Emma: From Portland to Alexandria via Sweden

by Emma Jones

MN GreenCorps Member

I grew up in inner-city Portland, Oregon with no intention of leaving the Pacific Northwest. So, what am I doing living in west central Minnesota?

My mom is from Sweden. Growing up, I spent many summers with my family there. When the time came in high school to start exploring colleges, I knew that finding a school that had some connection to Sweden or Scandinavia would help me get my foot in the door.


I came across Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, but it was far from an easy decision to consider leaving my urban roots for cold, rural Minnesota. Gustavus, however, ended up being the perfect fit for me to continue celebrating my dual “identity.”

I loved my time at Gustavus and the educational opportunities it provided me. I graduated in spring of 2018 with a degree in Environmental Studies and Scandinavian Studies. St. Peter was a small town – much different than Portland! – and I discovered a passion working in rural communities. I felt that access to educational outreach and sustainable infrastructure in rural communities wasn’t at the same level that urban communities have had in place for a relatively longer time.

During college I connected closely with people from all walks of life, and especially so while spending nine months abroad in Sweden. I first worked in a small town called Borrby, then studied for a semester at Uppsala University, and finished up with a research internship investigating waste management in the rural Swedish municipality of Skaraborg and seeing how their methods could be applied back in St. Peter.

All of this made me pretty comfortable moving around to seemingly random places!

Upon graduating, I was waitlisted to a couple of graduate school programs in Sweden. With no idea of a back-up plan, I moved back to Portland for the summer and began looking for work. When I came across the Minnesota GreenCorps program, an AmeriCorps run program through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, I knew that was my next step!

I’m currently serving as a GreenCorps Member with Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management in Alexandria right here in the heart of west central Minnesota. Here I have the chance to continue my passion for sustainable education outreach while living in a place close to all kinds of natural beauty and outdoor recreation – something I have really missed since moving away from the Pacific Northwest.

I’m looking forward to experiencing this next summer in the lakes area and being able to explore Alexandria’s backyard… ideally in a kayak! Who knows where I’ll be when my service at Pope/Douglas finishes up in September, but I have loved growing and becoming a part of the community here in west central Minnesota.