Expat Life in Thailand were honoured to catch up with H.E. Mr. Jon Thorgaard the Danish Ambassador in Thailand and ask him about his background, his positing and how he has settled in to Thailand.
Ambassador good afternoon to you may I start with asking how long have you been the Ambassador to Thailand?
I arrived in Thailand May 2020 as Ambassador-Designate and since August as Ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia.
Did you arrive to Thailand direct from home, or were you posted somewhere else before?
Before I arrived in Thailand, I was working at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen where I was head of the ministry’s Economic diplomacy department. I have also served at Danish missions in New York, Prague in the Czech Republic and Riga in Latvia.
May I ask where were you born and brought up?
I grew up in the little town called Ebeltoft. It is a small town but it is the only town in Denmark with a museum section dedicated to Thailand. The museum has a section that contains a collection of items brought back to Denmark from Siam. I later studied at the University of Aarhus.
And at what age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat?
My family have always had an international outlook. My mother was an exchange student, my wife and I were both exchange students. Therefore, I have been interested in global affairs from a young age, but being a diplomat was never a goal for me until I was a trainee at the Danish Embassy in Latvia during my studies. I studied political sciences and have a global executive MBA.
Do you have any other diplomats in your family?
Both my parents worked as teachers until my father became Mayor in my hometown but I am the first to embrace a career as a diplomat.
How do you look at Thailand today? Have you had any obstacles since you arrived?
Thailand is a wonderful country and like so many foreigners that visit Thailand, I have received a very warm welcome to Thailand. Of course, the biggest obstacle is one that we all face together, that of coping with the Covid-19 pandemic. It has meant that I had to delay travel plans, cancel meetings and events and it has made it more difficult to meet people and build networks.
I have left my wife and children in Denmark and we had planned to travel back and forth frequently. Therefore, I very much hope that we will return to some kind of normalcy during 2021 and I could have the possibility to see my wife and kids and the rest of my family as well as our friends on a regular basis.
Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?
I have been truly amazed to learn about the deep and enduring ties between the people of Thailand and Denmark and I definitely see the similarities. The passion for food, craftsmanship and design. In addition, what foreigners say about my fellow citizens and about Thais, the kindness of the people.
You mentioned your children? What age are they and where do they go to study?
We have two kids. Our son Rasmus is 22 and he studies economics at Copenhagen University in Denmark. Our daughter Alberte is 19 and she is just finishing her last year of high school at Birkeroed Gymnasium in Denmark.
How do you look upon your work here? What does an average day look like?
There is nothing really like an average day! I have many internal and external meetings – many now online – and quite a few of the evenings and weeks are busy with social or work-related events. Economic and trade matters, visa requests and consular matters such as assisting Danish citizens with problems they might have here are a big part of what the embassy does. In addition, of course anything political that might come up. A big part of the job is trying to understand Thai society, so that you are able to give advice to Danish politicians, companies, NGOs or citizens about what is going on and who to contact and how things are functioning in Thailand.
As with every Ambassador, I assume that you have some goals you really would like to fulfil before you leave Thailand. May I ask what they are?
2021 marks the 400 year anniversary of relations between Denmark and Thailand. I am looking forward to celebrating this anniversary and I hope our celebration will make Thais even more aware of Denmark and our deep and enduring ties.
With my background in economic diplomacy, I am happy to see the rich and fruitful commercial relationship between Thailand and Denmark – not only in trade and tourism, but also regarding investments.
It is my ambition to work hard for a further deepening of the commercial cooperation between Thailand and Denmark. One area of great importance is the work on finding sustainable solutions to curb climate change worldwide. The Danish government and Danish companies have expertise to offer providing solutions for energy efficiency and sustainable cities.
Have you had the opportunity to travel around in Thailand yet?
Not as much as I would like to, but I have done some travelling. During the coming months, I am planning to go to Koh Samui and Chiang Mai which I am very much looking forward to.
Until now may I ask what is your favourite destination in Thailand?
If the word “Denmark” is mentioned, Thai people will immediately associate with Thai-Denmark milk. 58 years ago, a technical cooperation project between the Thai and Danish governments resulted in the creation of Thai Danish Dairy Farm. Therefore, I was actually touched when I went to visit the Thai Danish Dairy Farm in Saraburi a couple of months ago. This is a special place that illustrates the long ties between our countries.
When you manage to get a day off, what do you do? Do you have any special hobbies?
My whole life I have been very interested in sports. I still enjoy going for a run in Lumpini Park, but I also have to admit that I watch as many football games as I can with my favourite premier league team, Liverpool.
I have also always tried to enjoy the nature and visit as many cultural sites as possible, wherever we have lived as a family.
How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?
Thailand has understandably been a popular destination for Danes for many years. Some of the reasons Danes come to Thailand are the historical and culinary richness, the climate and the welcoming culture.
As a Danish citizen, you are not required to register with the Embassy when you move to Thailand. It is therefore not possible for us to determine exactly how many Danes live permanently here. Figures from the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports show that there were approx. 163,000 (162,448) Danes arriving in Thailand in 2019. In 2020 the number was down almost 60% (58.86%) to approx. 67,000 (66,824). The Embassy estimates that around 5/8,000 Danes usually (or ‘before Covid’) could be considered as living in Thailand. However, according to otherwise available data, there are just under 2,000 Danes currently registered as staying in Thailand.
Do your country and Thailand have any exchange programmes for students today?
The European Erasmus+ programme and similar programmes are used by Thai students go to study at Danish Universities.
If you could choose your next destination, where would you like to go?
To be honest I have not spent any time thinking about that yet. I have been in Thailand for 9 months now and I am very happy here. I will think about this a few years from now.
Is there any memory from Thailand that you would like to share with us, an awkward situation, a fun moment etc.?
As soon as I arrived in Thailand I learned that if you pronounce my name correctly in Danish it means mosquito (Jon (or Yung) in Thai. Therefore, I am getting used to being call John with an “h” instead of Jon. I was already used to that since I lived for 5 years in the US.
Do you regularly meet up with your community?
Yes, it is an important and enjoyable part of my job and I plan to pay visits to some of the locations where there are many Danish citizens living. I have already met with quite a few Danes especially in Bangkok and Pattaya, so far mainly from the business community. The embassy have held several events together with the Danish Thai Chamber of Commerce and we hosted the annual Christmas lunch of the DTCC at the Danish Embassy.
What do you believe is your most important task as Ambassador?
My role is to build and further strengthen ties between our countries. I want to help Thais understand Denmark and vice versa. I want to facilitate interactions between politicians, officials, NGOs, the commercial community, citizens and everyone who has an interest in relations between Thailand and Denmark. I want the embassy to act as a bridge and to create mutual understanding, and to resolve misunderstandings.
In addition to that, I find it important to have a well functioning embassy that creates results and has a highly motivated staff. I am lucky to have a very skilled team working with various issues such as political, economic and trade matters, visa requests and consular matters for assisting Danish citizens.