"Dispatches from Europe" Blog Contest

Are you planning on traveleling to the European Union this summer? Submit a post to be featured on our Across the Pond blog and win prizes!

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blogs

The third Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class traveled to the Arctic Circle in summer 2014. Check out their blog entries from this summer!

Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

Landscape Architecture Doctoral candidate Caroline Wisler reflects on her travels to Bulgaria.

Zach Grotovsky's Summer 2013: 14 Cities, 15 Weeks, One Long Adventure

University of Illinois graduate student in Germanic Literatures and Languages Zach Grotovsky documents his travels throughout Eastern Europe in the summer of 2013.

Polar Bears

The Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class spotted polar bears in Norway!

Peaceful Opposition in Izmir

MAEUS student Levi Armlovich describes his experiences with the protests in Izmir, Turkey.

Friday, August 31, 2012


by Sarah Freriks

Hello, Everyone! I’m writing to you from a private balcony off the Pagrati apartment I’ve shared with my two roommates for the last month or so in Athens, Greece.  It’s bright and sunny, the sky that otherworldly early morning blue that promises another day of beautiful weather.  My neighbors are just waking, drawn out onto their balconies for sunshine and the orange trees in our private courtyard.

These weeks have centered around lots of travel.  In the past four weeks, we have traveled from Volos, Meteora, Delphi, Olympia, and several islands including Crete and Thira.  While the travelling seemed endless, we have had ample time to explore Athens and its extraordinary history.

One of the advantages to truly living in a foreign country for an extended period of time is that you are forced to live and interact in a way wholly different than if you were merely another tourist in a hotel.  From realizing that there are switches to turn the oven on and off to the first trip to the market, living abroad allows you to live and experience the lifestyle and cultural differences of the native people.

The people of Greece have been exceedingly friendly, even if most of us have not had enough broken Greek or English to converse fluently.  The market, the street, anywhere, is the perfect place to meet new people.  We have our favorite gyros stands and nearby restaurant, Dionysus, where the owners know and recognize us. In fact, they know and recognize most of their customers.  The people of Greece are very social and connected to one another in a way unlike the States. 

They are conscientious of one another (I wasn’t sure we had neighbors for the first two weeks-they are so quiet) and go out of their way to introduce themselves and strike up conversation.  This results in a wide, diverse social group that they take great pleasure spending time with.  While friends and family are important everywhere, in every culture, the Greeks we have met spend their free time and work time together.  It is very rare to see people listening to iPods or texting on their cellphones.  They are more likely to be chatting over souvlaki and gyros in a café or sharing a lively conversation on the street.  This gives the cities a very warm, neighborhood-like atmosphere, and this hospitality is extended to polite and interested tourists.

This atmosphere of family and friends extends to the way they take care of their city and its treasures. One of the first things that we noticed about the Greek cities that we have visited is how clean they are.  While Athens is relatively small compared to many other cities in the United States, it is spotless.  The people work hard to keep it that way, too, because the city is their home.  Unlike many places where people are generally only willing to accept responsibility for their private dwellings, the Greeks as a community take pride and invest in the common welfare of their communities.

Another key difference from the United States is the intergenerational interaction.  Older (aged 30+) Americans generally only lie on the beach and encourage their children to be still or play by themselves, and people unofficially socially restrict and separate people by age group.  Whereas all ages of Greeks swim, dance, and play together.  This has resulted in, I believe, a stronger sense of community and social identity for all. They learn how to interact appropriately with all members of society, and not just with their parents and their age group.  Older members of society also serve as fully-invested mentors and inspiration for younger, less-experienced members of society.

The benefit of this contact shows in the warmth and caring they show for all members of society, even the not-so-stray dogs and cats that populate the streets.  Daily, I see old and young alike supply food and water to the homeless people and animals.  Not only that, but parents teach their children to show generosity and kindness to all by leading by example. 

In my sociology class, we learned that the stereotypical (though very real) angst that American teenagers experience is not universal.  When younger generations have such limited experience and so little investment in older members of society, how can you become a fully functional, involved member of society if no one shows you how?  It is more than sending children to school-it is the daily emotional, physical, and social engagements that bind people together and share cultural knowledge. I believe that the community culture that Greeks have created for their people has leant itself uniquely to the development of good members of society.  Their belief in the value of both individual and community responsibility allowed them to make history and serve as global inspiration for thousands of years as the cradle of democracy.

