I hate public speaking.

So to anyone who’s met me, whenever I mention that I seriously despise public speaking, the first thing anyone often says in response is, “What? YOU? No way! You’re so outgoing! There’s no way you don’t like public speaking!”

Yeah well, it’s true. I have never ever enjoyed public speaking. Sure, I’ll have a go at promoting events and being obnoxiously loud about why engineering is the best faculty on campus, but when it comes to being serious and sharing/presenting something that I’ve been specifically (t)asked to talk about? Nope. Nope. Nope. I’d really rather be in the audience.

(Un)fortunately, when I came back home from my adventures in Greenland, one of the first things that I was asked to do was make a presentation on my experience and why students should consider signing up to go abroad (either for coop, or in my case, for academic exchange). Needless to say, I really didn’t want to do it but I knew there was no way around it.

The style of presentation that I was asked (by my boss) to present was in the form of a PechaKucha – a 6min 40sec presentation where you talk through 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each.

Bleh. As if I already didn’t hate having to talk in front of a crowd, now I’m on a time crunch that requires me to cram everything that I want to say in just a few minutes. Ugh. 

As much as I wanted to say no to the presentation, I figured it was about time to buck up and get over with it. I’ll have to get used to presenting eventually, might as well start now.

So, after fighting back waaayy too many nerves and having my boss hire an “acting coach” to train us on how to do a PechaKucha-style presentation, I finally got my presentation out of the way and I’m happy to say that even though I was shaking in my boots, apparently nobody had any idea just how terrified I was and I actually got some positive feedback! Phew!

The analogy was made that if I were standing in a bucket of wet sand during my presentation, I would’ve completely liquefied with how fast my legs were shaking. Stage fright is real y’all.

But without further ado, here’s a revised version of my script with a few snippets of the photos that came along with what I wanted to say!


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Imagine with me if you will, you’ve finished your last class, your last exam, your last lab report, and you’ve finally walking across that stage to pick up your degree. How many of you know exactly what you want to do next? How many of you have absolutely no idea?

Well this was exactly the question that I asked myself when I walked in on what I thought would be my last first day of school here at UBC.

“I’m in my final year, what do I want to spend the rest of my life doing?! What does this degree even amount to if I have no idea where I want to go?

I remember, walking into the final dregs of my undergraduate degree feeling terrified from all the pressure of family, friends, even faculty who were expecting me to succeed! I was scared! It left me feeling so anxious and incredibly frustrated, completely at a loss for what to do.

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Have you ever caught yourself wondering why you’re sitting in class in the first place, when you’d really rather be at home tackling that pile of work sitting on your desk? Or those moments in class when all you see and hear is one formula after another with no idea how to link them all together?!

It’s all so technical! Engineering is full of ‘technical’!
But I’m not technical!

And that’s just it. I realized, that I am not a technical engineer! Something was missing in my degree and I needed to pin it down. I had just finished reading the e-neus (that nobody reads), and saw the tagline “Come to Greenland and learn about Extreme Engineering!” I took that as a sign.

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But what in the world is “Extreme Engineering”? Well, let me tell you: It’s the study of extreme climates and seeing how engineering can play a role in places such as the Arctic – learning about permafrost and other cold climate regions, working towards integrating sustainable development for the communities of people who live there.

People. I was missing the people. When we’re in school, we’re always being inundated with theories and case studies, but for what? For the people! For the communities that we want to be serving as engineers! I believe, that as an engineer, part of my job is to solve problems for the communities that live in this world!

In Greenland, one of our projects was to build a skating rink on a frozen lake (as I’m sure you’ve all seen from some of my previous posts or instagram photos). All of the effort and the late nights that we invested into putting this little rink together, fighting back endless evenings of freshly dumped snow, we finally had something that we were proud of. Something that not only we as the engineering students could enjoy, but also the whole community! 

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Every weekend we would set up shop, where kids and adults of all ages would come by and learn how to skate! A lot of them had never even seen skates before, so to actually be a part of the laughter and the energy emanating from that little patch of semi-smooth, yet often-chipped ice as we skated for hours, it’s an experience I will never forget!

We made an impact. 

We physically built something for the city, and everyone was out to support and cheer us on for what we did! We might not have done a whole lot of technical ‘engineering’, but it doesn’t really matter because in the end, it’s the service to the people that really counts. Isn’t that what engineering is really all about?

In my opinion, the most important aspect of our profession is to serve the ‘greater good’ and make an effort in bettering the lives of those we choose to make an impact on. It’s the families that we save from the next flood or earthquake, the pursuit of more sustainable water treatment or biofuel to build a better future for generations to come.

Every single one of our disciplines has something to offer, regardless of where in our incredible profession we all end up!

Whether that’s robots or drones to prevent putting humans at risk in dangerous situations, designing bridges between towns for easier access to food and water, or even simply building a skating rink that brings people together and expands community relationships.

This aspect of community and public-involvement was exactly the piece to my degree that I felt I was missing. Going abroad has opened up new doors for me to be pushed outside of my comfort zone and give life a chance! To figure out the things I like and dislike, to struggle through my frustrations, and actually make it all worth something!

Another project that I worked on was a slightly more hands-on approach to what “extreme engineering” really entails. When living in Greenland, or almost anywhere within the Arctic Circle, the presence of permafrost is more than just a natural phenomenon. It’s a fact of life. Everything that you see and do, is related to the frozen ground below you. 

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Luckily for me, not only was I able to live and learn about this permafrost, I was literally up to my armpits in this stuff! But the best part is, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Germany and attend an international conference on permafrost! It was absolutely incredible!

Remember that fear and anxiety that I had about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life? Well honestly, up until this point, I still hadn’t figured it out. That’s when I met Marcia, the coolest, nicest, most badass researcher to have ever turned me into a nervous wreck. It was so embarrassing.

Normally at networking events, I’ll shy away from conversation until I find somebody who I know can help me get started. But this time, there was no way around it! I was on unfamiliar ground, at a week-long conference that I felt I knew absolutely nothing about. Yet here I was, completely surrounded by experts in the field. I, was sweating bullets.

But little did I know, after following Marcia around for what felt like the next twelve hours trying to work up the courage to even introduce myself, I had found something that would leave me jumping out of my own skin to learn more about it: ROCK GLACIERS!

That might not mean a whole lot to many of you reading this post, but to me,
that is where I want my engineering degree to be!
Mapping out rock glacier hazards and assessing the safety of nearby communities at risk.
This, is what I want to be spending the rest of my life doing!

I can’t say that I know exactly what my immediate future is going to look like, but that’s okay because all of this new-found excitement with having traveled across the Atlantic and meeting people from all over the world, it all brought me straight back to the very place where this whole adventure all began: here at UBC. 

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By acknowledging my insecurities and taking that Indiana Jones “leap of faith” to search for those missing pieces in my degree, not only have I discovered something that I’m completely infatuated with, but I’ve also rediscovered the answer to why I chose engineering in the first place! I chose it for the people!

If there’s anything that I want you to take away from me blabbing to you for the past few minutes, it’s that there’s more to your degree than just the academics!

Each of you sitting here (at this presentation on campus) today have already made it this far, and that speaks volumes to just how smart you all actually are!

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So what are you going to do with that big brain of yours?! Disconnect from those textbooks and theories, to reconnect with why you chose to be an engineer! Maybe you have no idea, but that’s alright because unless you willingly make an effort to fumble with the pieces, you’ll never really know if they’re actually going to fit.


So yes, there it is! My one-digit-minute presentation on why I absolutely loved my adventure of struggling through the frustrations and unknowns in my degree. I may have gone over the 20-slide limit by just a tad, but I’m relieved that it’s finally over and I’ll get to continue on with all the other work that I have on my list that I’ve been putting off to fight my nerves and paranoia about screwing up while presenting. I made a few mistakes along the way when my brain blanked out and I completely forgot what I wanted to say, but hey, nobody’s perfect. I sure as hell ain’t.

Cheers, and thanks for reading! I know this one might be a long one but I’m pumped that it’s up and out for whoever wants to read it! Stay classy everyone and I’ll be back to post some more about things I keep promising to post about!

Yeehhoo!!

Learning? What’s that?

