By: Christina Zerfas
Of all the ways to decide to go on an adventure, my plan to find a way to Antarctica was first hatched during an icebreaker activity at a work retreat. We had all been given M&Ms and asked to answer a question depending on the color of the candy. My orange M&M meant that I had to tell the group “if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?” This was the perfect question for me as my dream since childhood was to visit every continent. I have already had the fortune to travel to five continents, each with its own unique lessons, but came home every time itching to leave again to learn more. So without hesitation, I stood up and said “Antarctica- because it is the hardest continent to access.” As soon as I sat down, my mind was already onto the next step. “What would be the best way to travel to Antarctica? I need to begin my research….”
By the end of the week I had ordered a travel book, reached out to my network or travel buddies, read multiple travel blogs, and begun telling everyone I knew that I was considering traveling to Antarctica. By the end of the month I had figured out how to get last-minute deals on cruises and flights and knew that I could spend 10 glorious days sightseeing, provided I invested time and money into the right gear: base layers, waterproof pants, and a bag that could keep my camera safe.
However, I hesitated because I had a feeling that this adventure had the potential to be more than just a tourist excursion. One night, over a rare dinner to myself at home, I pulled up Ted.com and searched “Antarctica”. Robert Swan’s Ted Talk caught my eye and I quickly realized that going to one of the most desolate places on Earth could be one of the most educationally enriching experiences of my life.
Screenshot from Robert Swan's Ted Talk Video
Living in the land-locked state of Indiana, we, although affected by climate change, do not see the traumatizing effects of most natural disasters. However, the two earthquakes, two hurricanes, and hundreds of forest fires across North America in 2017 caught my attention as an increasing global issue with which Hoosiers cannot empathize.
Overall, I wanted to develop a greater understanding of climate change so that I can more effectively go about my driving life mission of building socially responsible communities. Through this trip I could expand my limited climate change knowledge. I would gain a deeper understand of exactly what climate change entails, grasping the reality and debunking the myths. Traveling with 2041 provided the best opportunity to learn about this subject and develop empathy by combining world-class lectures with the first-hand experience of visiting Antarctica. By bringing the authentic stories home, I could raise more credible awareness of the issue than Indiana has seen in the past as well as share best practices to instate the real change needed in my community.
I was fascinated, and decided to pursue the opportunity. By late October I found myself on the phone with a representative of 2041, Robert Swan’s foundation, interviewing to be one of the 92 people to travel with him in February to Antarctica to learn about climate change and become environmental advocates. Flash forward to Thanksgiving and I was humbled and honored to receive the invitation to take the trip. There was just one problem: the 2041 trip was triple the cost of the average tourist excursion to the Greatest Wilderness on Earth. As a recent college graduate, did I accept the spot and frantically fundraise for the trip I could not afford? Or did I play it safe, and choose to get to Antarctica another way, likely later on in my life?
I have never been one for playing it safe, and seeing as I spent the three days after my acceptance thinking of little else, I took the spot.
When I told my friends I would be traveling to my sixth continent, they responded, “We thought this had already been decided? You said you were thinking about it, so we assumed that meant it was going to happen.”
The official public announcement:
Taken by: Colleen Dierkes
Admittedly, people thought I was crazy, and I could not blame them. Family and friends saw the trip as lavish, thought I would get eaten by a polar bear (they only live in the Arctic, not the Antarctic), and suggested that $17,000 could be better spent on a house. (Note: that was the trip price without purchasing the equipment needed to withstand the antarctic conditions!) All of these points had some merit to them. I did not need to take this trip. While polar bears were not a concern, I would need to take several safety precautions exploring in close proximity to two of the world’s top predators: leopard seals and orcas and traveling through the roughest waters in the world. And conventional financial advice would suggest that a 22-year-old in their job should be saving money rather than spending it. But I had a gut feeling that this trip was taking me to the right place at the right time, and I would soon find out that I was right.
Before I knew it, and after many highs and lows in the fundraising process, I had $14,000 of university sponsorship from my alma mater, a backpack sponsored by Nya-Evo, and was boarding a plane by myself to travel where no one I knew had ever been before. My dream was just about to come true and I could not be more excited. Stress from finding funding and doubt of if this was the right decision faded away the moment I took off. I was embarking of the biggest adventure of my life!
Packed up and ready to go with my new Nya-Evo bag… three days too early:
Taken by: Kaitlin Koenig
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