This trip has given me unique insight into the history and culture of my own country and the ideals it was founded on.  In so many ways, your history is your identity and, to an extent, Greece and her democracy is my history and inspiration too.

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who were selected to travel to Greece to participate in a four-week Renewable Energy Concepts Study and Cultural Tour, provided by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Tour participants embarked on technical field trips, cultural excursions, and collaborated with students from the Agricultural University of Athens and the University of Thessaly in Volos to solve real-world engineering problems. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a US Department of Education Title VI grant.

Sarah Freriks is a junior studying Agricultural and Biological Engineering with a concentration in Renewable Energy and continued study in foreign languages. She resides in the rural countryside past the far-west suburbs of Chicago.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


by Kevin Banas
When preparing for my study abroad experience here in Greece there were a couple factors that people around me, and the media were making a big deal about. Everyone was saying that the Greek economy is on the verge of catastrophe. They said that the country was heading for a “great depression”, and that riots are occurring all over the place, making it a dangerous and unstable environment to be in. Not to mention, Greeks dislike Americans, and I will be treated badly. However, after spending over a month in Athens, with several side trips to different areas in Northern Greece, including the Peloponnese, and multiple different islands, I can say with confidence that what I have experienced here has led me to believe that these perceptions of Greece have been blown way out of proportion.
First off, regarding the economic situation here in Greece, if there is a “great depression” heading this way, I for sure have not noticed anything to make me believe this. Of course, I have walked through areas with abandoned shops, graffiti covered walls, and less well off areas; however, Greece is, to my knowledge, a second world country. They have had these areas long before the economic crisis began. With that being said, everyday I leave my apartment and walk down the streets, the cafés are always full of people drinking their coffees, smiling and conversing. Furthermore, personally I have noticed many more homeless people living in Chicago than here in Athens. Every time I have gone out to eat dinner the restaurants are always packed with people, tourists and locals. Not to mention the fact that you can still find people going out to the clubs on a Tuesday night, and staying out until 4-5am in the morning. Now if this country was on the brink of disaster, do you really think the environment would be this way? I have made relationships with over 10 different Greek people from across the country, and have not heard them discussing any personal problems with finances, or anything of that nature. So, in my personal opinion, there is an economic problem here in Athens; however, it does not seem any more serious than what I have noticed in America.
Another thing I saw in the news before coming to Greece was descriptions of the riots. Angry protesters throwing flaming cocktails, tear gas, and arrests dominated the news about Greece. However, I have been here for over 4 weeks and not only are the people all in a good mood, there have been no signs of any protesting anywhere. A couple of processions have passed areas around my apartment, though all of them have been religious-related.
Lastly, to answer any questions about Greek-American relations, or ill treatment from any of the locals: if there is any of this going on, I have not experienced it. All of the personal interactions that I have had with people here have been very positive. One thing that I have noticed about the Greeks is a genuine care for others’ happiness and well-being. Whenever we received a lecture from a Greek graduate student or professor, they would always track the students’ expressions. If we are yawning, or seem disinterested, then they would move onto a different area that we seemed more interested in. In general they seemed a lot more interested in teaching us what we wanted to learn, rather than what they wanted to teach. Also, while on our coach bus tour of the ancient sites of Greece, our tour guide would always make sure that everyone was in a good mood. If people seemed tired, she would take a break and give us a couple hours to sleep.

One of the great friends I made while abroad
On an ending note regarding my time here, I have come to one basic conclusion about the Greeks, which is that they are probably the most passionate people I have ever come into contact with. One of the Greeks that I had the pleasure of spending time with here stated it perfectly. He said, “the Greeks are a very passionate people, if they like you, they love you….if they dislike you, they hate you.” Walking down the street in Athens, waiting for the metro, or just sitting at a café, you will always see Greek couples hugging and kissing each other no more than one foot from other people. However, this is normal for people here. All of the Greeks that I have befriended here talk about meeting up again if they are in the US, or getting a drink before I leave. They truly like us, the students, and have our best interests in mind.

All in all, I have thoroughly enjoyed my month here in Greece. I loved every ancient site that I’ve visited, every restaurant that I’ve eaten in, and every person that I’ve had a conversation with. Now that I’m leaving, of course it’s a sad moment, and I’m going to miss it, though I am ready to come back to the US. However, more importantly, it is not that sad of a day because I know that I will come back here sometime soon. It is too rich of a country, culturally and historically, to not return to.