Okay, so with the looming onset of returning back to school for my final academic year of undergrad (for real this time!), the prospect of learning comes back to mind when I need to consider mentally preparing myself for the battle that lies ahead.

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Let’s face it. Olina Chang isn’t exactly the most book-smart person we know.

And I accept that. I’m more than okay with not being at the top of the class, nor having all the answers to all of the questions that get thrown my way. If there’s anything that I’ve learned throughout my five years of struggling with being an engineering student, it’s that having friends and working together as a team go a looooonngg way in helping you maintain at least some form of sanity. Best of all, if these friends also happen to have hobbies/interests outside of the classroom that can help you take your mind off of the endless projects and lab assignments that will inevitably pile up on your desk for at least a few minutes every day (such as between-class-Mario-Kart-marathons), you’re sure to finish with some form of success as a student so long as you keep your wits about you (as if that’s not already a difficult enough task for some of us as it is….).

Overly competitive digital racing games with small mushrooms and moustached italians aside, where was I going with this post? Oh yes, learning. Being side-tracked and incredibly easily distracted has been a characteristic that has plagued me all my life (it really doesn’t help with this whole testing and retaining knowledge thing).

Last week, I was having lunch with Amy, one of our faculty academic advisors, not so much to discuss where my academic career was headed and whether or not the prospect of graduation was actually on the horizon (although a very important discussion indeed), but as friends catching up over the summer and retelling stories of my adventures in Greenland. It was a much needed chance for me to put together words surrounding what I actually learned while I was away, and to physically hear myself verbalising the events that occurred and some of the accomplishments that our class was able to achieve while studying/living in Greenland. This was after all, an academic exchange.

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely one of those people who often struggle to believe something until I actually hear myself say it.

This was exactly one of those occasions. Ever since I’ve been back in town, I’ve had a few people here and there ask me about what I did while I was in Greenland, but no one ever really asked me about my actual studies and what exactly it was I was doing/learning in the classroom or on field days. For this reason, I’ve decided to write this blog post based around some of the stuff that we actually focused on while in Sisimiut, just to sort of sum everything up and have it all written down in writing (considering how poorly I did with trying to keep track of it all while it was happening. Better late than never?).

Just to put this all into context, Amy was one of the people at UBC that I met up with before leaving for Greenland and I’d like to think that I made a great choice in doing so. She played a role in helping me decide whether or not I wanted to drop out of my supposed final semester of undergrad and pursue this adventure into an Arctic expanse of snow and ice. So needless to say, I knew I’d be tracking her down when I had the chance after coming home so we could chat about everything that happened. And of course, it was Amy herself who asked me what exactly it was that I got up to (aka learned) while I was away on my adventures in a place that not too many people know about, which leads me to what you’re about to read. :) 

And so, the story begins:

We start, from the beginning.

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COURSE 11857 – Extreme Climates and Physical Nature

The start of our “Arctic Semester” consisted primarily of getting to know our surroundings and how some things came to be what we see today. From snow and ice processes to the general basics of arctic climate and weather, we learned about how ecosystems thrive and die in some of the world’s harshest environments. We had experts speak to us from the fields of permafrost, geology/geophysics and snow/ice physics, to professionals in snowdrifts and wind loading as well as arctic logistics and satellite monitoring systems. Needless to say, it was a great introduction to some of the many aspects involved when it comes to living and working in “extreme environments”.

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COURSE 11858 – Arctic Infrastructure and Society

The following three weeks after our first course was focused on understanding the history of the Greenlandic peoples and how the island sociotechnically came to be. Starting with stories of immigrants travelling across vast Arctic landscapes to settle on the coasts of Greenland, to tales of the Norse and the expeditions of Erik the Red, and then the introduction of Danish colonization and countless movements that have occurred back and forth since then from the early 1700s. Discussions and arguments are still being had to this day around the topic of self-governance for Greenland as its own, allowing for independence from the Kingdom of Denmark. We also split into three groups amongst our class and dove into three particular municipalities across Greenland where we discussed and proposed three separate strategic planning initiatives for the next 10 years to aid in the development of each respective group of communities. It was through this project and the research we did with understanding our chosen communities that I came to rediscover my passion for working with people and finding ways to make life easier and more accessible for those who are often left on the side lines and occasionally forgotten. For a summary on the work that we did and some of the feedback I have regarding our project, take a look at a previous post I wrote a few months ago (otherwise you might just get bored of me continually talking about the injustices of urbanization at the expense of vulnerable societies that may not know any better as a result of isolation from the world and old traditional ways of living that are continually being lost between one generation to the next. And besides, I still have plenty more to talk about for my next two courses!).

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COURSE 11859 – Environmental Engineering in the Arctic

And now we’ve arrived at the third and final portion of our nine-week succession of introductory core-classes before splitting off into our respective technical elective (a choice between two project courses; this is a whole other blog post in and of itself!). I really enjoyed these last three weeks spent diving into areas of interest I never really knew I had! Sure I’ve always been interested in the environment as well as ways to go about understanding what “sustainability” really means and how it looks in the context of our rapidly modernizing world, but in the Arctic? Now that’s a whole new ballpark I’d never really looked into. Especially through the lens of waste handling, whether that be the black and greywater that your everyday household releases into the environment, or simply the waste we dispose of that ends up being processed in landfills and incineration plants. Taught in conjunction with three lecturers (all of whom I really enjoyed), we covered topics ranging from landfill sites to environmental assessments of chemical contamination sites, as well as compost toilets and honey buckets. I even had the fantastic opportunity to jump in and out of a manhole to take wastewater flow measurements in the middle of the night (although this wasn’t strictly part of our course requirements)!

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Overall it was an incredible time and experience that I am super pumped to have had the opportunity to learn from. To wrap it all up, we finished off our last week with a conference (to which I was designated photographer…) and spent three whole days attending one presentation after the next from researchers and industry professionals on topics relating to “Cold Climate Engineering”. Topics ranged from biological algae growth to sludge handling and the development of transportable cold climate housing in remote areas. There was even a feature on the reuse/upcycle of discarded fishing nets. It was undoubtedly a tough yet exciting time soaking in all of that information from some really cool presentations that I probably never would’ve had the chance to attend if I was back home in Vancouver.

All in all, for my first half (yes, I’m only halfway through telling you about the courses I took) of DTU ARTEK’s 2016 Arctic Semester, it was an absolute blast living and learning in a place that not only proved to be the best classroom to learn both inside and outside of, but also proved to be an incredible community of people who are striving towards the same goal of creating ways to develop a society that is so dependent on its surroundings through a sustainable and innovative way! Having the ability to experience first-hand what a snapshot of life in the Arctic is like adds a whole new realm of realness to what you’re learning when you can directly see how things are affected by the decisions that we make day-in and day-out.

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More updates to come! Until then, thanks for stopping by and stay tuned! :)

Sleepless Reflections on Time Well Spent

Ever since coming back home to Vancouver, my wish of spending an entire day doing nothing but sleeping hasn’t actually happened until almost a week after my return, mostly due to the fact that social gatherings are apparently a norm in the life that I disappeared from six months ago. Don’t worry, I still enjoy numerous cups of coffee per day and have no desire to kick the habit, especially if friends and family are involved :) ♥

This weekend, my homebrewed crew and I finally got a chance to catch up over everything that’s happened since I left town. Starting with my adventures abroad, our conversations traversed across each other’s relative space-time continuum as we picked up from exactly where we left off just a few months ago. One of my absolute favourite things about this group of girls is their timeless ability to jump from one conversation to the next with seamless transition as well as their undeniable sense of topic tracking as we hop back and forth between endless strings of thought and speech that weave in and throughout each of our stories. Ranging from tales of travel hiccups and God’s incomprehensible timing, to discussions on taking time for ourselves and how difficult it is for some people to stay awake when brain-stimulation runs low, it’s never a dull moment with these amazing young women whom I’ve always considered to be my sisters more than just my friends since day one. At one point we even talked about stress-poops and how they’re entirely magical because of the relief we get on more than one level (yes I know, we’re real classy). Needless to say, there are few people in this world other than my family that I miss more than these beautiful ladies.

As with the observations (complaints) of many of humanity’s male variety,
women talk a lot – and that’s exactly what we did.

