Posted on January 7, 2009 by Tia Lalani

Most North Americans dread ice, snow and bitter cold, but for students at the University of Alberta, they are a source of joy.

Most North Americans dread ice, snow and bitter cold, but for students at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, they are a source of joy.

A one-of-a-kind course taught by the university’s Augustana Campus takes students out of the classroom and well out of their comfort zone into the pitiless Canadian Arctic, where they discover and celebrate life lessons in the snow.

Professors teaching the course outline the benefits of this intensive back-to-the-land experience in a paper to be published in a spring 2009 edition of the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education. The next trip is set for 2010. The campus also offers a summer canoe trip to the Arctic in 2009.

“The course is designed to put students back in touch with nature and the landscape that provides primary elements that sustain our lives, like food and water, and also to reflect spiritually on what the North means,” said Morten Asfeldt, a professor of physical education at Augustana Campus. A veteran of life in the North, Asfeldt and fellow professor Ingrid Urberg, a teacher of polar literature, developed the course four years ago to create a real-life experience for students that challenges the stereotypical adventure of fur-trimmed parkas and dogsled travel.

The odyssey includes loading a bush plane with snowshoes, food and other supplies, then flying to a remote corner of the Northwest Territories, where the students homestead, take part in traditional customs and get to know cornerstone residents, like the last wolf hunter in the region.

During their two-week stay, the students haul water, chop wood to heat their cabin, ice fish, hunt ptarmigan, flesh caribou hides and along the way learn about Northern pioneers who came before, and often died in the process. The students journal their experiences and take in daily seminars as part of their on-the-go learning.

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