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who were selected to travel to Greece to participate in a four-week Renewable Energy Concepts Study and Cultural Tour, provided by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Tour participants embarked on technical field trips, cultural excursions, and collaborated with students from the Agricultural University of Athens and the University of Thessaly in Volos to solve real-world engineering problems. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a US Department of Education Title VI grant.

Kevin Banas is a senior studying Environmental Economics and Policy. He resides in the Northwest Suburbs near Chicago.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Local Food and Hospitality in Athens and Volos

by Carina Hilber
Sweden, New Zealand, France, and the UK are all places that were visited this summer by University of Illinois students, including some of my closest friends.  I remember talking with others about summer travel plans and seeing their reactions of surprise and awe.  I also remember the many puzzled looks I received when I said that I would be going to Athens, Greece. I learned that I was going to Greece at the same time the media reported riots, political unrest, and an economical crisis in Greece.  Parents, professors, and friends were worried about the trouble I might run into in the capital, as well as possible anti-American sentiments.  The embassy did not give any recommendations against my travels, and so on the 21st of June I set off on the trip of a lifetime.

Upon arrival to Athens I was in shock; coming from a small town I had never experienced a city such as Athens that was so full of life.  Our study abroad professor had visited a few times prior, and whenever we went to a restaurant or to a shop that he had been to before, many people recognized him and greeted him as an old friend.  It was amazing to see the camaraderie that developed from a short visit, maybe once or twice a year.  Eventually our study abroad group ventured out without our professor, which was somewhat difficult given our extremely limited Greek vocabulary.  However, each time we managed to get through with the help of hand signals, some laughs, and lots of smiling.  Sometimes we would even receive a Greek lesson from those we played charades with.  Once, when my roommate and I went to look for bathing suits, we met a store owner who dreamed of coming to America.  She seemed enchanted by the cities and asked us what life in America was like.  Upon leaving, everyone was in smiles, and we wished that she would be able to fulfill her dream someday.

During our study abroad we took a trip to Volos, which was a four-hour drive and included multiple water, food, and bathroom breaks.  During a stop for food, the owner of the restaurant came over to talk to us while we waited for our group. We conversed about where we were from and what we were doing in Greece.  Then, he decided to show us around his restaurant and teach us about the traditional foods and herbs of his region.  He sent us away with food, herbs, and an invitation to return for a special lunch on our way back.  These wonderful experiences made me think that, contradictory to the media’s reports, people are still living life to the fullest, despite current hardships.  Especially in Greece, where the people were excited as ever to share their life stories, wishes, and experiences, in order to befriend a study abroad group from the US.

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who were selected to travel to Greece to participate in a four-week Renewable Energy Concepts Study and Cultural Tour, provided by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Tour participants embarked on technical field trips, cultural excursions, and collaborated with students from the Agricultural University of Athens and the University of Thessaly in Volos to solve real-world engineering problems. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a US Department of Education Title VI grant.

Carina Hilber is majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a minor in Chemistry, and resides in Rantoul, Illinois.


Kalimera from Greece!

by Antonia Nepomuceno


Good morning from Greece! It’s amazing how quickly one can adjust to a new environment, and respond with a “ghia sas”(pronounced ya sas) or “kalimera” instinctively. At the same time, it is not until you put yourself in a new place that you realize some things will never seem normal. Like toilet paper not going in the toilet. Whether or not I have adjusted to some things, staying in Greece for four and a half weeks has been an exciting and worthwhile experience.
Being in the capital, one learns some telltale signs as to whether someone is a native or not. Greeks can wear pants, blouse, and jacket in 95-degree heat without sweating. Everyone has stylish, or faux-stylish, sunglasses. Mentioning your hometown evokes name after name of some distant relative who lives there. Say “Chicago” and the first response is “Chicago Bulls”. Eating dinner before 8pm spotlights you as not Greek. Despite my group’s lack of Greek-ness, we never had a negative encounter. In fact, people tended to be genuinely excited to be talking to someone new, different, and not related to them by some distant cousin. And they will gladly tell you which names and word roots come from what Greek word. If you have a Greek name, then you are already halfway into their family. But the people make only half the experience, when you consider that the birth of Western civilization occurred here.

