As Aura Nordberg was approaching Iqaluit Canada for the first time in an airplane in April 2004, it was scarier than she anticipated.
"First of all, it was quite a storm when we arrived," says the 25 year-old. "The pilot didn’t think we could land. We couldn’t see a thing."
For Nordberg, her introduction to the Canadian arctic landscape showed her that she was somewhere very similar and also very different from her homeland.
Nordberg was travelling with two other students and one teacher from Saami University College in Kautokeino Norway to do a one month exchange at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit through a University of the Arctic (UArctic) Thematic Networks program called Verdde. Verdde, which means "a mutual beneficial exchange" in Saami, is a student/teacher exchange program which allows small colleges from across the Circumpolar North the opportunity to visit and learn from each other.
"I feel like I am adopted into the Saami community . . ."
The students, all studying teacher education at Saami University College, spent time at the college learning about Nunavut Arctic College’s teacher education program along with Inuit life and culture. The students also took a course at the college in physical education, and shared Saami life and culture with people in the Iqaluit community.
"We held a few presentations at the college. We also went to see many of the primary schools and wore our traditional costumes and spoke to the children," says Nordberg, who also has a degree in Saami handicrafts from the Saami Education Centre in Inari Finland.
Nordberg says the local children were very eager to teach her and the other foreign students about Inuit life, including the drum dance. She also says the children were fascinated by their traditional Saami costumes, especially their pointed shoes.
"One child asked if we were fairies and wanted to see if we had pointed ears like our shoes," she says with a smile.
Nordberg, who is originally from Utsjoki Finland, does not come from a Saami background. However, she was born and raised in the Saami culture even though her parents are Finnish. When she was a child, her parents decided to send her to a Saami language school, so she could become fluent in the language.
"I feel like I am adopted into the Saami community," says Nordberg. "Even though I am not Saami, the language is like my mother tongue."
While in Iqaluit, Nordberg spent time outside of class getting to know the local community and the people, including participating in a throat singing workshop. She also helped to introduce some Scandinavian activities to the community. She says she would stick out when she went cross country skiing with her roommate.
"People don’t usually do that there, so people were amazed," she says.
"I think this program is really good . . ."
Even though Nordberg has travelled several places around the world including Peru, South Africa and India, for her classmates the Verdde experience was their first time overseas. Nordberg says she admires one of her fellow classmates, because she went to Canada without being able to speak English. She believes the Verdde program gives students, especially with indigenous backgrounds, the ability to see another part of the world without having to abandon responsibilities back home.
"I think this program is really good," she says. "Many of these students have children, so it’s hard to go on a normal exchange. It’s still good to go for awhile."
Nordberg understands the needs of young parents in the Circumpolar North from her own first hand experience. She was five months pregnant while she was in Iqaluit. Her Inuit friends helped her to purchase an amauti, a parka which she could use to carry her baby on her back. Now that she is back in Finland, she uses it all of the time to carry her daughter Elenna and is one of her most treasured belongings.
After Nordberg is completed her studies at Saami University College, she plans to teach primary school in northern Finland. She believes there is a great need for exchange programs such as Verdde in the North, and hopes that the program continues to grow.
"We were the first ones to go. Now if someone went again it would be easier," she says. "It’s good for schools to keep in touch and exchange ways to teach."