I started dreaming of an exchange and a destination in far north, on an island in the middle of nowhere, halfway to the North Pole from northern Norway many years ago when I saw one stranger person updating on social media about her exchange at the University Centre in Svalbard. I still remember that moment and how I wondered how that is even possible to go to the place like that to live and study in a university. I knew immediately that I’ll go there if I get into the university. From that day it’s been obvious in my mind that I’m going to do my exchange studies in the University Centre in Svalbard until the moment of the applying process. That was the first time I realized that it’s possible to not get accepted. I also started to search other destinations and began to doubt my original choice. Now after I got accepted to UNIS and studied and lived there for four months as I planned for years, I couldn’t be happier of my choice.

Let’s say that in every other destination I considered I can have a really nice and rewarding holiday and get the most out in shorter time but in a very special destination like Svalbard more time and engagement is needed to really learn the characteristics of the place. I think this is common to all Arctic and isolated destinations. A holiday would be just a tip of an iceberg.

The reason I mentioned above is a very valid reason to choose an Arctic destination as an exchange destination. In addition, the Arctic is a truly critical and important area in terms of climate change, geopolitics and the future in general. In any sector or context, there is certainly no harm in knowing and having experience of the characteristics and challenges of the Arctic.

What I then studied in Svalbard? The answer is Arctic Safety. In UNIS it’s possible to study a wide range of natural sciences with an Arctic focus. Besides that there is Arctic Safety Centre, which organizes a study module on Arctic Safety. That module is special, because your background can be almost anything and you can still get accepted to those courses. The focus on Arctic Safety courses is safety and risk management, planning safe operations and projects, be prepared for the risks and all this in Arctic context. The studies include a lot of visitor lecturers from different companies in the town, visits in a different locations like Red Cross, satellite station, mine, recycling centre and rescue helicopter station. Also, some fieldwork or outdoor hikes and boat trips are included.

Apart from the benefits and interest of understanding the Arctic world, I was fascinated to that kind of destination because of my love for the outdoors and hiking. Outdoors gave an endless number of ways to spend your free time. If you are interested in hiking up the mountains, seeing some wildlife, skiing all day long or climbing the glaciers, Svalbard is your place to go. Also, the small but isolated town has a lot of benefits: the services are good and diverse, you are always maximum 10 minutes away from everything by foot, the atmosphere is awesome and even when you are an exchange student you are more than welcome to participate in special events of the village community. At least this was everyday life in Longyearbyen, the “capital” of Svalbard.

Besides falling in love with Svalbard, I can tell you that going on exchange was the best decision of my life. Clichéd as it is, you learn a lot about yourself and your dreams. Could it be because you get out of your familiar surroundings for a while and into a new environment that perhaps encourages you to think deeply. You will also meet many new and different people with interesting backgrounds and life stories. And, of course, you will have many new, wonderful experiences. My life in the Svalbard was all this and definitely the best time of my life.