We remember being surprised and confused to learn that Greenland was covered with ice and Iceland was not.

Ethically responsible research isn’t just about taking samples and collecting data about the melting of the ice in southern Greenland – it’s also about reciprocity, relationship-building and giving back to the Greenlanders who shared their stories, spaces and time with researchers. David Goldman/Associated Press, File

In June, some fellow students and I traveled to southern Greenland via Iceland as part of the Maine-Greenland Collaboration – an interdisciplinary research team from the University of Southern Maine. We learned that southern Greenland is, in fact, very green in summer, despite the proximity of the looming ice cap and myriad icebergs floating in the fjords. As a part of the USM team, we also participated in ethically responsible research and gained valuable professional experience for future work in our respective fields.

The Maine-Greenland Collaboration is an interdisciplinary project exploring cultural, environmental and socioeconomic changes and challenges facing coastal communities in Maine and Greenland. Our research team includes five faculty members and five student researchers from the School of Social Work, the Muskie School of Public Service and the departments of leadership studies and of art and includes the disciplines of social work, policy, planning and management, leadership studies, geography, art and anthropology.

Previous research on the project involved work on Long Island in Casco Bay. To be honest, we would have been happy fetching coffee and taking notes in exchange for an all-expenses paid trip to Greenland, but despite being student research assistants, we were equal partners on the research team. Alongside faculty, we conducted interviews with a diverse group of Greenlanders about life in southern Greenland, climate change, Greenland’s relationship with Denmark, sheep farming and their experience with researchers in Greenland. Faculty and students ate together, stayed together in the same hostels and worked together without hierarchical boundaries. We truly learned from each other as we learned from our Greenlandic guides and hosts.

On the advancing edge of climate change, Greenland is getting even greener, as ice melts away, and has been flooded with researchers in recent years. However, there is often a disconnect between visiting researchers and local residents. While there is much to learn from our Arctic neighbors, ethically responsible research isn’t just about taking samples and collecting data – it benefits participants and local communities who are affected by the research.

The Maine-Greenland Collaboration prioritizes reciprocity, relationship-building and giving back to the Greenlanders who shared their stories, spaces and time with us. We stayed in their hostels, shared previously collected vegetation trend data with them, supported their museums, took their family portraits and even hosted a collage workshop, with supplies provided, for them to tell their stories of life in Greenland. We plan to share data collected on this trip and any future articles or publications with our research participants.

Part of our research focuses on storytelling and the importance of elevating voices often overlooked. Yes, we heard stories about warming and melting ice, but we also heard stories about drought, about strong wind storms, about extreme weather and how sheep farmers are at the mercy of these changing conditions. We heard about fjords that never freeze over in the winter anymore, but we also heard about the benefits of a longer growing season and the potential for Greenlanders to grow more of their own food and rely less on costly imports. We heard descriptions of people’s experiences that were unique to Greenland as well as some that were more widely recognizable, such as all-too-familiar prejudices and the legacy of colonialism.

The trip to Greenland was a life-changing experience for us as student research assistants. We’re grateful to the USM faculty who created the Maine-Greenland Collaboration and organized the trip, for funding from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, which made the project and the trip possible, and especially to the Greenlanders who shared their awe-inspiring landscape, their homes, meals and their stories with us.

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