She’s almost speechless when asked about her recent expedition to the Antarctic, but when 14 year old Justine Wild reflects on her journey to the bottom of the Earth, the one word that she keeps repeating is “incredible.”
“It was way more than I thought it would be,” grins Wild.
Wild, along with 60 other students from around the world joined the Students on Ice Expedition to the Antarctic in December. Now in its 11th year, the organization provides students, educators and scientists inspiring educational opportunities at the end of the Earth.
Travelling three days to Ushuaia, Argentina, the group boarded an expedition ship to cross the Drake Passage to the South Shetland Islands. Long feared by mariners, the Drake has a reputation for rough crossings.
“It was pretty bad, everyone was sick,” remembers Wild. “But after we crossed the passage, according to the ship’s crew, we had the best weather in the whole year.”
That weather opened a window on a world very few have encountered and, in Wild’s experience, a world that was untouched.
“I remember we were on the deck one day and a plane flew overhead. Everyone just stopped to watch this plane and it really showed me, there’s just no one down there.”
Adding to that perception of isolation, Students on Ice participants are required to unplug from the outside world. Wild didn’t mind being disconnected.
“I didn’t feel alone, but I did feel isolated, but in a good way,” explains Wild. “We were so busy during the day; we really didn’t notice it all.”
While the Antarctic may be devoid of humans, the wildlife is abundant. Sailing the Antarctic Ocean the group saw plenty of shore birds, seals and, on one occasion, a pod of 16 killer whales swam alongside their research vessel. Out on a hike one afternoon Wild and her fellow students encountered a mountain of penguins.
“It was pretty cool. We didn’t realize it was penguins until someone gave us binoculars and when we looked, (the horizon) was full of penguins; it was incredible!”
It’s a bit early to know what she’ll do for her career, but after taking part in the Students on Ice expedition, one thing Wild knows for sure is that it will somehow involve a return visit to Antarctica.
“It really showed me what is out there, and I’d love to go back,” she says. “It’s just incredible.”