We didn’t go to bed until 6am, only to be awoken a few hours later (2.5hrs for some of us) as we got ourselves ready for church that morning. To be completely honest, I wasn’t paying all that much attention to the speaker during service, partially due to the lack of sleep, but mostly due to all of the thoughts that were swirling around in my head from all that we talked about that night/morning. Maybe it was the music, maybe it was the tiredness, maybe it was even the caffeine that was running through my brain to keep the lights on, but that morning was an emotional one that almost had me grab my purse and walk out of the sanctuary on more than one occasion.

I’ve always been someone who’s been emotionally attached to many things in life, but I also have this (often unfortunate) ability to block things out and keep emotions at a distance if I don’t know how or simply don’t want to deal with them.

I’m sure everybody has done that at some point in his/her life. Whether that’s an undying affection for a particular chocolate bar or sports team of choice, or simply an incredible distaste regarding a hairstyle or the way some things happen to be, there will always be a time where certain emotions are held at bay in order to avoid judgement or honest realization of said feelings or thoughts (both internally and externally). On this particular morning, sentiments of frustration, anger, and plenty of sadness seemed to flood my thoughts as the service progressed. There were also episodes of undeniable infatuation and love thrown into the mix too, so at least I can say that it wasn’t an entirely negative morning (albeit, seemingly bipolar now that I think about it). Resentment revolving around family members and friends who are being and/or feeling disrespected, unjustified and irresponsible; health conditions that never seem to come to an end no matter how much effort has been put into finding a solution; relationships gone south with unknown prospects of revival even with the loss (or regrettably lack thereof) that has been felt; the list goes on. Even frustrations felt by other people were welling up inside of me and throwing themselves into the crazy chemical mix inside my head.

Maybe it’s a sign to let things go, to let things unravel with time naturally on their own.
To let the tide wash over and take things away with it that have finally resigned from their desired time and place.

Whatever it was that happened that morning, it hasn’t stopped just yet, only numbed itself by just a touch, showing a glimpse of itself periodically throughout the day as I watch other people interact with each other on the streets or even just on tv.

Why am I writing this post you might ask? It hardly mentions anything regarding my adventures and stories pertinent to any of the travels I’ve been on as of late (this is an adventure blog after all isn’t it?).

Honestly, I don’t really know.

I guess I just needed somewhere to put this all down to help with all the processing. Remember that ability I have to block things out and keep them at bay? Well, that’s what’s happening here so I guess this is my way of dealing with it. Share the struggle. Say it out loud, put it into writing. Make it real because no matter how hard you try, it’s not going away because there’s no hiding from it. Not anymore.

To bring this blurb to an end (shout out to those who’ve read this far – super appreciated), I’m really glad to be home, even if that means dealing with the life I temporarily left behind when I decided to embark on my adventure into the Arctic. Things have changed, but not enough that my whole world is unrecognizable. The problems are still there and the solutions are still yet to be found, but in the end I’m still who I was when I left, save for a few new perspectives and a few more friends along the way. Life is full of ups and downs (as cliche as that is) but it’s one heck of a ride and I’m sure glad to be on it.

Keep it classy y’all and I’m praying for hope that we can all find what we’re looking for in life. What’s a little soul-searching along the way hey? Only good things to come regardless of the lemons that this world so generously throws our way. A little citrus never hurt nobody. And besides, who doesn’t like lemonade on a hot summer day?

Until next time,

#changsdomostlygermany ; a quick synopsis

Alright so with the onset of being unable to fall asleep and having just gone through some of the photos on my phone in an effort to clear up some mobile memory, I figured I’d write up a quick blurb about what’s been happening over the past few weeks (don’t worry I haven’t forgotten to write about everything else that’s happened in Greenland yet)! 

This post was typed up on my phone so my apologies if formatting goes weird or anything like that. If you’ve met me, you’ll probably know about how well acquainted I am with technology…

In reverse chronological order by location, here are a few photos that sum up what my sister and I did on our adventure through our first ever fragment of Europe! 

1. Copenhagen, Denmark

One of the most amazing people I will ever have the incredible honour of calling my friend 💗 (#DictethegreatDane)

Super pumped to finally see these two lovebirds again!!

2. Amsterdam, Netherlands

After many failed attempts, we finally managed to get a proper wide-angled selfie! (Bloopers to come)

3. Hamburg, Germany 

4. Aachen, Germany (with trips out to Köln and Bonn)

5. Munich, Germany 

The lady in the background managed to sneak in twice! #doublephotobomb say what?!

6. Prague, Czech Republic 

One of my absolute favourite photos from this trip! ❤

Our first long distance train and what a ride it was (story to come)!

7. Berlin, Germany 

Woohoooo! So there they are! Just a few snapshots of our shenanigans around Germany, Amsterdam, Prague, and Copenhagen! I will definitely have more updates to come (with actual stories) now that I’m finally home and don’t have anything other than blogging and hanging out with friends to do! 

Until then, stay tuned and thanks for stopping by! 
Edit: some of the photos I uploaded for some reason didn’t make it into this post but don’t fret, you don’t know what you’ve missed so I’ll be sure to put them in the stories to come! ;)

An International Experience!

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A little bit of Friday fun never hurt nobody right?

HELLO!

So I know it has been an incredibly long time since I last posted anything on here and I really do apologize! It has been insanely busy these past few months with all the events, conferences, projects, and weekends spent getting in as much hiking as I can before leaving Greenland!

If you haven’t already seen/heard, I am unfortunately no longer living in beautiful Sisimiut, but am now currently bumming my way around Europe with my sister (#changsdomostlyGermany)! 

As of right now, I’m typing up this blog post (finally!) from aboard a train travelling from Prague to Munich! Our eurotrip2016 adventure began early last week when my sister flew up from Vancouver and met me in Germany! :) So far we’ve explored bits of Berlin and Prague, and next up we’ve got Munich, Aachen, Bonn, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Amsterdam, and then finally Copenhagen before we head back home to Canada.

But enough about that! Here’s a quick update on what I’ve been up to until now:

  1. The 20th Annual Arctic Circle Race
  2. The 3rd Annual Arctic Sounds music festival 
  3. The 2016 ARTEK Event – an International Conference on Sanitation in Cold Climate Regions 
  4. Plenty of wastewater adventures spent diving in and out of a manhole on minimal hours of sleep
  5. Permafrost core drilling with the PermaKing (Perky for short)
  6. Land surveying with the StarLord
  7. The 11th International Conference on Permafrost (#ICOP2016) in Potsdam, Germany
  8. Bumming around Berlin until the arrival of my baby sister to begin our eurotrip2016 adventure! 

So needless to say, it’s been a packed couple of months! Before I get too carried away with telling you all about what’s happened, why don’t I start with something a little more recent?

The week leading up to when my sister arrived, I was attending The Eleventh International Conference on Permafrost (ICOP) taking place in Potsdam, Germany! Never could I have imagined that I would be attending a conference on permafrost, let alone an international one taking place in Germany! I didn’t even know what permafrost was until I moved to Greenland! Turns out, there is WAY more being done out there than I had any hope of expecting (in other words, I was SUPER stoked to check out all the posters and presentations that were lined up for that week)!!

Here’s a blurb that I wrote for my professor regarding our time at the conference:

The Eleventh International Conference on Permafrost – Potsdam, Germany – 2016

Being given the opportunity to attend such an amazing conference that is not only international but also completely emerged in countless aspects of permafrost research, I never could have imagined myself to be so lucky. Having only just scraped the surface on what permafrost actually is and some of the concerns that communities such as those in the arctic work with when it comes to infrastructure constructions, I was completely blown away by the incredible amount and variety of research that is currently being done (as well as what has already been done) regarding topics ranging from airport constructions, organic chemistry and biology, water systems hydrology, periglacial geomorphology, and even into the realms of outer space! Little did I know that I would soon fall in love with something I knew so little about.

Upon initial observations of the conference atmosphere, everyone was full of energy and excited to talk about their topic of research, curious to learn more as well as share knowledge between research groups across a multitude of projects stretching through a generous handful of countries. I met students, faculty, researchers, and industry alike from Germany, Russia, Poland, Denmark, China, Canada, America, India, Malaysia, France and even South Africa. This is far from mentioning all of the countries that were represented! Being able to build new connections and hear limitless discussions from dozens of people opened up new perspectives on areas of interest I never knew I had. The poster presentations were captivating to walk through and read thanks to their relatively brief yet also thorough descriptions and explanations of research projects using graphs, models and photos of vast arctic landscapes and riveting mountain ranges.

