Make the world your classroom: Antarctica
Since I began my time at Brockport, the college has offered, among its various study abroad opportunities, a program that takes students to Antarctica. I was unable to attend last year, but the program did so well then that I again had the opportunity this year. Since I was a child, I had always wanted to travel to Antarctica as it represented the last untamed wilderness on Earth, and Brockport made it all possible. This year, I was the only student representing Brockport amongst a group of fifteen other students, the majority being from Virginia Tech and the rest from Oregon. I met them for the first time in Miami at the terminal for our flight to Argentina.
Our final destination in Argentina was the port city of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. There, we were introduced to the local culture and saw how being one of the primary ports to embark for the Antarctic had shaped the city, setting up tourism as its primary industry.
The city's nickname, Fin del Mundo, the "end of the world," reflected this concept. From there, we boarded the R/V Akademik Ioffe and set out across the Drake Passage, where we encountered humpback whales and witnessed the species diversity gradient as we neared and crossed the Antarctic Convergence.
Upon reaching Antarctica, we were able to see seals and thousands of penguins. While in the Antarctic, we had opportunities we wouldn't have had elsewhere, such as camping overnight on the continent and, for some, partaking in a polar plunge.
On the academic spectrum, we catalogued the birds we encountered along the Drake Passage, thereby learning about the species diversity gradient in a way that I, as a non-science major, found more effective than simply reading about it. Further, we were able to examine firsthand the sustainability of Antarctic tourism, a topic that had come up during the online course prior to entering the field.
Beyond pure academics, the course provided me with cultural immersion in a way I hadn't had before, having never been outside of North America. I was able to sample local foods in Argentina, experience a completely different style of life, and talk to people from around the world, broadening my experiences by hearing of theirs.
The greatest take away for me was simply being in that place. I saw sights I'd never seen before, such as the sun at midnight, whales and seals within twenty feet of me, and penguins in their natural habitat. I had one of the most memorable Christmas Days I've ever had, spending the morning on Deception Island, in the cone of an active volcano and seeing plant life there, mosses and lichens, in ways I would have never imagined for the Antarctic.
I will continue to stay in contact with several of the people I have met there, since our shared experience allowed for us to get to know each other in a way that would not have been typically possible.
The greatest take-away for me, though, was the pure isolation of the place. Sitting in Wilhelmina Bay on Christmas Eve with no sound save that created by the snowflakes hitting the sides of the zodiac, surrounded by a barren, hostile environment inhospitable to humans without using a couple hundred pounds of polar gear, the deafening silence echoing forth from time as we drifted amongst glaciers that were older than human memory, I knew then what it was to be truly alone, with no contact to the outside world.
I also knew fully how unique this place was and why it must be preserved so that more people have the opportunity to experience it, though not necessarily as I did, since everyone experiences it differently.
I consider it a mark of pride that Brockport offers this opportunity to its students, and it would be a shame if it weren't taken advantage of. I was told by Dr. Lori Blanc, our field instructor from Virginia Tech, that Oregon State University, one of the schools participating in the program, will no longer be offering it due to lack of interest. I don't know what the future plans are for Brockport in regard to this program, but it would be unfortunate if our school stopped offering it for the same reason as Oregon State.
To that end, I encourage all Brockport students with an interest in Antarctica to look into the program. You needn't be a science major — I certainly am not — but it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we are fortunate enough to be offered.
For more information, visit www.brockport.edu/studyabroad
or visit the Study Abroad office located in Morgan Hall
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