In my third year at the University of Tampere, where I do environmental and regional studies, I decided to seek exchange placement and ended up studying geography and natural resources management at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). As my university was a newcomer in the north2north program, there were not that many previous experiences available, but the studies offered and the possibility to get more familiar with Arctic issues and the environment, which are part of my everyday life even back home but of which I knew so little, convinced me to do my exchange at UAF.
Although Fairbanks is definitely smaller and remoter than Tampere and sometimes has harsher outdoor temperatures, the friendly and warm atmosphere made me feel welcome. The American university culture differs from the Finnish one, and it took some time to get used to the new methods and campus life, but I now appreciate the good sides of both systems. My home university program is social science based, and studying themes which have their foundations on natural sciences have given me new thoughts about how we can manage our common vulnerable livelihoods.
Besides studying, my exchange period at UAF has given me many other great experiences. Alaska has been a great place to explore the outdoors, and it is possible to do different sport activities and learn new skills, like climbing, even during classes. The Alaskan wilderness is great not only in terms of size but also variety, and it covers various types from the southern coasts to interior mountain summits. I am also sure that I will now continue to use my new skills and explore more of the Finnish nature when I head back home. This has awakened an interest in working with wilderness-related issues after my graduation, and I think that my exchange at UAF gives me more possibilities to get such a job in the future.
It has been possible to notice how the Alaskan lifestyle differs from the Finnish one, but also how we share many things. Finnish people might not socialize or make as much small talk as the people here, but we have a similar feet-on-the-ground attitude towards life and we respect the nature around us. Furthermore, meeting people from not only Alaska or other parts of the US but all over the world has also been one of the highlights of my exchange period. I think that I can understand different cultures better as well as ways to see the world, and now I have the courage to explore the world even further. My new friends here have become my "family abroad", and I am sure that many of these friendships will last for a lifetime.