Taking the Wild Cards Out of the Deck

(I have no idea when I first wrote this post, but I found it in my drafts folder and thought you guys might get value from it. The issues I talk about below are not very deep issues and someday I’ll probably come back to this post and get a little deeper into the community and such…. but for now, you can deal with my rants about one-ply toliet paper)

I want to go to Antarctica!

As someone who regularly attends large community events (see: Dystopia Rising LARP and others, burning man regional events, conventions of multiple sorts, local music festivals, Thanksgiving dinner…) I have a large network. This network has seen me gush about the Antarctica opportunities on social media for quite some time now. Inevitably, this has led to multiple folks reaching out to me about heading down here themselves. It’s hard to resist when you hear about things like:

  • A supportive culture that seems to embrace individuality, communal effort, civic responsibility, leave no trace…. and all those other principles that the burn culture has been spouting off for a little over a decade
  • No-cost room and board
  • Three hot meal buffets a day and all-you-can eat snacks in between
  • Transportation to, from, and around station
  • No errands to run, no grocery store trips… all your free time is leisure time
  • Very little to spend money on with only one store on station and inexpensive booze, thus you can save thousands per season
  • Everything you need to survive is provided sans shampoo/soap
  • And the kicker, you can’t legally be here year-round all the time so you HAVE to leave for a (I believe the minimum is six weeks) time and come back during which time most seem to be traveling the world and experiencing other cultures

Antarctica is Not for Everyone

However, this place is not for everyone.

As Lucas so nicely put at the bar last night, “this place isn’t for the black sheep per say, no, no that’s not the right way to word it…. it’s more like… a place for all of the wild cards. Look around…” *points at Ashlee, a stewie like me*, ” she’s definitely a wildcard. And so is Terry next to her. And you. And me. We’re all the wild cards of the world” and Antarctica is where we come together to form our own special kind of deck. Not everything is amazing down here, there’s definitely a downside to being here and I think those things are important to note. In fact, GSC would agree with me – both of my interviews started with the interviewer reading a list of “negative” things as a way to deter candidates.

It’s Not All Beguilement

I am going to preface the rest of this post: the below commentary is not in any way degrading of the National Science Foundation, the United States Antarctic Program, the Antarctic Support Contract, or my employer, Gana-A’Yoo.  These are commentaries on the culture-fit and notes on the things that may make this not the right fit for all. These are not negative comments on the program and should not be construed as such. This is also not meant to sound as me being whiney… these are all things I am choosing to live with. I love this place. But they are things to keep in mind so one knows the life changes to expect when moving to the “harshest continent”.

  • You’re going to have a roommate… and the rooms aren’t huge.
    • Those here for the winter mostly avoid this one, but as you have a much higher chance of being hired on for the summer, this one becomes unavoidable. As a first-season participant, you may well likely end up in Building 155 where you won’t just have one roommate; there is often three or four people to a room.
    • I have heard stories of a year they ran out of space and were plopping double the intended amount into rooms, the gymnasium, lounges, etc. But that is the exception, not the rule by any means.
    • I don’t have a tape measurer so I can’t give you exact measurements but I’d guess each room in my building is like 12’x12′ plus a “hallway” type section that’s like 6’x12′. Shoving two people in there means you’re bound to overlap.
    • You (most likely) either work the same exact schedule meaning you’ll never be alone in your room or you work the exact opposite schedule from your roommate meaning you can’t really have people over to visit/hang out.
  • You don’t get to choose your meals
  • One-ply toliet paper so be prepared for your butt to be raw on occasion
  • Dry air means you’re going to use more lotion than you ever had in your entire life
  • It’s cold (duh, right?)
  • Even your off-time is under HR regulations
  • Injuries take more time to heal
  • No quick communication/texting
  • No WiFi/internet in your bedroom
  • No new television shows/Netflix/Hulu/streaming
  • Can’t pop home for a visit
  • Store has limited selection and milk is hard to come by
  • Mail takes forever
  • No good tequila
  • The same one-liners all the time. See: harshest continent.
  • Feeling of isolation

(cover image source)

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