But let me go back ten years to the life-changing day in May. At that time I was in my second semester of Scandinavian Studies at Humboldt University in Berlin. It was a sunny day and during a class, the subject of which I don’t remember, I spent more time on playing around with my newly acquired laptop than listening to the subject matter. To be fair, I googled Master’s programs dealing with issues in the High North, because it was the Arctic and not necessarily southern Scandinavian issues that fascinated me. During that Google search I stumbled across the Arctic Studies Program (ASP) at the University of Lapland in Rov... Rovarna... Rovinami... wait... Rovaniemi! Man, that sounded so cool! So ‘Arctic’ that I immediately needed more info! Sure, it was not a Master’s program but rather a two-semester undergraduate program, but I knew, I somehow felt, that I had to apply. Unfortunately the application deadline had already passed, so I thought my opportunity for the year 2007 had passed with it... But the urge to apply prevailed, and I contacted the program coordinator anyway. Luckily I was still able to send my documents, and about two weeks later I received the confirmation: I had been accepted! Just a few months later, in August, I flew to Rovaniemi – obviously for the first time in my life – and upon my arrival in that beautiful northern town my gut told me that here lies my future.
And how right I was. I remember the tears rolling down my cheeks when I had to leave Rovaniemi after the ASP. But I also remember well the joy I felt when I heard that I can continue studying Arctic issues via the online Bachelor of Circumpolar Studies (BCS) at Bodø University College (now Nord University, a UArctic member) in Bodø, Norway. I signed up, went back to Berlin, and completed my BA in Scandinavian Studies while being connected with the Arctic through the completion of the BSC.
Throughout the ASP and BSC I was in frequent contact with the staff of UArctic’s International Secretariat. And I wanted to be part of that team as well. In the course of my bachelor’s thesis for Berlin, which I wrote about Sámi land right issues in Finland, I travelled back to Rovaniemi in early 2009 and started to get involved with UArctic on a more systematic level. I helped out here and there and just ‘hung around’, so to speak. It was during that time that it really became clear that I wanted to academically and geographically stay in the Arctic. So I decided to do my master’s in Polar Law at the University of Akureyri in Iceland – yet another UArctic member. I spent one year in that lovely northern town, but my heart beat for Rovaniemi. In order to finish my Master’s, I moved back to Rovaniemi to write my thesis on the Barents cooperation, including a one-month research visit to the International Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes. But of course a student needs money. While in Iceland I was able to work for the Arctic Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) working group, and in Rovaniemi I finally worked for UArctic for a few months. Helping to organise the 10th anniversary celebration in 2011 was one of the many tasks at hand. And truly in the sense of support for students, even though I was technically working, I was still encouraged to focus on my Master’s thesis and finish it as soon as possible, which I did in the spring of 2011.
The worry of a soon-to-be-finished Master’s student is, of course, what will happen next. Am I going to do a PhD? And if so, where, and how do I finance it? While discussing these issues with numerous people, it was Outi Snellman who pointed me to the soon approaching application deadline for the fully funded, four-year Legal Cultures in Transnational World (LeCTra) doctoral programme at ULapland’s law faculty. A doctorate in law? Hell, why not! I applied, I succeeded, and now I have a doctorate in law, for which I conducted a legal anthropological study on the Canadian seal hunt – yes, including a few months of ethnographic research in the hunt itself – and the European law banning all products stemming from it. Needless to say, that was quite a trip, and without UArctic and Outi Snellman that would not have happened. Besides, while working for UArctic, I also met my wife, and now we have two little kids who enrich our lives. Remember me mentioning my gut feeling of ‘in Rovaniemi lies my future’? I think it seems fair to say that it was true. Although I moved away from Rovaniemi during my PhD to live in southern Finland with my wife, I regularly showed up for seminars, courses and just to see my friends – to put it simply, to see my ‘home.’
It seems to be the curse of every academic always having to decide over the next step. Look for a job? Do a post-doc? I love doing research, so I decided to apply and was accepted for a post-doc under the Japan Society for the Promotion on Science (JSPS) in Kobe. The kids are still small, and it is still possible to experience something completely different from my beloved North. My research on local communities in international law will in all likelihood take me also to the Japanese whaling villages… It seems I am attracted by the controversial.
Here I am now, looking over Osaka Bay, reminiscing about the journey that lies behind me. The journey has not ended in Japan, however, and the ‘academic curse’ is just a matter of a few months. All I can wish for is that the journey will take me and my family back to the Arctic Circle and to my home, the small city of Rovaniemi, where it all started.
Originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2017