I’m studying in the bachelor’s program of Text Science and Linguistics at the University of Passau in Germany, so my major subject is not related to Arctic issues. Yet, I had the desire to broaden my horizons and learn something that would be totally new to me.
Since I did several internships at newspapers, I have experienced how important it is to gain knowledge about different countries and their cultures. Eventually, I decided to spend a year as a guest student at the University of Greenland, to study cultural and social history with a focus on Greenland and Arctic-related issues. Topics, such as global warming, Arctic policies and the impact of westernization on Inuit people are playing an even more important role in the media, so I was convinced that I would benefit from my stay in Greenland.
When I first arrived in Nuuk, Greenland, I did not find what I had expected. The cityscape is dominated by prefab apartment blocks of the 1960s and 1970s and busy traffic. Luckily, there is a romantic colonial harbor and breathtaking nature, too. Ilimmarfik has approximately 200 enrolled students, most of them Greenlanders and only very few international students. Unfortunately, there is only a small range of lectures taught in English. There is no other choice but to learn proper Danish if you want to benefit from a bigger variety of classes to choose from. My fellow students were usually fluent in both Danish, and Greenlandic and good at English.
Nuuk is a predominantly trilingual society, which I find amazing. Although Greenlandic is said to be impossible to learn, my fellow students highly appreciated my efforts to learn the Greenlandic everyday language.
My relationship with the teachers was very familiar. Both in Denmark and Greenland, you call your teachers by their first names, which would be totally inappropriate in Germany – it even made me feel a bit uncomfortable. The class sizes seldom exceed the number of twenty students and make lectures an intense experience, as in Germany I attend lectures with up to 300 students in huge lecture halls.
Despite the small number of students at Ilimmarfik, it took me some time to make friends. Greenlanders are very curious and open minded but very shy, so it was me who had to make the first step “to break the ice”.
Among the highlights of my stay, was a boat trip to Viking and Eskimo ruins as part of the Arctic Archaeology program, but what I do not recommend any future exchange student is trying seal or whale meat at the canteen. You will most likely regret it!
Today, Nuuk, Greenland, feels like home and not at all like the end of the world as it is perceived in Europe.
I would love to go back in the near future.