Posted by: Sally Ingraham | September 15, 2011

Antarctica, here I hopefully come!

I made one of the hiring managers at NANA Services laugh yesterday and exclaim “I’ve heard a lot of things while doing this job but I’ve never heard that before!” In exaggerated tones of despair I had just informed her that should I apply for a job in Antarctica again next year or EVER, I would be hiring a personal secretary. She knew exactly where I was coming from though, having told me weeks ago that I was up against hundreds of pages of paperwork, and that the only hiring process which might be MORE complex to navigate was probably applying to join the FBI.
Applying for a job in Antarctica was actually relatively easy. Now that I have been hired though (officially, I am a DA Alt or dining attendant alternate), things have gotten very, very difficult. I have been looked at up and down and backwards by doctors and dentists, poked and prodded (I still have a bruise on my arm from the tetanus shot, yikes!), and have carpel-tunnelled my right wrist from repeatedly scribbling down my name, address, SSN, etc. on what does seem like hundreds of forms. When I do eventually physically qualify (hurray for being young and healthy!) it will NOT be smooth sailing from there on out. I will have to stock up on all the gear, all the luggage, all the clothes, all of everything I will need for a 4-6 month deployment to McMurdo Station. And then I will have to wait. As an alternate I’m basically an understudy, lines and blocking learned, waiting in the wings or hovering near the phone in the hope that the principle actor will come down with laryngitis or have a mental breakdown on stage. If a primary doesn’t PQ, or if they have an accident on the Ice, or get there and FREAK OUT (because after all they will have arrived at the coldest, driest, windiest place on the planet – an icy desert where only a few thousand people come and go, none of them permanent residents) then and only then will I get the call. Meanwhile, I have been told that getting all of my friends and relations to wish and hope and pray for my chances is the recommended course of action.
Why, you might ask (and my grandparents certainly are) do I want to go to Antarctica? I could (and do) work in the service industry in much safer, warmer places. Why would I want to go to McMurdo Station to clean cafeteria tables, vacuum floors, wash dishes, etc.? I have been asking myself this for 6 years, ever since the bug entered my brain. When I left home after high school to work in Acadia National Park at The Jordan Pond House I immediately met a group of people who had worked in Antarctica. The kitchen manager at the Pond House went down to the Ice every winter (summer in Antarctica) to be a cook at various field camps. The Dining Room Manager and one of the Supervisors and another girl who became (and remains) one of my closest friends had all gone down for one or two seasons to work as dining attendants or janitors at McMurdo Station (scientists need to eat and crap too, you know, and someone has to feed and clean up after them!). My current boss has seven seasons under her belt and met her husband there. All of these people teamed up on me and convinced me that while the work itself might not be glamorous, the people were interesting, the travel perks were outstanding, the money was decent, and…bottom line…it’s ANTARCTICA! Of the billions of people on the planet, how many will ever visit the frozen continent? The people I’ve met who have done so claim that it is one of the most beautiful, most fascinating, and most incredible places they’ve ever been. They can only use large, vague words that fail to really describe the experience. A friend of mine who got the urge to go through meeting the same people the same year as me, and who actually made it there last year, told me that she never loved anywhere as much as she loved the Ice. She is there right now in fact, back for a second season.
the Ice
I guess there must be a switch in the circuits of the brain – it doesn’t get flipped on for everyone. In recent months I have gotten a broad range of reactions to my announcement that I was applying to work in Antarctica. People are horrified, incredulous, skeptical, curious, fascinated, excited, and interested in getting packed into my luggage. As for me, I exist in a strangely peaceful state these days – zen-like I guess. There are ulcer-inducing amounts of legwork to accomplish, and I am doing everything as quickly and efficiently as I can. But I am not stressing too extremely. In the end if it’s meant to be then I’ll go this year. And if not this year than the next. Or the next. Whatever it takes. It’s something I need to do – or else I’ll always wonder. The bug will keep on biting until the freezing temps of the Ice does away with it (there aren’t really any bugs in Antarctica!)

So there’s the tip of the iceberg (you knew that was coming, right?) in regards to the possibility that this blog and I may be relocating to 90 degrees south in the hopefully not too distant future. I welcome your questions and ask for all the good vibes and positive thoughts that you can lend me!
the Ice 2

(All images in this post stolen from Google Image searches… Here’s something to get REALLY excited about though – soon enough I’ll have MY OWN photos of Antarctica!!!! Pictures of things I actually saw, pictures I took while standing on my own two feet on the Ice. Ridiculously thrilling thought. 🙂 )


  1. Oh my gosh!!! That would be so amazing! What a fascinating and amazing opportunity. Please keep us updated!

    • I certainly will!

  2. This sounds like it’s going to be a wonderful adventure for you… I’m so jealous! Big moves like this are always stressful, but exciting, too! It’s great seeing someone follow their dreams as you have. Look forward to hearing more as things progress!

    • Oddly enough I hadn’t thought about this venture as “following my dreams”. What a concept – am I really doing that? Whoa. That’s brilliant. No joke – I’m newly excited for the whole thing. Thanks Steph!

  3. OMG, this sounds like such an amazing adventure. I am sending the best of good-luck thoughts to you that you will get to go this season (and also hoping nothing too catastrophic happens to the person you’ll be replacing!). Fingers crossed!

    • Ack, exactly – it’s such a mixed emotion. I hope I get to replace someone who ends up not WANTING to be there, and not someone who couldn’t go or couldn’t stay for some reason. That would be sad. Thanks very much for the best wishes. 🙂

  4. Goodness, I just have to emerge from lurkdom and say, wow, Antarctica! How exciting! I’ve had a minor fascination with the polar regions after reading Sara Wheeler’s Terra Incognita, but to actually GO there? It’s not why do you want to go to Antarctica, but why not? 🙂

    Here’s wishing you the best of luck!

    • You’ve hit my feeling on the head – why NOT go?? Thanks for emerging from lurkdom to cheer me on!

  5. I think I get you now and knowing what type of job you will be doing it does make more sense. I have this idea of cafeterias in odd places being very appealing. Just the idea of it makes me want to sit down and write a short story immediately.
    My former best friend (former because she has been living way too long in the US for me to ever see her) went there on some reserch boat and had to take water samples or something. All in all it didn’t sound that gripping, being locked on an ice breaker, I mean. She told me similar stories about health checks.
    It does sound as if you have to go and it will be so great if you will update your blog from there and I will be thrilled receiving comments from Antarctica! Ha!
    I wish you luck!

    • Yeah, not sure I would be as interested in living on an ice breaker… But I agree that cafeterias in weird places is good fodder for stories. I will certainly post about my Antarctic experience here, but I imagine there might be a short story or comic book based on my adventures too someday. 🙂

  6. I really really hope you will be able to go! this sounds like a marvelous adventure!!

    • Thanks L! I think it will certainly be SOME kind of an adventure. I feel like I’m on the brink of something huge and important (and I can’t help but enjoy the sci-fi aspect of the venture. Maybe the Doctor will stop by while I’m there – McMurdo Station seems like the kind of place he would visit! Hehe.)

  7. Sarah, I hope to see you down there. I am scheduled for D.A. orientation in Denver next weekend and hope to set my feet on the ice on October 14…Cherie

    • I’ll be following your journey! And perhaps I’ll see you soon. 🙂

  8. […] I spent the month of November researching MY NEXT MOVE. You may recollect that back in September I claimed that I might be deploying to Antarctica for a winter job serving food and wiping down tables at […]

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