One of the most inspiring presentations that I attended was by a Swiss researcher named Marcia Phillips who is working on a project in modelling “deep-seated rock slope failure in mountain permafrost rock walls” in the Swiss Alps. Her research at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, alongside colleagues from other institutions in Switzerland such as ETH Zurich, focused on investigating the influence of permafrost in large rock slope failures including the 1.5 million m3 Pizzo Cengalo failure in 2011 and the 150,000 m3 Piz Kesch failure in 2014. Having always been interested in structural geology and geomorphology, reading the title of the presentation already had my heart pounding with excitement. The permafrost community was completely unknown to me until I began my studies in Greenland this past February, so much of the terminology and references were a little further in-depth than what I was able to comprehend for much of the sessions, posters, and plenary presentations. Deep-seated rock slope failures on the other hand, were words that I knew thanks to classes previously focused on rock mechanics and studying structural controls on instabilities both in rock and in soil. One of the many fascinating things that I learned from Marcia’s presentation is the 6-month delay in summer heat transfer to a depth of roughly 15m from its surface. This time frame, allows ample time for ice segregation as well as ice crack propagation during the winter months, leading to contributions in rock failure as a result of continual fracture development over several millennia. In addition to this, Marcia also showed simulated images of the modelling software that was used, RAMMS (Rapid Mass Movement Simulation), which showed that modelling the failure system as a debris flow instead of a rock fall showed more accurate results when compared to the observations that she and her team made for both events. Her rationale for why one type of failure was more accurate than the other is due to the entrainment of snow and ice as a fluidizing material that aided in promoting downslope rock volume extension. All of the diagrams, simulations, and graphs in addition to all the photos of time spent mapping rock slope failures opened up a whole new world of excitement I had never known about. The incredibly dynamic and unknown nature of rock glaciers are tremendously captivating and I can’t wait to go back to Vancouver to ask my professors anything I can about this seemingly young area of research!

I also met a young Master’s student who is finishing up the end of her degree in South Africa and has been spending her past few summers mapping rock glaciers in Antarctica. Talk about an incredible experience! I would love to find out more about rock glaciers and how to work with them as well as ways they can be incorporated with vulnerable communities living in areas where large-scale rock slope failures such as those in Switzerland can occur. Risk assessments for natural hazards such as landslides, avalanches, and earthquakes have always been an area of interest because of their relationship between technical knowledge and social impact, bridging the gap between engineering and the community. I look forward to seeing, hearing, and reading more about rock glaciers in the near future with the hopes of someday working with some of them myself! 

Long story short, if you didn’t want to read the blurb (it’s okay I get it, reading is hard enough as it is), the conference was AWESOME!! Also, ROCK GLACIERS ARE SUPER COOL.

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ICOP 2016! Potsdam, Germany

Now I’m super pumped to be travelling around Europe with my sister, and I can’t wait to be back home to tell anyone who’s willing to hear all about my adventures since February!

But before I’ll have any time to write any more, I’ve got a project to finish and some more travelling to do, so hopefully you’ll hear from me soon! Until then, keep it classy and stay tuned! :)

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Adventure time with the baby sis! Yehehhheooheooo!!

Breaking away for the holiday (Part 2)

Okay so in the rush and excitement of Part 1, I didn’t actually end up talking about my trip to Nuuk (sorry)! The adrenaline and encapsulating thrill of bringing the entire town together to cheer and support friends, families, colleagues (and maybe even enemies) for a three-day bender out in the boonies with nothing but the unforgettable panoramic scenery that surrounds every last pixel of your peripheral vision, Nuuk wasn’t exactly the first thing on my mind. But I’m glad to say, that I’ve finally put a few things together to give you an overview of what I got up to over my Easter holiday here in the Arctic!

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Off we go! All aboard the Sarfaq Ittuk, en route to Southern Greenland!

On Monday morning, Laura, Una, Stefanie and I set sail on our journey down south along the coast of Greenland to take on a new expedition in exploring this island’s capital city. With a population of approximately 16’000 people, Nuuk is noticeably much larger than where I’ve been spending my past seven weeks living in the Arctic Circle. Upon boarding the Sarfaq Ittuk, we were all pleasantly surprised by the bunks that we were assigned and the fact that these mattresses were much more comfortable than the ones we had at home! Being rocked to sleep by the sway of the boat was also a great way to start our adventure. There were a few instances where the waves picked up and resulted in quick flashes of nausea, but other than that it was great! We only had a little pillow and the mattress, so I slept in my baselayer/thermals and my jeans, with my sweater as the blanket. Before going to sleep however, since we had the bulk of our day to spend exploring the boat, Laura and I walked all around and took plenty of photos from the deck as we sailed away from the Sisimiut harbour. The sky was foggy and overcast, but it made for a cool effect on the mountains in the distance.

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The sea ice that we sailed through on our way down from Sisimiut

Our first stop along the route to Nuuk was a settlement about 5hrs from Sisimiut called Kangaamiut. It was a neat little place! Una, Emmanuelle, and Inaluk actually did their project for our last course on this area (the Maniitsoq District), so the girls and I were pretty excited to find out that we were going to be stopping by two of the locations we learned so much about (especially Una)! Kangaamiut doesn’t have an accessible harbour, so our ship stayed on the outskirts of the shoreline as passengers and cargo were transported to and from the settlement by motor boat. This same mode of transportation also happens waaayyy up north in the Qaanaaq District, where in the town and its three settlements, no harbour is available so small dingys have to be taken to ferry people/cargo back and forth from ships out at sea. It was neat to actually see this happening and put into perspective what this process is really like (especially since we all felt so attached to the districts that we studied)!

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The second location that we stopped at was the city that this district is named after: Maniitsoq. We arrived pretty late in the evening so unfortunately there wasn’t much for us to see. It also started snowing when we went out onto the deck to take photos, which kept us from staying out for too long, but it was still cool to see and also watch as people from the dock waved at their family members arriving/departing from the boat.

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Land ho in Maniitsoq!

At this point, it was probably around 9pm so we’d been sailing for roughly 12hrs. Only another ten more before we would be arriving at our final destination! At one point (among many), Laura and I were starting to get the munchies so we hit the café and bought some ice cream before they closed for the evening. As we hung out there and wolfed down our delicious dessert, we noticed some other kids doing the same when they saw us sitting by the window and enjoying our snack. Next thing you know there are a few other kids roaming around in the dining hall with ice cream or popsicle on their face.

Oh and speaking of food, Laura and I bought meal tickets for lunch aboard the ship and mygoodness were we glad that we did! There were two options on the menu that day: half a bbq chicken with rice and veggies, or a slice of lasagna (of colossal proportion) with a side of salad. Being the self-proclaimed foodies that we are, I picked the chicken and Laura picked the lasagna which we then proceeded to split in half and swap :)

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Half a chicken or half a plat of lasagna? Choices, choices, what to eat…

DAY 1: Exploring Greenland’s Capital City

And so, after nearly 24hrs spent on the ferry from Sisimiut to Nuuk, we finally stepped foot on land and arrived at our final destination early the next morning! The first thing we did after waiting around like ducks in a pond to be picked up at the harbour was explore our beautiful apartment!! Wow was this place great! It was spacious, modern, new, and had an aammmaaaazing giant red couch!!! It was awesome! And don’t forget the incredible view that we had out the huge windows and the balcony of the ocean just a stone throw’s away! We really lucked out in being able to land this place through airbnb (thank you Una!!) :)

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Check out that couch!!!

The apartment building also happens to be conveniently located close to downtown with plenty of options for food-pickings from local grocery stores, in addition to little shops and boutiques for us to browse. The culture house was just a few minutes away, along with Nuuk Centre (the shopping mall) and also tourism organizations such as Tupilak Travel (which you’ll read about later on). Along the coast away from downtown was the old historic part of town where the museum was set up and the statue of Hans Egede stood overlooking the vast expanse of Arctic Ocean at your fingertips. We spent the rest of the day walking around town and getting a feel for where everything is in relation to our apartment (to avoid getting lost of course, judging by my present history of navigational ‘successes’).

