Our Homeward Bound journey

img_1513Last 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.

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Fabian Dattner, contemplating the Antarctic landscape

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.

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Our Homeward Bound adventure kits – our expedition jackets, a notebook/diary, touque, water bottle, pendant, and backpack – from our incredible sponsors

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Trying on our Homeward Bound expedition jackets. Thank you Kathmandu for your sponsorship.

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Boarding the MV Ushuaia, headed for the Antarctic Peninsula

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.

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Our first sighting of land in Antarctica

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.

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Receiving instruction in the LSI (Lifestyles Inventory) from Fabian

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.

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Dale and Gary, two of the wonderful members of the 5 person film team

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.

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The stunning landscape of Antarctica

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Duelling Chinstrap penguins

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Penguins hitching a ride on an iceberg

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.

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Here I am soaking up Antarctica. Photo by Sarah Connelly

The start of something incredible…

I’ve been here in Ushuaia for 3 days now. At least I think I have. I’ve lost all track of time. I have to check my phone to see what day it is and it doesn’t get dark here until about 11pm so even my sense of time during the day is off kilter.

Over the past few days, the 76 Homeward Bound women have been arriving a few at a time, here in Ushuaia. It’s been the most incredible experience. We have all worked together for nearly 2 years toward this goal and yet until I arrived here in Ushuaia, I’d only met one of the 76 women – Wynet Smith – who is based in Ottawa. As we have begun to connect here in Ushuaia, it feels more like a homecoming, not new introductions. At least 2/3 of the participants are from Australia and many of them are already connected, but that doesn’t really matter. It isn’t a barrier. It hasn’t created cliques. Not at all. I’m so impressed by how quickly we have all connected, regardless of where we are from, our age. Our differences don’t really seem to exist. Instead we are focused on our similarities – our shared experiences through our science careers, our passion for women’s leadership and the environment. These are the things that bring us together.

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The stunning scenery of Tierra del Fuego National Park, near Ushuaia, Argentina. Our hike through the beautiful southern beech forests was wonderful and we were treated to views like this.

Yesterday I went hiking with 3 of the HB women. We drove up to Tierra del Fuego National Park, not far from Ushuaia, to hike in the southern beech forest. It was a beautiful day and a great way to get out, stretch our legs after many hours of travelling, and a great way to spend time together to get to know each other. We even bumped into 4 other HB women who had taken the bus up for the hike.

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Me, Kathleen and Sam – Homeward Bound women. We are all from the Perth area, Kathleen and Sam from Perth, Western Australia and me from near Perth, Ontario.

I don’t know what the next 20 days hold in store, but if the past few have been any indication, I think we are in for an incredible and even magical experience. 76 women, one mission.

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

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The beauty of the north... photo © Shelley L. Ball

The beauty of the north…
photo © Shelley L. Ball

So finally, I have enough of my 11,000+ photos organized that I can begin to tell my story of our arctic expedition. If you’ve been following  this blog, you’ll know that last January I created this blog – the Biosphere Blog – to be able to share my passion for environmental education and especially youth education. I had just created my own environmental education organization – Biosphere Environmental Education – something that has been a dream that has been a long time in the making. I wanted the focus of my organization to be educating youth about the environment, connecting them with nature, and encouraging and inspiring them to appreciate it, understand its value, and to become youth ambassadors for the environment, sharing their messages of why we need to preserve earth’s natural environments. And so, my dream of using expeditions to connect youth with nature and help them to be the agents of positive environmental change, was taking shape. But starting from scratch and creating one’s own expedition is a big job – tons of logistical planning, ferreting out providers of services such as travel, accommodation, outdoor activities. Given that I’m approaching 50 and time is ticking (loudly) I decided to fast-track my ideas – hook up with an existing expedition where I could provide my educational program as part of their bigger program. And that is when I met Geoff Green, founder and executive director of Students On Ice. After a meeting and some teleconferences, Geoff offered me a place on their 2014 arctic expedition. Only catch is that I had to come up with $10,000 to cover my expedition costs. So I fund-raised, dipped into my retirement fund (I hear retirement’s way over-rated anyway…) and guaranteed my place on the expedition. Next came a few months of planning, creating workshops, gathering gear. My role on the expedition was to teach environmental communication – photography and videography for creating messaging about the environment. And so I worked hard planning and preparing.

Fast forward to July 9th, 2014. That was the start of our expedition. Most of us were to meet in Ottawa, Ontario, my hometown and an hour and a bit from where I now live. Staff and students flew in from all around Canada, the U.S., as well as China, Monaco, Scotland, and Greenland. Carleton University in Ottawa was our meeting point. Most of the 86 high school students and 46 educators and support staff would assemble there to begin our 15 days adventure together.

Once settled in to my dorm room, my first task was to pick up incoming students and staff from the Ottawa airport and shuttle them back to the dorms at Carleton U. A few students, including some of the northern students, had arrived a few days earlier and we’re busy white-water rafting on the Ottawa River, visiting the Museum of History, and other activities to welcome them to Ottawa. But the rest were arriving over the next few days, all full of nervous energy, excitement, uncertainty.

The start of 131 new friendships - picking up students and staff arriving to Ottawa by air.

