Peter Ambjorn had been connected to Eastern Europe well before he started the fitness program in World Class Romania in 2000.
His entire childhood in a small town in Sweden had hints of this other part of Europe. His mother was born in Poland, so every winter there were the jams, compotes, the pickles, just like in any family from Central and Eastern Europe. Peter’s favourite animals, horses, were bought from Poland. He grew up on a farm, and he would ride his horse for tens of kilometers in the woods every day. That’s where he began to understand the force of movement, of physicality, of getting out of your comfort zone.
Sweden is now more like a retreat for him, as he currently lives in Bucharest. When he goes back home he loves it, but he doesn’t want to stay there for the rest of his life. “Maybe there’s some kind of global trotter in me,” he says.
The large windows of the meeting room in World Class Romania’s headquarters near the Cismigiu Park show to some old houses in Bucharest, brown and a bit rusty. A perfect match with the beginning of the autumn, and so different from the modern, glass office building: two different worlds, existing in parallel.
This contrast resembles Peter’s life in Romania quite well. For his work, the 36-year old man, whose muscular body expresses his all-around discipline, remains in a sort of bubble, as he interacts with expats, managers and mainly speaks English. But in his private universe, he has Romanian friends, mostly goes out with locals, and speaks Romanian.
“I’ve been living in Egypt, Morocco, France, Belgium, Romania,” he says. “(The idea is) to go out there and see how people are living in the real life. You never see it on holiday.”
He believes that many expats choose to remain in a bubble, but he knows that interacting with locals “brings you out to the reality”. Bubbles are dangerous, because if they break and you are forced to get out, you don’t have where to escape. You are judged for having lived in that bubble.
Peter has chosen to conduct eight fitness classes in eight different centers per week in Bucharest. As the general group fitness manager of World Class in Serbia and Romania, he could have simply coordinated things from his office, but he wants to see what the World Class “members are saying, how they are feeling, their reactions”. But above all, he chose to teach so he can witness people’s physical and mental transformation.
Sports was the path to self-confidence for Peter too. As a child, he was bullied in school because he would not easily conform and he would always do what he wanted. But then he started competing in horse riding and running, and he was really good. People who initially rejected him would come to him and try to be friends. But building up an inner strength allows you to say no, to say that “actually, I don’t want your friendship, because I found new people.”
“I love to teach to see how strong they (people) become, how they change their opinion about themselves,” Peter says. “I try to make people go outside their comfort zone; to be able to develop yourself, to stretch yourself a little bit. Some days you don’t want to do it. Some days you feel so strong that you can exceed your limit, and when you exceed it, you are able to go further on the next time.”
Begonia was the name of his first horse. She was light-brown, with white hair, very tall and very slim. “Nobody liked this horse because she was ugly. But I loved her and she loved me. Imagine, little me and a horse that was 1.80 high. Quite an amazing sight in competitions,” he says.
His father was an agronome, and they moved to a farm when Peter was six-year old. It was a big farm with animals, located in the middle of Sweden. “You have two big lakes in Sweden, the farm was exactly in the middle between these two big lakes,” says Peter.
Peter followed his sister, who is two years older, to the local riding school. She was more into taking care of the horses and grooming, but the boy was into riding the horses and competing. By the time they reached their teen years, both Peter and his sister were riding teachers. Their passion was so intense that when the local riding school was falling apart and was close to going bankrupt, Peter’s family took over it.
Their parents gave Peter and his sister plenty of freedom. Even when he was seven or eight-year old, he would ride away some 30-40 km with his sister. They would return home after a day, as if they had been picnicking. The parents were not worried at all, because they knew that the children were responsible. Riding through the woods in those childhood days had an intense feeling of adventure, which Peter tried to replicate later when he moved to different countries.
He moved out of Sweden in 1998. “I don’t feel 100% Swedish, maybe also because I’m half Polish”.
It’s the so-called Law of Jante that he doesn’t like about Sweden. Peter describes the Law of Jante as not being allowed to say that you’re better than someone else. Wikipedia presents the Law of Jante as “a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities that negatively portrays and criticises individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate.”
For him, individuality and competition are important. They define you, and allow you to become your better self.
Peter has been living in Romania for six years and he doesn’t have any wish to leave. He bought an apartment in the north of Bucharest, and has a nice terrace overlooking the forest. That’s where he likes to spend some of his evenings, enjoying a good dinner. He inherited his passion for cooking from his mother.
He feels like he is more introvert now. In 1998 when he first moved abroad to Belgium, Peter’s life was more hectic, he valued people in a different way and moved around life with more extroversion. But now he understands existence differently and values more somebody that he can care about and who can care for him. He also likes to travel, but not necessarily going to remote places such as Bulgaria or Russia. It’s more like just driving 20-30 km away from Bucharest and spending a day there. After interacting daily with 20-120 people, he enjoys a little bit of solitude in his private life, a glass of wine with some close friends.
As sports represents such a big part of his life, Peter takes a break from it only when he goes on holiday. In July, he went to Sweden, where he a owns beach house together with his sister. “The only things I was doing were walking on the beach,and picking mushrooms.”
He adds: “I need to move, that’s for sure.”
By Diana Mesesan, features writer, email@example.com
(photo courtesy of World Class)