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SOI Arctic 2016: Day 1

Today officially marked the beginning of the 2016 Students on Ice Arctic Expedition and what a beginning!

From morning to night we welcomed the arrival of students from around the world in Ottawa to embark on this journey of a lifetime. Some of the earlier arrivals even had the opportunity to go white water rafting on the Ottawa River!

The entire expedition team consists of 120 remarkable students from across Canada’s North and around the world along with an impressive team of 80 staff who are scientists, artists, Inuit elders, dignitaries and polar explorers. Together the team represents 13 nations from all backgrounds, ready to explore, connect to the land and the people of the Arctic, and to learn from one another.


#SOIArctic2016 expedition Day 1 – white water rafting on the Ottawa River. Photo (c) @zacharie_turgeon

A photo posted by Students On Ice (@studentsonice) on

Welcome to Ottawa

Iceberg sculpture SOIArctic2016 © Lee Narraway

But the highlight of today was the welcome event at the Canadian Museum of Nature. During an introductory presentation by SOI Founder & President Geoff Green, we welcomed a special (surprise!) guest who also happens to be an alumnus of the SOI program, the 23rd Prime Minster of Canada, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau!

Prime Minister Trudeau graciously gave of his time to deliver an inspiring speech about the importance of youth being the leaders of TODAY and to never accept that being young is a barrier for achieving great things and making a valuable impact on our world. He challenged each student to look for ways they can make a difference, regardless of how small the role may seem. Prime Minister Trudeau inspired and won over the hearts of everyone in the room, ending with a fun 360 photo of the #SOIArctic2016 team!

Prime Minister Trudeau takes a 360 photo with the Students on Ice 2016 Arctic Expedition team

Prime Minister Trudeau takes a 360 photo with the Students on Ice 2016 Arctic Expedition team


Later in the evening the team gathered for welcoming remarks by Canadian Museum of Nature CEO Meg Beckel and a wonderful dinner together! What followed was but a glimpse of the incredible experiences and remarkable people who will impact these youth over the next two weeks beginning with throat singing by 12-year old Inuit girls, Samantha Metcalfe and Cailyn Degrandpre – the same talented girls who stole the hearts of Canadian everywhere when they performed for Prime Minister Trudeau’s swearing-in ceremony last November.

Throat Singers

The expedition team was then given the great honour to listen to a presentation by award-winning Inuit leader Mary Simon. Mary has received national recognition for a lifetime of leadership in Arctic issues and governance and we are privileged to have her join this year’s expedition. The evening closed with a beautiful performance by Inuit teacher and drum dancer David Serkoak.

Mary Simon David Serkoak

More photos to come from today’s adventures and the days ahead as we embark on the 16th annual Arctic Expedition!

Abhayjeet Sachal – Surrey, BC, Canada

It felt as if the day couldn’t have gotten any better. It all began at 1 AM, when I was packing for the expedition. Three hours later, I finally went to bed. Soon, my family and I began the drive from Montreal to Ottawa, and I was jubilant. The past week had been absolutely amazing for me. Although I had been traveling in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Montreal, all I could think of was my upcoming expedition. It felt like a dream when my family and I arrived in front of the tall University of Ottawa residence building.  I walked in practically exploding with joy, and met some friendly staff members. Then, I went to my room on the twelfth floor and met my roommate, Luciano Martin Ayala Valani, who has become one of my best friends.

Soon, we took a bus to the Museum of Nature, and we were welcomed by the Founder of Students on Ice (SOI), Geoffand got briefed about the upcoming activities. It honestly felt like the best day of my life because everything that I had been preparing for since the day I found out about my scholarship had become a reality.

Suddenly, I heard his voice. I recognized it immediately, as I had heard it many times over the past year. I quickly turned my head, and my mouth opened in disbelief when I saw him. Almost elegantly, he dashed into the room and welcomed all the students in his assertive voice. It was the Prime Minister of Canada and our Minister of Youth, Justin Trudeau.

Just like all the other students in the room, I was shocked by his apperance. Geoff had talked about how Justin Trudeau was an educator on an SOI expedition 12 years ago, but no one knew he would show up today. It was great listening to him congratulate all the students and tell us about his experiences. Lastly, he ended it off by telling us that we do not need to be the leaders of tomorrow; we, as youth, are leaders of today and can make a difference in society. This really got me thinking about my plans for post-expedition.