Seeing things first-hand is like rediscovering everything I ever learned in school. Put those little pictures in the textbook in the middle of a living city and you have the Acropolis standing in the middle of Athens. Taking the tram, we would see the Parthenon at least once a day and barely have a second thought. Well, that is the look I’d go for, pretending to be local. Really, I’d be exploding with the craziness of the situation. Am I really staring at the Parthenon from thousands of years ago while taking the bus to get to a lecture on renewable energy?! That’s like living next to the Grand Canyon, but not even blinking an eye. Greeks live with their past sitting in clear view. In Chicago, it’s out with the old and in with the new. There, we say let’s make the skyline. In Greece, you look at the same skyline that’s been there for a long time.

While being fully immersed in Greek culture, it’s always fun to run into someone from the same place as you and compare notes on what you’ve seen and experienced. We had the pleasure of meeting a couple people from Australia, and hearing what they had to say about Greece versus home was really cool. They had the same perspective as us, the tourist, yet compared it to a totally different standard of “home”. At home, we have air-conditioning. Here, a little siesta to hide from the heat is economical and means you can stay up later and do as the Greeks do.

Although some things I have yet to adjust to, such as their “driving laws” (more like guidelines if you ask me), I have become attached to this place and its culture.

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who were selected to travel to Greece to participate in a four-week Renewable Energy Concepts Study and Cultural Tour, provided by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Tour participants embarked on technical field trips, cultural excursions, and collaborated with students from the Agricultural University of Athens and the University of Thessaly in Volos to solve real-world engineering problems. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a US Department of Education Title VI grant.

Antonia Nepomuceno is studying Bioengineering with a minor in Spanish. She is from the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Merhaba From Turkey!

by Natalie Cartwright
Images of touring infamous European landmarks like the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Alhambra in Granada are usually what people conjure up in their minds when they think of study abroad, but so far, my current experience abroad has been far from such picturesque destinations. Maybe the reason that my experience is playing out differently than the typical experience is because I am actually in Asia and not Europe, but I think a few other things make my experience abroad a stand out one.

Ankara is the city I currently call home and when I explain where I live the words, “with my Turkish family” are always one of the first things I say. Yes, I can gratefully say that a loving and extremely hospitable Turkish family has taken me in for the summer. But, I shouldn’t have had worries because in general Turks are extremely friendly. This means a host mother who doubles as a superb chef, who always makes sure that I have had plenty to eat, and makes me feel special because she greets me and sends me off with the kind word of "canım" ("my life"). But, another quirky dimension exists because they also took in an exchange student from Japan. We may be a house of three different native tongues and cultures, but we are able to live peacefully together with many inside jokes forming on a daily basis.

My mornings are spent taking Turkish language courses at Tömer, an 8-story language school with students from across the globe. Scratch that, the eastern half of the globe. As of yet, I remain the only westerner (American/West European) in my courses and possibly the whole school. The situation really gives meaning to the saying of one common language.

This past month I have adjusted quite nicely to city living and Turkish life. Taking the metro daily was a new experience for me, but one that I feel I have finally mastered. A feeling of great success overcomes you when you no longer are lost in the crowds of commuters. Similar to the feeling of success I had when I found out I passed my June Turkish level exams, or when I blend in enough to be approached for directions – sometimes I am of help, most of the time not so much, since I myself only know certain parts of the city.

My consumption of çay has increased exponentially since my arrival, along with my ability to predict when the next Call to Prayer will sound. I have mastered a keyboard in two languages as well as can now teach someone else the game of Tavla (backgammon). A few hours in the afternoon spent at a café with friends playing the boardgame is not only common but also relaxing. I am no longer fazed when I see three egg shops or pharmacies in a row, but I am still shocked by the cheap cost of bread and the amount of bread that is consumed in this country. Don’t let this lead you to believe that I am not guilty of eating copious amounts though. I’m pretty sure I have a hidden Turkish gene for the ability to consume extraordinary amounts of bread.  Something that is not so cheap – gasoline! At $12 a gallon, you better believe I am happy to be an on-foot and metro commuter.

While most of my time has been spent in Ankara, I did travel to Southeastern Turkey for a weekend, with more travels to see this vast country planned in my coming weeks. Just how American cities have their differences, Turkish cities do too, with each city and region offering their own specialties and customs. While in the Southeast my fellow travelers and I made sure to partake in local cuisine, including a traditional and extravagant Turkish breakfast, and Kurdish culture, by visiting historical buildings including a still active Kurdish coffee house. We also saw the rest of the sites that were suggested by our travel guide: Lonely Planet.

