Scandinavian Studies Program – Oulu University, Finland
The opportunity to study abroad was not only affordable but a chance of a lifetime that I am glad that I did not pass up. I spent my semester in Oulu, Finland, in the Northwestern part of Finland. The program that I took part in immersed me into the Scandinavian culture and the Finnish way of life. During my time there, I took several courses on the history of the country I was in and went on three excursions organized by the program.
UNCG has been doing an exchange with Oulu University for 15 years and the program fulfilled the remainder of my general education requirements. The courses were interactive and fun. I studied the political systems, history, literature, music, environment, indigenous people and artwork of Finland and surrounding areas. Each class had its own unique style but my favorite was the music class. We learned about the traditional musical instruments by learning how to play them and we learned some of the traditional dances of Finland. I have never had so much fun hopping around a classroom! Along with interesting classes the program included three trips.
The first trip that we went on was during the second week that we were at the university. I remember getting on the bus with 22 other international students wondering where they were taking us. Our first trip was to Oulanka, 13km from the Russian border. While spending time at the science research station there we studied the vegetation of the frozen area around us. Despite the cold, it was so beautiful. I especially enjoyed the hikes that we took every day through the mountainsides; I have never seen such diverse vegetation within just a few kilometers.
The next excursion was the art study trip. We traveled to Helsinki, the capital of Finland, Stockholm, the capital of Sweden and Turku to study the architecture of the different cities. Stockholm was my favorite city, because we got to go to the palace where the current queen and king reside. We got a private tour through the palace and then spent time walking around the grounds and gardens. In Turku, we went to the castle from the 1800’s. There were still cannon balls in the side of the building! It was so cool to get to see all of the history that was in the different cities and be able to compare the different types of architecture.
Our final trip was my personal favorite. The last trip was to Lapland (the area of Finland, Sweden, and Norway that is above the Arctic Circle). The week before our trip, we prepared for our trip by learning about the indigenous people of the area, the Sami, and their culture. One of their main means of living is reindeer husbandry. While we were on our trip, we actually got to go to a reindeer farm and pet reindeer. While we were there we met real Sami people and heard one of their traditional songs, called a yok. Also we went to Norway, so far north that we actually got the opportunity to swim in the Arctic Ocean. Personally, I only dipped my toes in, but I did get to watch several classmates jump in. BRRR!
In our class, prior to the trip, we learned that the Sami regard the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) as “pathfinders” or “guides”. One night, it was clear enough to see the Northern Lights and I can fully understand why the Sami view them as such. The lights were so elegant and majestic. They just glided across the sky like they were leading somewhere, and then disappeared. It was truly a once in a life time experience that I am so thrilled that I got to enjoy.
My time abroad is something that I will cherish long after college. I learned a lot about the country that I was in and its culture. The program is just simply amazing and if I get the chance I can guarantee that I will go back in a heartbeat!