The start of 131 new friendships – picking up students and staff arriving to Ottawa by air.

Our Students On ice swag. Gotta look good when you head out on an expedition! ;)

Our Students On ice swag. Gotta look good when you head out on an expedition! 😉

Once most of us were settled in our dorm rooms at Carleton U, the real adventure began – getting to know over 100 new faces (and remembering their names! Kuddos to Claire who correctly remembered EVERY name by about day 4 of our adventure. Nothing short of miraculous! 🙂 ). In the evenings, we had presentations by educators and staff, guest speakers who talked about the north, the environment. And we had incredibly inspirational presentations by some of the SOI alumni.

SOI foudre and executive director, Geoff Green, giving a welcome and introduction to the Arctic 2014 Expedition.

SOI founder and executive director, Geoff Green, giving a welcome and introduction to the Arctic 2014 Expedition.

Day 2 was off to a busy start. Our huge group of 86 students was divided into two groups – Sika and Sila (the Inuktitut words meaning ‘broken ice’ and ‘climate and the world around us’ – oh so appropriate….). It was a way to keep the group sizes manageable and whatever activity one group did in the morning, the other group would do in the afternoon and vice versa. It’s hard to herd 86 students, all buzzing with energy and excitement!

Our first big day of activities included a tour of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. This is where our federal government resides and does its ‘thing’. For many of the Canadian students not from Ottawa, it was their first time seeing the place where so many important decisions that affect their lives, are made.

Day 1 - a visit to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

Day 1 – a visit to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

We toured the inside of the Parliament Buildings, which are so grand and impressive. The stonework, the gargoyles carved into the stonework, the archways, and portraits of past Prime Minsters and other important Canadians. We also had a look at the House of Commons (The Green Room – where all the banter happens) and the Senate (The Red Room – the place of ‘sober second thought’). I’ve been through the Parliament Buildings a few times in my life, but I always like seeing them. The Senate and the Parliamentary Library have significance for me. My great uncle was the Assistant Clerk of the Senate in the 1950’s. And so, when my Mum was young, she used to go have lunch with him on Parliament Hill. She also used to tell me of the fun she had dashing around under the tables in the Parliamentary Library – something you wouldn’t see happening these days..

We had the full tour inside the main building, which is an architectural piece of art in its own right

We had the full tour inside the main building, which is an architectural piece of art in its own right

The Senate - the chamber of 'sober second thought'. And where my great-uncle was Assistant Clerk.

The Senate – the chamber of ‘sober second thought’. And where my great-uncle was Assistant Clerk.

We also had a behind-the-scenes tour of the Canadian Museum of Nature. What a treat that was! The Museum is one of SOI’s biggest partner organizations. And so we go the ‘inside scoop’ – a look at the collections and labs where the research scientists and collections managers work. We were treated to the most incredible display of rocks and minerals – gleaming rocks of so many different colours, sizes and shapes. A feast for the eyes. Paula Piilonen, a mineralogist with the museum shared her passion for minerals with us. But this was just a teaser as she was to join us on the expedition as well. We also saw the collection of stuffed birds and eggs, dinosaur fossil skeletons and poop, preserved fishes (Noel Alfonso, the museum fish biologist was also to join our expedition), mammal skeletons and a whole lot more!

Some of the mammal skeletons in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Some of the mammal skeletons in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature.

We even saw a very special and rare specimen - a two toothed Narwhal tusk. Wow! Narwhals are thought to be the unicorns of the sea.

We even saw a very special and rare specimen – a two toothed Narwhal tusk. Wow! Narwhals are thought to be the unicorns of the sea.

Day 2 ended with more interesting and inspirational presentations. We also began to have students introduce themselves – stand up in front of 100+ people and say their name, where they were from and if they were really brave, share something heart-felt and something quirky about themselves. Needless to say the first night of these introductions was ‘slow’. Most of the students were hesitant, shy, and just not ready to stand up in front of so many people. One girl sitting next to me said, “I’m SO nervous! I don’t think I can do this!” She did. And that was just the tip of the iceberg (pardon the pun…) in terms of the courage these students mustered over the next 14 days. I have one especially incredible and inspirational story of a student that I’ll save for a later post. But suffice it to say that experiences like these are truly transformational. Most of those students will have arrived back home, not the same person as when they left. They returned with new-found confidence, knowledge, vision, understanding of the world around them, understanding of human relationships, new friendships and a lot more.

Update: I forgot to add in a link to the videos. We had a professional videographer, Sira Chayer, on board who put together fantastic short videos capturing great moments and telling the story of our expedition. Click on the image to play Sira’s video of the first part of our adventure.

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And don’t forget to read the student blogs and journals to experience the expedition from the student’s perspective….

This expedition had such a huge impact on so many of these students. What it took from them was the courage to stretch outside of their comfort zone…

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In my next blog post, I’ll share more of our adventures, including the half day of ropes and zip-lining that the students did. Boy, what a way to break the ice (pardon the pun again, but it was an arctic expedition, after all…) and get the students to connect.

Tune back in tomorrow for the next part of our adventure….

 

[All photographs on this blog posts are copyright Shelley L. Ball. All rights reserved]