The language café celebrates five years at Tallgården in Växjö
In the small library at Tallgården in Växjö, Caroline Nelander sits at her desk. Behind her hangs a painting with Gustav Klimt's motives "Kyssen". A painting where a man and a woman stand close and embrace each other. And that proximity and contact with other people, it's something that librarian Caroline Nelander is passionate about.
– Many in Sweden are alone. That's a problem. If you also come here as a newcomer, it is extra tough. Nobody knows you. But getting here to our language café is a relief. Some who come tell you that they haven't talked to anyone at all since the last time they were here. It's awful but also makes a place like this extra important.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays Caroline Nelander and Robert Bunjaku drive a language café for anyone over 20 years at Tallgården's library. Here the participants get to speak Swedish, get to know new people and have a coffee break.
– I think it is important that we have a drink. Coffee and crusts make us different from SFI or homework help. This is not a school. This is a place to hang out.
Although the language café celebrates five years at Tallgården, it is a long time since Caroline Nelander started the initiative. About 15 years ago, she started engaging in the social enterprise Macken with the soul of Fredrik Bergman at the forefront. Caroline, who was currently working at the City Library in central Växjö, saw a great need to get people from other countries to come to the library.
– I wanted everyone to feel welcome at the library. At Macken I met a large group of illiterates and I started reading aloud to them. Partly at Macken, but I also brought them to the City Library.
That was also when the idea of a language café was born.
– I saw a great need to talk. Not through teaching, but about everyday things that everyone can relate to.
In connection with the opening of the Araby Park Arena, Caroline Nelander borrowed a room where she started the language café. When she later decided to open up what she calls a "mini library" at Tallgården, the café followed suit and in 2016 the investment became permanent. Now Caroline works at Tallgården two days a week and the rest of the time she is at the City Library.
– In 2015, when a large wave of refugees came from Syria, we were already up and running. There was also a temporary asylum apartment upstairs in the house. Those who lived here came down and looked at the books. I copied pages they could bring up. At the same time I was running the language café, and then we were very many here.
Shortly before the appointed time, people begin to roll into the library with tea or coffee cups in their hand. One of them is Hussain Abdul Wahid.
– I'm always here. Almost every time, he says.
Hussain Abdul Wahid is from Syria. In his home country he worked in a large hotel and there he learned the importance of being able to speak. Here is doing well in Sweden. He says that he likes Växjö and that he recently trained as a taxi driver. But the dream is to drive a bus.
– So far I can't drive a taxi because I haven't lived in Sweden long enough. But I'm proud that I managed it. I am also happy that I will start training to become a bus driver.
Why do you come to the language café?
– I like to talk about different things, but not politics and religion. It's also good that Caroline is here to correct us. Learning new languages is difficult.
Nearly 40 people attend the evening's language café. It's more than usual. Many seem to know each other since before, but some are strangers. The participants come from several countries. Ahmed Raza is one of those who has not been here so many times.
– I've been here twice before. I am here to learn Swedish and meet new people.
Ahmed Raza has lived in Sweden for two years. He studies at the university and works with IT at the company Atea in Växjö.
– I come from Pakistan but enjoy working here in Sweden and Araby. It is good atmosphere and easy to talk to people in Araby. At the language café we talk about different things. Caroline makes sure we speak Swedish.
– Yes, we speak only Swedish here, says Caroline Nelander, laughing.
In the evenings, Caroline walks around talking to everyone. She says that it is important to create a good atmosphere and to invite yourself.
– There is so much in life that is changing. Some people do not know if they are allowed to stay in Sweden. But we are always here and it becomes a security for them. In my role, I think it's important to bid on yourself. Dare to let go so people have a nice time.
What do participants usually talk about?
– It can be anything possible. Food, children, driver's license, prejudices, judgments and what life is like. This is integration for real. We learn from each other and get in touch with each other. It is worth everything and many make new friends here. That's what makes it worthwhile.
Footnotes: Due to the corona virus, the language café at Tallgården has temporarily suspended its operations. The article was written in mid-March.