The decision to relocate from frigid, mid-winter Thunder Bay to a city and host university above the 66th north parallel may seem like a counter-intuitive one. “How much colder do you want to get, exactly?” my mom asked. She was mistaken both literally and metaphorically, however. Norwegians are stereotypically reserved but as I would find out, through many outdoor experiences and a few pints here and there, they are exceedingly kind, inclusive and energetic.
The purpose of my exchange going into it was arguably unrefined. All the classes I chose to take were electives, essentially outside of my usual realm of study. The classes were extremely diverse as many of them catered to students coming from outside of the country. The delivery was typical, but I did find the workload much less demanding than back home. As a student of education, I quickly discovered the benefits of allowing students to balance their school work with the rest of their lives. Nord university’s ability to promote student engagement, coupled with my newfound free time, meant I was fully prepared to involve myself in as many extra-curriculars and novel experiences as possible.
I found myself volunteering for an ESL workshop put on by the languages department, where I met people from all over the world and developed their English skills, and coincidentally my own. I also found paid work with the university, hosting the annual International Cooperation in Education Conference, which focused on educating students for a globalized future and the Arctic’s place within that development.
It wasn’t all work though. While not in class or working, I found myself enrolled in all kinds of novel experiences; snowboarding along Norwegian fjords, guided caving expeditions, our school’s beer-brewing club (yes, you read that right), four-night tent-camping trips through the Lofoten archipelago, practicing our Norwegian on the locals during free library concertos, fishing along the world’s strongest tidal current at Saltstraumen… The list goes on. It warrants mentioning that most of those experiences were made possible by the university either by subsidies, guides, or through free equipment rentals. Not one of them, however, were part of a class requirement.
I cannot overstate how many privileges my friends and I were granted through these university initiatives. My Norwegian educational experience reminded me that there are so many things that cannot be taught in a classroom – but that doesn’t mean a university (or even a preschool, as I learned) can’t make those experiences available to their students. Our education system in Canada has a lot to learn.
Learning and living in the Arctic was nothing like what I expected. I expected cold, some character-building, and the experience of being a minority. I got all of that, but also so much more. I also found experiences, new friends, a new outlook, and an education. For the outgoing, ambitious and adventurous student, there is no “cooler” place to study.
Published in 2019.