Semester on the Arctic Circle Past Review

By (Environmental Studies, Middlebury College) - abroad from 09/01/2015 to 12/18/2015 with

University of Lapland: Rovaniemi - Arctic Studies Program

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
ASP is a unique curriculum taught at a major center of Arctic research. You hear directly from people invested in Northern issues about their fields of expertise, which is not something you can easily find elsewhere. That said, the academics are not very rigorous and it can be hard to get the most out of the program with so few expectations from your instructors.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The Arctic Studies Program is taught by researchers rather than professors, so the courses have a lot of overlapping content as instructors develop their own lectures without much communication among themselves and teaching can be of widely varying quality. The organization of the courses within the program cover a diverse range of Arctic issues with a heavy focus on political science and anthropology. I found science classes to be less rigorous than expected, since few students come to the program with a natural sciences background. The final 5 ECTS credits are open to take other courses at the university. Most ASP students took art and design or Finnish language/culture courses to satisfy the credit requirement. I found my Finnish language classes to be my most difficult of the semester (unsurprisingly).

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Housing for international students at the university is arranged through the DAS housing agency, which places exchange students together in two buildings about a 40 minute walk/15 minute bike ride to the university and a 30 minute walk /10 minute bike to the city center/Arktikum, where many ASP courses are held. I felt that this facilitated community among international students, but made it much more challenging to interact with Finnish students. The apartments are nothing special, but very affordable. As with most Finnish apartments, there are also weekly open sauna hours in both buildings.

* Food:

Lunches at the university are very cheap with a student card and of good quality. There are a few other locations in town where you can get discounted lunches, but not near the Arktikum!

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I felt very disappointed to have met so few Finns while living in Rovaniemi. Especially while spending so much time learning the language, I found very few opportunities to use it outside the grocery store (where it is not even particularly useful). The Finnish Friend program that the university organizes seems to help with this a bit, and I wish I had participated had I known how difficult it would be to get out of the international bubble.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Make sure to get international travel insurance (the residence permit application requires it—I used SIP). It's also handy to make sure it covers countries where you might travel, especially Sweden and Norway.

* Safety:

Rovaniemi is a very safe city. It's not the sort of place where you worry about walking around alone at night (which is good considering darkness is in no short supply in Lapland!).

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Education is free in Finland and student housing is very reasonable. However, Finland has a high standard of living and costs reflect that. It's noticeably cheaper than some other Nordic countries, but still high compared to the U.S.. Student cards in Finland can get you very cheap meals at the university, however, and bus and train tickets are discounted at 50% which makes travel quite easy.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
How many hours per day did you use the language?

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • International Students
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with? 0

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Location
  • Access to resources of the Arktikum/Arctic Center
  • Outdoor recreation opportunities
* What could be improved?
  • Minimizing repeat information in lectures
  • Fewer, better instructors
  • Stronger natural science offerings
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? There's a lot of independence in this program, and if you want to get the most out of it you definitely have to motivate yourself to take full advantage of the resources that are available.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Finnish for Foreigners

Course Department: Language Center
Instructor: Paloniemi
Instruction Language: Finnish
Comments: Oof. Finnish is rough. Generally well taught, but thoroughly exhausting. Survival Finnish might be a better choice unless you have a VERY strong interest in linguistics—the grammar is very challenging to understand and Finnish for Foreigners focuses much more on knowing grammar structures than actually speaking Finnish (in theory, this course is meant to be taken for a full year) so I felt that I was really lacking on the vocabulary side.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Sustainable Development, Economy, and Natural Resources of the North

Course Department: ASP
Instruction Language: English
Comments: Consistently great lecturers. Less overlap between classes than in other courses, but repeated a lot of topics we'd heard earlier in the semester.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Arctic Politics and Law

Course Department: ASP
Instruction Language: English
Comments: Content was very thorough and detailed and the structure of the course was well organized. Got great feedback on assignments and some of the best instruction in the program. A bit esoteric not having any background in law at times, but still all relevant and useful.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Arctic Ecosystems and Adaptation of Species to Arctic Environment

Course Department: ASP
Instruction Language: English
Comments: Dissapointing for a student with a background in biology. Had a few valuable takeaways, but could have been much more rigorous. Some of the worst teaching was also in this course.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Peoples, Cultures, and Identity of the Arctic

Course Department: ASP
Instruction Language: English
Comments: Great instruction, but the content was very Eurasia focused (especially on the Sámi) which seemed too specific, but at the same time repetitive information seemed too shallow.
Credit Transfer Issues: