“I’d need two lives to fit everything in”
She left Naples in 1999 to join KTH to do research with multimodal communication as her speciality. Today, she has her base, family and career in Sweden.
“As I’m an immigrant myself, I like to help international students,” says Loredana Sundberg Cerrato, who is currently mentoring five Masters students at KTH.
“One of the most important pieces of advice I give to international students I help is to make sure they make plenty of contacts in their new country,” Sundberg Cerrato says.
“The students she mentors usually call and e-mail me now and again about various matters, and I can help them there and then or over a cup of coffee.
"I also like to get involved at the different language cafes to help them improve their Swedish,” she says.
It was a summer course at the KTH Division of Speech, Music and Hearing that brought her to Sweden in 1999.
“Back home in Italy, I had done research on language models for speech recognition, and research revolving around multimodal communication at KTH really appealed to me,” she explains.
Unemployed, foreign job and new career
After meeting a “kind Swedish man” (they are still married), she applied and was offered a job at Telia Promotor Infovox, where she pursued speech synthesis projects.
“However after 12 months with the company nothing had happened and I was really fed up,” she says.
Sundberg Cerrato gesticulates energetically and enthusiastically as she talks about the things she has done. When it comes to the significance of body language, she has been a visiting lecturer at various universities, such as Uppsala and Gothenburg.
However, her guest lectures at KTH have concerned culture clashes and career advice.
She applied and was accepted as a KTH doctoral student at the Division of Speech, Music and Hearing in 2001 and five years later, gained a PhD in speech technology.
She then spent time developing speech synthesis in nine languages but after a reorganisation, she was unemployed in Sweden. Three years of unemployment followed, a time she remembers as very difficult.
“I temped as an English teacher from time to time, but was unable to get a permanent job,” she says.
A KTH contact one day told her about a vacancy as a researcher into Machine Learning and Data System at Trinity College in Dublin.
She applied and was offered the post in Dublin. She then commuted to Dublin every week while her husband and daughter remained in Sweden.
“When my daughter was about to enter her teens, I finally got a permanent post in Sweden in 2017, at
in Kista. I was employed to manage an Innovation Hub there and did everything from taking care of the coffee machine to developing strategies.
Since autumn 2019, she has been working as a project manager for speech recognition for Nuance Healthcare , an international company.
Packed work schedule
Her working day is demanding, with a lot of customer visits and support issues, but each afternoon, she turns off her computer at 5.30.
“By half past five I don’t want to know any more, then I go to the gym, meet friends, go to a language café or meet my students before going home to cook for my family. We always eat together on Italian time – 8pm.”
Sundberg Cerrato explains that right now she is a poster name for a major Swedish ad campaign for an Italian food company, where she shares her favourite recipes, advice and hacks.
“Cooking a meal from scratch in 20 minutes is totally doable. Pasta, salads, fish once a week… My husband has also learnt how to cook like I do, without a recipe.”
How do you fit everything in?
“When I was an upper secondary school science student in Italy, we students asked our most demanding teacher how she expected us to fit all this studying in. Her answer was: “If you structure your time, you’ll have time to do it all.” So now I plan every single hour. However, you need to include some me-time, that is to say, time for recovery.”
“When I was about write my thesis in 2006, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had to go through some incredibly tough years of treatment and rehabilitation. So carpe diem is one of my watchwords.”
During her lectures Sundberg Cerrato usually presents examples of figures of speech that are illustrative of various national cultures.
“Be calm and be polite” (Ireland)
“A smile can erase a million worries” (China)
What figure of speech would you say typifies Sweden?
“Good things come to those who wait”. That’s something I’ve learnt here – not to be so impulsive.”
What will you be doing in five years time?
“I would like to continue with technology development, possibly working as an associate professor. Maybe I won't even still be living in Sweden. I long for light and warmth and to live somewhere by the Mediterranean, that is quality of life for me.”
Photo: Fredrik Persson