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A view of our apartment from the coastline: Nuuk Centre (far left), our apartment (far right), and the culture house in between (flat building, centre left)

Mission #1: Find Brunch

The original plan, since we arrived at 7am, was to search for a suitable spot for brunch as a way of getting acquainted with our new surroundings. When we finally walked back and forth enough times that we definitely could not find the café we were hoping to eat at (hunger got the best of us), we eventually decided to settle on going to the grocery store and sitting down at the little café in front which offered a breakfast buffet where we could eat as much bread and drink as much coffee as we wanted until 11am.

Mission #2: Find the art

During our drive through town from the harbour to our apartment, we saw some beautiful murals painted on the walls of residential buildings next to the school. Stef, being the artsy-fartsy person that she is, loves street art so our first destination for exploration was to locate said building blocks of residence and take some photos.

Objective #1: find a map of the city and figure out where you are currently being a tourist

Objective #2: determine which direction you need to head in reaching your destination to avoid aimlessly wandering from one street to another (such as what happened in Mission #1)

Objective #3: reach your final destination and take touristy photos before embarking on the next mission

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Two of the murals we went in search for through the city

We scrambled around on the streets and slipped across icy surfaces as we walked around the large residential housing area, in search for our next view of some fantastic street art.

Mission #3: Find the founder – Hans Egede

After doing some quick snack-shopping, we bee-lined for the coast and started our explorations through Nuuk history as we sauntered through a network of old shops and buildings that made for the origins of Greenland’s capital as we know it today. Needless to say, things look a lot different now than they did back then. We wandered from one building to the next until we came across the old church and stuck our heads in to see what activities might be planned for Easter. The inside of the church was beautiful and simple, with chandeliers coming down from the ceiling that lit up the open space as the sun shone in through the windows.

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The church of Hans Egede

As we made our way up the hill towards where the statue of Hans Egede stood, our view of the city from the coastline became clearer and more colourful as we looked around the horizon. One side of town stood the old wooden buildings that we were used to seeing in Sisimiut, and on the other side you could see where urbanization had started taking place with tall monotone apartment buildings and long blocks of residential housing spreading across the landscape. It was a weird contrast to see, but definitely an interesting one nonetheless since it really put into perspective all that we had talked about in our previous class on modernization and socio-technical developments in Greenland. Even though I’ve only been living in Sisimiut for a few weeks, I definitely felt more drawn to the older and much more colourful houses that held a presence on only a small portion of the coastline.

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Hans Egede and his surrounding scenery that has exponentially changed itself over the years since he arrived in Greenland!

Mission #4: Find the Mother of the Sea

From the top of the hill where Hans Egede stood, we could see a small beach below that was home to the Mother of the Sea. This statue is a tribute to the old traditional belief of a woman who lived at the bottom of the ocean and took care of all its living creatures. When we (humans) misbehaved and didn’t properly take care of the ocean and its inhabitants, spoiling the livelihood of the sea by polluting and leaving garbage behind, all the fish and the animals would be drawn in to the mother and get tangled in her hair to stay protected from our toxic decisions. Whenever this happened, the livelihood of the Inuit would then be at risk so they would need to send their shaman to go on a journey in finding the Mother of the Sea. He would then be tasked to take care of her, cleaning her body and her hair, in order to prove to her that they were worthy of her care in return. Unless he was able to successfully sooth and comfort her, acting on behalf of the community and the people who were relying on the shaman to bring back their source of income and food, there would be no more creatures in the sea. No fish, no seals, no polar bears, no whales, no shrimp nor crabs; nothing. He needed to make up for the community’s mistakes and earn the Mother’s love back once again. If and when successful, only then would the Mother allow the shaman to carefully untangle and comb out the animals in her hair to be released back into the ocean and provide anew for the eagerly awaiting people on land.

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The Mother of the Sea being cared for by the local shaman

Although a simple story that some may view as ridiculous and unbelievable, I like the idea of having a caretaker of the sea that not only provides food and nutrients for our survival, but also needs that same protection and care for herself as well from the harmful waste and contamination that we continue to pollute the ocean with as the world progresses further and further with new developments on a daily basis. The idea of negatively affecting climate change and polluting our waters without a second thought is one that we have been focusing on a lot lately with this third course on waste, wastewater, and contaminated sites. The whole concept of sustainability and environmental engineering is core to this entire 18-week program that I’m a part of here in the Arctic, and to have a visual story that has been passed down from one generation to the next, in my mind adds an extra edge of perspective to the whole mix when talking about traditions and cultures present here in Greenland. Life here is fascinating and full of new discovery, if you take the time to learn about it and see what the world around you has to offer. The arctic is a beautiful place and I truly do encourage anyone who is interested to come and experience if for yourself at some point in your life because nobody knows how much longer it’s going to be around if we don’t start making some changes in the way we design, produce, and consume today.

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Reduce, reuse, recycle! “Can you hear me now?!”

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All for the shot – I ‘moustache’ you a question, but I’ll ‘shave’ it for later…

Mission #5: Find the National Museum of Greenland

Our next stop was to see what Greenland’s National Museum and Archives had to offer! I’m not usually much for history when it comes to knowing/memorizing numbers and years, but if it’s just casual reading like in a museum with plenty of props, artifacts, drawings, photos, etc, I’m all for it!

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Traditional clothing of the Thule Peoples

It was super cool walking in there and seeing what the old days of Greenland used to look like, with reconstructed houses/rooms from decades ago, clothing and tools from centuries past, artwork and music that stretched across a vast range of culture, tradition, history, and livelihood of the Greenlandic Peoples.

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Features were made of Danish rule and the changes/challenges of Greenlandic Self-Governance, with families and stories following transitions made from one societal change to the next. Education, food, health care, economics, politics, all of the aspects that we studied and learned about in our previous course were brought back to mind as we walked from one display to the next, taking in all of the information that we had previously learned and combining it with new facts and stories as we went along. It was great! At one point there was also a screen set up with a video showing a traditional drum-dancing faceoff between two men who were in an argument. Seeing the lives of people and cultures documented through time is always something that has enamoured me, inspiring my imagination to visualize what a day in the life of some of these people must have been like a few centuries ago. A life where technology didn’t exist and your means of living came down to how well you hunted or how well you could make clothing for yourself out of the animals that were hunted.

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Who wore it better?

Mission #6: Find Charoen Porn

And last but not least, if you’ve made it this far into the blog (sorry I know it’s long but I’ve got plenty to say!), it’s eating time again! Before leaving Sisimiut, we made sure to ask Inaluk about a few places that we should check out in Nuuk since she lived here for a few years. One of said destinations, was Charoen Porn, Greenland’s best Thai restaurant. You might be wondering, why go to Greenland to eat Thai food when there are so many great Thai places in Vancouver that would cost half the price for food possibly even twice as good? Well my answer to you is, because I’m in Greenland! Why not? And besides, according to Inaluk, they have a particular platter that we were told to try called, Greenlandic Sushi! If you haven’t seen the photos or read about it on facebook/instagram, oh my goodness was this delicious!! There were four pieces each of salmon, halibut, shrimp, and mattaq, as well as five pieces of actual sushi with cucumber, carrots, and tuna. Mattaq is a traditional Greenlandic food made of simply small slices of whale blubber and skin, eaten raw with salt or soy sauce. I’ve been wanting to try this for a looooonngggg time so needless to say, I was super jazzed to order this meal!!

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Greenlandic Sushi/Sashimi – salmon, halibut, shrimp, mattaq

Unfortunately for me however, being the human trash can that I am and also not being as smart as I probably should be, when I asked the waitress how much was actually in the sushi/sashimi platter, I was only expecting four pieces of sashimi (one salmon, one halibut, one shrimp, one mattaq). Well, as you can see from the photo, I was definitely wrong. Really, really wrong. So in other words, with the thought of this just being a small meal, I ordered an additional entrée thinking that I would just have the Greenlandic sushi on the side as an appetizer. NOPE. Big no no. I will say though however, that regardless of not being able to move after our meal (walking and breathing was incredibly difficult, even though we were only a few blocks from our apartment) and having to prevent myself from ingesting anything until 4pm the next day, I have no regrets about eating two meals back-to-back in one evening at one restaurant. Totally worth it. Wanna know why? It’s not because I’m a fatty and I love food (although true), it’s because the honey-pineapple-glazed-duck that I had eaten before seeing my “side dish”, in combination with said appetizer (yes, I ate them backwards because that’s the order they came in – little did I know) was an incredible combo that I wouldn’t give up for the world. No. Ragrets. Not even a letter. But hey, let’s talk about this duck dish because I think you need to know all about it.

