I have an interest in indigenous peoples and their lives, especially the traditional handicrafts which I’d like to maintain so that such skills won’t be forgotten in this era of plastic consumption. I had been hoping to visit Siberia for a couple years, when my dream became true with the help of the Sámi Education Institute. We have very good connections to similar education institutes around the Arctic, and we often get visitors from faraway places. That’s why I ended up applying for an exchange semester in Yamal Multidisciplinary College in Salekhard, which is located in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug in Russia.

During my exchange I got private lessons from two master wood and bone carvers – wood and bone carving was my main subject of study in Salekhard – and at the end I received certificates that no one else in Finland has. Studying was more hectic than at home, six days a week and homework in the evenings. It was also more authoritarian: the teachers were respected, and no one would ever call them by their first name only, like we do in Finland!

When I left I had no idea what to expect. There were no previous experiences from Salekhard at my home institution, and I didn’t speak any Russian either. However, everything was extremely well organized. There was an interpreter available if I needed one, but slowly I started to communicate better on my own. The dorm that I stayed in was decent and the food at the cafeteria was pretty simple, but both were offered to me for free. With my scholarship for other travel and living costs, it was more than enough. Overall, the atmosphere, the dorm and the town in general were very safe – I never felt scared walking alone, and the school as well as the dorm were really well guarded.

I can definitely recommend Salekhard as a destination and experience!