Ivan Fesenko, Uzbekistan


Ivan Fesenko, a degree student of Tourism, Culture and International Management, has encountered feelings of both belonging and challenge on the icy highways of the north. After a year in Lapland, what remains is a craving for freedom, independence and sautéed reindeer meat with lingonberry jam.

“I knew that the density of the population is low, that it’s isolated and quiet. That’s actually what I really wanted to experience – a part of my character is this thirst for freedom and independence, openness and quietness.”

You’ve brought an object that is dear to you. Could you tell us about it?

Yeah, well, as I said, I’m not really that attached to things. But, I decided to bring this schedule that I made myself. It reminds me about how tough the second half of the year was – the darkest time of the year, January and February. Now, when I look back on those times, I realize that I made it. The experience was really challenging but also rewarding.

If you’d cook something Lappish for your friends back in Uzbekistan, what would it be?

Well, if I could cook well… [laughter] I mean, I really enjoyed this sautéed reindeer meat with lingonberry jam. Traditional Lappish food, but I would love to cook that because it’s really different from anything I’ve tasted before.  

Did you know of any stereotypes about Lapland before you came here?

You know, Lapland is probably as unknown in Uzbekistan as Uzbekistan is here for you guys. But when you hear the word “Lapland”, you imagine snow and cold. I can’t really say I knew of many stereotypes. But, um, I did do some research on the country and the people beforehand. I knew that the density of population is low, that it’s isolated and quiet. That’s actually what I really wanted to experience – a part of my character is this thirst for freedom and independence, openness and quietness.

Did you encounter any major surprises after your arrival?

Okay, well yes, I could say that the Finnish state of mind [surprised me]. They are kind of calm and relaxed. I come from an oriental, southern culture, which involves a lot of emotions, gestures and expressions. I know some people feel embarrassed about the calmness, having to break the silence. It’s not the same for me – I was really positively surprised about being able to be myself, quiet, without anybody staring at me like I was doing something wrong. Actually that’s why I enjoy it here. It suits my character.

Have you acquired any personal skills during your stay in Lapland?

Definitely. When I came here, I kind of found this new, you know, me. [laughter] Revealed a new personality, to some extent. It works like this when you go to a new place, live with people you don’t know. You kind of reflect on yourself, on how you change, how you’re being influenced by new people and a new atmosphere.

Why did you choose Lapland as your destination?

The whole story of how I got here is kind of… unique, I would say. Almost by accident, I read about this Finnish educational system, how things are done, the amazing results.

I had doubts on what to do next, after graduating with my Bachelor’s degree. I entered the website of the University of Lapland (I knew there was a programme in tourism research) and found out that the application deadline was in thirteen days! I just saw this figure there: thirteen days. Then I decided to try my luck. I knew that Rovaniemi was the hometown of Santa – what could be a better tourism destination to actually study in?

When I got accepted, I had no doubts about coming [to Lapland]. I view challenges as something you can learn from. Without challenges, what would life be?

What future plans do you have?

I can say I’ve had doubts concerning my studies: how to proceed, what to write my thesis on, what to do next. But now, approaching my second year, I’ve already gained quite a lot of ideas. Next year, I think I’ll write my thesis on cross-border cooperation in tourism between Finland and Russia. I could use my language skills and practical knowledge in such business-oriented cooperation.

Have you had an adventure you’d like to share with us?

So, uh, I would say I’ve been in a lot of… interesting situations! During the Christmas season I was working for a tourism agency, guiding tourists and driving them around.

One day, I was supposed to drive tourists from the Rovaniemi airport to the Levi ski resort. When I needed to get back to Rovaniemi, it started to snow, quite heavily. I have never experienced such harsh driving conditions in my life! After maybe half an hour there was like 20 centimeters of snow and I had to stop to clean my windshield and wipers.

Once I stopped, I realized I was going to get stuck. It was dark and I was in the middle of nowhere. I put these emergency lights on and some guy stopped to help me. But as he was making a turn, he got stuck as well! I’m not a panicking person, but I did realize it was going to be tough.

Eventually, another guy stopped to help us both. When I got home I was so exhausted. But I did experience something new. Something I’ll remember. I think it was worth it.