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Ped Oub Nam Puang – sliced roasted duck with a pineapple and honey glaze

It. Was. Delicious.

The duck was tender, the glaze was sweet and delicious, the extra load of sauce vs the amount of duck available for eating was the perfect amount to throw into my rice aaanndd also some of Laura’s. Mhhhmmmm!!! I don’t even know if I can describe the flavour-explosion that happened in my mouth when I bit into that duck for the first time! It was so good!

Stef and Una both also ordered the Greenlandic sushi platter, but unfortunately for them, sashimi was something new and strange – not in a bad way, just different. But luckily for me, that meant that any leftovers that went unwanted would then be passed on to the fatty who ordered way too much food (why not just continue piling it on right?). Sssoooooo, I guess you can see now why I wasn’t able to move too much after finishing dinner that night. Two full meals, leftovers from another, all of which had much larger portions than expected (especially with all the rice that I ate), throw in some wine and we’re off to the races in digesting food as fast as possible before the next day when we would be starting yet another culinary adventure all over again.

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And so, with all of these fantastic things in mind, I think it’s safe to say that the four of us had a great start to our Easter break adventure from Sisimiut to Nuuk, taking on Greenland’s capital city to see what they have to offer and exploring another part of the world’s largest island!

Due to potentially losing your attention span, and me continually finding something new that distracts me from sitting down and actually writing more blog posts, I’m going to stop here and continue writing about the rest of my trip another day! Until then, I’ve got a music festival to volunteer for and a skating rink full of children to tend to, so keep it classy everybody and I’ll see you on the flip side :)

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The culture house in Nuuk!

Breaking away for the holiday (Part I)

So if you haven’t already seen the photos or read about it on social media (instagram, facebook, snapchat), I spent the past week in Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland! But before I get into that, let’s start off with the very first day of my Easter vacation: Friday, March 18th @ 8pm here in Sisimiut.

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Some homemade fiskesuppe! I’m glad to report that this turned out fantastically delicious! :)

After countless hours spent reading, writing, laughing, and maybe a little bit of crying, our group finally finished our 40-page report (see my previous blog post, To the benefit of Greenland, if you don’t know what I’m taking about) and handed it in that evening with a huge sigh of relief as we closed all of our tabs and open programs, shutting down for the first time in two weeks (at least that was the case for me anyway). To celebrate, Chloe, Laura and I quickly wolfed down some dinner in my room (I made fish soup!) and then ran out to Taseralik for open mic night! Every month, an open mic is held at the culture house where people from around the community come to showcase their talent lyrically, vocally, and instrumentally. We missed the first half of the night (thanks to our project), but regardless of that it was a great time just getting to relax and hang out with each other in the soothing musical atmosphere, dim blue lights illuminating the theatre space, spotlights shining on the stage, candles flickering on every table as everyone gathered to support their friends on stage and enjoy an evening together. At one point, a group of students from the music school put together a great show on stage as they ripped on their guitars, pounded on the keys, and slapped on a bass, all the while kicking a beat on the drums and grooving away on the tambourine. It was the perfect start to a much-needed vacation-oriented week spent doing absolutely nothing apart from some new adventuring.

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The group of music school students that shredded away and held a great performance!

The next morning was spent sleeping in and staying wrapped in my covers for as long as I could before doing some exploring around the city with Chloe and Laura. We hiked around the coastline along what we call “Una’s path” and scrambled over numerous hills while trying to keep ourselves from sinking into the freshly fallen snow. It was a beautiful trail that showcased some fantastic sedimentary geology as we walked next to the ocean through untouched snow and a sensationally sunlit sky.

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A few snips from “Una’s Path”

Bodies tired and pant legs damp (from scrambling through the snow), we made our way into the Seamen’s Home and sat down for some coffee and cake to warm up and relax from our strenuous expedition. Lucky for us, there happened to be an unclaimed plate of fries sitting over on the next table along with a bottle of curry ketchup for the taking, so (in typical poor-student-fashion), we rounded up our taste buds and started munching away on our delicious find.

For the record, curry ketchup is the bomb.
It’s. So. Delicious.

And yes, we did plenty of debating about whether or not to loot the tasty treasure that was so conveniently located diagonally from our back-of-the-cafeteria-corner-table-not-really-in-line-of-sight-behind-a-wall nook, before diving in and just going for the bounty since we’d already made it this far (#studentliving amiright?).

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How great does that carrot cake and coffee combo look? And all just for the great price of 20kr ($4CAD)! It was a steal of a deal that just couldn’t be turned down!

 

Needless to say, Saturday was a ton of fun with plenty of rest thrown into the mix. An incredibly lazy (and sleep-induced) morning, a great time spent exploring and filling our lungs with fresh air, and then the perfect ending with coffee, cake, friends, and free fries!

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Team-bonding? I’d say so! Afternoon ski trips are one of our favourite past times apart from afternoon naps and chocolate :)

The next morning, the girls and I went out on a quickie ski trip where we had a great time laughing our brains out and firing down the slopes at unexpected speeds, all thanks to perfect snow conditions that were sticky enough to get us going uphill at a decent pace, but sent us shooting down any negatively sloping section of the tracks. It was great! I was feeling super pumped (aka “more excitable/hyper than I usually am” – I blame it on the insane amount of sunshine lighting up the entire city. Who wouldn’t be full of energy on such a beautiful day?!) and decided that I would try and see how many loops around the 3km track I could do against Laura’s normal/casual/don’t-be-an-idiot-and-exert-unnecessary-energy pace. So while my brain is telling me that this idea is fantastic and super fun, the coordination required of my body decided to cooperate otherwise and I really just ended up making a fool of myself as I tripped over my own feet/skis/poles, in the ridiculous attempt to scurry myself over the hill and back around. Honestly, I really didn’t make it all that far. My goal of overlapping Laura was dashed pretty quickly (we ended up skiing together like usual anyway) but that did nothing to bring me down from this crazy Vitamin-D-induced euphoria while looking like a lunatic and having way too much of a hoot by myself, much to the dismay of any “normal” civilians we may have encountered out on the tracks. Either way, after rendezvousing with Helene and Chloe halfway through our second loop, the four of us had a great time hanging out in the backcountry and taking in the day’s perfect ski conditions and incredibly fun atmosphere.

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Yeehhhooooo!!

Speaking of skiing, Helene, Chloe, Luca, and Inaluk will be starting their 100km journey tomorrow morning at 10am as the 20th Annual Arctic Circle Race starts off at the lake here in town, sending over 200 participants across breathtaking (literally and figuratively) frozen landscapes out in the backcountry during the course of 3 extraordinarily unbelievable days. Christian, one of the other arctic engineering students, was unfortunately unable to signup for the same race, so he’s doing the 160km track instead. I was originally also going to join in on the race, but much like Christian, when I went to sign up, there were no more spots available. :( Turns out, this is the largest group of racers yet to be had at the ACR! Even the Crown Prince of Denmark has come to participate (he’s doing the 160km route of course). As bummed as I am that I won’t be getting the opportunity to ski for three days out in the backcountry and camp in tents with my friends in the arctic elements for two nights, I’m super jazzed for all five of our ARTEK students to take on one of the world’s hardest races up here in the Arctic Circle. I can’t wait to hear all the stories they’ll have when they come back!!

Here’s to a whole new world of challenge and unfathomable inspiration as you all head out and take on this unforgettable adventure!! Helene, Chloe, Luca, Inaluk, and Christian, we’re all rooting for you and await your soon-to-be-celebrated return! You’re going to LOVE this absolutely phenomenal experience, even if you might not be able to feel your feet when you come home :) <3

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Ice and Snow

Through the ice and the snow,
I sure want you to know,
Of the adventures I’ve had,
And why they make me so glad,
To have friends who will say,
“Time to go out and play?”
For it’s here that I’ve found,
That the frost in the ground,
Won’t hold us back no,
For it’s just ice and snow.

