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2019 Arctic Expedition: Reflections from Stephanie Quon

Stephanie Quon, August 20, 2019
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Stephanie riding a Zodiac on expedition. © Natta Summerky/SOI Foundation

It has been about two weeks since the end of the expedition and I already miss everyone so much! There are still new emotional posts and photo albums to look at on Facebook each day, which help to remind me that the expedition actually happened and it wasn’t just some crazy dream I had. It is hard to believe that just a couple weeks ago it was an everyday routine to wake up to icebergs floating in the distance, talk to an award-winning author over breakfast, and then go stand-up paddleboarding in the Arctic Ocean, all before noon!

Writing this blog has been a great opportunity to reflect on the expedition experience as a whole, and put some of what I learned into words.

First, someone in my pod said that they sometimes feel a disconnect when thinking about environmental issues, as it can feel like “people issues” such as world hunger or water scarcity are more important. Seeing climate change up close and understanding how it is specifically affecting people in the North really reminded me that climate change is a major “people issue”, as it affects every single person (and everything else!) on this planet.

Experiences in nature like seeing thousands of birds at Cape Graham Moore and zodiac cruising among giant icebergs in Disko Bay are some of my favourite moments from the expedition, and what I usually talk about when people ask about the trip. However, the ship’s decks held my favourite silent moments, where I could simply stand outside with the cool clear wind in my hair, staring out and reflecting on the strong sense of peace and gratitude I felt. The trip was an unforgettable lesson showing me how beautiful and delicate our planet it is, and how it takes care of us, teaches us about who we are, and gives us life. The planet is our home, and I believe, now more than ever, that it deserves our care and respect. It was a great privilege to be part of the expedition, so I need to share what I learned and work towards preserving the environment for other people to live in and learn from. As I just finished high school, I have been thinking a lot about what is important to me and what I want to do, which made me question what my true passions and interests are. In my time of uncertainty, this expedition helped me confirm that sustainability is something I am passionate about and something I enjoy caring about.

Heading into the trip, I didn’t realize just how little I knew about Indigenous peoples. Specifically looking at current issues in the North, I had read a bit about food insecurity, loss of culture, and high suicide rates among youth, but they seemed like distant problems I couldn’t do anything about. Actually talking to people facing these issues helped me gain an understanding I believe would be impossible to attain from any book. Of course, I just scratched the surface, and I know now that it is my responsibility to learn more.

On top of all the exploring we did, there was also lots of time dedicated to personal reflection, where I thought about what I wanted to do after the trip and the projects I could work on. To start off, I’ve gathered a few friends back home to try to plan a human library event, and also just started to expand an accessibility grant project I worked on last year. I am also starting the engineering program at UBC in about two weeks, and while I am not exactly sure what I want to study within engineering, it will most likely be related to sustainability!

In addition to all that I learned about the planet and the people who live on it, this trip also taught me a lot about myself. I learned more about what I care about and how that leads into what I want to do and who I want to be. I gained more confidence approaching and talking to people I look up to, which was basically every person on the trip. I also worked on having the courage to speak up, ask questions, and be curious! After some of the conversations I had with people on the trip, I’m not as hesitant to pursue what I’m interested in and I’m less afraid of having big goals.

I can’t truly reflect on the experience without taking a moment to write about the amazing people of the expedition. The students, the staff, the SOI team, the ship’s staff, and the people we met in communities, are who made the trip what it was. Everyone I met was so welcoming and had so much love to share with others. We had time to joke around and have fun, but also took time to learn about each other’s unique experiences and perspectives.

I think all the students would agree that the staff of the expedition were beyond amazing! It was incredible that so many inspiring people who have all accomplished so much were willing to look back in their path and walk with us through ours. Not only were they willing to answer any question we had and share their knowledge and experience at a personal level, they were genuinely interested to learn from us as well. Even with the expedition being over, they continue to be there for us and endlessly support our ideas and plans!

To Students on Ice and US Embassy of Ottawa, I cannot thank you enough for this incredible life-changing opportunity! Thank you for strengthening my belief that it is my responsibility to share my story and do my part in working towards a better world. Thank you for showing me how everyone on our planet is connected in some way, somehow, whether that be through passions or struggles. Thank you for teaching me what it means to live life to the fullest and embrace every opportunity that comes my way!

This expedition is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life, as something I can look back on to remind me of who I am and what I care about. When I looked out to the distant mountains on theArctic horizon, they often reminded me of the soft blue mountains I love back home in Vancouver.Looking at the mountains from my bedroom now, they remind me of the incredible adventure I had in the Arctic, the lessons I learned, the people I met, and the home I had there.

Stephanie with student Donovan Luckett at ROV workshop © Natta Summerky/SOI Foundation

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