New tourism researcher: Anna Maria

Foto av Anna Maria Urbaniak-Brekke

Anna Maria Urbaniak-Brekke recently accepted a permanent position at Western Norway Research Institute, following to years of employment, as part of the institute's plan to step up tourism research as well as internationalisation. Anna Maria is hoping to make use of the full range of her previous research and studies, and looks forward to coordinating international research projects.

Anna Maria grew up in Kalisz in the central part of Poland. She has lived in Norway for five years, and holds a PhD in outdoor recreation from the University School of Physical Education in Poznan.

– My research pertained to municipal facilitation of physical activity and recreation, says Anna Maria. Prior to her PhD studies, she completed two master's degrees: the first one in international relations and the second one in tourism and recreation, after which she worked in a travel agency in Warsaw.

When organising tours to Norway, she met the man she would later marry, John Brekke. Anna Maria  moved to Norway to live with him.

The art of multi-tasking

Anna Maria has never limited herself to doing just one thing at a time. In fact, well into her thirties, Anna Maria is experiencing a rather normal thing:

– This is the first time in my life that I only have one job, she laughs, explaining how she has always done several things at a time as a student and employee. Halfway into her first 5-year degree, she commenced on a second degree on the side, and when she had two years left of her second 5-year degree, she worked full-time in a travel agency. Somehow, she thought it might be rewarding to combine the last year of her master's degree with starting a PhD.

– This would not have been possible without a highly flexible employee, she smiles.

Left Warsaw for Marifjøra

Multi-tasking came along in her suitcase as Anna Maria moved to Norway about midway in the PhD process. She moved in with her husband John, who has been the managing director of The Norwegian Glacier Museum in Fjærland for a decade. In Sogn, her new home region, she worked at two historical hotels: Walaker and Tørvis, before starting her career at Western Norway Research Institute in 2018.

She completed her PhD dissertation on the side. This is how, on an October day in 2018, she returned to her office in Sogndal after her viva, having completed her PhD – almost without her colleagues noticing.

– Finishing wasn't easy, as I had left Poland and my tutor had passed away. Still, I am the kind of person that likes to finish what I have started, says Anna Maria.

Anna Maria på bru
Anna Maria reiser mykje og ofte - men ikkje med fly.

A wide range of competence

Her education and experience place Anna Maria in the realm of tourism research. As a temp, she has also filled an advisory role at the institute, providing information on EU funding and working to inspire and mobilise businesses, public enterprises, and research and development enterprises to seek funding and cooperate.

Looking ahead, Anna Maria reckons that her quantitative competence will become useful in various research projects. In addition, she hopes to be able to participate in projects across the entire range, spanning climate and environment, tourism, and tehnology and society. She would love to coordinate international projects, also projects outside of the realm of tourism.

– I look forward to project coordination. I really enjoy such tasks, she says.

Reads in four languages

One might ask whether Anna Maria has ever really tried having time off. Today, having left her multi-tasking days behind, her spare time consists of three things: languages, literature, and travelling.

– After work, I read an enormous amount of books, says Anna Maria, adding that it is a way of keeping up languages. She prefers fiction and has a soft spot for crime novels, and makes sure she covers both Polish, Norwegian, English, and Russian. She studied Russian at university, in connection with fieldwork in South Siberia's Altay Republic – an area of great natural beauty, a striking vastness, and landscape diversity.

She taught herself Norwegian out of necessity after a year of getting by in English. Language courses were simply not suited to her work hours, and thus, she made a decision to learn the language, seemingly without a lot of effort.

Today, handling only one job and no studies on the side, Anna Maria is planning to brush up two other languages she masters to a certain extent: French and Spanish.

– To me, learning languages is a hobby. I travel a lot, and I think it is interesting to understand what goes on around med, she explains.

No flight shame

Travelling is another activity for which she finds time, both through her job, and at weekends. On average, she and her husband go travelling every second weekend, both to neighbouring towns and other parts of the region, but rarely too far away except for longer breaks, the reason being that Anna Maria detests flying.

– It makes me very nervous, and I really prefer to travel by train, car, ferry, bus - anything, besides airplanes, she says. In addition to avoiding a guilty conscience for causing carbon emissions, she gets to combine travelling with reading and working on the go.

– This scepticism towards flying means I am a good match for the climate and environment researchers working nextdoor, she laughs, revealing one of her dreams: returning to South Siberia some day, though the journey may last a while – as she is undoubtedly going by train.