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One Labrador woman’s arctic adventure

Erin Gear of North West River recently returned home after a 10-day trip to Greenland with the Students On Ice program. Here, she is pictured in front of the Jakobshavn Icefjord in Greenland.


From July 14 - 28, Erin Gear of North West River participated in the program ‘Students on Ice Arctic Youth Expedition.’ The expedition represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for youth from around the world to expand their knowledge about the circumpolar world, and to gain a new global perspective on the planet, its wonders, and its present and future challenges. It also brings together environmental and civic education, cultural immersion, personal leadership development, and plenty of polar adventure. The following is Erin’s own experience with the program, in her own words.

It's been four weeks since I've returned home from my amazing, unforgettable trip to the Arctic and I'm still finding it hard to digest my feelings and tear my thoughts away from the North, and to return to my “regular” life down here.  

Before I left (for my trip), I really didn't know what to expect. I was nervous, but excited at the same time. I had many mixed emotions. I was told it would be “amazing,” “inspiring” and “life changing.” Not one of these words or phrases actually described how powerful this trip has been for me. I really don't think words can describe how this experience changed my perspective on climate change. 

Let me take you on my adventure.  

Getting there

While visiting the Torngat National Park in the summer of 2012, I did a photography workshop with a man who visits the Arctic from time to time with a program called “Students on Ice.” I applied and was accepted. 

I was walking through the Avalon Mall in St. John’s, when I get this unfamiliar number show up on my cell phone. So I answered. 

“Good day, am I speaking with Erin?”

“Yes, this is Erin.”

“This is Shirley from the ‘Students on Ice’ office. I would like to congratulate you on getting accepted for the Students on Ice expedition to the Arctic. I will be contacting you within the next few weeks to get started.”  

Through months and months and months of waiting, July 14th finally arrived and Samantha Groves and myself hopped on a plane in Happy-Valley Goose Bay and took off to Ottawa, the gateway city for the expedition. Now you can only imagine how excited we were to get to Ottawa. When we finally arrived, we saw a man holding a sign with ‘Students on Ice.’ I felt so special! 

We got our bags, and headed to the Carlton University campus, where we stayed for three days prior to departing for the Arctic.

My amazing trip 

We started our journey in Ottawa. We then flew to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and traveled to the Greenlandic towns of Itilleq, Ilulissat and Uummannaq by icebreaker. Next, we sailed across the Davis Strait, visiting Pangnirtung, Kingnait Harbour, Lady Franklin Island, Monumental Island and Iqaluit.

I experienced a lot of “firsts” on this trip.

It was the first time I've ever been that far away from home, and my first time being that far outside of my comfort zone; I saw my first walrus, my first whale (throughout the course of our trip, we saw four whale species); I got to stand near my first glacier, iceberg and ice fjord; and I visited communities in Greenland and Nunavut for the first time. 

One of my favourite experiences was our visit to the Greenlandic town of Ilulissat, home to the Jakobshavn Icefjord. While we were there, we were being swarmed by huge amounts of mosquitoes but we hardly took notice of them as we looked at the gigantic icefjord in awe. I was able to stand right next to this icefjord and experience just how massive it is. It was such an amazing feeling! The ice towered above me, making me feel so small. 

Massive amounts of ice are spewed out of this fjord and end up in Disko Bay. The expedition leader gave us the chance to ride in zodiac around Disko Bay to see the icebergs up close.

After Ilulissat, we visited Uummannaq, which was probably the most beautiful community I have ever been to. We did many things there on the 250th anniversary of the town, including meeting the Prime Minister of Greenland and participating in the town's anniversary festivities.  

One thing that stuck out for me was a conversation I had with a local fisherman. He told me that the people of Uummannaq used to fish on ice that was once thick and strong, but now sometimes the water does not even completely freeze, meaning that the people of Uummannaq cannot fish. Fishing is the main industry in the community and without it, the locals have no means of making an income. For me, this really hammered in just how pressing the issue of climate change really is. Sometimes, those of us living in the south may feel far removed from the issues facing the people of the north, but speaking to this man made me realize that there are people, just like you and I, who are being affected by climate change in devastating ways.  

Not only did I spend my two weeks visiting communities in the north, seeing Arctic wildlife and learning about climate change, I also spent those two weeks talking to some of the most passionate youth, scientists, educators and artists I have ever met. I was able to become good friends with incredible people like Geoff Green (Order of Canada recipient and SOI founder); Stephane Dion (former Minister of the Environment and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada), Ian Tamblyn (Canadian Folk Music Award's 2010 English Songwriter of the Year), Daniele Bianchi (oceanographer published in Nature), John Crump (former Executive Director of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee), Meg Beckel (President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature) and so many other amazing people who I could just sit down with at a meal or during a workshop on the expedition and talk to. My experience in the Arctic wouldn't have been so awesome if it weren't for the wonderful people I was travelling with. I have made friendships that I am sure will last a lifetime. 

At the end of our expedition, we flew back to Ottawa for a welcome-home reception at the Canadian Museum of Nature, marking the end of our Arctic adventure. 

So what’s next for me? It's only been four weeks and I'm absolutely craving another adventure. It could be anything from a hike to crossing a desert on a camel. I'm currently trying to find more expeditions similar to this one. I love to expand my knowledge of the world and its cultures, and Students on Ice was just the beginning for me.

For more information on the Students on Ice program, and how to apply, visit http://www.studentsonice.com

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Recent comments

  • Denise A McCracken
    August 28, 2013 - 13:59

    Wonderful to see that SOI is still bringing the Arctic and Antarctic deeply and unforgettably into our hearts. Erin's story was wonderful ! Thanks for sharing.

  • Phyllis Fawcett
    August 26, 2013 - 16:56

    What a wonderful experience and what a well written article. Congratulations Erin