Into the wild unknown, aboard National Geographic Explorer

Sardis teacher shares experiences from Antarctic adventure

Jenn Long

Jenn Long

“Dec 20/ 2014

What a day, what a day. I am typing tonight’s post while sitting in the library on the uppermost deck of the ship as we sail towards Drake’s Passage. The only word to describe this exact moment is surreal. As I try to focus on my computer screen, my eyes keep being drawn back towards the snow capped coastal mountains that make up the end of the Andes Chain. In the background I am listening to the sound of new friends introducing themselves and singing the song to light the Menorah, in a few minutes it will be lit in this room. Again.Surreal I feel so incredibly honored to be here and experiencing all of this.”

– Jenn Long, Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Award winner, excerpt from www.geoeducationadventures.com.

 

Most people spend Christmastime dreaming about the North Pole.

Not Sardis secondary teacher Jenn Long. Not this year.

Her holidays were spent at the exact opposite ends of Earth, on an epic journey that is now ingrained in her memory for life.

Last year, through a mix of serendipity, curiosity and hard work, Long earned a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Award. She had read about the possibility on a friend’s Facebook page, clicked the link, and became intrigued. Soon she was filling out applications, making her dream trip become a reality.

In December, she packed her bags and boarded the National Geographic Explorer alongside naturalists and geologists, teachers and photographers. The travelers came from all points of the globe, to the warm climes of South America. From there they made their way across the rough Drake passage, bound and determined to reach one of the most the mysterious locales on the planet. Their collective goal was to learn more about Antarctica, and bring what they’ve discovered back to the rest of us. The larger goal is for humans to learn how to protect the mostly untouched land.

“There is no natural population there, and if we think of wanting to preserve it, you have to have advocates for it,” she said. She and four other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows invited on the trip now have the task of sharing what she learned.

“In terms of the whole fellowship, part of it is coming back and sharing with our schools, but also with our communities as well. It is not just meant to be knowledge that’s stuck in my head,” Long said. “I’m supposed to be sharing it.”

She hasn’t wasted any time doing so. Her blog (at www.geoeducationadventures.com) was updated almost daily throughout the entire trip, even in the throes of seasickness. Each night in her cabin aboard the Explorer, Long described her experiences and feelings, introducing her shipmates to her online audience, and sharing photographs of the scenery – penguins and all.

She arrived back home with just two days left in the winter break, and spent those first few classes sharing her trip with her students, all eager to hear about the real Antarctica.

“Now, rather than being an abstract place, it’s a place there teacher has been, making it more real for them to comprehend,” she said. “They can say, ‘I want to go there now, this actually could be a reality, this could be something we could do.'”

And this Saturday, she’ll be one of the featured speakers at an education-focused TEDx talk in Langley, where she’ll be discussing how teachers can help to create global citizens and environmental stewards.

In her role as a biology and ecotourism high school teacher, Long is in the perfect position to create awareness among her students. Being housed among field researchers going about their regular work gave Long the chance to observe and interact in fascinating research.

“I was just walking around taking notes about everything I saw,” she said, and now has a mountain of notes and photographs to sort through.

But the trip wasn’t just a teaching tool and career opportunity — it was a chance to learn.

“I was living what I’d learned about in text books so nothing shocked me,” she said. “But what surprised me is that everyone calls it the white continent, and how much colour there was. It should be called the Journey to the Blue Continent, with the glacial ice and so many different tones of the blues in the sky.”

Long’s father, Bob, was a long-time Chilliwack educator. And he taught his daughter from a young age to take in everything, and to make the most of every experience. This trip gave her the chance to live that lesson fully.

“He’s taught me to embrace life and to learn from every experience you can possibly learn from,” she said. “In terms of going and soaking everything in, it all contributes to this amazing experience.”

She had expected it to be the trip of a lifetime, and it delivered.

“It was pretty phenomenal,” she said. “I don’t think there will ever be a trip that will top this one. It’s imprinted in my memory forever.”

To read more about the trip, visit www.geoeducationadventures.com.