As an international school student I have travelled to over 40 countries around the world, but nothing impacted me as much as my two-week adventure to the Arctic this summer. I travelled, along with 100 students and 80 staff members from around the globe as part of the award-winning Students on Ice program, to learn about the importance of this unique polar region. I was the only student selected from Japan.
Although the expedition started in Ottawa, Canada the majority of our time was based on a large cruise ship called Ocean Endeavor. This floating classroom was where we lived for the two-week expedition, learning about climate change and how it affects the people that live in the northern regions of the world.
We travelled to remote communities in Greenland such as Kangerlussuaq, Itilleq, Sisimiut, Illulisat, and Uummannaq. All of the communities were very colorful and beautiful and all the people were very welcoming. We split up into different workshops where we learned about the local wildlife and plants, painted the scenery, and enjoyed northern traditional music such a throat singing.
One of my favorite sights was the glacier we saw in Illulisat. Looking to my left I could see green fields and blue water but when I looked to my right I could see a huge white glacier with the arctic sun shining on it. Sadly we learned about the alarming rate at which this glacier is receding. Glacial specialists told us that one hundred years ago, this glacier would lose less than a kilometer a year, and now it is losing more than that every single month. While it was beautiful and awe-inspiring to sail amongst the majestic icebergs, to think that in 10 years the glacier from which these icebergs originate from will be gone, is devastating.
From Greenland we sailed across the Davis Strait to the Canadian Arctic where we visited the areas of Pond Inlet, Button Inlet, Bylot Island, Devon Island, and Resolute Bay. We were able to learn the traditional way of life from elders in Pond Inlet. Things such as how they make their clothes from sealskins, what kind of food they eat, different games they play, and the different types of music they make.
I feel very fortunate to have witnessed first hand the beautiful plants and wildlife, including whales, polar bears and one of my favorites, Arctic cotton, a type of grass with white, extremely soft fluff on the top. At Beechey Island we paid our respects at the grave of three of the sailors from the Franklin Expedition (1845-1846) who died as they searched for the Northwest Passage. It was interesting to see first hand the harsh conditions these brave men faced in their early explorations.
Another memorable moment for me was swimming in the freezing cold Arctic waters! This was probably one of the craziest things I will ever do in my life! We ran into the freezing cold water wearing only our normal summer swimsuits. It was so cold but so much fun that it made bearing the pain from the cold worth it!
Our journey came to an end as we spent our last day in Resolute Bay before flying back to Ottawa. Before we hopped on our flight back we went to visit a lab where scientist go to do research about the Arctic natural resources.
After our small tour of the labs we headed to the airport and boarded our flight home. We stopped in Iqaluit to get fuel and sadly drop off some of the students that lived close to the area. After a long flight we finally arrived back in Ottawa! It was little odd to see the black sky filled with stars because I hadn’t seen a dark sky the whole trip because it was light out 24 hours a day. It was also nice to walk outside and not feel cold!
Students on Ice was an amazing journey. It was a life changing experience and has made me look at the world in a new way. It gave me a chance to meet many new inspirational people and share experiences with them. There is so much I did not know about the Arctic and its communities that I believe the whole world should know about because our actions are affecting their lives. Everyone can help decrease global warming even with small actions that you may think does not make a difference.
To read more about Taia’s expedition, see the Students On Ice website: