Researching State Strategies towards the Arctic

Michael Brown from the University of Washington spends this academic year at the University of Lapland, Arctic Centre, focusing on the potential futures for state strategies towards the Arctic. He writes about his Fulbright project, and provides background on how he became interested in Finland, and Lapland. Michael also writes about his observations on life in Finland so far, and gives some tips for prospective Fulbrighters.

Basically countries with Arctic territory realize the potential gain and drawbacks of the changing region and have released strategies that tell how they are going to approach the change. I think this is an interesting issue: you can see the evolution of policies for future problems that will eventually affect the rest of the globe. As the Arctic is something of a preview for climate change, it's also a preview for how states cooperate to deal with complex, international problems, and how they reconcile (or don't) their national interests to try and prepare.

I pick the cases of Finland and the United States as a comparison because I think they take different approaches and have quite different situations: Finland is a small country trying to have a big influence and heavily promote the welfare of people in its Arctic region, and the United States is a big country with a lot of influence that is only now trying to be a big influence in the Arctic and has heavy resource stakes in the region. I am comparing background, theoretical notions, and implementation of both to come up with an answer for the question: are governments pursuing the right courses of action or are they on the right track to properly prepare for what they know is coming?

Finnish Language Triggered my Interest

My ending up at the University of Lapland can be traced back to high school when I stumbled upon some heavy metal from Finland. I was trawling the internet one night looking for new music and a band called Korpiklaani popped up, and I was instantly taken by the sound of the language. It spawned a casual interest in the country. Coincidentally, when I went to school at the University of Washington in Seattle, I noticed that there were Finnish classes on offer, so I took them without question. Luckily the department was superbly well run and I was able to study for three years as a second major and had the opportunity to study abroad in Savonlinna, so my interest was nurtured and maintained by the opportunities there.

My main major was International Relations and that's where my interest in the Arctic comes from. For my senior project I went to Quebec City and Ottawa to interview officials about Arctic issues and write a report about Arctic governance, and I just thought it was a cutting edge field of IR. After graduating I decided to put together a Fulbright proposal.  I emailed a professor whose literature I had pored over for my previous project. After a few months of waiting and doing manual labor jobs and internships, I am now living on the Arctic Circle and doing some academic work for an amazing team.

Living in a Small Place Surrounded by Nature Is a Great Experience

The fall here is cold, at least for me. I grew up in the desert so -10 Celsius in November is foreign. But it's also a nice change. Growing up in California you get used to sameness and a constant buzz. I always heard the faint rumble of the highway and the weather rarely changed. Living in this small place surrounded by nature is a great experience for me, as it's quiet for a change. I enjoy being able to bike to work every day and learning to deal with the new challenges, and I enjoy practicing my Finnish. Rovaniemi is a small town so I've found it easy to build up a tight knit social group from people I work with and other students. People seem interested in meeting you here, which is nice. Academically I see my project as something of a dry run to a future master's program so the independence is a bit daunting for someone used to the leash of the American school system, but also very rewarding. I am at the center of a great network of Arctic experts so I attend conferences, ask questions, and talk with other people about their work. So far I've collected a ton of research and am trying to wrangle it into some publishable form. When not working on that I enjoy the nature and travel. Right now I'm planning an 80km cabin trek out in the woods, a trip to do some hiking in Norway, and going to the Nordic film festival in Tromso.

Make Your True Passion Visible

For prospective Fulbrighters I’d say, the logical thing is to identify what you could do a project on, so whatever interests you or what you have some experience in, and then find somebody in Finland who is working on that. People here are quite open so if you email someone out of the blue and mention Fulbright there's a good likelihood that they'll get back to you. Also there will be a lot of small challenges in the way as you're going through the application process and it can feel a bit overwhelming. I wanted to quit about a week into gathering everything because I thought my idea was dumb or I felt like I didn't have enough time, but just do it. With some hustle you can get it done and if you truly have a passion about what you're doing you can make it shine through in the application.

There will also be some frustrations when you get to Finland because things are different, and not knowing immediately where to go for such and such item or service is disorienting in a way you probably haven't thought about. But just take it in stride and ask someone to help. I've found it's actually easy to make friends here and I'm not even particularly gregarious myself. Just be open, talk to people, ask questions, and you'll find that you have a network here pretty fast which will make the transition easier. There will be a low period and you'll also probably ask yourself what you're doing, which is perhaps part and parcel with being in your 20s, but just keep moving forward. Best advice: keep going and don't think about the bumps too much.