Engines of society - Christiane Schmit

Sponsored content Switch to French for original article

Listen to this article

In cooperation with Losch Luxembourg, we regularly present women who have a very special impact on Luxembourg society through their professional careers or simply through their personal stories.

Tuesday morning, school holidays. The Losch Luxembourg parking lot, filled with cars, seems busier than usual. A first truck, quickly followed by a second one, delivers a new batch of vehicles. New models that will soon take their place next to the others, including an eagerly awaiting Audi Q8 e-tron, ready to go on a trip.

The morning is gray. In 2022, more than 7,000 refugees came to seek a better life in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. This number was inflated by the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, but not only that. A better life means housing, food… and also education. Fortunately, people like Christiane Schmit do their best to help them, listen to them, and prepare them. Today, like every day, she will be a beacon of light.

Christiane Schmit is a teacher at the Lycée classique de Diekirch. With a wealth of experience in the communication field, she now trains the communicators of tomorrow, teaches optional courses for certain classes, but above all, takes care of the regency of the school's CLIJA: the integration class for young adults. "Today, I am giving back what life has given me for 25 years, " she explains, Audi key in hand.

A striking silhouette in the distance, the Q8 e-tron quickly transforms into a sleek and assertive SUV up close. As a pioneering 100% electric model, its quattro architecture design and its dark, mysterious logo make this Audi the epitome of the vehicle of the future. One detail that stands out: the front is equipped with a charging system on each side. However, it is the virtual mirrors, if you can call them that, that catch the attention.

"Schéin. Mega, " Christiane comments. "It looks like a spaceship!" The virtual mirrors are a true innovation and technological achievement. Instead of the usual mirrors, they are two wide-angle cameras that faithfully display the images of the road, providing perfect visibility in all situations. Their compact size and shape reduce air resistance and improve the car's range by a few extra kilometers – a brilliant idea!

Aerodynamics, something Christiane – who cycles "2 to 3 times a week, 60 to 80 kilometers" on her road bike – is familiar with. The Audi's spacious trunk is perfect for her activities. "Shall we test it?" she asks, without hesitation, effortlessly folding down the seats and placing her bike in the Q8. The interior of the Audi is also impressive. Spacious, beautiful gray seats, abundant touch screens. "Retro fancy, " according to our driver for the day.

Our driver for the day is not limited to cycling though. She also runs – marathons in the past, but now she prefers "more relaxed" distances -, she plays golf – "I participated in the Team World Cup in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in September" -, and she loves climbing mountains. "I've climbed Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro, and a few in Nepal." In short, "the size (of the trunk) is great." 569 liters (which can expand to 1,637 with the seats folded down).

With the navigation system engaged, Christiane takes advantage of the hands-free system to program the route. The Audi is all ears. "Bridel." A gentle press of the pedal, one or two maneuvers to get a sense of the vehicle's size. "Lo si mer gutt. Ready!" First impression? "It's quiet… Zen. It feels like we're floating above the road."

25 years in communications

"I studied in Brussels; a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Communication." A first degree that she complemented with a Master's degree in International Relations at the London School of Economics in England. "In my final year, I met my husband and married him six years later." Together, they have two daughters. One "works in Paris" and the other "is in her second year of medicine in Innsbruck."

"We get along very well, " she continues. "I have always worked, but often at 80 or 90% so that I could dedicate one or two afternoons to them. I have always tried to juggle between working a lot and spending a lot of time with my daughters." A task she has accomplished brilliantly, if her impressive CV is anything to go by, opening with a front page of 20 years at BIL, 15 of which were spent as communications director.

Slowly but surely, we approach the Bridel exit. Christiane passes it to enjoy the car for a little longer. "The acceleration is… mega. A small push of the pedal and I'm already at 130 km/h. (laughs)" Pleasant to drive and use, not only due to its performance but also its endurance. Its WLPT cycle range of up to 532 kilometers has nothing to envy from its competitors.

Change of plan. "I have two dogs, " Christiane tells us… how about taking them for a walk? Without further ado, she abandons the Bridel itinerary for Niederanven, where she has been living for 25 years now. "After university, I built a house there with my husband." Her two daughters grew up there, went to school there. As for her, she grew up in Bridel. It is the house of her childhood, now rented, that she initially wanted to show us.