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Afternoon backcountry ski trip? I think yes!

So now that I’m on holiday for the week, I figured it was time to sum up what’s been happening up here in the Arctic Circle ever since flying out of good ole Vancity! The rhyming kinda just started as I lay in my bunk typing during our ferry ride out of Sisimiut (I’ll explain later), so just go with the flow.

Over the past seven weeks, it’s been one heck of a ride, in search and to seek for adventure’s new guide. From one day to the next, I never do know, what’s around the far corner for its covered in snow. The options are endless and they never seem dull, because if they did, then this blog would be null! The weather is king here in this town that I live, for what happens tomorrow, we’ve only guesses to give.

Snow-covered landscapes with bright popping colours, skis and snowmobiles around every corner, dozens of sled dogs awaiting their call, to race as a pack pulling once and for all.

First off, this city is great. There’s something just so enchanting about this little town that I’ve never really experienced having come from the big city. Maybe it’s the sense of safety that all the kids and their parents feel as children run from one end of town to the other, taking the bus on their own and trekking through the snow to get to/from school. Perhaps it’s the fresh arctic air that fills your lungs with life as you wake up and breathe in the crisp breeze that floats in off the sea. Sunshine beats down from across the sky, filling every nook and cranny with warmth and light, putting smiles across faces in all the right places. But even then you still find, there’s something else on your mind. Could it be the night sky and how the birds all fly by? Or perhaps the bright gleam of every moon beam, igniting the stars and making all new memoirs. As you look out the back window, you can’t help but see now, just a glimpse of green flashes as the aurora it dashes, retelling stories of victors, of losses and clashes.

I don’t know about you, but there’s always been this tranquil feeling of awe and humility that fills my soul every time I’m out in the elements, trying to soak up as much of nature’s offerings and pleasantries as possible before going back to the daily grind of city living. Being surrounded by the immense beauty of snow-covered landscapes, clear and astoundingly blue depths of cold ocean water as far as the eye can see, bright open skies across the horizon with the sun beaming down and igniting everything around you, carelessly unconcerned about the crisp arctic breeze whispering through your hair. The peace and the silence that the backcountry has to offer goes unparalleled when compared to the business and the noise that fills your ears in the city. No cars, no streetlights, no buildings nor houses to block your view. Just mountains, your skis, and you. Every now and then, the sound of snowmobiles or dog sleds go riding by around the hill or over the next flat, reminding you of your life in the city and the balance that needs to be found in seeing the wonder and awe of living in nature, while also being mindful of opportunities for inspiration and innovation to prevent the world from entirely deriving away from its original. The incessant need for development and improving our way of living can often lead to forgetting about what we really need and leave us only remembering what we really want. Ever since having numerous ongoing discussions in class about what it means to live in a subsistence economy and an incredibly minimalistic way of life, questions of how to tie in old traditional livelihoods while also somehow incorporating the opportunities and prospects of urbanization have constantly been on my mind. Living in Sisimiut has been a great example of applying these questions in my life because of the incredible offer that nature has for you just outside your living space, in contrast to its assimilating balance with the growing population of Greenland’s second largest city. I like to think that this town is just big enough but also still small enough that your connection with nature isn’t lost and can still be nourished for generations to come. Granted, the influence of technology is still evident in the hands of children as they run around with their cellphones, pumping music out of the speakers or chatting away the afternoons with their friends.

One thing to keep in mind of course, is that this perspective is coming from somebody who has only ever grown up in the big city of Vancouver so what does she know? All I have to say is that living here in “Greenland’s adventure capital” has been an amazing experience so far and I can hardly wait to see what else there is in store for my classmates and I as we (eventually) get ready to start up our classes again on Tuesday. The friendships that have been formed, the stories that have been shared, and the countless hours spent laughing, dancing, skating, skiing, and singing not only with this international group of young people, but also with my kids out on the local lake at a rink that I can proudly say I’ve helped make happen, I love it here. My next aspiration is to see yet another display of God’s glorious artwork dance across the sky as particles collide and display flashes of colour just a few hundred kilometers away up above, just in time to celebrate Easter and the story of hope that comes with this long weekend.

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A beautiful start to yet another beautiful week :)

And so, this brings me to my next blog post: Breaking away for the holiday. A few friends and I decided to take a ferry out of town for the week and see what life in the capital city is like! Once I get all my photos loaded up and the whole blurb typed out, you’ll be the first to read it!

Until then, stay tuned! It’ll be soon I promise! And besides, Easter break isn’t over yet so I’ve still got a few days left ;)

To the benefit of Greenland

Over the past three weeks, our class has been embarking on a new adventure by the name of Course 11858: Arctic Infrastructure and Society. Sounds like fun right? Well it was! We spent the first week going through the history of Greenland and how the experiences that we have today, are a loooonnggg way from what they used to be just a few decades ago (or a few centuries if you really want to go way back). If you haven’t already guessed, people here are tough. From year after year, one nomadic tribe to the next, every day was spent battling against the elements and hoping that your strenuous journey wasn’t spent in vain as you go on the hunt for your next chance at survival. Community and a sense of belonging envelope the people of Greenland, welcoming new strangers into self-constructed homes for something warm to drink and stories to share of laborious travels and thrills of the hunt. Generations of tradition and culture are passed down through the family tree as young children work alongside their parents, hunting, fishing, preparing skins and food, gaining valuable skills to survive and thrive in such a hostile environment populated by only the strongest – physically, mentally, and spiritually.

The next two weeks were spent learning about different types of planning strategies and understanding the politics behind many of the decisions and arguments that have been made both for and against the people of Greenland. With a focus on the mining industry here on the world’s largest island, it’s been a series of incredibly educational days spent firing neuron after neuron to try and wrap my brain around some of the logistics and paperwork that need to be conducted on a legal front, but not necessarily followed through on the business front. Needless to say, it’s a pretty frustrating process in my opinion. Throughout the course of these past three weeks, we have watched numerous documentaries and have had countless discussions on the complex relationship between Greenland and Denmark, analysing one article after another of dense research material striving to make sense of decisions that have been made over decades of conflict. I have never really been into politics nor governmental rulings, mostly because it doesn’t make any sense to me and I hate bureaucratic bullshit, but this time I had no choice but to immerse myself into three weeks of trying to understand how the system operates. Not gonna lie, I still don’t get it, but I think I’ve grown an appreciation for it to say the least. The complexity behind any form of societal development or proposed advancement and its incredible network of relations pertaining to different levels of perceived “power/authority” (with and without the absence of knowledge) is one world that I found more injustices and rivalry than I was expecting to encounter.

And with that, here are a few comments that I have to say about Course 11858: Arctic Infrastructure and Society. We were asked by our professors to give an evaluation on the course and discuss some of the things that we learned and how it all will hopefully relate to our future careers as engineers.

It has been a very long time since my brain spent a consecutive chunk of time learning, thinking, reading, writing, and contemplating the chronological history and future needs and desires of any given community, especially that of one I have never heard nor encountered before to any degree of knowledge. The social aspects of engineering are often underplayed by the much more scientific and technical aspects of the profession such as math and physics. These concepts and theories, in comparison to the social sciences, are on average more physically malleable and yield concrete answers that can be easily understood with the proper path of logic. The social sciences however, such as politics and history, are much more complicated without the need for nor application of structured formulas and quantifiable variables. Generalizations can be made, yes much like in the physical sciences, but when it comes to the livelihood of a community (let alone an entire nation), how much is too far? How do you know that the needs of those affected are actually being addressed? To what lens and to what scale must you analyse a group of people in order to recommend a plausible solution for future development, all the while taking into account the needs and desires they have themselves expressed?

Often times, when brainstorming and coming up with possible strategies for the Qaanaaq District, our group would start with just a handful of questions that soon grew and multiplied into more unknowns than answers we had available. It is for these reasons that I found this class to be a great addition to my academic career. However, they also served as points of frustration due to the vague complexities of the project we were thrown into within an incredibly condensed three-week timeframe. Coming up with a developmental strategic plan for the next ten-year window, without any fundamental basis of knowledge and understanding about how these people have survived adversity and battled through decades of being seen as underdogs, was a very challenging task to say the least. I understand the importance of acknowledging the complexity of urban planning and infrastructural modernization, as well as learning about the structure and application of different planning methods to any given society, but I feel that the short timeframe in combination with our lack of knowledge, did not make for a smooth transition when it came down to the project itself.

