People who freeze are either lazy or stupid
[2012-05-07] Jürgen Leonbacher, a German exchange student at Umeå University, is currently taking a course in Abisko, a small town in northern Sweden with only 85 inhabitants, 195 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. However, he is neither bored nor freezing.
Snow, ice and cold don’t affect Jürgen Leonbacher anymore. He became used to the temperatures being constantly below zero rather quickly, even though it is already spring at home in Germany. "Cold is easier to bear than heat. You can always do something about it, be active and dress accordingly," says Jürgen. In Abisko, the temperature can drop below minus 30 degrees on a cold winter night, and the snow seldom melts before May. But Jürgen follows an old saying by the Sami, the Arctic indigenous people: "The Sami people say: ‘People who freeze are either lazy or stupid'. If you think about it, that makes sense."
Jürgen, who studies a master’s programme in Geoecology in Bayreuth, Germany, spends the spring semester 2012 at Umeå University. From early April to early June, he is taking a course in Arctic Geoecology at the Abisko Scientific Research Station. Together with 13 other participants from all across Europe, Jürgen will study how global environmental changes impact arctic and subarctic ecosystems: "We hear lectures on the Arctic environment and pursue our own research projects. That includes a lot of field work, for example to collect samples. We also do a lot of trips to discover the area,” he says.
The unique study environment was Jürgen’s greatest motivation to participate in the course: "The chance to live in a polar research station is rare, and the environment here is one of a kind," he explains. The region is sparsely populated, only an average of 2.5 people per square kilometre live in the northernmost part of Sweden. The range of cultural and leisure activities in Abisko is lean, and there is only one pub in the small town.
What may sound boring has proven to be a great choice for Jürgen: "At first I thought it could get very boring and lonely here. But it’s the opposite, true to the motto ‘Abisko is what you make it’." In addition to trying numerous winter sport activities, the athletic student has found ideal conditions in Abisko for his favourite hobby: bouldering, a style of rock climbing without a rope: "My best experience here so far has been the discovery of the bouldering area. There is so much potential for fine lines, and a beautiful landscape."
As unusual as Jürgen’s semester abroad may be, he stills gets a taste of the cliché of studying in Sweden: "Discovering a moose in your yard is nothing special in Abisko. So if you would like to see one in the wild and not on an elk farm, this is your place to be."
Photo: Peter Kneen
Editor: Christina Hülsmann
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