Bertil Lindblad PO '78, head of Pomona College's International Initiatives office, will be retiring this year. In 1975, Lindblad began his education at Pomona as one of the few international students on campus. He studied Politics (called “Government” at the time) with a focus on International Relations, as well as Russian and French. Nearly 30 years later, in 2013, Lindblad returned to Pomona to help revamp and expand the Pomona’s International Initiatives Office. TSL sat down with Lindblad to discuss his experiences at Pomona and what brought him back years later.
TSL: What did you do before returning to Pomona as a staff member?
Bertil Lindblad: I came to Pomona in March of 2013 after almost twenty years working for the United Nations. Within the U.N., I served at UNICEF for five years focusing on child rights and child protection issues for the organization. Later I transitioned to UNAIDS, the UN Joint Program for HIV/AIDS. I first worked in New York, but later spent four years in Moscow as the UNAIDS regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Before joining the U.N., I spent ten years with Save the Children, Sweden, both working in Stockholm at its headquarters and then, later on, three years in Vietnam as the country representative of the organization. Early on in my career, I served at the Swedish Foreign Ministry with a posting at the Swedish Embassy in Moscow, and this during the Soviet era.
TSL: How did you hear about Pomona?
BL: That’s an amazing story. Many years ago, I was an exchange student in the San Francisco Bay Area, namely Alameda in the East Bay. I learned a lot about the United States during that year.
When I returned to Sweden, I looked into the possibilities and contacted the Fulbright Commission in Stockholm; [I asked], how do you do this? They sent me a pamphlet with a list of colleges and universities in the States. I knew of course about UCLA, New York University, UC Berkeley and so forth, but on this list, I noticed Pomona College. It was a very brief description but I was attracted to a Liberal Arts institution and … the good weather, being a Nordic! I wrote a letter to Pomona and received a very nice letter back, along with a catalog.
Now, here is the interesting part of the story, I wrote to this family that I got to know while an exchange student in Alameda. The father was a high school principal and his wife a teacher. I asked, “Have you ever heard of Pomona College?” They wrote back, they said, “Have we heard of Pomona? We met in Frary Dining Hall at Pomona College in 1949!”
TSL: What brought you back to Pomona?
BL: I think many of us alums have a very close relationship with the College. Throughout all of these years, dating back to the early 80s, I have been back on campus several times to give talks at Oldenborg and around campus, reconnecting with many of my professors, staff, and friends.
A few years ago there was an opportunity to return to Claremont as a staff member to engage with international, global programs and activities at Pomona in general. I thought that would be a wonderful thing to do, to also spend some time here as a Pomona staff member.
This has been a great experience: to work with faculty, staff, and students. To look at different aspects of internationalization. It has included bringing interesting speakers to campus (both in the classroom and public events), reviving the model United Nations program at the College, and using my own experience and contacts to find interesting opportunities for students who are interested in global affairs or international careers. We have had an impressive increase in the number of students who have been able to go overseas to intern with international organizations and institutions. Students have also been placed with U.S. based organizations with a global focus.
TSL: What do you plan on doing after you leave Pomona?
BL: I will continue living in Los Angeles and Palm Springs and also spend some time in Sweden. I will be nearby; I hope to continue to support Pomona in different ways as an alum. There are so many opportunities to support organizations in the Los Angeles Area. I am an active member of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, for example, and I hope to be able to support a number of organizations and institutions in LA. I also hope to travel quite a bit and possibly do short term consultancies with the U.N.