You were recently part of the Students on Ice expedition as an invited educator to the Canadian Arctic, starting in Greenland. Can you please tell us a bit about what Students on Ice is and how you became involved in it?
Students on Ice is an organisation that offers educational expeditions to the Polar regions for youth. They describe their mandate as being “to educate the world’s youth about the importance of the Polar Regions, support their continued growth, and inspire and catalyze initiatives that contribute to global sustainability”.
I was fortunate to be contacted by the Canada-UK Foundation, who wished to sponsor two UK scholars and two students taking part this year. When they offered me the opportunity to go, I couldn’t say no!
This year’s Arctic expedition started in Ottawa, from where we all travelled together to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, to board our ship, the Ocean Endeavour. From there we sailed northwards along the West Greenlandic coast, crossed the Davis Strait, and eventually ended our two-week journey in Resolute Bay, Nunavut. Throughout the trip, we ran workshops and panels, created art and handicrafts, played sports and games, cried and laughed, and even had a talent show on-board. We also saw some amazing wildlife and landscapes, engaged with the land, and visited some incredible communities along the way.
How has your personal and professional experiences helped you prepare for the role as an educator with the Students on Ice expedition?
My research focuses on Arctic geopolitics and notions of Arctic identity, and these were topics that surfaced on many occasions – also outside formal workshops. I expected to draw on my teaching experience of course, but while it certainly helped having taught in Higher Education, it was quite a unique experience. Learning on and with the land and ocean, in zodiac boats and sitting on the floor of the ship – the learning environment was like none other I have ever encountered. In addition to formal professional training, we all drew on our personal experiences and backgrounds. For example, I was on more than one occasion prompted to reflect on my own Arctic identity. In the end, we were all learners together, moving through Inuit Nunaat.
Please tell us a bit about purpose of the expedition.
The expedition was both educational and inspirational, meaning that the teaching content was always intended to feed into action for positive change. This year’s Arctic expedition had five core themes: Climate Change, Healthy Communities, Oceans Literacy, Blue Economy, and the Sustainable Development Goals. However, that did not mean formal lectures but rather that these were conversations that ran through everything we did. Through experiencing and engaging directly with the environment, the expeditions are often described as “transformative”; and indeed, many alumni have gone on to become leaders and activists driving further societal transformations.
How did you see this purpose being fulfilled on the trip?
Having participated in the trip, I finally see what they mean by “transformative”. I was impressed by a number of things, but perhaps most of all by the inclusive and supportive environment created among students (and staff). Moreover, our presence in Inuit homelands was acknowledged from the start, and Indigenous knowledges played a prominent part – as it should, but which is sadly often not the case.
The group of students was extraordinary and highly diverse, which no doubt added to the experience: The 130 or so students were between 14 and 24 years old, came from 18 different countries, and approximately 50% were Indigenous. Likewise, the staff team included a range of expert scientists, educators, Elders, artists, musicians, historians, journalists, industry leaders and more – so I was in very good company!
What value do the Students on Ice program add to engagement in, and with, the North?
The expedition and wider programme – which also includes alumni support – certainly fosters understanding of the North for both students and staff who took part. For those who were from the North themselves, I hope that they come away with a heightened sense of pride in their amazing part of the world.
More than this however, I have no doubt that the youth who took part will bring with them valuable lessons and impressions to their own communities. The hope is that this will generate further positive changes, e.g. in relation to the above five themes and generally fostering better engagement in and with the North.
How has your involvement in the Students on Ice expedition influenced your perception of the North?
Coming from North Norway, I felt familiar with the European North. However, while I have studied federal-level perceptions of the Canadian North, I had never been there myself before – and only briefly visited Greenland’s capital Nuuk. I was aware of many of the differences I was about to see, but it is quite different reading about something and actually experiencing it. One of the things I take away from the experience is deep respect for the Inuit whose homelands we were in, and appreciation for the hospitality and warmth we were met with. The experience has helped me understand better what the Arctic distances actually mean in practice – and how connections are nevertheless still strong across them.
Where can people go to learn more about Students on Ice and the recent Arctic expedition?
You can find out more on Students on Ice’s websites, where they also have a designated webpage for this year’s expedition (including some excellent videos). Next year will be their 20th anniversary expedition, so I would highly encourage anyone who has the chance to go!
Note: Please note that all pictures were provided by Ingrid Medby. All pictures, except the profile picture, were taken by Ingrid Medby, as well.