Brrr, it’s Cold in Here: An Interview with Rebecca Hagos, Participant in Students on Ice

This term, I had the pleasure of interviewing a TD Scholarship winner and Students on Ice participant, Rebecca Hagos. Rebecca is an active member of the community and is very passionate about social and environmental change. In this interview, Rebecca shares her experience about going to Greenland through the Students on Ice program.

What is Students on Ice?

Students on Ice (SOI) is a program with the mandates of educating the world’s youth about the importance of the polar regions and inspiring initiatives that contribute to global sustainability. Since its inception in 2000, SOI has taken over 2500 students and staff on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. The program accepts high school and university students regardless of their backgrounds. One of their best features is that they offer over 80% of the students with scholarships to fund the trip.

How does SOI choose their participants?

The application process is similar to applying for university or community scholarships. The online application itself doesn’t take very long. There are a few short essays which allow the SOI selection committee to learn more about you. Applicants should demonstrate an interest in the polar regions, a passion for learning, leadership qualities, community involvement, and a strong desire to make a difference. The application does not ask for transcripts, but being in good academic standing will help you get reference letters, of which two are required.

How did you hear about SOI?

During my senior year of high school, I decided that I wanted to go to university for free. Growing up, I saw the financial struggles of my older siblings when they were in university. This inspired me to apply for as many scholarships as possible. While searching for scholarships, I realized that there were travel scholarships as well! I was on a Canadian government site for youth looking for a different exchange programs when I stumbled upon Students on Ice.

What made you decide to go all the way to the Arctic?

After coming across the website, I fell in love with the trip and what it stood for: educating youth about polar sustainability and fostering an appreciation for the planet and indigenous cultures. I was inspired by the journal entries of past students on the trip. While I was eager to learn about climate change, I also thought it would be an amazing way to learn more about Inuit culture and the North.

Past journal entries can be found on the SOI’s Past Expeditions page here.

During the expedition, what did you do and what did you learn?

It’s hard to put into terms but SOI was truly a life-changing experience. The trip took us from team building in Ottawa, to Kuujuaq, Quebec, to the Torngat Mountains of Labrador, and finally to Greenland. I learned more through my two weeks with SOI than through any lectures or videos on environmental change, and Inuit and Native culture. Through SOI, I had an immersive learning experience surrounded by experts on various fields. On the trip, we were taught by photographers, scientists, artists, elders, musicians and professors. Most days we would go out on the land and choose a workshop to attend by one of the educators.

I learned about melting glaciers while standing on a glacier with a glaciologist. I saw polar bears with my own eyes, climbed mountains, and was a few feet away from a whale. I even got to drive a zodiac through the Fjord of Eternity in Greenland. Other experiences include examining the remnants of a displaced community, hiking a mountain, and attending a throat singing workshop.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in this program?

If you are interested in SOI, go for it! It was a life-changing experience! Although the trip costs ~$11 000, I was able to attend through a fully-funded scholarship. I was fortunate to receive one of five full scholarships offered by the Leacross Foundation, an amazing organization dedicated to helping women and children reach their full potential. Students can apply for this scholarship, and others, directly from the SOI website.

A majority of the students who participate in SOI excursions do so through scholarships. Many participants also fundraise some money on their own; SOI’s website has a comprehensive list of fundraising tips.

After the trip, what are some key qualities students come away with?

We returned with a heightened sense of understanding and leadership. SOI equipped us with the knowledge and the skills to bring the information we had learned back to our communities. Additionally, learning about displaced communities from Inuit and Aboriginal elders taught me empathy and gave me a new perspective on history. Two weeks of constantly inspiration and challenges left me feeling like I could do more to effect change.

To learn more about Students on Ice, visit:

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