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Arctic 2019 Expedition: Reflections from Claire Fu

Claire Fu, August 26, 2019
Hong Kong

Claire surrounded by Arctic flora in Itilleq Fjord, Greenland. ©Martin Lipman/ SOI Foundation

It’s been about two weeks since the expedition ended. Trying to adapt back to regular life off the ship has been no easy feat, and those post expedition blues keep coming back in surges of emotion. It is so difficult to wake up every morning and not see icebergs dotting the endless expanse of ocean, or breathe the pure, crisp air of the Arctic that I never realized I needed until I was once again hit by the sheer heat and humidity of Hong Kong.

Before the expedition, the Arctic was only a fragment of my imagination. In my mind I created a barren landscape full of snow, a cold and windy environment. It was quiet and lonely there — and dangerous. Except for the occasional polar bear, there was no life. And certainly no people.

Had I known about the Inuit at the time? Yes. Yet I hadn’t really realized the extent of their problems, of their food insecurity or high suicide rates. I hadn’t thought about their culture, about how much they relied on the stability of the North to survive.

Stepping into this expedition was like a breath of fresh air. We were instantly whisked into an exciting journey to explore not only the world around us, but to discover more about ourselves. From majestic icebergs that float across the open water, unpredictable yet serene, to the steady and resonant beat of the Inuit drum dance, every moment was an adventure in itself.

Although every experience was special in its own way, it was the amount of reflection I did while I wrote, alone in the blogging center, and poured all my thoughts and gratitude into that I found incredibly special. Blogging gave me the opportunity to pause amidst the fast paced activities and truly organize the jumble of emotions into cohesive sentences that I could share. Sitting there, listening to the gentle rocking of the ship, I recalled the zodiac cruises — all three of which have a special place in my heart. Drifting amidst the imposing icebergs, the freezing wind whipping across my face, I felt so small. Watching and listening to the birds in Cape Graham Moore, black and white dots zipping across the sky, I remember a seagull flying especially low to warn us to stay away from their habitat. In Maxwell Bay, amidst a still sea, the water a perfect mirror of the sky, polar bears wandered, a mother and a cub hunting for seals.

In the northern communities, I witnessed children playing outside on the street, the cold not a bother to them. Drum dancers and throat singers proudly displayed their talents, and puppies took a dip in the freezing water without care. There were hunters out there, fueled by the need to feed their family but unable to afford the impossible prices of imported goods. What I once thought would be a dreary and barren region came to life before my eyes, the culture of the Inuit no less rich than that of China or Italy.

Claire in Maxwell Bay. ©Kim Aubut Demers/ SOI Foundation

Watching these scenes unfold, I couldn’t help but feel that I didn’t belong there. I was snuggled up in a luxury cruise, coming from thousands of miles away from a place where cold is not in our vocabulary — for all the wildlife and people we saw, the Arctic is their home. How could we take away something so beautiful and so important for the ignorant convenience of the vast majority?

In addition to the amazing activities we did, I am also incredibly grateful to the wonderful students and staff that I have met. It was so encouraging and inspiring to see people like me, people who care for the environment so much that it becomes a valuable dinner conversation. Even though we are from all over the world, we could somehow all bond over this one passion and one expedition. The amounts of talent and diversity there were truly amazed me, and I couldn’t have asked for better people to be “stuck on a ship in the middle of nowhere” with.

I’ve come back to Hong Kong with a new pair of lenses to see the world through. I hope that I can convey what I learned up there to my school community and my home, and do something to protect the rapidly disappearing paradise that is the Arctic. And I know that there will be others, people from all over Canada, US, Seychelles, Russia, Iceland, China and more that will be encouraging the same call for action — others, though scattered across the globe, share this brief yet wonderful two weeks of memories with me in their hearts.

This is what I believe Students on Ice is about. The expedition may have ended, but it was only the beginning of a lifelong journey for the 130 students out there looking to make an impact. I would like to thank SOI for letting me participate in this adventure, for opening the door to the hope and knowledge to do some good in this world.

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This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.