SOI Alumnus studying at the University of Lapland

Ashley Tufts from Iqaluit, Nunavut participated in the Students on Ice Antarctic Expedition 2004 and the Students on Ice Arctic Expedition 2005.

From the University of the Arctic website:

Student from Nunavut Finds Home in Finland
11/25/2008

Ashley Tufts is nearly 4000 kilometres from her home in Nunavut, but feels more comfortable studying in Finland, than back in Canada.

“For the most part, I feel as if Lapland is quite similar to Nunavut. There is a sense of that Arctic community feeling, the environment is quite similar and the daily pace of things reminds me quite a bit of home,” said the 21-year-old Canadian, who is studying at the University of Lapland, in Rovaniemi. “In fact, I feel more at home here in Rovaniemi than I did when I was studying in Vancouver.”

Tufts grew up in Iqaluit, Nunavut, a place she loves. She said, “I definitely have a passion for the Arctic, the landscape, environment, wildlife, and the way of life,” but like many northern Canadians, she left home after high school to pursue a higher education.

Tufts chose to study environmental sciences at the University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver. She is doing a double major in environmental conservation with a focus on the circumpolar north, something she had to get special permission to study at UBC.

Ashley2Being the only person in her program who was focussing on the North, Tufts was intrigued when she found out about the Arctic Studies Program at the University of Lapland (ULapland), a longtime member of the University of the Arctic. “I had heard about UArctic, and always wanted to do something with them. So I did a search and found ULapland. I was looking at the Arctic Studies Program and it just sounded perfect,” said Tufts.

The Arctic Studies Program gives students an opportunity to focus on Arctic issues, with a multidisciplinary approach to learning. Students take courses such as Arctic Indigenous Studies, Arctic Nature and Environment, and Arctic Governance. In addition, students have a chance to take part in excursions and a field school to the Kola Peninsula in Northern Russia.

It has been a perfect fit for said Tufts, “I don’t think that I could have found a better program.” She described her experience thus far as “phenomenal,” from the excursions to the lectures; everything has been relevant to her studies.

“What I like most about studying here at the university (ULapland) is the flexibility, the expertise and the access to numerous resources. I like that there is great integration and focus on northern-related issues, being taught by those who are experts in what they do. I don’t think I could have chosen a better university that offers as many diverse and Arctic-related courses as the University of Lapland does,” said Tufts.

One of the most unique experiences she has had so far was taking part in a reindeer roundup, North of Rovaniemi. “We were in the middle of the forest, we go inside the coral and are surrounded by 700 reindeer…we weren’t sure of how they would react, or what to expect,” described Tufts. Her and the other students got to watch the herders do ear cuttings, sort the animals for breeding and even helped to herd the reindeer. They held up a huge piece of cloth, stretching it out in front of them and then had to run towards the reindeer to force them to go in a certain direction.

For someone from Nunavut, where caribou (a close relative to reindeer) are wild and hunted, seeing so many domesticated was a bit of a shock for Tufts. When she told people back home in Nunavut, they were amazed, “why didn’t you shoot them?” her friends asked.

Despite the challenges of studying in a different country, Tufts has been thoroughly enjoying her studies and living in Rovaniemi. “The more I talk to my family about Finland, the more it seems similar to back home. There’s so many things to tell them about, every time I send e-mails home they’re always pages and pages long,” said Tufts.

She arrived in Finland at the end of August, and plans to stay and study until the spring of 2009 but, she said “I’ve been enjoying it so much, I may not go home after one year.”

Aside from some initial settling in, it has been a pretty easy transition for her. “Once I was moved in, I absolutely loved it! I told my mom and dad that it’s the best of both worlds here, because there’s a mix of southern comforts and the Arctic environment. In Vancouver I really missed the Arctic, while here there are northern aspects, but many characteristics of a southern city,” said Tufts.

Most of all, Tufts appreciates being able to study the north, while living in the north. This is why she thinks UArctic is such a great resource. “I don’t think a lot of universities focus on the Circumpolar North. UArctic is a great way to get more students interested. I think it’s great that they offer online courses and grad school options and a lot of hands-on field work with scientists,” she said.

Tufts has already had a lot of experience in the Arctic and Antarctic, having been a participant in two Students on Ice programs (http://www.studentsonice.com).

“I’ve always been interested in environmental protection, but the experience really opened up my eyes and made me realize how sensitive these ecosystems really are. It paved the way for where I am today,” said Tufts of the experience.

For now, Tufts is loving her time in Finland. She has enjoyed being able to meet new people, and living in a new, yet similar environment. She couldn’t say for sure where she’ll end up, but it will definitely be somewhere in the north. She said, “I certainly want to work in the Arctic, it’s my passion. There’s something about the Arctic, the cold, the atmosphere, the people, I couldn’t see myself living or working without it…but I could also see myself living in Finland.”

For information about the Arctic Studies Program, visit their webpage: http://www.ulapland.fi/?Deptid=13824
For information about the Bachelor of Circumpolar Studies, go here: http://www.uarctic.org/singleArticle.aspx?m=39&amid=5193

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