‘The Arctic’, a location deemed wild and pristine; a land so North that jumpers are mandatory all year round. As a BSc Geography student, The Arctic module offered a field trip to Tromso, Norway. I can honestly say that the people I have met on the field trip both on and off the geography course along with the experiences and memories I made in the space of 2 weeks was one of the highlights of my Durham experience.
Landing in Tromso was a shock to the system with a difference of 20 degrees between there and home but many layers and copious cups of coffee was able to warm the soul ever so slightly. Our days in Tromso consisted of talks from the Arctic Council, The Polar Bear Research Institute and a visit to Trosmo’s Museum, enlightening us on the Indigenous Sami population that has been around for thousands of years.
Skibotn Field Centre
The field centre was by far one of the best parts of the trip. Norway seems to have the idea of rustic chic down to a T. Imagine wooden romantic cabins with 2/3 people in each room and a fire pit in the evening. Albeit the food was not quite 5-star quality but it was hearty and filling so nothing to complain about. Here a desperate search for the Northern Lights ensued each evening by the fire but alas nothing but a mere green streak was found in the sky, but this did not dull our spirits!
Steindalsbreen (Steindals Glacier)
From the field centre, we drove towards the Lyngen Alps and the retreating glacier of Steindal. In the space of a 4-hour hike we somehow managed to move between summer, autumn and winter, layering up as we moved. Reaching the top we saw how the glacier had retreated over 200m since the 1980s. As the clumsiest person I know there were several slips and slides along the way but I will argue it only added to the experience.
Three Countries One Day!
You wouldn’t have thought it possible, but it is! From Skibotn we hopped on our coach and crossed the border into Finland. As we crossed the border, the landscape changed from mountainous to tundra. The coach had to come to stop on many occasions because a few brazen reindeer decided that the grass looked greener on the other side. Our professor, Phil Steinberg and Phillis the Reindeer (pictured above) gave us a talk on how reindeer movement was restricted between Norway, Finland and Sweden once the borders had closed in the 1800s. Finally, we cross a bridge (4 people at a time) into Sweden. This took us into what can only be described as an abandoned car park for the sad cars of Sweden but it didn’t matter to us and we happily ate our lunch (probably could have done with an Ikea café but we made do).
Dissertation Research and The Joanna Court Bursary Fund
I stayed in Tromso to carry out my dissertation research on the impact of climate change on reindeer husbandry and the Sami population in Norway. If you don’t already know, Norway is not the cheapest of countries and being a student the term ‘scraping the barrel’ is used in my vocabulary more often than not. This research would not have been possible without the help of the Geography department. The Joanna Court Dissertation Travel Bursary is offered to two undergraduates in the Geography department who undertake their dissertation work overseas. I was able to hire a car and drive to and from my interviews as well as the money contributing towards my accommodation. Pulling up to one of my interviews I was greeted by a pile of antlers, reindeer skins strewn around the garage and what can only be described as a fish skin hanging up outside the front door! Raising an eyebrow, I turn to my friend:
“Perhaps it’s a good omen”
A good omen it was! In the space of a week, I learnt so much about The Sami, a minority that has previously been discriminated against and continues to strive for the continuation of their cultural practices.
So, if you are presented with a challenge that makes you nervous, I can honestly say that you will never regret doing something outside your comfort zone.