After learning from some alumni, exploring the museum, and talking to other students, it was finally time for dinner. The main highlight from this time was throat singing by two Inuit girls. I had never seen throat singing in person before, and it really felt like I was already learning about Inuit culture. The day was absolutely phenomenal, and I went to bed as happy as I could be, excited for the days to come.

Sahil Dwived – Amritsar, Punjab, India

The water was cold, the drop was high, and I was scared. Really Scared. As my legs started to retreat back to safety and cowardice, a loud noise of claps and shouts from beneath stopped them. I could not disappoint these inspiring people who were shouting for me. I had to do it. I looked down the drop, took a deep breath, smiled at the people who made me do it and jumped.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what Students on Ice can make a person do who had never been in open waters, couldn’t swim and of course, hadn’t done cliff jumping in his life.

My second day in Ottawa was mind-blowing; I could never predict that I would go rafting, cliff jumping, and body surfing in my very first activity with this mind blowing organization. Yes, I expected thrill, but so much and so soon? I pinched myself for the whole day and even thought of jumping off the terrace to feel if it was reality or a dream. Thank you for the advice Jen, I didn’t jump, and I lived to tell the tale.


My day began in a bright sunny day of Ottawa and I smelled the fresh air of the city as our bus took us to the Ottawa river where we geared up for white water rafting. I had never done this before, and I was in no way ready for the things which were on the way.

“Easy Forward!” said the raft leader and we rafted our way to the rapids and enjoyed the transparent and cool smelling water of the Ottawa river splashing on us on a warm summer day of Ottawa (which was as cold as a winter day in India!). I admit, I splashed a lot of water on the other rafts, and so did others, but everything’s fair in love and war isn’t it?! And we were the fastest raft, we had to do it!

Now was the time for body surfing. It’s a cool way of pretending to be a drift wood and floating and swimming downstream with the current. The raft leader announced that only those who can swim should try it. But I believed in the life jacket which I was wearing. While others jumped out from one side, I jumped on the other — straight into the rapids.

This was probably my first time wearing such a cool-looking life jacket, and I had not tightened it as it was supposed to be. I thought I would float like wood, but I went down. Like a rock.

I waited to come up, but I did not. That’s when I went crazy and did all the swimming moves I knew. An angel grabbed my hand and pulled me up. “I’m fine. Wasn’t even drowning” was what I said, while I was gasping on the raft and feeling all of the water I had drunk. I was in safe hands. No joke, I was with Students on Ice, where safety is the last thing to be compromised.


The next day we had our first orientation by the man of action, Mr. Geoff Green and he inspired every drop of blood flowing in us and turned it into adrenaline. I could have never imagined to have met the person whom I used to see in videos. And despite of all the great work he has done, he is so humble, gentle and always available to talk to and shape you as a person! And then, a tall charming gentleman enters the room and everybody has their mouths open and cameras out. Who is he? Welcome to the stage Mr. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada!

You know that it’s not an everyday normal happening when the Prime Minister of the country enters the room and gives a send-off to an expedition. But this is Students on Ice, and miracles do happen all the time!

My room-mate is one of the best friends I ever got. Enootik, a student from the highest community in the Arctic is the other person in my room and he taught me how life is like in the Arctic. I was blown away when I knew that there existed kids of my age who could hunt, live in -50 Celsius for 24 hours of darkness and still feel happy! A big inspiration indeed.  Our conversations shaped the way I thought of Inuit culture and people. I feel invested with a love and respect for the great people who overcome so many challenges in their lives and live spreading happiness.

Everybody here says that I worked really hard for this and so I deserve to be here. But now, after looking back over all all I did, I don’t even feel it was enough to deserve such an overwhelming experience for a normal person like me. This experience blew me away and shaped me in so many ways I can’t imagine. What I did feels like nothing. When I was first applying to the program, if I knew what it would be like, I would have literally given off my arm so I could have this life-changing experience.

Eve Martin Riverin  – Pessamit, QC, Canada

Le 21 juillet 2016, c’était la première journée du programme qui avait lieu à Ottawa. Ainsi, il y a eu quelques activités d’accueil et une présentation faite par le fondateur. Durant cette présentation, nous avons eu une belle surprise du Premier Ministre Justin Trudeau qui est arrivé à l’improviste et qui nous a fait un très beau discours concernant le leadership. Notre journée s’est terminée par une autre présentation durant le souper ainsi qu’une prestation de deux jeunes inuites faisant le chant de gorge traditionnel.

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