Every month on WOMENCANFLY.CO’s blog series, The Way, we introduce inspirational women who live abroad.
In this segment, we meet Aiko Mizuno, a flight attendant living in Dubai. While studying at university, she went on exchange to Sweden and ended up moving there. In 2008, she gave birth to her daughter with her Swedish partner. Following this, she left her family, changed jobs and moved to Dubai on her own.
We talk about the Swedish and Dubaian lifestyle, Aiko’s job as a flight attendant and raising a child.
Eight years in Sweden with cloudy weather and a lonely heart
Aiko spent about eight years in Sweden since she was a university student. At first, she was planning to study in America but gave it up for an unexpected reason.
“My name was the same as a member of a religious group that was in the spotlight at the time and they were on the American embassy’s blacklist so I couldn’t get a student visa.”
Aiko then chose Sweden as her new study abroad destination.
“Sweden’s official language is Swedish. It wasn’t an English-speaking country I was hoping for but I had a Swedish friend and thought I would have a good time.”
However, unlike the overseas lifestyle, Aiko had envisioned, she was lonely.。
Aiko recalls spending those eight years, “having unrequited love with Sweden.”
“I lived in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city and all the people there grew up like childhood friends. There was a community bubble with no space for me to enter.”
Aiko spent her days alone but started dating her Swedish boyfriend and moved in with him.
In Sweden, living with someone is considered a common-law marriage. Even if they’re not your spouse, you can get a cohabitation visa called, ‘Sambo visa.”
Aiko decided to switch from a student to a Sambo visa and stayed in Sweden even after graduating from university. She believed that one day, she’d be able to be part of the local community.
“In 2008, I had a daughter with him. As my family increased, I worked hard in studying Swedish and finding a job.”
The hurdle of finding a job seemed to be quite high.
Aiko had worked at a cafe and as an assistant at an international school but she often didn’t do well in interviews because she was “inexperienced” or “not good at Swedish.”
Especially after the GFC, no matter how many interviews Aiko did, she didn’t get anything and started to dislike herself. She got no response when trying to be part of the local community and her sense of alienation remained.
There are few sunny days in Sweden and the cloudy sky made Aiko feel depressed. Aiko’s self-confidence and smile had completely disappeared.
Creating her chance to become a flight attendant
Aiko decided to find a job that made the best of her English ability and not her Swedish.
English was Aiko’s biggest advantage. Since she was a student, she would watch television and movies in English and when she met an international student, she would actively talk to them. She accumulated small things day by day and learned English without spending any money.
“I wanted to be a flight attendant because I could make use of my English skills. I aimed for Scandinavian Airlines as they operate in three countries, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.”
Aiko immediately went to the airport and waited for the cabin crew to come down from the plane. She tried to give them her resume but of course, they didn’t take it.
So in preparation for any unexpected opportunities, she took interviews with various airlines in Sweden as practice.
The first one she received was an interview with the current airline Aiko is working for.
“On the day of the interview, I was told by the interviewer to, “relax and take a seat.” They didn’t ask me anything after that.”
Actually, at the time, the airline was just looking for someone who could speak Japanese. As it was difficult to find someone who could speak Japanese, Aiko was soon hired when they learned of her language skills.
It wasn’t the Scandinavian Airlines she was hoping for but she decided to join the company and in 2013, she moved to Dubai on her own.
Starting life in Dubai
Dubai is one of seven emirates from the United Arab Emirates.
Since it is an Islamic nation the mosques will send out a signal called ‘Adhan’ at a fixed time every day to inform everyone about prayer time. When you hear ‘Adhan’, everyone driving on a highway also stops and gets out of the car to start praying.
Aiko respects Islamic culture and rules like refraining from exposure when going out.
“Most people who live in Dubai are foreigners. So even though their cultures and customs are different, I’ve never felt like a minority. I instantly felt like Dubai accepted me.”
In Sweden, I had no job and I felt alienated but in Dubai, I slowly regained my confidence by getting a job.
Now, Aiko spends her days in her element.
Life as a flight attendant for a Dubai airline
The Dubai aviation company Aiko works for is used by people from all over the world and is famous for its international presence. It also holds the world record of carrying people from 145 countries on one flight.
It’s not only the passengers but also the cabin crew who are multinational. There are people from 100 countries who are working there. People from different countries of origin have different ways of thinking and working so Aiko tries to communicate frequently.
Many crew members don’t speak English as their mother tongue so they speak it as a second language. It’s important to communicate clearly and in a way that is easy to understand.
“The cabin crew changes from flight to flight so the team members are different every time. Since I’m shy I often lose touch when I finally get to know others which was stressful at the beginning.”
There are about 20 cabin crew members who take one flight. There is one leader and three deputy leaders, one for first-class, business class and economy class. Aiko is in charge of first class. It seems that the way the team works depends on the leader.
On top of the general work duties, there are rules that take Islamic culture into consideration.
“In Islamic tradition, women don’t show their faces or skin to anyone except their families so on flights to Islamic countries, they don’t put women on magazine covers. Also, when the cabin is cleaned after passengers leave, many cleaning staff members are male and there is a rule that female flight attendants should stay away from the doorways of the plane so they don’t bump into them.”
The people and customs Aiko interacts with are different to those in Japan.
“Because I work with people from various backgrounds, I have to be put together. There have been times when everyone looks at me like I’m great but when that happens, I’ve realised that only I can make myself feel like I am the best.”
Aiko’s relationship with her daughter has grown over time
Aiko officially separated from her Swedish partner after coming to Dubai. Her now 12-year-old daughter has been living with her father in Sweden.
“I now have the opportunity to go to Sweden for work every month so that’s when I meet my daughter. I enjoy spending time with her and am slowly fostering a relationship with her.”
As a mother in Sweden, Aiko never smiled. Realising that it would be a bad influence on her daughter, she decided to go to Dubai and find happiness for herself first.
“I was worried about my daughter but my partner was very involved in raising her so I could imagine them living together.”
In Sweden where there is strong gender equality, you often see groups of men going for a walk while pushing a pram. In Swedish culture, men actively participate in raising children which helped Aiko decide to leave her family and move to Dubai.
Aiko now spends her days smiling.
“When I came to Dubai, my daughter was five. I’m sure she didn’t understand why I suddenly disappeared but now I spend time with her smiling and I believe that coming to Dubai was good for my daughter.”
There were times when my hard work wasn’t fruitful but looking back it goes without saying that they were all important pieces that have shaped her happiness today.
Aiko says, “I always think about my daughter even when I’m away.”
Her expression was a cloudless, radiant smile.
Thank you for reading this, and We are always here for you!
Women can fly.
Much love, xxx
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