Stocking Feet Required for Seminars
Letter from Spitsbergen! Janna Einöder experiences how people grow closer in Longyearbyen when it gets darker.
Nov 19, 2015
After another impressive excursion to Kapp Linné, which is located on Spitsbergen’s west coast and on the south side of the entrance to the Isfjorden fjord (including a visit to a sauna, followed by swimming in the ice-cold ocean), the second half of my semester in Spitsbergen started with the first sunset. Due to the upcoming dark season, our biology class had been moved up in the schedule so that the students would get a chance to see as much of the local flora and fauna as possible, so it had been a bit lonely before. But once the semester officially started, the university increasingly came to life: There were more and more shoes on the racks in the entryway (stocking feet are required everywhere in the university building), the best seats in the library were always taken, and a whole range of societies from A to Z were founded.
From the knitting society to a party group – in principle, any kind of group can register at the university and apply for sponsoring. These societies offer an opportunity to move beyond just the biology environment and get to know other students.
An event called “Friday gathering” is held at the dining hall every Friday to give students a chance to chat with faculty and their fellow students. People from town also attend sometimes. The group sits together in front of the fire, drinking beer at student prices – and those who want to continue partying occasionally move on to the world’s northernmost nightclub, Huset.
Celebrating against the Darkness
Alongside a number of evenings spent cooking together and bonfires, there have already been good parties. My absolute favorite so far was the “kitchen to kitchen party,” when various kitchens at the barracks – where we are staying – competed against each other with certain themes. The party-hungry students were then guided from kitchen to kitchen. From Simba the lion in the jungle kitchen to thunder and lightning in the cloud kitchen, all of the kitchens offered room to really cut loose and celebrate. It was a great idea, and the mood was fantastic!
A Friendly Community in a Small Area
I have started to feel increasingly at home in Longyearbyen. That’s because the town is so small, so after a couple of months, you’ve seen pretty much everyone around at some point. Aside from the ongoing activities at the university, there is also always something going on in town. People are invited to cuddle puppies at the dog sled rental place, celebrate German Oktoberfest, or volunteer at the famous Dark Season Blues festival – a music festival held in late October every year since 2003 to kick off the dark time of the year.
On the whole, I have been pleasantly surprised by how friendly and welcoming the community is. I did not necessarily expect to enjoy living together in such a small space. Students from last semester explained that people in the town grow even closer together during the dark season than in the summer. After the many activities that have been offered so far, I’m excited to see what else awaits me here!