Subscribe to the latest news from the Nordic Labour Journal by e-mail. The newsletter is issued 9 times a year. Subscription is free of charge.

You are here: Home i In Focus i In focus 2015 i Nordjobb 30 years: creating the future Nordic enthusiasts i When Gunvor Kronman became Gunnar in the warehouse
When Gunvor Kronman became Gunnar in the warehouse

When Gunvor Kronman became Gunnar in the warehouse

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén, photo: Cata Portin

For some, Nordjobb means that life takes a new and interesting turn. For Gunvor Kronman the job in Danish Aalborg had a dramatic and crucial impact.

It was 1985 and Finland was a backwater in Europe. The Soviet Union was the closest neighbour and the social climate was backward. Finland’s father of the nation, Urho Kekkonen, was in his last year. Gunvor Kronman read philosophy, literature and Nordic languages at the Helsinki University. She had an idea.

“I wanted to learn how to read Søren Kierkegaard in his native language.”

Gunvor Kronman was a member of the Pohjola-Norden Association and saw a notice in their membership magazine. It was a presentation of Nordjobb, an opportunity for young people to try working in a different Nordic country. Nordjobb was completely new at that time, it was its first year and not everything went to plan.


Gunvor Kronman landed in the Danish city of Aalborg in early summer and offered her services at the Danish Co-operative Wholesale Society, FDB, which owns COOP. The person who welcomed her looked at her in a funny way. Her papers said that Gunnar Kronman from Finland would be driving a forklift truck in shifts together with the other 210 men in the warehouse for convenience goods. 

When it dawned on him that Gunnar was Gunvor who had no driver’s license, she was given an office job instead.

“I said no, you’ll have to teach me how to drive a truck,” she says and continues, “I was a feminist after all.”

She lived in a collective together with all these men, loaded and unloaded crates with varying success. Some fell over. But the men on the team, whose salary depended on how well the group was working, never said a word about the fact that Gunvor Kronman helped lower the piece rate. 

Several of her work colleagues came from Iceland as many Icelanders were studying in Denmark at that time. These ones had stayed the summer in order to work. This is also where she first tasted the Icelandic speciality rotten shark. 

A nice man

When the job ended, Gunvor Kronman went on a train journey through Europe on her own, and met a nice Danish man as early as on the stretch between Denmark and Hamburg. He was somewhat surprised that a young and sweet, as he believed, Danish girl spoke with such a gutsy workers’ dialect, but this was what she had picked up in the warehouse without realising its social connotations.

Henrik Thostrup and Gunvor Kronman became a couple and still live together while their two adult daughters have move out. Her husband later got work through Nordjobb in Finland, as a biologist at the Kemira chemical company. After meeting Henrik, Gunvor Kronman carried on studying at the Aarhus University where she graduated through the Nordplus programme. The agreement between the University of Helsinki and Aarhus was already prepared, but Gunvor Kronman made sure that it was signed so that she could travel back to Denmark again. So not only was she among the first to use Nordjobb, she was also among the first to use the Nordplus student exchange.

The family has lived in Denmark several times, including when Gunvor Kronman worked for the Nordic Red Cross organisations as a coordinator for humanitarian work in Africa. Later she was offered a job by Knud Enggaard, the former Danish Minister of Defence from Venstre, as the coordinator for the Baltics and north-western Russia at the Nordic Council of Ministers.

“For me Nordjobb became a fork in the road which made many choices for my life. It opened the gateway to the Nordics.”

Language issue

Gunvor Kronman sees mobility as the best part of the Nordic cooperation. 

“If we are serious about a mobile Nordic labour market and a Nordic student market, then these systems help.”

For Finland, which is outside of the Scandinavian family, the language issue is critical. It is a Nordjobb prerequisite that you must have knowledge of the language in the country where you want to work. Today it is not a given that young Finnish language speakers have studied any other language than English, and they might speak very little Swedish.

“I am a product of the golden age of Finnish language education, and read two native languages and three foreign ones.”

After her Nordic séjour, she moved to Africa and worked for several years with humanitarian work for the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent. Today she is the CEO of Hanaholmen, a Finnish-Swedish cultural centre, and continues to work with Nordic issues.

“Nordjobb has given my life a Nordic platform.”

See all articles in theme

Filed under:
Gunvor Kronman

is the CEO of Hanaholmen, a Finnish-Swedish cultural centre outside Helsinki.


Receive Nordic Labour Journal's newsletter nine times a year. It's free.

This is themeComment