Yahneake Sterling Russell
Yrke: Community Manager, beauty influencer
Språk: Patwa, engelska, svenska
From finding love in Kingston to
sminkinspiratör i Malmö
Like a child. That’s what I felt like during the first period of time in Sweden. Not finding the rights words, not knowing the grammar. Depending on others to help me get through daily life. I couldn’t even read my own mail. I felt like I had lost my independence.
I always joke that I’m a love immigrant. My husband, who’s also from Jamaica, was already living in Sweden so I moved here to be with him. I arrived in April 2015, and I remember seeing all these people with their faces turned towards the sun, and I asked my husband “What’s with all the sun worshippers?” and he just replied, “After your first winter, you’ll understand”.
But that first winter was hard. That was my first real bout of depression. Back in Jamaica, I’d had the blues, but this was something else. It was the darkness, the lack of sun. And so quiet. I didn’t have a job, or any friends. I didn’t have anything to do. I had so much time alone with my thoughts… All the things you’re able to push to the back of your mind catches up with you. I didn’t recognize myself. My husband felt like he’d taken me to Sweden and stolen my smile.
Growing up, I was taught that education is the way to lift yourself. Before moving here, my husband had told me about sfi. I was never hesitant about studying Swedish, but it took me a while to get started. After a few months of living here, when my son got a spot in daycare, I finally started my sfi class. But learning a language as an adult was a huge struggle for me. I’ve always considered myself an intelligent person in English, but in Swedish I just felt stupid. And because of that, I refused to speak. I confided that in my friends back home, who told me to just say the words, that children don’t care if they make mistakes, to just try. I had a teacher who really drilled me to speak, who was really encouraging. She made all the difference for me.
Even though my Swedish was getting better, I felt like I wasn’t living my life. The only friends I had were my husband’s. Back in Jamaica, I was always busy. I had my friends, my clubs, my work. Here, I really only had my husband and my children. Everything I did, I did for somebody else. But I needed to do something for me, something that made me feel good. I believe happiness is an inside job. So, I took the steps I could to bring my smile back. That’s when I started vlogging about beauty. It became my therapy.
Life is funny sometimes. The beauty content I created led to me getting a job at an Yves Rocher store.
By then I had completed 6 months of sfi and worked at a dry cleaner, so I really felt I could take care of myself. I could go to the store, I could ask for directions, I could introduce myself. I got the basics, a foundation. So, when I started working at Yves Rocher, I had that to build on. One of the store’s customers was a sfi teacher. We’d always practice speaking Swedish when she was there, and then after not seeing her for three months, she came back and was so like “Wow! Your Swedish has gotten so good!”. All that interaction with people really helped me get better.
Back in Jamaica, I worked in Communications. I’ve had my own cable shows, worked at a news agency, and in PR. All that experience together with creating my beauty content led to me getting the opportunity to do community management for Yves Rocher Nordic’s social media. I love managing a virtual community, from answering DMs, to initiating collaborations, to sparking conversation. I’ve always been that way – building communities. That’s why I started my Jamaican community here in Skåne. There wasn’t anything of the sort when I came here, so I gathered all the Jamaicans I could find and invited them to my home to celebrate our Independence Day. We cooked traditional food, with jerk chicken, festivals, rice and peas… All that stuff we eat back home. I think we were around 10 people the first time in 2017. Last year, I had over 100 people in my backyard. If you can’t find what you want – create it.
There comes a time in your Swedish journey where you feel, “Ah. I’m okay”. It took me a while to get there. Especially dealing with how I was perceived here – as being black. Back in Jamaica, I had just existed as a human. From never giving it much thought before, I was suddenly reduced to being a black woman. Not a person.
I believe Sweden is what you make it. You just have to hold tight, and try to create the life you want, even in the smallest of ways. I went to sfi because I knew it would open doors for me. It was the best start to my Swedish journey.