It’s not your average 14 year old that asks to go on an expedition halfway around the world, but that’s just what Kamloops’ Justine Wild did when she asked her mother if she could join the Students on Ice expedition to the Antarctic, departing Dec. 27.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” gleams Royanna Wild, the intrepid explorer’s mother. “We’re just so excited she can participate.”
It was while attending a lecture on Ernest Shackleton’s heroic expedition to Antartica that Justine first learned of Students on Ice, the organization that coordinates the educational expeditions to the world’s polar regions.
Initially, Justine didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 14 to apply for the expedition.
“I was 13 when I found out about it, so I waited until my birthday,” says Justine. “I filled out my checklist with my perspective on the environment, what I do at school, all that sort of stuff.”
Three weeks later, her mother received the news her daughter had been accepted into the program.
“I was so excited when the letter came to us, I texted her at school hoping she’d look at her phone,” exclaims Royanna.
The Students on Ice mandate is to provide students, educators and scientists from around the world inspiring educational opportunities at the ends of the Earth, helping to foster a new understanding and respect for the planet. Now in its 11th year, the organization has escorted almost 2,000 students to both the Arctic and the Antarctic, providing a connection to the natural world that many might not otherwise have experienced.
Geoff Green, former educator and adventure guide, and now founder and CEO of Students on Ice, developed the program after seeing the affect the regions have on travellers.
“I had been seeing how profoundly impacted people were by going to the Arctic and Antarctic and I thought ‘imagine if we could give that experience to youth at the beginning of their life and how that would open new horizons and change perspectives,’” says Green.
Justine’s expedition will explore Ushuaia, at the tip of South America, before crossing the Drake Passage to the South Shetland Islands. Each day will present a new opportunity to explore landing sites and conduct scientific research as part of the Students on Ice curriculum.
“We’ll be doing some ice coring, which is an ongoing study the students started four or five years ago monitoring one particular ice cap,” says Green who ensures that students conduct meaningful research while on expedition.
“I’m really looking forward to doing research activities because it’s all hands on stuff,” says Wild. “I’m also looking forward to learning about the affects of UV rays on the thinning ozone layers, because it’s really impacting the Antarctic.”
According to Green, Students on Ice expeditions are a life changing experience.
“Places like the Antarctic are the great equalizer, no matter what age you are,” he says, noting that most of their student explorers are operating out of their comfort zone. “Disconnecting from all those things we think are important in our society, you’re homesick, maybe you’re seasick, and by the time you get to Antarctica, you’ve been travelling for five days, you’re kind of broken down. There’s a “no technology” policy, so the kids are in withdrawal. Then they get to Antarctica and it’s so overwhelmingly beautiful, and so humbling, it builds the kids back up again. It’s a transformative experience that takes place in a relatively short time.”
There to help along the way are staff and volunteers who provide a positive, caring and nurturing environment for the students.
“We have this incredible collection of adults—scientists, teachers, artists,” says Green. “We bring our own doctors; we have field staff, adventurers, journalists, politicians, Nobel Prize winners and astronauts. A big part of the experience is the mentorship, getting the kids to learn about the life journeys these people have had.”
The journey isn’t without cost; tuition and travel expenses for Justine’s adventure are more than $13,500. A motivated young lady, she hopes to raise $10,000 herself with any shortfall being made up by her parents.
“We fully support her on her endeavour and whatever she doesn’t raise we’ll find a way to make it happen,” says her mother.
Between school commitments and band practice, Justine is busy creating crafts to sell at craft shows as well as designing encaustic wax cards she’s selling at the Sotheby’s office in Sun Peaks.
To help Justine offset her expedition costs, donations are being accepted in her name through the Students on Ice Foundation. The foundation is a registered Canadian charity and all donations are tax deductable.