I go into every day not knowing what to expect, but know that at the end of the day I will be grateful that I have been given the opportunity to study Turkish abroad because stuff just has a tendency to click more when you are truly living it. So for the time being, I will continue to blend my American identity into my newfound Turkish life and make the best of it. Stay tuned for more updates from Turkey – this is just the first of 7 months abroad for me!

Natalie Cartwright is a second-year MA student in European Union Studies. She received her Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2011. Her interests include migration flows, environmental sustainability, Italian and Turkish. Natalie has spent the summer studying Turkish language at Ankara University TÖMER and will spend the fall 2012 semester studying at Bogazici University in Istanbul, in both cases with support from EU Center Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Magnificent Sights and Friendly Faces in Greece

by Liyu Lei
The study abroad group in front of the Parthenon
I am Liyu Lei, and I am studying renewable energy concepts in Greece. This has been an awesome program that has given me the opportunity to learn about renewable energy including solar, wind turbine, hydro-power, biomass, and geothermal energy, as well as travel to Greece!

The Greek financial crisis was dominating the news in the couple of months prior to my trip. My family and I worried about safety during my study abroad trip. When we first arrived at Athens, we had to find our way to the University and to some historical sites. Surprisingly, I was never rejected by anyone when I asked for directions. I still remember clearly the experience we had on our way to the Acropolis. Professor Zahos’ friend, George, volunteered his time as our tour guide. We were supposed to meet at the entrance of the Acropolis at eight-thirty. However, we were still struggling with the directions at eight o’clock. While we were looking at the map and trying to identify the streets, we heard a voice belonging to an old man: “Do you need help?”. He not only helped us find the correct route on the map, but he also walked about 15 minutes with us to our destination. Although we were still a bit late, we were so lucky to meet him. After this experience, I felt safe! Even today, I can’t remember how many times I have received assistance: people helped me pick up my wallet when it dropped to the ground, people reminded me to zip up my purse, and people gave me a hand when I got lost. Although I may not remember their faces, I will remember their smiles, so pure and sincere.

Despite the financial crisis that has afflicted Greece’s economy since 2010, Greeks love living their life. Compared to the United States, their living style is quite relaxed. They regularly go to work from nine in the morning to nine at night. During the summer, some stores are required by law to close from two-thirty to five-thirty due to hot weather. They call this period “quiet hour”, during which no noise is allowed inside resident buildings.  Many stores are closed on Sundays for church and family activities.

Greeks are famous for their liveliness. Although Greek women follow the tradition of cooking for their household nearly every day, they also like to spend time eating, drinking, and dancing at night with their friends. Whenever you walk down the street at night, you see many Greek adults chatting at the bar or restaurant, sharing their daytime experiences with one another.

Hydra Island
Today, Greece still maintains their tradition of folk dancing, which attracts audiences from all over the world. Dance often plays an important role in the life of a Greek. Through it, they express their feelings about everyday life. They dance during religious festivals and ceremonies, and one can find folk dance performances in Athens easily. I saw a wedding party in Delphi, where the bride and groom danced traditional Greek dances that were combined with modern dance as entertainment for the audience. It seems to me that Greeks have adapted modern dances in order to add diversity to their traditional dances.   

Odeum of Herodes Atticus
Greece is famous for its historical sites and very blue seas. The Acropolis is the one historical site that we cannot wait to visit. Thanks to George, we learned about the mythology and history of the temples, such as the Parthenon, Athena Polias, Propylaea, and Erechtheum. In order to better understand Greek culture and history, we took a four-day classic tour. We went to Epidaurus, Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi, and Meteora. Although they are ruins today, I could see their past glory from the magnificent architecture. There are numerous beautiful islands in Greece. The sea water is bluer and calmer than you can imagine. You should not miss it!

This article is one in a series of blog entries written by University of Illinois students who were selected to travel to Greece to participate in a four-week Renewable Energy Concepts Study and Cultural Tour, provided by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). Tour participants embarked on technical field trips, cultural excursions, and collaborated with students from the Agricultural University of Athens and the University of Thessaly in Volos to solve real-world engineering problems. This program is partially supported by the European Union Center through a US Department of Education Title VI grant.