"This summer, in July, my mother died. I had to decide what to do with her house." Two options were available to her: "Either I renovate the house and rent it out, or I rent it out to the Croix-Rouge or Caritas, and a refugee family will benefit from it. It's called social rental management. You rent it out at a greatly reduced price, and they place people in need there." She eventually opted for the second option.

Now, an Iraqi family with 7 children lives there. She is even in contact with them. "One day in December, I was cycling with friends, I passed by the house, and the lady was standing in front of the door." She went and talked to her. "I introduced myself. Now we see each other regularly. I introduced her to a friend who works for food for all (f4a) and they bring them food every week."

In her first job at BIL as well, it was hard to find someone more dedicated than her. She experienced periods of expansion there, but also the subprime crisis. "I was their communications manager for 15 years. In good times and bad…" Back when the financial sector was doing well. "We had the budget to do lots of great initiatives. Events, advertisements, sponsorships…" But also when it crashed. "In 2008, it was crisis communication, " she recounts. "Dexia went bankrupt – or almost."

"For 3 months, we worked in a crisis cell to have all the communication tools ready and prepared for any eventuality. To reassure the clients and be able to deliver what we had to deliver to the authorities…" An exciting challenge. "Exciting, but difficult. We would come home at midnight and be back at work at 5 a.m. Everything had to be ready before the branches opened."

Often approached by headhunters, she finally decided to change her environment after two decades in the same company. "Allen & Overy, an English law firm, approached me, and I was drawn to their offer." She took on the same position there, communications manager, but discovered a different type of communication. "More institutional. With clients who are mainly large institutions."

Giving back what life has given her

Niederanven and its main street provide access to small alleys, little havens of peace. Christiane's street is uphill, calm, and lined with cherry trees whose pale pink announces the beginning of blooming. Peaceful. In her own world. She parks on the side of the road and goes to fetch her dogs. "Momo and Simba, " she says. Suddenly, as soon as he's unleashed, Simba jumps into the trunk.

Indeed, the Audi Q8 e-tron doesn't leave anyone indifferent. While Simba makes himself comfortable, it's probably Christiane's daughters, when they were younger, who would have been fans of the avant-garde features of the vehicle, including the rear-seat virtual reality entertainment. No more "Mom, are we there yet?" or anything like that: the VR headset offers an extraordinary experience. The perfect pastime.

To make the parents' journey even easier, the Audi Virtual Cockpit Plus keeps all the information in sight. Its optional 12.3-inch screen summarizes everything on one interface. Moreover, the MMI on-board computer has been designed to be in line with the needs of electric vehicles, and the interior is equipped with innovative features, such as USB chargers up to 100 watts.

The charging speed of the Audi Q8 e-tron is unrivalled: it takes 31 minutes to go from 10% to 80% autonomy thanks to a charging power of up to 170 kW.

And just like phones, tablets, and other devices charge in a flash, the Audi does too. In fact, its charging speed is unrivalled: it takes 31 minutes to go from 10% to 80% autonomy thanks to a charging power of up to 170 kW. Approved by Simba, who now pulls his leash in the direction of the fields and the numerous paths and cycle tracks that Niederanven has to offer. "This is my running route, " says Christiane.

After 4 years, she left Allen & Overy. "My father was dying, " she recalls. "I had a beautiful relationship with him; he gave me everything I am. He was the perfect father. I decided to accompany him to death." It was only afterward that she started thinking about a career change and ventured into teaching. Today, at the Lycée classique de Diekirch, she teaches different classes…

"I teach Oral French, Media, Institutions and Businesses in Luxembourg, as well as Professional Project to the BTS Media Writing" – a 2-year program that prepares students for careers in the media industry. "After having worked in communication for so long, it's great to be able to train those who will work in it tomorrow." She leverages her network to facilitate internships and company visits for her students. "I have a very nice address book, " she laughs.

