• Alexandre at the island of Stjernøya, central part of his research. 

  • "After only 2 months in Tromsø, I felt at home.”

  • "Norway is a fantastic playground for running, skiing and mountain biking."

  • "I could easily mix research and outdoor activities."

  • Photo from Kvaløya. 

Norway is a fantastic playground

 Alexandre Zeitler from France could have been working in the heart of Europe. Instead he recently set foot on the arctic island central in his research project on indigenous people, thanks to a mobility grant.

Here are his own words on his Norwegian experience - and how he ended up studying the indigenous people of the Arctic. 

'Seeing the island of Stjernøya for the first time was a moment I will never forget. The sun was setting behind the snow-capped peaks as the fog rolled in from the Arctic Ocean. Deep turquoise blue waves from the large were crashing in cadence against the surrounding cliffs turned pink with the reflection of the sun. The temperature dropped and it began to snow. I could finally set my eyes on an island that I had been researching for four years.'

Alexandre could travel to this island thanks to a grant available to students studying Norwegian language, literature or culture. Read more about the mobility grant here.

Intrigued by the Arctic

'In addition to being intrigued by the sámi people, my passion for what Norwegians call “friluftsliv” (outdoor life) also played a major role in choosing a Norwegian topic for my research. More than any other Nordic country, Norway is a fantastic playground for running, hiking, skiing, or mountain biking. Combined with a world-class academic system, the Norwegian outdoors provide, in my eyes, the perfect work/life balance.

I have always been curious to see what lay behind the horizon. In my eyes, borders and frontiers weren’t obstacles but synonyms of opportunities and freedom. This was one of the reasons I studied and graduated with a master’s degree in International and European law. I could have served in the European institutions based in Luxembourg or Brussels, but fate decided otherwise.

Right after my graduation, I travelled to Norway and fell in love with the deep blue fjords of Vestlandet, the rugged coastline of Lofoten, and the wild immensity of Finnmark. During my stay, I also met the sámi people (editor: sámi people are the indigenous people of the region of Sápmi, which includes northern parts of Norway). The Arctic region of Norway intrigued me so much that I started a second diploma, in Scandinavian studies this time. In the process, I learned Norwegian and wrote both my bachelor's and my master’s thesis on sámi subjects.'

Are you from Europe and interested in doing a Master’s in Norway? Here you find an overview of degrees taught in English at Norwegian universities and university colleges.


Covid-19 affected the plans

'In 2019 I began a PhD project in sámi studies - at the University of Strasbourg. My project aims to analyse the construction of narrative identities around the right to land on the island of Stjernøya, located 40km north of the municipality of Alta in the north of Norway. In 2020, I planned to travel to Tromsø to gather more data. However, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. At that time, little did I know that I would have to patiently wait a year and a half before making it to Tromsø and Norway.'

This was the period when Alexandre decided to apply for the mobility grant. You can read more about the grant here. 

'Looking back, I’m very grateful for Norway’s digitalisation policy: Having access to research data online was invaluably precious to progress while in lockdown. When the borders finally reopened in July 2021, I rushed the preparation to travel as soon as possible – fearing borders could close again.'


I felt at home

'Thanks to the mobility grant financing my 2-months stay, I had the opportunity to stay longer than I originally planned. I visited the archives in Tromsø and Kautokeino, the university library in Tromsø and Alta, and the National Library in Oslo. I spend time on and around Stjernøya, visited Gáldu (Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) in Kautokeino and the Sámi museum in Alta. In Tromsø, I was warmly welcomed by everyone I met and wherever I went, everybody made sure I got the best experience of the arctic during my stay. It's perhaps strange to say, but after only 2 months, I felt at home.'

Are you curious about studying in Tromsø? Read more about UiT -The Arctic University of Norway here.

Everyday life is easier in Norway

'Even though the French and the Norwegian academic systems are very similar – both follow the pattern of the Bologna Process, there are a few key differences, sometimes in favour of the French system, other for the Norwegian system. When it comes to knowledge accessibility, the French system is in my eyes more efficient. Archives and libraries are more organised and easier to use on a day-to-day basis.

However, the academic system and everyday life, in general, is easier in Norway: less hierarchy, less bureaucracy, less peer pressure, less stress, less defiance. In France, it would be inconceivable to study in socks, drinking a cup of coffee in the library. It would be inconceivable to have an informal conversation with Professors you met a few seconds before or grant an unknown student full access to the microfilm archives.'

Are you doing a PhD and would like to go on exchange? Remember that you could be eligible for a mobility grant through the Erasmus+-programme. Click here for more information on Erasmus+ and PhD. 

Precious insight

'Staying longer allowed me to broaden my approach to material I completely ignored beforehand. The mobility grant also allowed me to set foot on the island of Stjernøya and explore the region around the island. Not only was it one of the wildest adventures I had the chance to experience in my life, but it also gave me a precious insight into the climate and geography of the region. I learned so much during the days spent there. My conception of the island completely changed.

I had the chance to mix research and outdoor activities due to the nature of my project. Taking pictures and meeting reindeers was also part of my research!'


Future above the Arctic circle?

'My stay at the University of Tromsø inspired me to organise a symposium on sámi studies that will happen in 2022/23 at the University of Strasbourg. My goal is to raise awareness and share knowledge over the political, cultural, and linguistic rights of the sámi people.

In a near future, I hope to finish and defend my PhD and qualify to teach and research as an assistant professor in Nordic studies in France. However, my extended stay in Norway showed that I could get used to life 400km north of the Arctic circle. I sincerely hope future career opportunities will open for me in northern Norway.'

Text and photos by Alexandre Zeitler

04 January 2022