Liyu Lei is a junior studying Food Science and Human Nutrition. She chose her concentration in Human Nutrition because she is interested in understanding the relationship between food consumption and human development and health. She currently lives in Chicago.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mine 2B, Airships, and Twenty Years of Tourism

By Alexandra Wright and Jane Rivas
Today we started bright and early.  It was our intention to scale the cliff face directly behind our guesthouses with the goal of exploring the remains of Mine 2B.  Of all the mines present in the mountains of Longyearbyen, Mine 2B is the most complete.  It was created in 1937 after its adjoining mine, 2A, became too long, so an alternative, and more practical, entrance was created: 2B.  The mine used the long wall technique, where long tunnels were used in the mine with side aisles.  The coal was extracted via coal cutters and floor scrapers that helped to move the rocks to the entrance of the mine where they could be processed.  In 1943, with the continuation of the World War II, German warships visited Longyearbyen and set fire to its mines.  It was not until 1947 that work was restarted in the 2B system.  It continued to be in use until 1960 when the coal seam ended and Store Norske started work on Mine 5.
Like many of our other hikes, the one up to 2B proved to be a rewarding challenge! Being able to maneuver around within the old mine, its adjoining buildings, and the surrounding landscape provided us with a valuable new perspective on the mining industry present in Spitsbergen.  The steep terrain, cold climate, and relative isolation faced on the side of the mountain represented only a fraction of the difficulties faced by those that chose to make their home here.  Having seen this mine, it also gives a greater historical significance and understanding to the role that coal mining companies, like Store Norske, have and continue to play within these Arctic environments.
After safely making it back down the mountain, we continued to examine the built environment within Longyearbyen city while grabbing lunch at the local café, Fruene.  Our next stop was the newly opened Spitsbergen Airship Museum.  A private owner, with the sole purpose of bringing these artifacts back to their rightful home, compiled the entire collection and covered the ceiling and walls with aluminum to give the exhibition a modern Arctic feel. The museum deals with three of the dramatic aerial expeditions to reach the North Pole that originated in Svalbard. Our day concluded with a relaxed interview of Andreas Umbreit, a local tourist company owner.  It was nice to discuss over hot chocolate the changing character of Arctic Tourism as a means of better understanding the evolution that has occurred in this location. 

Alexandra Wright is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Human Dimensions. She is from Chicago, IL

Jane Rivas is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She is currently studying in the pre-medical field and pursuing a duel degree in Chemistry and the History of Art.  Jane is studying in Stockholm, Sweden with the Arctic Summer Program.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Svalbard Museum

by Georgy Petukhov and Noel Piatek

Today the group was pretty exhausted from the extensive reindeer hike the day before. We started a little later so that everyone could catch up on some sleep. During the day we split off into our project groups and were able to walk around town to observe the built environment and to get some interviews from local townspeople and tourists coming in on a cruise ship. We were able to find a plethora of helpful information to write about in our final paper about the changing Arctic. During that free time in the afternoon many people sent postcards back home to friends or relatives. Later we recombined as a large group and headed over to the Svalbard Museum, which is connected to the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). 

UNIS is a research university focusing on arctic biology, arctic geology, arctic geophysics, and arctic technology. UNIS does not give out degrees but is seen as a supplement to Masters and PhD work. The museum was not big but it tried to cover most of the topics related to Svalbard and Longyearbyen in particular. In the center there was a stuffed polar bear along with other animals displayed. The museum walls were replete with descriptions of various topics such as animal life, Pomors, whaling, mining and geology. Pomors were the Russian whalers that were said to arrive in the 15th century by the Russians. In the Svalbard museum, however, they were said to arrive in the 17th century. This is interesting to note because both Russia and Norway are trying to establish their historical presence which is why these dates may not coincide. They were very interesting but we didn’t have time to read everything so some had to take pictures of these posters in order to read them later. The museum also contained a variety of books in reference to the Arctic, and lo and behold on the shelves was a text written by our very own Dag Avango, Sveagruvan (Svea Mine), which is pictured. There, at the museum souvenir shop, Georgy Petukhov carelessly forgot his precious yellow notebook with all his notes. He had to run back from the local supermarket to the museum that was to be closed in a minute. Fortunately for him our professor Dag Avango noticed the abandoned notebook on a book shelf and picked it up. 

After a short group discussion on an arctic meadow near the museum doors most of the students headed back to the guesthouses. Georgy on the other hand decided to go to the only city church, named Svalbard Church, which turned out to be a very cozy place. He could not resist the temptation to stay there for several hours to read a newspaper before going back to the guesthouses himself. Such were the events of July 15, 2012. 

Georgy Petukhov is a sophomore studying Computer Science Engineering and minoring in Chinese. He is from Moscow, Russia. 

Noel Piatek is a senior studying Integrative Biology with a concentration on Conservation and Ecology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is from Homer Glen, Illinois.