At my home university in Finland, Tampere University, I major in journalism, but I wanted to use my north2north exchange semester to study something totally else. When I decided to apply to UAF in my third year, I wanted to get different perspectives and also learn about the local way of living in Alaska. In the end, I decided to choose Arctic and Northern Studies as my main subject, since I am also very interested in learning more about climate change and how it affects life and environment, especially in the North. Even though I had to choose just one subject, I could still make my course selections pretty freely: only just over half of my courses had to be somehow related to Arctic and Northern Studies, so I was able to take many interesting subjects from different degree programs. I ended up studying English, Cross-Cultural Communication from the Alaskan Perspectives and yes, also Climate Change Journalism. In addition, I took one credit recreational courses from Tennis, Yoga and Self-Defense.
Based on my personal experiences, I can definitely recommend studying the subjects that are related to the country or place you are going to, for example in this case the Arctic and the North. One of the most interesting courses I had at UAF was from Alaska Native Studies, and it was about communication challenges between different cultures and also about the cultures in Alaska. During this course I learned a lot about the United States and different Alaskan Native cultures, as well as my own culture and myself. Another particularly interesting course I had was about how to report about climate change from ground zero. This course was especially interesting right now and right there, because of the effects of climate change were strikingly obvious in Alaska on my exchange spring. We broke temperature records all the time, and ski resorts and ice climbing walls had to close early because of the surprisingly warm weather. It was pretty scary and alarming, and at the same time very eye-opening to see everything so close up.
Besides my classes, the daily life in Fairbanks didn't differ super much from what I have in Finland. The first weekend in January, when I arrived there, the temperature was minus 40 degrees Celsius, and when I stepped outside for the first time, even breathing hurt because of the cold and dry air. But the temperature warmed up soon, and when it came to the climate or weather I didn't really have a big culture shock. Overall it was extremely interesting to see how there were so many similarities, but also differences, between Finland and Alaska, which are both places in the North and located pretty much on the same latitude. For example, one interesting difference I noticed was that in Alaska people are very proud and passionate about different outdoor activities, like hiking, rock climbing and skiing. When it comes to Finland, we can do many of those exact same things, but those outdoorsy people are usually called "eräjorma" which basically means "outdoor hilly billy".
I tried to get many experiences and try new things also outside of the classroom, when I had time from the many assignments and homework the American school system assigned us to do. The university organized many outdoor trips that I also participated in myself, including an overnight kayaking trip, late night trip to photograph the northern lights, ice skating to a lake that started to crack under us, and snowshoeing to the beautiful Castner Glacier. I also spent my spring break living with a local couple in a small village named Ruby with less than 200 residents. That was a unique opportunity to experience the rural way of living in interior Alaska.
My exchange experience in Alaska taught me a lot about my own region and what it means to me to be a Finn and a Scandinavian. I learned to appreciate many things in Finland that I have taken for granted. I would like to believe that I also got some of that famous Alaskan attitude in me, like learning to survive on my own, raising my voice, defending myself when it comes to that, and also asking for help when needed. Also seeing the effects of climate change so closely had an impact on me. In the future, I hope that I can concentrate on writing more about the climate, global warming, and the people that it is affecting, which I believe is the biggest concern of our and of the next generation.
My exchange experience in the North was overall a great experience, and even though some people thought it was stupid to just go to another northern country, I can unquestionably recommend north2north exchange to everybody.