think I was more like a big sister to them than a teacher.”

Mari was able to find a job that allowed her to fully pursue her passion and she reflects on the reasons why.

“Encounters and opportunities can come unexpectedly but in order to capture the good fortune, I think it’s important to keep your radar on at all times. I used to say, “I want to go to China someday”, and, “Real international exchange should start internally.” When that passion is conveyed to the right people, and the timing is right, I believe that the dots will become lines and connect.”

Manifesting is a way to make your dreams come true!