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Norwegian grad heads Tacoma’s World Trade Center

By Nisha Ajmani '02

After serving a year in the Royal Norwegian Air Force, Andreas Udbye had a choice – either train to be a pilot in Texas, or attend business school at PLU.

“I knew at that time I wanted to go to the states for a while,” Udbye ’83 said. Not even knowing where PLU was, Udbye chose to go to business school.

“I just knew it was in America,” he said. “I never regretted that (decision).”

Udbye received a year of tuition from a Norway-America Association scholarship and entered PLU as a sophomore. After a year, he decided to stay and get his degree. “A lot of international students, wherever they’re from, have a hard time going back,” Udbye said. He decided to stay because of his girlfriend, who is now his wife, Kari (Pederson ’81), his friends and the fact that he only had two years left to complete his degree.

After graduation, he gained business experience in both Norway and the U.S. – in ship brokerage, banking, maritime transportation, international trade, sales and marketing and owning his own publishing firm and import agency/management company. Udbye, who has a master’s degree from the University of Washington, worked for his family’s horticulture seed company and wholesaler in Norway, before returning to the U.S. in 2001 to take over as the executive director of the World Trade Center Tacoma.

“I really love this job because of its global, international perspective,” Udbye said. The World Trade Center Tacoma matches firms and individuals with opportunities for foreign trade. The center is affiliated with more than 330 World Trade Centers in more than 100 countries and provides members with access to more than 500,000 companies and individuals engaged in international trade.

WTCTA works with members and clients ranging in size from Boeing to one-person start-ups, Udbye said. They use tools such as trade missions, networking with professionals, news articles, training programs and one-to-one consultancy to work with exporters, importers and service providers.

Being an immigrant has its advantages when dealing with international trade, Udbye said, easing work on exports and trade and giving an edge on language, culture and contacts. Udbye started out in Seattle doing a lot of work with Norway, but now focuses more on Asia, working on trade within the Pacific Rim.

Even though it is unusual to have a trade center in a city the size of Tacoma, WTCTA is vital to Tacoma. “We’re a port city and trade is crucial,” Udbye said.

The center often partners with educational institutions. PLU is one of the main contributors to its internship program, and the center recently hired Katie Alexander ’04, who had just completed her internship, as marketing coordinator.

Udbye remains involved with PLU through the Wang Center for International Programs and the School of Business. He serves as an advisory board member for both and is helping plan PLU’s Norway Symposium, which is timed to coincide with Norway’s Centennial celebration. The symposium, which runs Jan. 12–14, is a public forum on the Norwegian approach to achieving world peace through conflict resolution, economic development and relieving global poverty.

“It’s been fun to be part of what PLU is doing,” Udbye said.

Udbye and his family stay connected to Norway through summer visits and speaking the language. His sons, Peter, 13, and Erik, 11, and Kari all speak Norwegian. While they don’t speak it “as much as they should” at home, once they hit the ground in Norway – there’s no English.

As for the future, Udbye is applying for his U.S. citizenship. His goal for the summer was to learn the Star Spangled Banner, study American History and memorize the Pledge of Allegiance. “It’s a practical thing, now that we’ve decided to come back here,” he said. To Udbye, being a citizen means having voting rights and being able to one day run for port commissioner.

Without PLU, Udbye says he might not be where he is today. “My PLU experience was life altering,” he said. “It was a critical decision when I decided to keep going there. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help PLU in greater and greater degree as time goes on.”


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© Scene 2004  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Fall 2004

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