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Busy days when Nordjobb people flocked to Norway in the 80s

Busy days when Nordjobb people flocked to Norway in the 80s

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

“Wow! Has it already been 30 years since Nordjobb started up!” Eva Jakobson Vaagland, the first Nordjobb project leader in Norway, is surprised when we call her.

A few days later we meet in her office at the Norwegian Safety Office in Oslo, with a view over the palace gardens and a large map of the Nordic region on the wall.

She tells us that she was moving from Sweden to Norway in 1987 and applied for various jobs, including one advertised by the Norden Association. She had been studying Nordic languages at the University of Stockholm and had also married her Norwegian lecturer who had got a job in Oslo.

“So I was tuned to all things Nordic, you could say, but not quite prepared for how big Nordjobb would become.”

Nordjobb had been founded in 1985 and the first year it was run as a consultancy. Then it became a trust, with the Norden Association as the main actor. Little by little it was financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Vaagland paper

‘In 1887 interest in Nordjobb exploded and everyone wanted to go to Norway, which had the highest salaries and a thriving nightlife. There was no Internet of course, and I had stacks of hand written applications piled half a metre high along the office walls,” says Eva Jakobson Vaagland.

The trick was to find the ones who were most suitable and to find jobs and accommodation. Not everyone came well prepared. A Danish girl who had got a job in Hammerfest in the high Arctic north of Norway was asked how she planned to get there. “I’ll get the train!” she said, ignorant of the fact that the railway goes no further north than Bodø, nearly a thousand kilometres further south.

Steep learning curve

“It was a very steep learning curve for me when it came to everything Norwegian; Norwegian social conditions, the Norwegian labour market, subletting of flats, cheap spare time activities and so on. But it was fun — and exciting to see Norway together with the Nordjobb workers, from Kristiansand in the south to Hammerfest in the north, in shops, fisheries, breweries, at the post office, in banks, at IKEA and so on.”

She thinks back with joy on all the lovely young people, busy days and the strangest of problems that needed solving; lending out bedding and kitchen equipment, mending broken hearts, finding a home for a rabbit which could not stay in the bedsit, taking someone to A&E and so on — apart from making sure everyone had a job and a place to stay.

“Everyone was generally very positive and excited about their meeting with Norway — then as now the price of beer was a topic for conversation. We had the Norden Association of course — youths as recreation leaders/support workers everywhere so that those who travelled here were quickly introduced to the outdoor life, showing them the best places to swim and the cheapest bars. “


“A programme like Nordjobb was a great advantage of course — that you get more than just a job — an “all-in-one” with a job, accommodation, spare time activities and training.”

Most people working through Nordjobb in Norway in 1987 lived in Oslo. IKEA alone employed nearly 50 of them.

“I went out to IKEA with caseloads of applications. Since many had applied for several countries it was also important to sort the applications so that those who did not get a job in Norway got a chance in a different country. But I could only fax six applications at a time — not 600!

“There were relatively few Norwegian applicants. Most chose to go on holiday instead.”

But Eva had to deal with some of the problems of those who went abroad too. 

“There was a common Nordic labour market, but there were strange problems like Iceland’s burial tax. You got it back if you didn’t die!

“It also took time to find smooth ways of sorting out tax documents. Many shelf stackers had to work for weeks without pay because it took so long. As a Nordjobb consultant you sometimes also had to act as a bank and lend money to those who needed it.”

Vaagland 2

The Nordjobb culture

After a while a particular Nordjobb culture emerged. Young people were told that they were not only doing a summer jobb — they were ambassadors for their own country. It was not expected of them, but many youths addressed local associations and held slide shows from their home countries.

“Every Tuesday night and every weekend there were activities, study visits and excursions. The Nordjobb group were above average social, open and knowledgeable in many areas, so we also had nights when they were responsible for various activities including courses in mind mapping, dance evening and theatre. More serious activities included Norwegian courses and talks about various themes.    

“It is almost incredible that Nordjobb has been around for 30 years!” exclaims Eva.

Do you feel we need Nordjobb today? 

“I believe we need to take as many paths as possible in the Nordic region and send out ‘pilots’ who can clear those paths for others to follow, in order to strengthen the community, meet each other’s cultures and spread ‘popular’ knowledge.

“Young people seem to find their way from Sweden to Norway without problem right now. That path is well trodden — but Norwegians need a push to go and work and study in Sweden and other Nordic countries. It is also important to make sure we have exchanges with the more remote areas of the Nordic region.

“It would be good if Nordjobb could focus measures where measures are really needed — making sure the participants really get a good experience. I believe in quality rather than quantity. Being interested in the Nordic region is not in our genes, you cannot inherit it. You need to be smitten, contaminated, if you are to develop an interest for the Nordic region and Nordic cooperation, and the opportunities which lie there.

“Nordjobb can be a good source of contamination and shows the way to a community which we already are a part of linguistically, historically and culturally, and which can enrich our lives,” says Eva Jakobson Vaagland.

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