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Loa Brynjulfsdottir: The Nordic region is my home country
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Loa Brynjulfsdottir: The Nordic region is my home country

| Text and photo: Gunhild Wallin

As soon as Loa Brynjulfsdottir was old enough, she applied for a job through Nordjobb. That was in 1990 and the start of many years working through Nordjobb and a strong feeling of Nordic belonging.

Mention Nordjobb and a smile spreads across Loa Brynjulfsdottir’s face. She gladly talks about it and has even cleared space in her fully booked schedule to tell us about her Nordjobb experiences.

Loa Faroe“Nordjobb has given me a lot of positive things. You become comfortable with everything Nordic and being with other Nordic people. It has also expanded my horizon and offered me many exciting opportunities. And it has prepared the ground for much of what I have done since,” says Loa Brynjulfsdottir. 

We meet in the legendary Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) building in Stockholm’s Norra Bantorget area, where she has been the head of LO’s international department for some years now. She is both a Nordic and international person.

“I have always used all the opportunities I’ve had to go out and experience something new and different. I have always wanted to get out,” she explains. One reason, she believes, is that she spend four years living in Norway as a child. The desire to get out resulted in a year as a college exchange student in Hamburg, research in Namibia and Mozambique funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency SIDA, six months studying Spanish in Cuba and eight years in Brussels. But her travels started in the Nordics, with one year in a job she found through Nordjobb in Finnish Tampere when she was 18. The possibility of finding work through Nordjobb was quite well known in Iceland in the early 1990s, she says.

A tiny city of people with crooked backs

The first period in Finland could have gone badly for a less proactive person. The Palkane plant nursery outside of Tampere did not represent her dream of new experiences and meeting new people. The city was small to say the least, and the nursery was full of people with crooked backs, damaged by life-long work bending over. There were few Nordic youths and they were offered space in an old people’s home where age had made former nursery workers even more crooked. 

“I cannot carry on like this,” thought Loa Brynjulfsdottir, who went to Nordjobb’s Tampere office and asked to be moved. They listened to her and she was moved to ‘Piparipakkari’, a job packing ginger bread at the Brander Oy bakery. There she spent her days sitting on an overturned beer crate next to a young woman who only spoke Finnish. The ginger bread was put into their boxes while loudspeakers pumped out international pop music translated into Finnish.

“I can’t remember it being difficult. I shared a flat with a Norwegian in Tampere city and Nordjobb organised a lot of different activities,” she says.

Love for the Faroe Islands

The next summer she went out again. This time with Nordjobb to the Nordic House in Torshavn in the Faroe Islands. A fantastic job with fantastic colleagues and exciting excursions to remote islands, says Loa Brynjulfsdottir who also learned to speak Faroese with the help of her Icelandic skills and the Norwegian she learned as a child in Norway.

She talks about how they travelled to the Mykines island far into the sea to catch puffins and how they were trapped by poor weather for four days and had to be rescued by helicopter. Or how they were invited to celebrate the Õlavsøka national day with new Faroese friends in their home. Nordjobb in the Faroe Islands was the beginning of a life-long love story with the Faroes and of lasting friendships.

 

Loa Faroe sheepskin 

The Faroe Islands, 1992. Nordjobb participants have dressed up one of their Nordic friends in a sheepskin found on a walking trip. Loa Brynjulfsdottir is in the centre, wearing a pink shirt

 

“The best thing with Nordjobb is that you get to know youths from other Nordic countries. You get friends everywhere and experience something new in safe surroundings. Work and accommodation is already taken care of, and then there are all the social activities — you are not lonely. Lots of fun activities are on offer and there is a great deal of partying,” she says and gladly recommends young people to grab their chance and go.

“It is also a chance to learn how to understand the other Scandinavian languages. These days Nordic people tend to speak more and more English with each other, but the language becomes so much richer if you understand each other in your own languages,” says Loa Brynjulfsdottir, who can now move freely between the Scandinavian languages.

Learned about the labour market 

In the winter after her first job through Nordjobb she joined the Norden Association’s youth club in Reykjavik, and after a few years she was heading Nordjobb in Iceland and later in Sweden too. She fixed jobs, accommodation and social activities. She also introduced the participants to their work places and kept in touch with them while they were there. The idea behind Nordjobb is precisely to learn about the languages, history and culture where you end up and to meet young people from across the Nordic region.

“This taught me about the functions of working life and it made me interested in the the labour market and the importance of having a job, what it means to people. I also became aware of what you can achieve by working across borders. At LO we use the Nordic cooperation to become a stronger voice internationally,” she says.

That she is now living in Sweden does not have much to do with the fact that she married a Swede. They had their first child in Brussels and longed to go home to the Nordics — to which country was never really important. One native country can become several.

“Iceland represents my roots, Norway is close because of the childhood years I spent there, I feel at home in Denmark and in Sweden where I now live. That is why the entire Nordic region feels like my home country,” says Loa Brynjulfsdottir.

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