Arctic Bay teen first Inuk to travel to Antarctica
While Nunavummiut celebrate the shortest day of the year, Jesse Tungilik will enjoy 24 hours of daylight.
Five weeks ago, Jesse Tungilik of Arctic Bay was buried in math problems and cadet drills.
Today, Tungilik is one of 45 high school students breathing in the Antarctic’s salty air with “Students on Ice.” The two-week expedition to the southern hemisphere is a hands-on study of geography and rare flora and fauna.
Tungilik, 17, is likely the first Nunavut Inuk to travel to the world’s most southern ice cap — an accolade he wears modestly. “It’s great, I’m excited and surprised,” he said of the unexpected adventure.
To mark the historic trip, Tungilik packed a Nunavut flag, which he’ll leave flying upon his departure.
Hours before stepping on a plane last week, Tungilik recounted the rapid chain of events. Through a friend, his mother Johanne Coutu, who lives in Arctic Bay, heard of a last-minute spot.
Tungilik, who lives in Campbell River, B.C., was interested but apprehensive. Then word came he’d been accepted.
“I’ve packed plenty of warm clothes, some reading materials and some music. I grew up in the cold so it will be nice to experience it again,” he said.
Tungilik’s dream is to work with the Coast Guard — which is why he moved to Campbell River to live with a host family two years ago.
He took science courses throughout high school and joined a cadet program not available in Arctic Bay. He graduated last year and has been upgrading his math marks. Upon his return from the South, he’ll start applying to colleges.
“Sometimes I think it would be easier to come back (to Arctic Bay). I miss the land, it’s where I grew up. But I’m always busy here. My mind is always occupied,” Tungilik said.
The trip to the Antarctic is not a vacation. Homework was assigned in advance. On-site lectures will cover the history of Antarctic exploration, the Antarctic Treaty, glaciology, eco-tourism and global warming.
The program’s goal is to create Antarctic ambassadors with an understanding and respect for the earth as a global ecosystem.
Of course, there will be time for fun, including boat trips, whale watching, hiking and photography — perhaps even time for writing post cards.
Coutu, a wildlife officer, is understandably pleased. She misses her son but applauds his dedication.
“I’m proud he has a goal that he’s going for. A lot of youth don’t know what they want to do,” she said.
“He wants a career on the ocean and the Drake Passage has some of the roughest waters in the world so this is a good opportunity. It’s been really hard having him away from home — he’s my baby.”
Tungilik returns on Dec. 29. He hopes to visit Arctic Bay this summer.