As for the 3ème students, they can enroll in her option called Solidarity. "I invite NGOs to come and talk about their projects. Sometimes, we also visit them. We visited UNICEF and Marianne Donven's Chiche restaurant. After the holidays, an organization from Burkina Faso will come and present themselves. In short, it's a course about solidarity and engagement: how and where we can help."

Life Teacher

In the middle of the woods, a pile of tree trunks signals the end of the paved road. "If we continue, it will be mud and a dead end, " indicates Christiane, suggesting we turn back. It is mainly for her refugee classes that she left the private sector: "CLIJA is a class for newcomers between 18 and 24 years old, " she explains. "Taking care of them allows me to give back a little of what life has given me."

She is their French teacher, but not only that… "The difficult part is supporting and listening to them because the majority of them arrived in Luxembourg without parents. They fled their countries – often by inflatable boat across the sea – and they have a lot to work on and to tell." Often, they still don't have a legal status: "In September, most of them are still seeking international protection."

Sometimes, their experiences lead to chilling stories: "One day, we were learning the past tense, and I asked each of them to give me a sentence. The first one said, 'Yesterday, I ate spaghetti.' The second one said, 'At lunchtime, I drank a Coke.' Then, out of nowhere, the third one said, 'Last year, I saw dead people in the Mediterranean.' I replied, 'Oh, really? Did you see many dead people?' and he said yes. He recounted that a boat had sunk, they tried to save it, but they didn't succeed."

"Today, I am giving back what life has given me for 25 years."

Christiane Schmit

Sometimes, she asks them to describe the house where they lived. "It's always very moving. One of those who come from Iraq told me he could describe his house, but a bomb fell on it during the war, and it doesn't exist anymore… When the bomb fell on it, the dog died. Many people complain that too many refugees come to us, but they don't understand that these people had to leave everything behind…"

Her class does not include Ukrainians; they have their separate class, which she also took care of last semester. "When the war started, the Ministry decided not to mix them, thinking that the war would not last long." It didn't go as planned. "I have all the others. Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kazakhstan, but also countries like Cape Verde."

Christiane's goal is to reach level A1 with them. "With the best among them, I can even hope for A2, and I succeed." However, some of them don't even speak English. Finding a communication language at the beginning is very difficult. "I use images, my hands, my feet, Google Translate. I have books with illustrations, photos of objects with labels like notebook, wardrobe…"

Refugees stay in these classes for 1 to 2 years. "Afterward, they are transferred to another class that corresponds to their level." Our 20-minute walk is now over, and Christiane takes the wheel of the Audi to return to Howald. While some electric cars might struggle to cover such a distance on the highway, especially in the cold, in a single day, the Q8 e-tron is not one of them.

Indeed, the Audi recuperation system allows for energy recovery during braking, and it does so automatically. The degree to which the car regains its autonomy can be selected using paddles on the steering wheel, adjustable in three steps. Once the battery is depleted, there are multiple Plug & Play options, while authentication and payment are done automatically using the brand's mobile application.

"It's great to drive. Super simple. Smooth." It's a choice for driving pleasure but also for the planet. "I have my CLIJA every day. When I come home in the evening, I feel like I've made a difference. After class, they go back to their homes; small rooms often not very clean and where there is a lot of noise. So during the day, I give them a little bit of sunshine. Or at least I try…"

"I try to facilitate their integration, " Christiane Schmit sums up. "To support them emotionally by allowing them to speak, by being a link in their integration process. That also includes renting my house in Bridel to the Croix-Rouge. However, I am aware that I am just a drop in the bucket."

"I am aware that there is an immense number of refugees across Europe and that what I do, proportionally, is only a small help… But I also know that if everyone does a little – that's what I always say in my Solidarity option – suddenly we will have many drops of water."

Her daughters, who founded the nonprofit organization Share A Smile to help in Nepal after a week of volunteering in a shelter in the same country three years ago, are the best example of that.

Helping helps, inspires to help… and one drop of water has become three.

In collaboration with 
Sign up for our newsletter and don't miss a thing.

To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you. Check your spam or junk folder too, in case of doubt. It may take us a few minutes to update your Journal profile, so please be patient.

An error occurred while subscribing to our newsletter. Please contact us at abo@journal.lu.


"De la bosse sur le pare-choc aux blessures les plus graves"