Being complete outsiders and foreigners to Greenlandic culture and tradition, I felt that being asked to create some sort of implemental plan for development from our own experiences and perspectives was unrealistic and hypocritical in the sense that we were verbally told not to plan from our “ivory towers”.

We were constantly reminded in our lectures about the contrast between what Denmark thought the people of Greenland wanted, versus what they actually needed. Talk of how this is a negative way to approach planning and how it doesn’t actually serve the needs of the people because you’re infringing on their personal rights, was one of the main messages that I felt this class continually brought to the table. In my opinion, asking us to come up with a strategic plan, was the exact opposite of what we had been taught. It felt almost as if we were doing exactly what the Danish government did in 1953 when the people of Qaanaaq were forcibly relocated from their original settlements in Uummannaq and Pituffik. We were told to propose a plan for what we think this community needed, based off of loosely justified assumptions and zero personal experiences to contextualize and frame the choices that we made. Harsh criticisms were given and made at the expense of our limited knowledge and incredibly small-scale grasp of how to actually plan for a group of people that we knew nothing about. Although feeling personally convicted on some topics of discussion without our class, I think it’s safe to say that our group felt attached to the Qaanaaq District without really knowing how to advocate on their behalf to the injustices that we feel they have faced over the years (again, this is all just what we think and not what the actual people of the Qaanaaq District think).

During our discussions about interpretive frameworks and discourse analyses, thoughts and ideas of preconceived prejudices were brought to light and made for some great dialogue on the depth at which adversity can lie, and its implied assumptions that can subtly manipulate the thoughts and systematic structures of arguments and statements encountered. But with all of these spheres of influence in mind, the question of what perspectives defined our respective interpretive frameworks when undertaking this project, was a constant barrier in our struggle to determine how to go about our scenarios and strategic planning. Each member of our group has had different experiences and different backgrounds of knowledge from which we drew all of our assumptions and ideas from. Unfortunately, none of these resources are necessarily the most applicable nor most viable lens with which we could have approached this assignment. But of course, this also implies that there exists a right and wrong answer when it comes to future societal developments, which in my opinion, is not true. There will never be a black and white answer when it comes to proposing change in any sociotechnical context due to the incredibly broad – yet also very specific – nature of working in the social sciences.

I hope that giant blurb of text wasn’t entirely boring to read, but to sum it all up:

I’m not super into politics and I really do not enjoy societal injustices against those who have no voice to speak with and are caught in a vicious cycle of negative undertakings such as being viewed as the underdog amongst a pack of wolves.

It’s not fair and it shouldn’t be that way.

The question here now is this: what am I going to do about it? What can I change and how can I help those in need? Whether that’s here in Greenland or back home in Vancouver, this definitely isn’t something to just take for granted and accept without occasionally questioning the reasoning and possible hidden agendas of decisions made on behalf of others.

So I guess that wraps up my rant for the week. It’s been on my mind for the past 21 days and it’s finally out of my system so regardless of whether or not this is being read, here it is.

Until next time, I’m officially on vacation! Heelllooooo Easter break!

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No longer feeling 22…

So yes, this is late (as expected), but it’s been one heck of a start to living my 23rd year of life here on this planet!

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Hello from Greenland!

First off, a HUGE shout out to the crew here for throwing me a “surprise” party on Friday! There was cake (two of them) AND I got presents! Laura was in charge of keeping me occupied and out of the loop as we prepared sangria in her room, while Chloe and Helene were busy getting the common room here in Apisseq set up for the evening’s festivities! I may have walked into the common room accidentally (with the honest purpose of finding a bowl for our sangria), which resulted in a shocked/surprised/unimpressed look from Helene as she immediately kicked me out of the room, but other than that it was a phenomenal night full of laughter, food, games, music, chatter, and best of all, friends to celebrate with! I’d say it was a success! The other engineering class here also finished one of their larger (and more difficult) exams on Wednesday, which meant that celebrations on this particular Friday would be much more festive than usual as a way to jubilantly commemorate all of the studying and brain-cramming they had all done over the past few weeks!

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Nothing says 23 better than an obnoxiously bright red Hello Kitty lunchbox and a jolting wake-up alarm courtesy of Elsa and Anna!

So all in all, without going into too many fuzzy details, it was an awesome night where hopefully everybody had a grand ole time! At one point in the evening, I found myself and Laura speaking in French with Chloe, Emmanuelle, and Thomas (our resident frenchies from France), which was plenty of fun as I attempted to brush off my incredibly rusty French (honestly it was probably more “franglais” than it was French…).

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Our weekend construction project amidst howling horizontal snow and wind!

The rest of the weekend was spent recovering our tired bodies from all the dancing that we did, as some of us hopped on sleds and snowmobiles out to the cabin overlooking the fjord. Even with the crazy wind and horizontal snow that blew all day, I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday weekend spent in a cozy cabin away from the city. The construction project this time was to build a ramp up to the porch that we made last time! Yehehoo! Sebastian and Daniel went there beforehand and started on the project, as the rest of us cleaned up the cabin and prepared food, waiting out the storm that was raging outside.

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The view looking out onto the fjord from inside the warmth of the cabin…

At the other cabin where our construction project was taking place, the people who happened to be staying there for the weekend were a few tourists and their tour guide, who presumably reached their destination by dog sled judging by the line of sled dogs tied down just outside. Una and I scurried across the snow and started petting the dogs as the rest of our gang headed over to see how the project was coming along. These dogs were super keen for some attention as they pulled at their chains to get closer to anyone standing nearby.

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Una and I getting well-acquainted with the sled dogs!

With the wind whipping my hair all over my face and keeping me from seeing a thing, Una, Helene and I started our work on fixing the railing while the boys continued what they were doing with the ramp. In the end, I’m glad to say that this weekend “ramped up” to be a success, now that getting into the cabin is a lot easier instead of climbing up the porch by way of some old broken palettes.

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Project #2 complete!

As we packed up our tools and set up to head back home, the storm that had slightly let up decided to return right back again and next thing you know, we were riding through whiteout conditions with nothing but snow and wind in every direction. In fact, it even got to the point where we had to stop and take multiple trips back and forth along a few stretches of the route home, dropping people and sleds on/off along the way because the snow was too deep for us to ride through fully-loaded. Some of our snowmobiles needed rescuing on more than one occasion, having sunk too deep into the snow and toppling over, making for an even sweatier time trying to shovel them out of the rapidly accumulating white stuff. It was a super exciting experience that simply went to prove the dependence that we have on the unpredictable climate here in the Arctic. It’s not an easy situation to say the least when you’ve got 11 people fighting through a blizzard, simply at the mercy of this harsh landscape, hoping for the best and finding shelter behind overturned sleds as a way of combating the cutting air currents.

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Helene, Una, and I hiding from the wind behind one of the sleds! Total whiteout conditions for as far as the eye could see! 

After some intense struggling between man, machine, and Mother Nature, we finally made our way back home, bodies tired from battling with the elements and keeping ourselves warm as we ran/jumped/danced in the valleys and on ridges to keep warm.

This blog post can’t tell you enough about the experience that I had, standing alone in the turbulent wind on the side of a mountain, waiting for someone to pick me up after dropping me off to collect the rest of our group at the bottom of the valley, with only the sound of winter whistling through my helmet.

As I stood in the wind quietly listening for the next snowmobile to make its way to where I was hiding in the mountainside, I finally understood how important it is to know the environment that you live in and how it can have a huge effect on making a 40-50minute snowmobile ride into a 4hour expedition in journeying your way home. Needless to say, we were all glad to be back in the comfort of our warm beds and wrap ourselves in our blankets for the rest of the night!

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There’s no place like home.

And with that, I leave you with one of my favourite photos from the past few weeks of living here in Sisimiut, where cupcakes and friends make for an amazing combination full of unforgettable memories and plenty of stories to share along the way! Keep it classy my friends :)

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Mhmhm! Cupcakes!