Ambassador Breie makes herself at home in the Big Apple
Consul General Sissel Breie talks about life, family, and her new job in New York
By Berit Hessen Norwegian American Weekly
In October 2008, the Norwegian Community in New York was exited to welcome the new Consul General Sissel Breie. Ambassador Breie started her career with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok, Thailand, after going through the Ministry’s rigorous trainee program. She then moved on to New York and the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations, and spent four years at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ headquarters in Norway, before becoming Ambassador to Argentina in 1999. Breie served as Director General of aid and international development, before she moved to New York as the Consul General.
“It is great to return to New York City and see all the successful Norwegian artists, musicians and designers based here and to talk to representatives from Norwegian companies thriving in New York City. I feel privileged to represent Norway in the most important city in the world and I believe there is great potential to increase awareness of Norway in the United States,” said Breie upon her arrival in New York.
The Ambassador’s first few months in the Big Apple were extremely busy, but finally the Norwegian American Weekly had an opportunity to sit down and get to know her better.
Norwegian American Weekly: Where did you grow up?
Consul General Sissel Breie: I was born and grew up just outside Oslo, in Bærum, but my father came from Hallingdal, and we spent all our summers there at his farm, so I feel I like I grew up a little bit there too.
NAW: Is your family living here with you in New York?
SB: No, we are spread all around the world, but we all met here in New York for Christmas, and had a wonderful time together. Such is the life of a diplomat and his or her family, we all end up living in different parts of the world, but we always meet for holidays and special events. The phone bills are horrible!
NAW: Do you have children?
SB: I have two wonderful children, my son is 21 years old, and studies in Vancouver, Canada. My daughter is 19 years old. She is working as a snowboard instructor in Oslo, at Tryvann, while she is trying to find out what she wants to do with her life.
NAW: Why did you choose to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
SB: My interest for international political affairs has always been strong, and I have always been curious about other cultures and societies. So, the choice was not very difficult when I had finished my studies at the University of Oslo. I was lucky to be accepted as a diplomatic trainee right after I graduated with a degree in political science.
NAW: Where was your last post? What did you like best about it?
SB: My last posting was as Ambassador to Argentina, a beautiful country with a fascinating culture and fantastic people: tango, red wine and beef. I was also forced to learn Spanish, which was a wonderful thing! What did I like best about it? I guess the easygoing way of life of the Argentines, the ability to take one thing at the time, and not to worry so much about everything, as we Norwegians tend to do a lot.
NAW: What other countries have you been posted in?
SB: I was here in New York in the 1980s, that’s when I learned to love New York and my son was also born here, which gives the city a special place in my heart. Before that I had my first diplomatic posting in Bangkok, Thailand, where I met my husband, Claus, a Danish businessman.
NAW: What do you like about your new location?
SB: How can you possibly single out what I like best about New York? It is an exciting city, full of good energy, I just love living here.
NAW: How are your new job and location different than the last?
SB: Very different. New York is the cultural (and to some extent the financial capital) of the world, so here our focus is mainly on supporting Norwegian culture, Norwegian business and information about Norway in general. While in Argentina the ties between Norway and Argentina were not so strong, so the work was not as intense as here in New York.
NAW: What are you the biggest challenges you face in your job?
SB: The biggest challenges are more on the human level than on a professional level I would say. “Life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re gonna get,” says Forrest Gump, and that is especially true for diplomats. To move to new countries and to try and learn foreign languages, that is one thing. But to try and keep your family together and live a normal life at the same time, that is the real challenge. You always feel guilty about someone. Once your kids are old enough to take care of themselves, then your parents are getting old and need your care and attention, it is definitely not easy.
NAW: Does moving from one country to the next get exhausting or is it always exciting?
SB: Well, sometimes it can get exhausting to try and do a decent job in a foreign culture, when you are new to the job, and nothing is routine yet. But once you are settled into the country, I would say it is a very rewarding job.
NAW: What is your impression of Norwegians abroad and Norwegian-Americans?
SB: It is very interesting to learn which part of the Norwegian culture that Norwegians have brought with them to the United States, and what becomes less important to keep over time.
NAW: What do you like best about being in the United States so far?
SB: I like the easiness of life in New York.
NAW: What do you miss the most about Norway?
SB: I miss all my good friends, but I also miss the nature.
NAW: Do you like to read, if so what’s your favorite book?
SB: I read a lot, it is hard to single out just one favorite book. But maybe “Growth of the Soil” by Knut Hamsun, it sort of sums up the human condition, everything that is important in life for us human beings, seen from a Norwegian perspective, but at the same time, Hamsun is universal.
NAW: What’s your favorite movie?
SB: Again, there are so incredibly many good movies, but “Casablanca” with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart is a classic, and I am a hopeless romantic when it comes to movies.
NAW: Is there a Norwegian person that has inspired you?
SB: Our former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland was an important role model for many women of my generation, by “normalizing” being a woman, mother and professional politician all at the same time.
This article was originally published in the Norwegian American Weekly on February 27, 2009. To subscribe or find out more, call us toll free at (800) 305-0217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.