By Sam Robinson
About 10 years ago I got an email from my manager at the time asking me if I’d like to go to Antarctica. I said “sure! why not?!”, thinking it was a joke. As it turns out, it was no joke.
My organisation of the time had been asked to conduct a current state analysis of the safety culture at Scott Base, New Zealand’s Antarctic base. The sense of unreality is still with me when I reflect on my time there, it doesn’t feel like it was me in the memories, but another person in someone else’s memory.
The shock of experience on the ice was profound for me, and I imagine for many others – I need to relook at photos of my time there over and over and over again to convince myself that it actually all happened.
The process was very involved from the battery of necessary medical tests, orientation sessions in Christchurch, choosing my clothes and equipment, and the actual flight in a US military Hercules aeroplane. And this was all before I got there!
Among many precious memories and experiences I’ve got from my time in Antarctica, a few stand out:
- Symbols: I turned up at the front door of Scott Base carrying a clipboard. Naturally, that wasn’t viewed positively: “here’s another one of those consultants… this never ends well” (the words I remember weren’t that friendly!). It wasn’t just about the clipboard – but that didn’t help. After that rough start, I had to spend a lot of time mending and developing relationships. Luckily for me, it worked, people thawed out and I got the information I needed. But it could have been a very long and painful few days
- Hands on work: often the tasks that are most critical get overlooked for praise and recognition. In many places, there’s a lot of emphasis on the “strategic pillars,” the vision and the mission. But organisations are built on hands on work. And it’s the same on the ice – there were so many unsung heroes who kept that place (actually any place) running. The mechanics who know the vehicles inside out; the kitchen staff who have to plan, replan, adjust and readjust constantly; the scientists who go out and observe and observe with incredible patience. Everything you see around you is built by hands on work
- My family: they’re my world and the reason I do the work I do. My wife was pregnant at the time with our second child and the pain of separation from my loved ones was very tough. I cannot imagine the pain and sacrifice of people who do much longer stints away from their family in far away places. My hat goes off to them
If you ever get the chance to go somewhere exciting, I say go for it! That chance may not come again. Soak it all up and enjoy it. Apart from the great memories, you’ll be able to learn from that experience for many years afterwards.