QES Scholar Tashi Lhamo on the Students on Ice 2018 Arctic Expedition

Queen Elizabeth Scholar Tashi Lhamo recently participated in the 2018 Students on Ice expedition through the Canadian and Greenlandic Arctic and came away with a deepened appreciation and understanding of the natural environment and the people who live there. By following a holistic approach to learning, Tashi discovered the interconnected nature of ocean literacy, climate change, truth and reconciliation and the Sustainable Development Goals. What follows are her reflections on the journey she took.

The Arctic is a place of intrigue for many: a distant place with its own unique ecosystem. With only a rudimentary knowledge of the Arctic, I would have never imagined that one day I would reach a place so far, a place of dreams in so many ways for an immigrant like myself. Like many of my fellow travellers, I was a Canadian who had never travelled to the most northern parts of Canada.

With the help of the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program, I had the opportunity to join 130 other students from different countries in the 2018 Students on Ice Arctic Expedition: a profound and humbling experience in the Arctic, learning about the land and its people. Somehow, a part of me expected a landscape devoid of life. Instead, we found Arctic tundra and waters teeming with flora and fauna, and we learned about the people who called the Arctic their home, practising their culture and tradition across generations in a land unfamiliar to many.

Amid the signs of increasingly alarming changes in climate, the Students on Ice expedition empowers, engages and equips students with a unique learning opportunity to broaden and deepen our understanding of climate change issues in the Arctic and their impact on Northern communities and wildlife. The incredible team of scientists, policy makers, innovators, artists, musicians, educators, Indigenous leaders and activists on board facilitated a holistic approach to understanding the challenges that climate change poses up North.

It is impossible to truly understand the impact of climate change on the Canadian Arctic and its Indigenous peoples without addressing the colonial legacy of residential schools and systemic inequalities that continue to exist today. The same Inuit elders and youths who welcomed me graciously and kindly into their circle throughout the expedition, carried the heavy burden of Canada’s colonial legacy and shared their painful histories of intergenerational trauma with courage and resilience.

This expedition was an incredible learning experience with informative and thought-provoking workshops pertaining to four important themes: ocean literacy, truth and reconciliation, climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals. We learned about everything from underwater acoustics, marine ecosystems, identifying minerals and Arctic geological makeup, identifying and interpreting sea ice charts to learning about Indigenous history, Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit traditional knowledge informing climate science and adaptation strategies), environmental monitoring, and conservation efforts.The approach was to combine the multidisciplinary scientific knowledge underpinning anthropogenic global climate change with intersectoral, intersectional issues of environmental justice and equity, embedded within the ever-increasing need for sustainable economic development.

The scenic views of the Arctic were overwhelming in the best possible way. I remember seeing the glaciers of Kangerlussuatsiaq Fjord in Greenland from our Zodiacs, with sounds of cold drizzling rain and the black-legged kittiwakes flying overhead and thinking how lucky I was to be able to have this experience. It was so remarkable that I could share the same sentiment with all of the other SOI members of such different backgrounds, ages and circumstances.

Hearing the Inuit and Greenlandic storytelling tradition based on these Arctic waters helped me understand, appreciate and value the Inuit’s connection to nature. Throughout the expedition, I was torn between catching some sleep and using every available moment to take in all the sights and experiences. Though the need to sleep prevailed in some instances, I was constantly filled with feelings of joy, exhilaration and gratitude for being able to experience the Arctic’s beauty and resilience.

I would like to express my sincerest thanks to Students on Ice, the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program, and Katie Boomgardt, International Development Studies Program Coordinator at University of Toronto Scarborough for making this trip possible.

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