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USC students examine ecology in the Arctic

Seventeen undergraduates travel to Iceland, Norway and Finland to study climate change as part of a Problems Without Passports course

A student hikes in the forest of Tromsø, Norway. (Photo/Lars Tiede)

Perched 420 meters above sea level, USC undergraduate Kathryn Kelly surveyed a stunning landscape of fjords, islands and white-capped mountains.

Spread at her feet on a beautiful evening in June lay one of the world’s most northerly communities, the Norwegian city of Tromsø — dubbed the “capital of the Arctic.” And although it was late — after 11 p.m. — Kelly could see everything in perfect detail because the midnight sun was shining.

In her post-course reflection, she wrote, “I could shout at the top of my lungs and not penetrate the Arctic silence. Only at this precise moment did I fully comprehend the urgency and importance of the need to preserve this region of untainted beauty.”

Kelly, a sophomore majoring in international relations and English, was one of 17 USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences undergraduates who traveled to Norway, Iceland and Finland from May 27 to June 4 as part of the Problems Without Passports course “Ecological Security and Global Politics.”

Led by Steven Lamy, professor of international relations and vice dean for academic programs, the course furthered students’ understanding of the implications of climate change in the Arctic through hands-on experiences and meetings with experts.

“There are more than 4 million people living in the Arctic region for whom climate change creates domestic issues,” Lamy said. “For the rest of the world, the Arctic represents a region suffering from environmental degradation caused by our consumer economy. As the region warms, it may suffer more from pollution, unsustainable economic growth and conflicts over resources and control of critical territory.”

A complex but cohesive view

Austin Reagan, a senior majoring in environmental studies, said meetings with experts on the region during the course had enhanced his curiosity and served to magnify the importance of the Arctic in his understanding of world affairs.

“Professors, diplomats, researchers, activists and everyday citizens helped us to piece together a [complex] but cohesive look at the Arctic,” he wrote in his reflection. “Further inquiry on our own initiative allowed us to conduct individual research …. Visits to cities both large and remote reinforced a full perspective, skewed toward neither the urban nor the rural.”

Reykjavik,the Icelandic capital

Undergraduates experience the midnight sun in Reykjavik,the Icelandic capital. (Photo/Hanna Jolkovsky)

Reagan now understood that, just as the Arctic links interests of governments near and far, the complexity of the region requires the coming together of many fields and disciplines to mold an accurate impression.

“What we’re seeing play out in the Arctic today is just the tip of the iceberg. I realize now that any consideration of our common future, whether we intend to define it as sustainable or secure or profitable or livable, must place Arctic issues at the center.”

‘A truly privileged space’

Isabella Soehn, a junior majoring in international relations and mathematics/economics, revealed she knew very little of the issues involved before taking the course.

“Now I occupy a truly privileged space,” she wrote. “Through interviews with [a diverse range] of people concerned with the Arctic region … this trip has given me a breadth in perspective I don’t think can be [absorbed] from a book.”

Students agreed the course reinforced their belief in the importance of visiting and experiencing other cultures to gain a better understanding of a people and their history.

“I don’t believe there is a more valuable way to engage students to apply what they learn in class or provide them with a way to gain confidence in their own voice,” Kelly wrote. “I leave this program knowing that I am better equipped to ask questions that matter and with a newfound confidence to share my voice with the world.”

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USC students examine ecology in the Arctic

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