Friday, July 20, 2012

Welcome to Svalbard

by Rachel Bonet and Matthew Borden

The group at Arlanda airport.
The start of our journey can best be described with the saying “good things come to those who wait.” Each subway train, bus, commuter train, taxi, escalator, and moving walkway seems to take an eternity when you realize that you are heading to a place few have been before; a place you have read about and dreamed about going. Today is the day we head off to the Arctic, and all we can think about is how long this bloody flight check-in line is. Though the waiting seems to be without end, our spirits remain high for the expectations of what we are about to experience are already dancing around in our heads. If you wished to join us one must simply take a plane to Oslo, another to Tromsø, and one final plane to Longyearbyen. There you would have found us standing on a tarmac surrounded by Arctic waters, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and an un-setting sun. The air is fresh and crisp and the smiles are the widest they have ever been. It was quite late into the night before we finally settled in, but that did not matter. We made it. We are here. Hello Svalbard.

Landscape in Svalbard around 2:00 am.
Despite a unanimous feeling of exhaustion generated by nearly a full day of travel, we strapped up and headed down into town to UNIS (University Centre in Svalbard) for our first interview with Eva Therese Jenssen, an Information Advisor and researcher at the university. She gave us a very enlightening and enjoyable lecture about the university, its programs and goals, as well as information on Svalbard and the various topics that often receive the most attention in both Longyearbyen and Svalbard. Following a quick tour of UNIS’ beautiful complex we found ourselves enjoying our first of many self-prepared lunches before hurrying off to our next meeting at the office of the Governor of Svalbard.

Group presentation at the Governor's office.
At the Sysselmannen’s (Governor’s) office, we were welcomed by both cultural and environmental advisors who gave a presentation about the history of Longyearbyen, the responsibilities and workings of the Governor’s office as well as a number of interesting facts and ideas about the cultural heritage and environmental history of both Svalbard and Longyearbyen. Without even realizing it, we had spent almost two hours at the office discussing these various topics along with more recent issues and questions such as current environmental practices, foreign interaction with Svalbard, future endeavors of Norway, and the issue of global climate change. The Governor’s office gave us a much needed perspective into the inner workings of Svalbard and we would like to thank them again for all of their efforts and time spent with us.

After a short post-lecture discussion on a hillside overlooking Longyearbyen, we headed back to the Spitsbergen Guesthouse for some greatly needed and appreciated rest and relaxation. With day one of our adventure coming to a close, our band of tired and weary researchers slowly crawled into bed for a goodnight’s sleep.


Rachel Bonet is a senior studying Anthropology, Animal Sciences, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She intends to study Environmental Law. Rachel comes
from Darien, IL.

Matthew Borden is a senior studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concentrating in Human Dimensions of the Environment. Matt hails from Oak
Forest, IL.

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