Arctic Expedition 2014 – the story of our adventure… part II

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What’s one way to get 100+ people who are total strangers to bond really quickly? Answer: FEAR. I’m kidding…. but doing something that forces everyone outside their comfort zone and puts everyone on an equal playing field is a great way to create bonds between people. And so that’s what we did on Day 3. Well, that’s what most of them did. I declined due to a back injury I didn’t want to aggravate. I was having premonitions of being in a body cast as we boarded our ship for the arctic. NOT the way to see the north…. from a porthole window and a body-cast. Hence, I acted as motivational coach, keeper of the sunglasses, iPhones, cameras, hats and hoodies and cat-herder. 🙂

"So, what are we supposed to do with these thingies again?" "I think we hook ourselves to the structures so we don't fall to our death". "Oh, really?"

“So, what are we supposed to do with these thingies again?” “I think we hook ourselves to the structures so we don’t fall to our death”. “Oh, really?”

Day 3 has us head to the Aerial Park and Zip-line at Camp Fortune not far from Gatineau, Quebec. I was intrigued by this activity. A way to get the students to burn off some of their nervous energy. They had already begun to bond with each other, but by the end of the zip-lining, bonds were far more cemented. The glue that bound them? Fear of death? Well, not quite. But there’s nothing like experiencing uncertainty, fear, and questioning one’s abilities to bond people. The students were great. They embraced the ropes course with gusto. They encouraged each other. Coached each other. They didn’t need me. OK, well I was keeper of all their stuff that would fall off while they were on the course. And sure, I did encourage them all. But they were superstars!

Some tentative initial steps...

Some tentative initial steps…

But after a few minutes, the students were attacking the course...

But after a few minutes, the students were attacking the course…

I watched these young adults confront their fear of heights. Sure, there were nervous moments, but every one of them stretched outside their comfort zone to embrace the challenge. They climbed ladders, traversed rope ‘bridges’, swung their way across gaps between trees on swinging ‘steps’, zip-lined at top speed from tree to tree. And at the end of it, the only thing I saw were smiles and high fives. Awesome! Just awesome!

Combating fears of heights...

Combating fears of heights…

Using muscles that hadn't been used in a while...

Using muscles that hadn’t been used in a while…

And looking like pros from a swat team… :)

And looking like pros from a swat team… 🙂

 

Our next stop for the day was back at the Canadian Museum of Nature, but this time, to see its public side. We had a guided tour of the museum and were treated to exhibits that showed us the many of the animals that call Canada home, some of which we may see on our arctic adventure. Our tour ended with a wander through the dinosaur section. Not the fossils, but huge replicas of various dinosaur species which once roamed the earth.

Students look into a diorama of muskox in the high arctic.

Students look into a diorama of muskox in the high arctic.

I'm not sure if these were to scale, but some of them were certainly scary enough! Can't imagine meeting one of these grumpy beasts millions of years ago...

I’m not sure if these were to scale, but some of them were certainly scary enough! Can’t imagine meeting one of these grumpy beasts millions of years ago…

That evening, tired, sore, and happy students filed into one of the lecture halls at Carleton U for more inspiring presentations – by Mary Simon ( a prominent Canadian who played an important role in the creation of the 8-country Arctic Council), Trevor Taylor (former Fisheries Minister for Newfoundland) and Donovan Taplin, an impressive young SOI alum who at the age of 19, was elected to his town’s municipal government. Donovan’s presentation was nothing short of phenomenally inspirational -for me! I wonder what the students thought of it because it blew my socks off.

 

Although zip-lining through the Gatineaus seems a far stretch from an arctic expedition, it was anything but. Team building, building confidence, forcing people outside their comfort zone – all great things to prepare us for the next 12 days of adventure….

