Centre College students had the opportunity to explore Finland during CentreTerm 2020 in a course taught by Robert Schalkoff, director of the Lincoln Scholars Program, titled “Rovaniemi, Finland: Destination Arctic Circle.” The course explored the question: How does Rovaniemi, a small city on the cusp of the Arctic Circle razed by the retreating German army at the end of World War II, rebuild and reimagine itself into becoming a tourist destination for well over 500,000 visitors annually, most of whom visit during the bleakest winter months of the year?
Students spent time in the cities of Helsinki and Rovaniemi and the village of Inari, but they were primarily in Rovaniemi City, the capital of Lapland.
“Doing a CentreTerm course in Finland, and in Rovaniemi in particular, has been at the back of my mind since arriving at Centre nearly four years ago,” Schalkoff said.
About two years ago, Schalkoff said he had a casual conversation with Jim Morrison, H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Classics, that got him thinking more concretely about the idea. The result of that conversation was this course.
“My expertise is more in Asia and Japan, in particular,” Schalkoff added. “However, I have an interesting connection to Finland and Rovaniemi, which began in Japan. In the last few years of my tenure as a faculty member at Yamaguchi Prefectural University, Centre’s oldest partner institution in Japan, I served as director of international programs and was lead faculty member on a large national grant to internationalize the university. I visited Rovaniemi City five times and collaborated in seven design-related projects with members of the faculty and senior staff at the University of Lapland. I also spearheaded the drive for bilateral relations between Rovaniemi City and Yamaguchi City at the city, academic and commercial levels, leading to establishment of a sister-city agreement between Rovaniemi City and Yamaguchi City in 2016.
“I worked extensively with current members of the Rovaniemi City government and Lapland Chamber of Commerce, as well as senior staff and faculty at the University of Lapland and stakeholders in Santa Claus Village,” he continued. “I led two high level delegations to the University of Lapland and Rovaniemi City from Yamaguchi City, Yamaguchi Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Yamaguchi Prefectural University. These visits and my interactions with my Finnish colleagues left a large impression on me, and I developed a great respect for their nation, its history, people and culture.”
Throughout the course, Schalkoff wanted his students to develop a basic understanding of modern Finnish history, the Sami people, Finland’s relationship with the international community through trade, culture, design and war, and current issues in the Arctic.
Students had the opportunity to hear firsthand from survivors of the Nazi revenge on Rovaniemi City, indigenous people of Lapland, city officials, design professionals and scholars, Arctic scholars and leaders in the tourist industry.
“Rovaniemi City offers students the perfect place to consider the rebuilding of a modern city and learn the stories of its resilient Finnish and indigenous Sami populations,” Schalkoff said. “It is also the ultimate winter experience. From the Northern Lights to ice hotels, reindeer and snowmobile safaris to ice swimming and saunas, Sami arts and culture to Santa Claus Village, students have ‘leaned way into’ winter in a truly unique environment. Visits to the University of Lapland, Arktikum Museum, Arctic Center, Rovaniemi City Hall and other sites, as well as an overnight trip to Inari Village, home of the Inari Sami people and 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, helped students understand how a city and region almost too remote to visit becomes a tourist destination for well over 100,000-plus international visitors monthly in the bleakest time of the year.”
During the trip, students also visited Helsinki, where they gained an understanding of Finnish design, its functionality, sensibility and focus on sustainability and timeless designs, through visits to museums and commercial sites, as well as in discussions with Marimekko designers and representatives of Fiskars, Finland’s oldest company. Students explored cultural heritage sites within the city and its unique architecture and cuisine, as well as its trendy coffee houses and cafes.
Shalkoff believes study abroad opportunities, like this one, get students “out” of themselves, their habits and comfort zones. These experiences force them to entertain another way of looking at the world, which in turn broadens perspectives and empathy and understanding of others.
“The opportunity to do a deep-dive into another culture in a short but intense period of time and to really engage with it academically, as well as personally, is something at which Centre excels,” he added. “That students get to do these things with educators who are not only experts in their disciplines but also experts in the fields or countries and cultures where the courses take place is unique in and of itself, and the courses don’t necessarily end in January. Following their return to campus, students engage with those professors and their fellow students who took the course back on campus, and this creates an energy and international spirit that I think makes Centre, ‘Centre.’”
by Kerry Steinhofer
February 26, 2020
Header photo: Students in Finland experience the Northern Lights during CentreTerm 2020. Photo taken by Eric Maloney ’20.