When I got the call from National Geographic back in February that I had been chosen as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, it was quite a shock. I was congratulated on my selection and informed I would be exploring "the land of the ice bears." Wow, I thought, I am going to the Arctic! Then, "You will be on an expedition of Svalbard in June." After saying thank you repeatedly, crying uncontrollably and finally hanging up the phone, I looked at my laptop in front of me and promptly googled "Svalbard."
Svalbard is an archipelago that has been part of the Kingdom of Norway since 1925, and the islands are about halfway between continental Norway and the North Pole in the Arctic Ocean. Svalbard compares in size to the state of West Virginia or the country of Scotland. About 60% of Svalbard is covered in ice, but there are areas of low-lying and very well-adapted vegetation. In fact, I can expect to see some exotic Arctic flowers since it will be the summer season.
During my summer expedition, I can expect variable temperatures ranging from 30-50°F and a lot of daylight! Though some areas are untouched wildness, Svalbard has been used over the years by hunters, fishers, mining companies, and scientists and actually has the northernmost permanent settlements in the world.
This year, on account of my commitment to helping students understand the world we live in, I have been selected as a National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. The fellowship program is named for National Geographic Society Chairman Gilbert M. Grosvenor. Only 25 teachers from the US and Canada were chosen for this honor, and I am proud to be the only Fellow selected from Hawaii in the fellowship's eight year history. All the Grosvenor Teacher Fellows get the chance to participate in an expedition aboard the National Geographic Explorer somewhere in the world, and my particular expedition will be of Arctic Svalbard from June 7th-16th. I am so excited to experience the Arctic wilderness!
In April, all of this year’s Grosvenor Teacher Fellows travelled to Washington, D.C. for a professional development workshop at National Geographic Headquarters. The three-day training was a chance to develop a collegial network among the fellows and to learn about expedition gear, photography, and outreach planning through hands-on sessions. We also had the opportunity to meet Lindblad Expeditions President Sven Lindblad, along with National Geographic’s Gilbert Grosvenor himself.
My expedition will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime voyage of discovery.
In less than two weeks, I will travel to Arctic Svalbard and board the National Geographic Explorer. I will have a chance to learn from experts including National Geographic photographers and Lindblad Expeditions naturalists. I will leave the tropics and enter a foreign landscape of pack ice and glaciers, and I will most likely observe wildlife such as walrus, reindeer, and polar bears in their natural habitat.
My new parka, knee-high rubber boots and all manner of silk, wool, and fleece layers are already packed. I have been learning how to use my camera's settings in order to best document my experience. And I have been reading all I can about Svalbard natural and cultural history. Embarking on this Arctic adventure is such a thrill, and I cannot wait to share it with students, other teachers, and my community. I will be bringing back to Hawaii knowledge about a wholly different part of the world and no doubt a greater understanding of how we are all connected.