I was enrolled into Master’s Degree Programme Health and Wellbeing in the Circumpolar Area in 2013 – it was my first international academic experience. I got a message about my enrolment just after my graduation from the Northern State Medical University.

The idea of such a program for students in the North is very relevant, because people and researches in the Arctic region have a lot of issues which make these territories so unique. The Master’s program is planned as distant education which means that most courses are taught online during the first year of the program, the second year is used for preparation of the Master’s thesis. What I loved most about this program was the possibility to combine education at the University of Oulu with my everyday life in Russia, since it would be rather difficult to study abroad because of my work in Arkhangelsk. However, the fact that the program was online-based was also the most disappointing for some of the students, and they experienced a lack of motivation due to the few hours of online teaching.

The Health and Wellbeing in the Circumpolar Area program enriched my knowledge on the Arctic region, its people and the challenges they face. Studying abroad was a totally new experience for me, not only from a language or cultural perspective, but also because of the structure of the educational process. Having higher education diploma from Russia, I was unaware about other study environments such as the Optima in Oulu. Gradually I got used to it and started to notice its advantages; currently our university aims to implement something similar.

As a MCH student I participated in the pre-congress Summer School and XVI International Congress on Circumpolar Health in 2016. It was a very significant and memorable event for me. I had a possibility to present some conclusions from my thesis work and take part in discussions concerning health and social issues in the Arctic. Further, I had the pleasure to be a volunteer and a section co-chair during the congress and thereby made my small contribution to the organization. My Jens Peder Hart Hansen award was a big surprise! During this Congress I understood what means to be a true researcher in the North, and I met people who live here and who do their best to improve local living conditions and make input to better people’s health and happiness.

Another inspirational experience I had was in Alaska. The Russian delegation came there along with Canadians, Norwegians and Americans to participate in the Epidemiology Summer School. I was amazed to see pure nature, spellbinding mountains and everyday life in another hemisphere. During the Summer School we were vividly involved in communication with the other countries’ representatives and had a constructive dialogue – I’m sure this is the best way to build mutual understanding of people from different cultures.

Having this unique experience, I finished my thesis with great help of Professor Arja Rautio, the programme director. My Russian supervisors Andrey Soloviev and Alexander Opravin helped me a lot as well, so I became a Master of Health Sciences. This degree is not just document for me; it covers over a huge amount of knowledge which I acquired during the study. I would like to thank all teachers and academic staff, especially Sanna-Mari Ahonen, our programme coordinator and my group mates.

Today, while I continue my PhD studies I also will work as a Russian coordinator in the upcoming project Oral Health Promotion of the Indigenous People in the Circumpolar Region Network initiated by Professors Eino and Sisko Honkala. The project was supported by partners from Norway, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, USA and Russia.

I believe that international dialog and collaboration is a great way to improve health and well-being of people all around the world!


Karina Kunavina