Last night I returned home to Canada, after the most extraordinary adventure of my entire life – the Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica.
I was one of 76 women on the expedition. Homeward Bound was created by Australian business woman, leadership expert, and visionary, Fabian Dattner. Fabian had a dream. A dream of what could be accomplished if women had an equal voice at the leadership table, especially tables where decisions are made about creating a more sustainable future for our planet and its people. She shared her dream with Jess Melbourne-Thomas of the Australian Antarctic Division and with that, a dream became reality. Homeward Bound was born. A leadership development program for women in science, with the goal of having 1,000 women participate over 10 years.
After 2 years of immense work, planning and dedication by the Homeward Bound Team as well as a year of very busy pre-expedition preparation by the 76 women participants – juggling family life, work, and preparing for leaving it all behind for a month – Homeward Bound launched in Ushuaia, Argentina – known as the ‘end of the world’ and the gateway to Antarctica – on December 2, 2016.
We boarded our ship, the MV Ushuaia, our floating home for the next 20 days. The Ushuaia would take us across the Drake Passage – some of the roughest seas in the world – and then up and down the Antarctic Peninsula, going ashore daily to explore the magical landscapes of the frozen continent. While exploring Antarctica and learning about its polar ecosystems, the species that live there, the Antarctic climate and the history of humans on the continent, we were also learning about how to become strong leaders, influencers and change makers. Each day, the Homeward Bound faculty (consisting of leadership, strategy and visibility coaches and Antarctic science experts) led us through a program to bolster our leadership abilities. To receive this world-class instruction from experts in the field and with Antarctica as our backdrop, was an incredible experience in so many ways.
We ‘worked’ on ourselves, through analyzing diagnostic test such as the Lifestyles Inventory, 4MAT and MSCEIT. These tests helped us understand ourselves, how we operate – the good and the bad – and how we can take these qualities to bolster or change them to enhance our leadership abilities. We built personal strategy maps to pave the way for the lives we want to live, to carve out the path forward. After all, it’s hard to know how to get there when you don’t know where you are going. Kit Jackson’s strategy mapping really helped us figure out our priorities and how to achieve the things that are important to us. We learned, from Julia May, how to increase our visibility – a critical component of getting people’s ear on the issues we are so passionate about and affecting the change we want to see in the world. We watched short interviews full of inspiration and wisdom, filmed specifically for Homeward Bound, by notable women leaders such as Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, and Christiana Figueres, and others. We had small group discussions and one on one conversations about what leadership means to us. We formed triads as a way to help each other through the process of personal change, often sharing stories and experiences as encouragement.
All of this happened on a ship in Antarctica. Our days were filled with a combination of leadership development work, excursions to the Antarctic landscape, and in the evenings, a bit of time to work on other things we were busy with, such as the Adopt A Scientist Program I am part of, which is a piece of my involvement in the Homeward Bound Education Project. But there was also time for drinks and conversation and a lot of fun.
While we were busy doing and exploring, we had our own film crew on board, filming for a documentary that will be made about Homeward Bound. Although we were supposed to ‘pretend they weren’t there’ so that the footage was authentic, like the crew of the ship, the film crew became just as important to us all as each of the 76 women participants. It really did become one big family for 20 days.
Spending 20 days on a small ship with about 90 people in close quarters. Sometimes that can lead to friction, especially when battling tiredness, sea sickness or the cold and flu that swept through our ship like wildfire. But considering our close quarters for many days, the difficulties were few. And where they did happen, open and respectful conversations were used to try to resolve differences. I was so impressed by how everyone not only got along, but in many cases, took on the role as each other’s caregivers during times of stress, difficult news coming from home via our limited internet connection, colds, flu, sea sickness and other challenges. I witnessed some of the most incredible examples of caring, compassion and support amongst people who mostly began our journey as strangers, united by a common purpose and passion. If we could only see communities and nations come together in the way we all did on that ship, our world would be a far, far gentler, more compassionate place.
Our Homeward Bound Antarctic Expedition is over. But our Homeward Bound journey together has only just begun. Most of us are back home and some, such as me, are beginning to struggle with reintegration into day to day life. I have always been adverse to habit and normalcy. I need change. I get bored. I need to be challenged. I have a restless soul. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life in so many ways! I have the most incredible friends and family who constantly support me and cheer me on. I live in a beautiful little house in the woods in a place I dreamed of living. But to go from spending days zooming in zodiac boats to visit penguin colonies, explore volcanic islands, and soak in the dramatic Antarctic landscape, well, for me this will be a challenge. There is a part of me that is still in Antarctica. And I think it always will be. I left a part of my heart there. I don’t know when or how, but I will get back to Antarctica. I have to. I feel it tugging at my heart. In the meantime, I will find ways to leverage my Homeward Bound experience to enhance my work in environmental education and conservation. My passion in life is connecting people to nature and inspiring them to care enough to protect it. After Homeward Bound, I’m more determined than ever to execute my life’s mission. It does mean things will need to change – how I earn my living and pay my bills, and possibly even where I live. But I’m more determined than ever to realize my dreams and fulfill my life’s mission, to feed my passion. A big part of that dream, passion and mission is taking people, especially youth, around the world on environmental learning expeditions. I will find a way to make this a reality. And I know I have 76 incredible women and the entire Homeward Bound Team, cheering me on.