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Greenland - the Greatest Classroom on Earth

Students on Ice (SOI) completed their inspiring 18th annual Arctic expedition this past summer. The SOI brought 130 students together from all over the world for a transformational voyage exploring Western Greenland and the Canadian High Arctic. Before their very eyes, the Arctic transformed into the greatest classroom on earth by giving high school and university students the chance to explore the Arctic climate, natural environment and culture.

Youth engagement

SOI arranged for the students to travel with a team of educators, scientists, historians, artists, explorers, authors, elders, leaders, innovators, and polar experts.

The students learned about many interesting and important topics, including plastic pollution, how to better preserve the oceans, and the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

"The purpose of the trip was to teach young people that it is not outside the realm of possibility for them to help make a change for the better, by disseminating their knowledge upon returning home", says Mira Kleist, who is Special Advisor on Arctic Affairs to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Greenland, and who was part of the Greenlandic staff on the expedition. According to Gaba Malik - a student from Greenland who joined the expedition - many of the students share their newly acquired knowledge by teaching their classmates about what they have learned by documenting the experience on YouTube for the wider public to see, and they sometimes end up developing an interest in pursuing a degree or career in the natural sciences. As Nelson Mandela said, "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

Climate change and nature

SOI strives to focus world attention on the Arctic. Their annual expedition often has Greenland as the main destination as it is seen as ground zero for climate change. To illustrate this to the students, a trip was arranged to Ilulissat, where they saw the iceberg “factory” Jakobshavn Icefjord. The students learned that this glacier will eventually stop producing icebergs as a result of climate change, and that the sea level will change within the next decades.

The students observed birds in the mountains and explored how they live in their habitats. They also brought plants and flowers on board the ship to further study the types of organisms that live in them.

Cultural meeting between Greenland (Denmark) and Canada

With a strong cultural component in the curriculum, SOI aims to raise a global understanding about the culture of the Arctic, says Mette Frost, senior advisor on Greenland and the Arctic at WWF Denmark, and who has been partnering with SOI for many years. The young participants played Inuit games, had a soccer match with the locals in Qeqertarsuaq, and learned about the local communities through drum dance, masquerade dance, pearl weaving and leather sewing. They also learned that some people live off the land their entire lives, and are therefore strongly impacted by the changing environment.

The students had a chance to taste the local food, which helped them feel a little more connected with the inhabitants of the Arctic. This gave rise to talks about how the melting of the ice affects the food chain for polar bears, which affects their ability to catch fish and seals, causing the bears to become emaciated and turn to cannibalism. This is one interesting example of the impact of climate change on the Arctic that Gaba Malik pointed out.

In short, the expedition was nothing short of informative.

To read more about SOI’s upcoming expeditions, please click here.