Victoria Han is a high school student from St. John’s, NL who joined SOI’s 15th Anniversary Arctic Expedition thanks to the generous support of the Research & Development Corporation (RDC) of Newfoundland and Labrador. Victoria shares her post expedition reflections in the following guest blog.
Wow, where do I even begin. I’m not the best at writing blogs or putting my feelings into words, but even after a week of being away from the Arctic air, I am feeling homesick for the temporary home created on the Ocean Endeavour.
The fact that I even went on the expedition has still not fully sunk in and everyday I question if it actually happened. The experience was so unreal that my adjustment back to life at home is making me feel like Students On Ice was all just a dream. But it wasn’t just a dream, it was a dream come true. I had never imagined I would be able to see so many icebergs in one place and be able to go so close to them. I had never imagined that I would be able to silently watch a polar bear move steadily on land with 180 other people.
I had never imagined that those 180 students and staff that were only mere pictures and biographies, strangers in the days before the expedition, would become like family to me. Whether I spent every waking moment with them or whether I only spoke with them once or twice, my heart yearns to be together with them again because I feel as though the intense experiences we shared together brought us closer in ways unimaginable. I met so many great people on the ship and every day I hope that we will see each other again some day down the road, yet I also fear that some may forget the special connections formed on that ship. The future is scary, but I always remind myself that it is important to keep the great memories we shared close to my heart. There were people that I did not expect to become great friends with, but I am so glad that I did because they ended up changing me for the better, even in the tiniest ways. The staff were all so inspiring and passionate about what they did. I remember smiling every time Dr. Fred Roots grabbed the microphone from Geoff to speak about the rocks around us. Even at his age, he still loved what he was doing and was eager to share his passion with all of us. People may tell you that your goals are unattainable, but has a success story ever really been a success story without overcoming discouraging words and other obstacles along the way?
Not only did I become inspired from the expedition, but I also became aware. I became more aware than I ever have been before of the increasing problem of climate change in the Arctic. Not only would it affect the flora and fauna in the North, but it would also affect the diverse cultures and communities of indigenous peoples. There are so many misconceptions fed to youth about indigenous peoples and it was really refreshing to be able to be directly exposed to their culture and to finally understand.
I became more aware of how tiny and insignificant I was on this great big planet, but also how my actions could greatly affect its future. I remember standing on the ice fjord near Ilullisat for the first time and thinking about how beautiful it was and how it was probably even more beautiful before, but our ignorance towards climate change has caused it to change over the years. It was big. Magnificent. I remember hiking with some friends and almost tripping over several times because I just could not stop looking out onto the fjord in awe. I remember taking pictures of my friends, looking out onto the horizon and all I could think about was, “Wow, I’m really in the Arctic, aren’t I?”
I remember sharing one of my original songs with everyone on the ship for the first time. It was something that I didn’t think was very good, but I started anyway on the first flight from Ottawa to Kangerlussuaq. In Itilleq, I did the creative writing workshop with Sarah Harmer and James Raffan and they gave us time to sit alone and write whatever came to mind. I ended up adding a few verses to the song that was supposed to somehow communicate the whirlwind of emotions I was feeling on the trip. When I shared it with the group, I got so much positive feedback that I decided to finish the song and even add melody. I remember waking up early before wake up call and running up to the Meridian Lounge so that I could snag the piano in a quiet place and figure out some chords. When I finally pieced the song together, I played for some friends first and they all loved it. Of course, I was surprised because I had been writing originals for such a long time and never felt happy with what I was actually putting down on paper. I remember practicing the song one day with my friend, Rebecka, who wanted to play it with me on guitar. Sarah Harmer ended up in the lounge with us and asked if she could listen. Of course, I was nervous, because here was Sarah Harmer, an amazingly talented musician I wasn’t all too familiar with before the trip, but I am now basically in love with, and I was singing an original song for her. When she told me that I “floored” her, I think I died a little bit inside. Getting that kind of feedback from Sarah made me feel a new sort of confidence that eventually led me to performing the song for everyone on the ship and I always thank Sarah and James for being the starting inspirations to it all.
I could go on and on about the amazing things that happened during the trip, including the polar plunge (when we went swimming), the zodiac cruises, and many more, but I think I should just conclude here. I feel as though I still haven’t quite said what I really wanted to say about how the trip has changed me because I am still in awe of the fact that it even happened. It was truly a life changing opportunity and I have come to become more appreciative of this great planet we live on and of the people who spend long days and nights striving to find ways to preserve the planet for future generations to come. I was, and still am, heavily inspired by the students and staff around me to chase after my future goals, no matter what people tell me and I know the memories created on the expedition will stay with me for a lifetime.
I thank my sponsor, RDC, and Geoff Green and the rest of the SOI team for making this opportunity possible because I feel as though I have changed in ways that I have not even discovered yet. And to all the amazing people I befriended on the ship, I miss you all so much. To my “squad”, you are all amazing, caring, hilarious, and bright people and I hope we’ll all see each other again soon. I don’t know if you feel these feelings with the same intensity as I, but the connections that I have made with you have impacted me so greatly that I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. We shared a variety of moments containing both laughs and tears and I still can’t believe that in two weeks, I got to know you all so well. I feel like I’ve known you for my whole life and you’re basically a second family to me.
Best wishes to everyone for the future and I hope that the Students On Ice program thrives for years to come. Keep on inspiring youth!
– Victoria Han, Student on Arctic 2015