Fort Smith teen heads to High Arctic with Students on Ice

Click on the slideshow above to view captions.Photos: Shawn Tourangeau.

Just because you’re a kid from the Northwest Territories doesn’t mean you know everything about life in the North.

That was the lesson Shawn Tourangeau, 17, took away from his Students on Ice (SOI) expedition July 27 to Aug. 10.

“There’s still a big difference for me because, coming from here, you don’t see as many of the things you see up North,” the lifelong Fort Smith resident said.

Everybody spoke their language in Nunavut. Stop signs would have syllabics on them, things like that. It was a bit of culture shock for me.”

In a presentation hosted at the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre last Thursday, Tourangeau said he was inspired after traveling with some 130 international students and 80 instructors from a variety of fields.

“It’s definitely given me a broader perspective on what’s out there and what types of things I can do,” he said.

The group started out in Ottawa before boarding a flight to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. From there, they traveled through fjords and ice fields, steering their expedition vessel along Greenland’s west coast before crossing the Davis Strait to Nunavut.

Coming from the subarctic, seeing the difference between the landscape at home and the Arctic was a transformative experience, Tourangeau said.

“I remember getting out during our first landing. I climbed out of the Zodiac (boat) and there was a mountain to the left and a mountain to my right. I went up a small hill, it was really spongy,” he said. “I remember I felt so small and insignificant but I was completely OK with it. I felt like I didn’t have to do anything, I could just be there.”

Tourangeau, who worked at Wood Buffalo National Park over the summer, was one of several students sponsored by Parks Canada to attend the excursion.

SOI expeditions are described as an opportunity for youth to acquire first-hand insight into climate change, traditional knowledge, scientific research and international policy. Using a holistic approach, attending youth learn not only about the Arctic, but about its place in the ecosystem and in global politics.

For 15 years, SOI has been sending students on educational expeditions to the polar regions. Following the trips, alumni are encouraged to stay connected, working together to create a network of global citizens.

To others interested in taking their own SOI trek, Tourangeau offered words of encouragement.

“Just drop everything and do it,” he said. “It’s one of those once in a lifetime things where you won’t forget it. The connections with the people you meet makes it so amazing, some of these people that I see now that I’m friends with, they’re doing great things.”

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