It was in autumn 2005 when I went to Rovaniemi for the first time. I was a student of meteorology at the Leopold-Franzens Universität Innsbruck and went to Rovaniemi as an exchange student to study in the Arctic Studies Program at the University of Lapland. Now, in February 2013, I have been in Rovaniemi and Lapland again; it was my fourth time since my Erasmus year. I think I got addicted to Rovaniemi and its surroundings.
As most of the students, I did not know what to expect. I knew Rovaniemi was quite far north on the Arctic Circle. I expected cold and dark winters, warmth and a lot of daylight during the summer. I was familiar with sauna customs and expected to see lots of snow, northern lights, reindeer, elks, flat terrain and a lot of water and forest, but of all the rest, I had no idea. So, I left home and drove with a lot of stops through Germany, Denmark and Sweden to Finland with the hope that I was somehow going to survive that year.
Due to the fact that I was going there by car, the change from my usual surroundings to Lapland was very slow. I had a lot of time to think about my next months in Lapland, about everything that was waiting for me there.
After about ten days of driving, with longer and shorter stops on the way, I finally reached my new home for the next nine months. And already from the first moment everything was so well organized. A tutor came to pick me up at the petrol station, helped me with all the bureaucracy, took me to the first parties, and showed me the city! Thus, I already got to know so many nice people and places in the first days that I didn’t even have time to think about home, my friends, etc.
The courses at the university were well structured and the professors were nice. As a student of the Arctic Studies Program I participated in some excursions (Pyhä Excursion, Kola Peninsula excursion) which were very interesting as well.
I was living in Kuntotie 10, a building nearly full of international students. After a few months we were not only students studying somewhere far away from home and living in our own rooms. Instead, we were a big family enjoying a really good time in the north, and as I see it now, we shared one of the best times of our lives together.
Like many of my friends, I also took part in the so-called “Friend family program”, in which local families were looking to get in contact with exchange students. It was one of my best decisions, because doing so I got to know locals, not only students, but a family working and living in Lapland. I went there for dinner, to a reindeer race and to a skiing trip at the Russian border. Today I have to say that I experienced some special moments that without this family would never have been possible.
Time was passing by very quickly and I survived many exams, parties and saunas, saw many movies, did a lot of sports and trips so that at a certain point I realized that the nine months was gone… my time in Lapland was over and I had to return home.
After being and living far away from home for so long, I was really looking forward to returning home, in my mountains, to my friends. It took me some time to adapt at my life at home. But my experience didn’t stop when I left Rovaniemi, it was part of me and still is part of my life. My friends from exchange are scattered all over Europe and all over the world, my friends from Rovaniemi are still part of my life, and I am always looking forward to meeting them again, wherever and whenever.
And also now, eight years after my year in Rovaniemi, I love to come back to Lapland to meet my friend family and some other friends who are still there. See the landscape and remember all the special moments I had when I was there.
Nowadays, when I reflect on the time I spent there, I would say some special reasons made my exchange year so special and so long lasting. As a first point I would say it’s the size of Rovaniemi. It is not a big city, so you meet your study mates and friends quite easy when you live there, thus it is easy to come and stay in contact with them. In addition, I think the climate and geographic position is unique. Most of the people know moderate cold, warm and hot temperatures. If you go to Rovaniemi you have the chance to experience new temperature ranges and not-accustomed-to lengths of days and nights! Last but not least, in how many other places on earth with a university do you have the chance to see northern lights?
I have to say that I am already looking forward to my next visit, maybe at the ten-year anniversary of my exchange year… maybe we'll manage to bring together big parts of our international family in the heart of Lapland, Rovaniemi.