by Karl Mettinger

Kristina Bünger is the woman behind the scene, who makes everything happen, seamlessly and seemingly without an effort. When I moved here more than 20 years ago, her name popped up everywhere, and I realized she was a force of Nature in our community. It was not until earlier this year that I really met her in person for the first time.

Last spring, we saw her in church almost every Sunday we had service as she came early with her son Alex (16), who had signed up for confirmation. When I greeted her for the first time and she said her name, I immediately suggested that I wanted to make an interview. And when I finally sent her some questions she immediately responded despite travel to Sweden before Thanksgiving.

1. Where did you grow up and what was your first contact with the church in Sweden? What did you study and where?

 I grew up in Västerås and had my confirmation in “Viksängskyrkan”, about 15 minutes by bike from my home. I went to the Rudbeckianska Gymnasiet (oldest in Sweden) and studied at the then called “humanistlinjen”. The school is located right behind Västerås Domkyrka and the old town in Västerås. We used to have all school gatherings before the winter and summer break at the church.

2. When did you move and what brought you here? How did you get involved in the Scandinavian school which has become such a success!

 I moved to San Francisco in 1997 and was lucky to be able to transfer with Accenture, where I worked with communications and branding. The intention was to stay for about two years but one thing led to another and now I’ve been here for over 25 years.

When I first arrived, I joined the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce, where I met some wonderful people, some of whom are still among my closest friends. We had children at the same time and started going to the playgroup at the Swedish church once every two weeks, and all of a sudden it was time to go back to work and find childcare.

That’s how the idea of the Scandinavian School was born, at one of the playgroups at the church! We needed childcare and wanted to give our children a Scandinavian preschool experience, as well as the culture, traditions and values. Together with a group of other parents, we founded the Scandinavian School and it’s just wonderful to see what the school has become. My oldest daughter Laura, who is now 22, was part of the first group of children at the school and both Elsa (20) and Alex went there. Elsa now studies at Lund University in Sweden, and there are several other Scandinavian School alums also studying there. It makes me so happy!

 3. When did you move to the consulate? Tell us more about your work and vision for promoting Swedish culture and traditions in the Bay Area? Which role can our church play?

I started working at the Swedish consulate 15 years ago and it’s been a great experience in so many ways. Promoting Sweden and Swedish culture has always been important to me and something that I’ve come back to in most of the work I’ve done. Growing up in Västerås, I worked at the Västerås Turistbyrå (the tourist center) and was mainly responsible for guiding tourists at Västerås Cathedral and Vallby, the outdoor museum, similar to Skansen. I still keep in contact with one of the families I gave a tour to at the church over 35 years ago. I also worked at Fritidsbuss as a tour leader.

I feel very fortunate to work with something that I feel so passionate about. I’m always looking for opportunities to collaborate and connect organizations and individuals to further strengthen the promotion of Sweden and Swedish culture and traditions. When we work together among the Swedish and Nordic communities here in the Bay Area, we are much stronger and also able to reach broader. We have a wonderful community and there are so many positive aspects of working together. One example is the annual celebration of the Swedish national day in June, which we organize with and at the church. We have also had book talks and Lucia celebrations in the past and I have many fond memories of all the Lucia practices we have been to at the church. I look forward to strengthening this collaboration and plan more future joint events with the church, and also the other Scandinavian organizations in the Bay Area. 

4. During the pandemic it became important for our church to reach out not only to our members but also to collaborate closely with SWEA, SACC, The Scandinavian School - all of them where you have served on the board. And then of course the Consulate. What can we do to increase awareness of one another’s needs, building synergy and preparedness for future emergencies?

 I feel that the Swedish church is your “home away from home” when you live abroad and it fills an important role in that it provides you with a community and feeling of belonging. Together with the other Swedish organizations, it offers some of the things you might miss from home, and it’s a wonderful way to keep your language and culture alive and make lifelong friendships. If we continue to work together, for example by organizing online or in person events on different topics, we will build on the momentum and create an even stronger community, which I believe is key to responding to and enduring an emergency.

5. You and your family took a very active part during the confirmation season last spring when your son was confirmed? What was your experience? Any suggestions how to better make this even more popular in our community?

 Alex (16 yrs) had a great experience during his confirmation, and we are very grateful to Joakim and Kristin. We heard about it from a friend and Alex joined an introductory zoom meeting and decided he wanted to join. The mix between online gatherings and meeting in person made it more accessible as high school homework and sports activities tend to consume the weekends. I think word of mouth and more communication about the program to the other Swedish organizations would be a way to reach more young people. We highly recommend the confirmation experience at the Swedish church here in San Francisco to anyone who is interested in learning more about and discussing some of the big questions in life.