UW Abroad: Exploring the Baltic with NORDPLUS

Lynnee Jacks
Lynnee Jacks

By Lynnee Jacks

This spring, from April 28th to May 14th, a group of 8 UW students had the opportunity to participate in a NORDPLUS trip in the Baltic region, where we joined students from universities in Finland, Lithuania, and Latvia to explore “smart shrinking” strategies for regions experiencing population decline.

Our two-week trip kicked off in Vilnius, Lithuania, where we spent a few days attending introductory lectures (some of which were led by UW advisors Josefina Syssner, Matthias Kokorsch and Arnar Sigurdsson) and going on excursions. We had the chance to explore the city and visit nearby Trakai, a town known for its medieval castle. We walked around the lake enjoying a warm spring day, and had a local specialty called Kibinai for dinner. Some of us even rented paddle boards and ventured out onto the lake.

From Vilnius, we set out on a journey to our case study sites. But first, we made a stop at the Curonian Spit, where we learned a bit about tourism development in the area.

Continuing our exploration, we spent a night at a manor in Lithuania, where we learned about a successful local business catering to tourists interested in the manor's history and the surrounding flower gardens.

The next day we travelled to Daugavpils, Latvia – then off to our smaller group case study sites. The UW student group was split into groups with other university students, and we headed off to Ignalina, Zarasai, Rokiskis, Daugavpils, and Jakovpils. Each town offered a different perspective, with varying population sizes, economies, and geopolitical contexts. As part of our research, we conducted interviews and surveys to gather insights from the local residents. This allowed us to better understand their perspectives and gather ideas for improving the quality of life in these towns. The course was a great opportunity to apply our other coursework and knowledge from the Coastal Regional Development program to an international context.

Our journey finished in Riga, Latvia, where we convened to analyze our data and begin the report writing process. Riga, with its mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, provided a picturesque backdrop for our final days. We presented our findings on the last day of the course, followed by a celebratory dinner in the old town.

In addition to the academic aspects of the trip, we had plenty of opportunities to experience local culture, food, and nature. The contrasts we encountered, from the modern developments to the remnants of Soviet-era architecture, also added a layer of depth to our understanding of the region.

A huge thanks to the partnering universities – the University of Eastern Finland, Vilnius University, University of Latvia, and Linköping University – for organizing this opportunity for international exchange. Next year, NORDPLUS students will come to Iceland, and we as a university look forward to welcoming them and continuing to foster cross-cultural connections in the Nordic + Baltic areas!



Lynnee Jacks moved to the Westfjords in 2021 after living all around the West Cost of the United States. She is currently a student of the Coastal Communities and Regional Development masters' program at UW, graduating in June 2023.