Tune in to the next blog post for the start of our northern adventure – flying up to Kuujjuaq and boarding our ship, the Sea Adventurer…

 

[All images on this blog post are copyright Shelley L. Ball. All rights reserved]

Arctic Expedition 2014 – some experiences just change your life forever…

Getting out in zodiacs to explore was one of the huge highlights of the trip for me. I love that the students (and staff) got to see, smell, taste, touch, hear - to experience the north with all of their senses. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

Getting out in zodiacs to explore was one of the huge highlights of the trip for me. I love that the students (and staff) got to see, smell, taste, touch, hear – to experience the north with all of their senses. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

A few days ago I returned from the trip of a lifetime. No, not a trip of a lifetime. An experience of a lifetime. I was an educator (biologist, photographer, and environmental communicator) on the 2014 Students On Ice Arctic Expedition. I, along with 45 other educators and support staff and 86 high school students from Canada, the U.S., Scotland, China, Monaco, and Greenland, spent 12 days together on an icebreaker, exploring the arctic – northern Quebec, the coast of Labrador (including the absolutely spectacular Torngat Mountains National Park), and then southwest Greenland.

The incredible rugged beauty of the Labrador coast near Torngats Mountain National Park. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

The incredible rugged beauty of the Labrador coast near Torngats Mountain National Park. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

It was 12 of the most spectacular, action-packed, eye-opening, inspiring days of my life. And for those 86 high school students on board, it changed their lives. For some, profoundly. In subsequent blog posts, I’ll share some of those stories. In my 20+ years as an educator, I have never seen such transformations in young people in such a short time. It may sound corny, but what I witnessed on that ship in those 12 days renewed my hope in humanity. There are truly good people out there who will do good things, not just for themselves, but for our entire global community. I have no doubt that some of those 86 students on our expedition will be the ones to go on to do great things – big things –  for our world. But also small things too. I think it’s important to be reminded that big isn’t the supreme goal. We can all do something good for our world, in our own ways, no matter how small. So I believe that all of the 86 students on this expedition will have an important influence on the world, in one way or another. Every effort, every action matters, regardless of magnitude.

Me, teaching a photography workshop on shore. I wanted to inspire the students to use their images to share their experiences with the world and to share their concerns about the health of the arctic environment and its cultures, with the rest of the world.

Me, teaching a photography workshop on shore. I wanted to inspire the students to use their images to share their experiences with the world and to share their concerns about the health of the arctic environment and its cultures, with the rest of the world. (photo copyright Lee Naraway).

If I had to sum up the achievements and milestones of the expedition, it would be difficult, because there were so many. We learned about the arctic environment – plants, animals, geology, ocean currents…. We learned about the peoples of the arctic – their culture, history, and some of the tragic stories of contemporary times, when Inuit were forced by the government to leave their homes, their communities, to live elsewhere, and to adopt ‘southern’ ways of life. This was all part of the governments strategy, decades ago, to assimilate our northern peoples into ‘southern’ ways of life. We learned about climate change. We learned about the geo-politics of the north. From early in the morning until late at night, we were busy – outside exploring on the land, exploring the shoreline by zodiac, participating in workshops on board our ship, listening to presentations given by educators, hearing ‘life stories’ that inspired us. There were so many great things we experienced and that resulted from this expedition. But I would have to say that watching the students stretch – to muster up the courage to step outside of their comfort zones in order to experience life to the  fullest and to connect with the people in our group, was by far, the most incredible result of our experience. For me, it did a lot to reinforce my desire to follow my passion – to take youth around the world on life-changing expeditions that will teach them about themselves, help them reach beyond their limitations, to show them some of the earth’s most incredible places, and to inspire them to preserve them and the cultures of the people who live in them. This is my dream. And now, more than ever, I’m determined to make it happen.

Our arctic sunsets were some of the most spectacular I have ever seen. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball).

Our arctic sunsets were some of the most spectacular I have ever seen. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball).

 

Over the next several days, I’ll be blogging about my experience on this Arctic Expedition 2014. I want to share with you the things we saw, the things we learned, the experiences we had, the insights we had, and the stories that developed over our 15 days together (12 of which were onboard the Sea Adventurer, our floating home).

I hope you’ll come back to read more. And please pass the link to this blog to anyway you think would enjoying reading it. Thanks!

Shelley

Me, aboard the Sea Adventurer, with a massie glacier in the background. Our wonderful ship's captain took us down some of the most incredible fjords in Greenland.

Me, aboard the Sea Adventurer, with a massie glacier in the background. Our wonderful ship’s captain took us down some of the most incredible fjords in Greenland.