Travelling across the globe on a Fulbright Program

Lindy Labriola skiing in Valdres
​Lindy Labriola (23) has been a Fulbright Fellow at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Nord University for almost a year. What made an American want to come to Norway?

Lindy Labriola is from Garrison, New York, which is about one hour north of New York City. She has an undergraduate degree in Geology and English from Amherst College, a small, liberal arts school in Massachusetts. Early in her penultimate year at Amherst, the Office of Fellowships approached her and other students in regard to applying for fellowships, and it wasn’t hard to convince her. As Lindy says:
– I had always considered applying for a Fulbright fellowship ever since I was a Freshman and saw my Senior friends applying for and winning these amazing opportunities.

The Fulbright Program is an American scholarship program geared towards international educational exchange for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists.

Lindy began the Fulbright application process in 2016. When she was a Junior (third year of college), she started specifying what she wanted to study within geology, and it ended up being climatology. Her work is now more qualitative and social-science oriented but maintains a firm root in the biogeochemical components of climate science.

– Before applying [for a Fulbright], you need to have a plan upfront; have an institution you’re already affiliated with, get connected with people within your field of study, and present a clear project proposal. Both the U.S. and the country you are going to need to know that you have a plan and things to work on, she explains.

Klikk her for å endre bildet
Lindy always knew she wanted to apply for a Fulbright fellowship. Photo: Takudzwa Tapfuma

Lindy initially reached out to the University of Oslo to pursue the social aspects of climate change. When those prospects dipped, her request for an advisor was forwarded to scientists at the Centre for International Climate Research – Oslo (CICERO). From there, her preliminary proposal found itself in the inbox of Professor Grete K. Hovelsrud, a researcher and professor at CICERO, Nordland Research Institute, and Nord University. Professor Hovelsrud’s work focuses on societal impacts and local perceptions of climate change, a perfect complement to Lindy’s interests. Together, they shaped and perfected the proposal for Lindy’s application. After almost a year of waiting, she was granted the Fulbright and arrived in Bodø in August, 2017.

Deciding to go to Norway

Lindy gets very excited when explaining why Norway was the obvious destination:

– Norway has amazing access to the Arctic Circle where so many of the climate changes are happening so quickly. It’s also interesting to see how the Sami population is dealing with climate changes in parallel with Native Americans, even though they live in drastically different climates.

At Amherst College, Lindy wrote her English thesis on indigenous literature, specifically Native American literature, in which she focused on land rights, attachment to place, and cultural preservation, in addition to climatological perceptions.

– There are a range of reasons why I chose to come to Norway; the Arctic Circle, the Polar Night, the northern lights, which I had never seen before coming here. It has also been a great experience living alone in another country. I never could have imagined how it would feel to live in a place that is so familiar and yet dramatically foreign at the same time. Of course, to make things easier, I have felt very welcome – people are so friendly! And it’s been fun living in the windiest city in Norway.

Working on several projects

Lindy has been involved in several ongoing projects:

– One of the projects I’ve been involved with is called ‘Acid Coast.’ Grete and I, along with two other scientists from Western Norway Research Institute and the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, travelled to Lofoten in September, 2017, to meet with people from the fishing industry. There, we explained how pH, or -acidity, levels of the water in the ocean will become more predictive of fish populations than the models that they use now, which are based on temperature. It was kind of a social experiment to go there and gauge the popular interest was in how the oceans are changing, how the fjords are going to be affected by that change, and how the fishing industry will be affected and have to play catch-up, if they don’t adapt.

– Another project I worked on, Climate Change Effects on the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases and the Impacts on Northern Societies, or CLINF, focuses on climate-sensitive diseases and infections. The project looks, in part, at whether climate change will have an effect on Sami reindeer herders, sheep farmers and the animal husbandry industry. We ask whether certain diseases, like Lyme Disease and Babesiosis will migrate further North into herding territory as ticks and other disease vectors survive warmer winters. If so, we have to ask whether other animals and humans might be at risk, as well. And, beyond health concerns, we have to consider how traditional livelihoods will be affected.

Grete Hovelsrud looking at a map in Kjerringøy
Professor Grete Hovelsrud on Kjerringøy where we went to visit a sheep farmer. Photo: Lindy Labriola

– What have you learned from being involved in these projects?

– It’s been challenging familiarize myself with certain social science terms and to understand the rich intellectual and scientific history behind terms such as adaptation, mitigation and transformation. I’m used to dealing with physical models, temperature predictions, urban heatwaves and their impacts on health, but now I’ve started to think more theoretically about climate change, as well.

When Lindy’s stay in Bodø ends, she will hand in an end report to the Fulbright office. This is a qualitative assessment of what she has been working on.

– The Fulbright program does not require you to hand in a finished product, just the report explaining what you have been doing. The overall theme of the fellowship is cultural exchange, being an ambassador for your country, engaging with people and understanding different points of view, she tells me.

– What are your plans when you get back to the States?

– I’ll probably apply for graduate programs that focus on environmental sociology rather than engineering or the geo sciences, especially after all I’ve learned here. My stay in Bodø has definitely shaped my academic point of view. But first, my family is coming all the way to Norway to help me pack, and I’m looking forward to showing them around!

Top photo: Lindy skiing in Valdres. Photo: Grete Hovelsrud