Reverse Culture Shock (Antarctica 3/3)

Reverse Culture Shock (Antarctica 3/3)

June 05, 2018

Post-expedition Reflections
By: Christina Zerfas

It is always hard when you have to face “reality” again after a trip.  However, post-Antarctica, authentic reverse culture shock came as a surprise.  I involuntarily jumped backwards when the first car passed upon my return to South America (then quickly looked around with a giggle to make sure no one saw how foolish I looked).  The smell of pollution where I live in Indianapolis, considered low, was overwhelming, and opening a computer seemed to have become the most undesirable thing to do (not good when you have a job at a technology company!).

I felt like I was being dramatic because it seemed that three short weeks should not be long enough to fully acclimate to a new normal, but the reality was, I had been reminded of what it is like to be 100 percent present and 100 percent yourself.  As explained in the prior blog post, the continent exceeded my expectations, but kayaking everyday, maximizing time in true fresh air, and traveling with The Explorer’s Passage team that filled the day with stimulating conversation pushed me in ways that caused me to grow in mind, body, and spirit.  


Academically, this trip pushed me to consider the impacts of climate change in ways that living and working in landlocked Indiana never had.  Many conversations circled around The Paris Agreement and the global effort to limit the global average temperature rise to 2°C. We discussed particularly interesting technology that could turn greenhouse gas back into rock.   This expedition was made carbon negative by partnerships with groups such as Climeworks which built a machine that pulls CO2 out of the air.  

Journaling was Key for Notes and Reflection

Taken by Jennifer Whalen

All of this was fascinating but for me, as I looked to connect how environmentalism factored into the construction of communities, I realized during the course of the trip that climate change is a humanitarian issue.  In the humanitarian perspective, the planet will survive no matter what, but that it's humans that are in danger of extinction because of it. Rather than viewing the planet as the main victim of climate change, it's in fact humans that are in the most grave danger. In fact, the UN Ambassador that joined us on the expedition gave a presentation about how climate change perpetuated the Syrian Civil War.  This is not the only conflict that climate change, now called the ‘threat multiplier’, has enlarged. Considering the environment in this way was a large change of perspective for me. It made the topic more relevant to landlocked Indiana and encourages me to reconsider approaching climate change discussions in combination with poverty alleviation, international conflict, and business.

Collectively, we also set aside plenty of time for meditation and reflection.  My favorite spot was easily our continental landing in which our group of 100 travelers sat quietly for an hour reflecting and writing postcards to our future selves.  

My View from The Edge of the Continent of Antarctica Made It Easy To Meditate

Taken by Christina Zerfas


Kayaking everyday was not just the coolest thing I have ever done (see prior post), but as a lifelong athlete struggling with the transition to a desk job, it reminded me of the importance of increased movement in my daily schedule.  While in Antarctica, I kayaked an average of 1.5 hours a day and immediately felt the impact of the lack of movement upon my return. In effort to be more active throughout my day, I now walk outside during phone calls at work, signed up for volleyball, tennis, and soccer leagues, and am fixing my bike so I can replace my 25-min drive with a 1-hour bike ride to work.

I have been a ballroom and social dancer for about five years now and much like soccer, this skill has been valuable when traveling international.  Both dancing and soccer as “the world’s sport” are activities that transcend language and oftentimes cultural barriers. On board the ship, the top two floors did not have bedrooms meaning that we were free to connect to the speakers on the top floor without disturbing passengers below.  The expedition team took full advantage of this and we danced every night sharing dance styles from Bollywood to African Line Dancing to Swing (my contribution). The physical and cognitive combination created a new level of appreciation for each others cultures while keeping us active in the confines of the boat.  

While there, I was also able to keep my streak of salsa dancing on every continent I have visited to date.  

Dancing around the World: Marking Salsa Dancing on 6/6 Visited Continents

Taken By: Annie Waterston

The fresh, Antarctic air and lack of screens worked together as a cleanse making me feel better mentally, physically, and of course, spiritually too.


“Disconnect to reconnect” was the phrase that Jumper, the security enforcer for the expedition, drilled into our heads during the trip.  I needed no second bidding as I generally look for any excuse to disconnect from technology and there wasn’t wifi even if I wanted it. “Use technology-  don’t let technology use you” was our expedition leader Rob’s favorite phrase. Upon returning home I realized that even as someone who will call to response to your text, has only social media account, and has no game apps on her phone, I still find myself staring at a monitor for 7 hours a day on average.  The impact disconnecting had on my spirit now has me thinking more seriously on the impacts of screens on people overall and why millennials are considered the loneliest generation.  On this trip, I felt anything but lonely.

Jumper and I: Connecting Over Being Disconnected

Taken by Stan Muraczewski

Another concept this experience brought to the forefront of my mind is the idea that you are a combination of the five people with whom you spend the most time.  At home, I have a reputation for “scheming.” Most recently I channeled this energy to raise over $22,000 for a non-profit and am filing a patent later this summer.  I gain energy from the process of transforming dreams into realities, but on this boat I was exhilarated by the realization that the surrounding company on the boat made my dreams feel small.  If I, known among my friends and family back home as an obvious big dreamer, wasn’t dreaming big enough,the possibilities are endless. It was exhilarating. Of many projects being championed on the expedition, the South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC) was the most unifying and dynamic.  I'm proud to have traveled with an expedition whose purpose was to further the SPEC's mission of inspiring concrete changes in energy use through climate change education and advocacy.

Finally, Antarctica also reminded me of a personal motto: Rule #6 - Don’t take yourself so darn seriously. It is very easy to get caught up in issues at home or at work and believe that they are significantly more important or urgent than they actually are.  I didn’t want to go back to that mentality upon my return but I have discovered since that it is all too easy to slip back into the rat race. At times I have to remind myself of my wide-eyed reaction to the first car I saw when I returned to Argentina to put the contrasting versions of “normal” into perspective. I'm moving forward knowing that this experience, in combination with all others, make me who I am and will inform my journey from here.  I am thrilled to dream even bigger about what's next.

Flying home, I realized I was not ready to come back yet. I was rapidly trying to process what to do with the experience.  I had gained a missing puzzle piece in my intended future work of building communities and I now knew how to ask better questions of sourcing and environmental impact.  Before leaving I would have argued that I typically fall more on the humanitarian side of issues, but this trip showed me how climate change is one of those issues. I knew this experience was crucial into ensuring that I was making educated decisions in my career, but now I find myself noticing things multiple times a day that could be different and working with my friends to implement everyday tactics that make a huge impact on decreasing waste and CO2 emissions.  

Coming back was harder than I thought it would be, but I have found that the best cure to post-adventure blues is to start planning the next adventure.  My bag and I have already been to the most desolate place on Earth. It traveled without me to Ireland shortly after and we are both headed to a National Park next week.  Plans are being set to climb Kilimanjaro and next steps include salsa dancing on continent 7 out of 7….

Robert Swan’s Adventures Led Him to Start the Expedition That Became My Adventure.  Where Will My Adventure Take Me?

Taken by Kim Lyell

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