Next Sunday, approximately 75 high school students will meet in Ottawa to begin what can only be described as the experience of a lifetime. They will participate in the Students on Ice 2013 Arctic Expedition.
The students, who come from a diversity of countries, social and cultural backgrounds, will travel to Greenland. They’ll join a ship and then travel up the west coast of Greenland, across Baffin Bay, into Lancaster Sound, the northeast entrance to the Northwest Passage, and eventually disembark at Resolute in Nunavut.
Along the way they will be educated in the Arctic classroom by a diversity of educators comprised of oceanographers, glaciologists, geologists, climate change scientists, marine mammal biologists, industry executives, journalists, Inuit elders and senior government bureaucrats.
They will stand on glaciers; they will get up close with polar bears, walruses, whales, birds and other Arctic animals; they will zodiac through magnificent fjords, probably see icebergs calve, will get wet and cold as they hike through bitterly cold Arctic streams; they will sail and walk in an area that few outside of Inuit and explorers have ever seen, and at least half of them, along with a third of the education staff, will get terribly seasick at least once.
Students on Ice (SOI) is an educational expedition dedicated to taking high school students to the two polar regions, the Arctic and Antarctic.
As part of the education program, students gain an up-close and personal experience with the Arctic environment, its flora and fauna and its people.
For those lucky enough to go, they will hang out with some of the world’s most knowledgeable experts. They will have presentations on the integral part Arctic ice plays in keeping our world’s temperature regulated.
And they will see the undeniable impact of the changing environmental conditions on the Arctic landscape.
This year, as in the past three years, there will be six to eight students from Newfoundland and Labrador. They will join students from Norway, Greenland, the Principality of Monaco, the U.S.A., probably Korea, China, India; in all, about 15 nationalities will be represented on board.
Some will come from very affluent families. Some will come from not so well-to-do centre city homes. There will be Inuit kids from Northern Canada, black kids from the southern states, and white kids from New York. They will almost all feel some sense of intimidation and trepidation in the early days, but will almost all cry, as teenagers do, when they prepare to leave after two weeks.
The strangers of July 14 will be close friends by the 28th and, through the connectivity of the Internet, many of them will keep in contact half a world apart, long after the trip ends.
While the expedition is about educating students on the Arctic environment, it probably teaches them as much about themselves and others. For many there is an increased self-awareness.
I have been associated with SOI as a volunteer fundraiser and expedition staff member for over three years. I have been on two Arctic expeditions and one to Antarctica.
For more than 80 per cent of the students, their participation is only possible through sponsorships from private and public sources. For the last 3 1/2 years I have bugged many in the province for sponsorship funds.
The Newfoundland and Labrador students who have gone and are going this year do so in large part due to the generosity and vision of many in the public and private sector.
Thanks to a number of departments of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Ches Penney and Martin Sullivan at OCI, Peter Woodward at the Woodward Group, Gus Ollerhead and crew at Provincial Airlines, Phillip Earle at Air Labrador, and Colin MacDonald at Clearwater, approximately 30 Newfoundland and Labrador students have been able to participate in the SOI experience.
Thanks, everyone, for your assistance in educating the leaders of tomorrow.
Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under the Danny Williams administration. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.