Claire Sutherland admiring the Arctic scenery.

Castlegar student on Arctic expedition

Claire Sutherland is taking part in a Students on Ice arctic journey.

Castlegar student Claire Sutherland is off on a journey of a life time. The grade 12 Stanley Humphries student is exploring the Arctic with Students on Ice (SOI).

On July 21, a group of more than 100 high school and university students from across Canada and around the world gathered in Ottawa to begin the two-week expedition to the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. They are led by an expert team made up of 80 scientists, artists, Inuit leaders, dignitaries and polar explorers.

Organizers hope to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the Arctic through hands-on learning in science, history, culture, arts, policy and governance. Key educational themes include climate change, marine protected areas, Truth and Reconciliation and youth engagement.

After flying to Ottawa and spending several days in preparation activities including meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sutherland flew to Iqaluit, Nunavut to board the expedition vessel, the Ocean Endeavour — a 5500-ton, 150 ft. ship equipped with everything the students will need for their journey including about 20 zodiacs, which the group takes out almost every day. They group spent several days exploring the communities, coasts and islands of the Canadian Arctic before crossing the Davis Strait to spend some time on the coast of Greenland.

It was somewhere off the coast of Greenland that the Castlegar News caught up with Sutherland via Satellite phone. Sutherland first learned about the SOI program on her school’s website, and as she is hoping to go to university to study biology, thought it would be a great opportunity to prepare for her future.

Sutherland reported that for her, so far Greenland was definitely one of the highlights of the journey. “All the mountains — it is just so beautiful.,” she said. “Just yesterday, we went out on the zodiacs and we were meters away from humpback whales. It is hard to describe, it has just been so amazing.”

There isn’t really any way for Sutherland to communicate with home during the trip, there is no access to the usual conveniences of internet and cell phones. Like many of the other students, she writes blog posts which are then uploaded to the SOI web site and friends and family can follow her journey.

A typical day consists of an early wake-up call followed by breakfast, then a zodiac trip to land or workshops, followed by lunch and either more workshops or zodiac adventures, dinner and then evening programs which often include music and cultural presentations.

“I have definitely learned a lot. I see the world as such a bigger place now,” said Sutherland. “I want to go everywhere and see so much more.”

For Sutherland, the trip was’t just a journey and exploration of the Arctic, but a personal journey and exploration of herself as well. “I feel like most importantly, I learned a lot about myself,” she said. “I spent two weeks without any contact with anyone I knew. I was pretty isolated up here. I figured out some of what I want to do in my future.”

Some of those future plans include making a difference in her home town. “I learned a lot about the North and the culture and how it is being threatened by climate change and what I can do in my community to help,” said Sutherland. “I have a few ideas already brewing — I will see where it goes.”

Sutherland was quick to encourage others to take the same journey. “I would recommend this experience to anyone,” she said. “I feel like doing this really made me grow as a person and really opened my eyes to the entire world and what is possible.”

To learn more about Students on Ice or to read Sutherland’s blog posts, go to studentsonice.com.