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It’s Not Just Another Job

Written by Will on . Posted in Contract & Seasonal Jobs, Income & Jobs, Lore, Legend & Stories, Overseas Jobs, Working and Living in Antarctica

Machu Picchu

Imagine this:

It’s four A.M., you’re in the midst of a bleary-eyed hoard of people dressed in super-thick red parkas and comically bulbous white boots. You’re being herded, like cattle, onto a giant military aircraft. In five hours your flight will be landing on a sheet of ice. The cargo door will open and you’ll be aware of the frigid temperatures, but that’s not what consumes your attention. The vastness, the Seussian landscape, the overbearing brightness of the sun are the things that try to wrestle your senses into submission, but your senses have no frame of reference from which to draw on so your experience becomes nearly incomprehensible.

Imagine this:

You’re in a helicopter, flying over what appears to be a topographical model of Mars. The ground below you hasn’t seen rain in millions of years. The aircraft lands; supplies and people are shuffled, the aircraft takes off again, repeating this ritual a few times before landing at a remote fuel station. While the helicopter is being refueled, you’re treated to fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies. You board the helicopter and depart for “home” – but you don’t go directly home. See, it’s early February and the sea ice is in full retreat. The helicopter hovers just over the very edge of the ice – where it meets open ocean. The point where ice meets water is teeming with wildlife; seals, penguins and orcas all feeding on krill. You don’t know it now, but in a few years, you’ll get to experience what krill tastes like when it’s served at a celebratory mid-winter meal. Through the headphones built into your flight helmet, the pilot’s muffled voice says something, but you’re too immersed in the experience to hear it or really even care what is being said.

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine this:

You board a ship at the southern tip of Chile. For the next 11 days you will be sailing to Antarctica. Several days into the cruise, the ship sails into the caldera of a volcano. A volcano – you’re sailing INSIDE a volcano! You’ll go ashore aboard a rubber boat. On the beach, you dig a pit that rapidly fills up with geothermally heated water. As the impromptu hot tub becomes too hot for comfort, you dig a trench to allow cold water from the ocean to mix with the hot water, creating a pool of absolute bliss. A few days later, the ship enters the Neumayer channel. The surrounding landscape is so pristine that it appears as if it were a painting. Nothing this beautiful could be real, could it?

Imagine this:

You’re road-tripping from Colorado to Utah with nine people you met only a week ago. You’ll go on a sunrise hike to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. You’ll commiserate with your new friends about the absurdity of Utah’s liquor laws. You eventually find yourself combing the desert for clues which will help you find a “lost” doll. In this unlikely desert environment you are training for search and rescue in Antarctica. You’d like to believe that you have now seen the pinnacle of absurdity, but you know better. On your way back to Colorado you stop at a roadside diner where you meet an ex-con turned artist who is so open and interesting that you will always remember him and his story has become irreversibly enmeshed with your story.

Imagine this:

Job satisfaction is attained when you are 40 miles away from town and the ambient temperature is 40 below. Your behemoth tracked vehicle breaks downNodwell in Antarctica, stranding you; your mind is the only resource available to get you out of this situation. The difficulty of each task is magnified by whiteout conditions, windchills exceeding 70 below and only a couple of hours of daylight. Though it takes three days, there is no describing the feeling you have when you manage to get yourself out of this mess with no external support. You now have a new yardstick with which to measure possibilities and you can’t imagine how grave a situation would have to be for you to think of it as impossible.

Imagine this:

You see seas as smooth as glass and a landscape that looks like it was colored by an eight-year-old girl*. You and your friends are going to enjoy a day of boating. You’re surrounded by icebergs that are bathed in a hue of blue that is absolutely indescribable and unimaginable. A blue so deep, pure and bright that your eyes try to refuse that you are seeing it. Penguins are porpoising beside your boat and in the water you witness the serpentine grace of a leopard seal. The sea ice has set up in places, and at times you think that all forward progress will been halted by it, but alas you get through and around the next bend you’re confronted with another vista of infinite beauty.

Imagine this:

You step outside on your way to work. The temperature is an inconceivable 80 below. Your first thought might be that you need to expedite moving between buildings – but then you see it – the sky above is lit up with colors not of this earth. The lights dance against a backdrop of stars so thick that if it were called the “creamy way” that still wouldn’t be descriptive enough. The temperature isn’t even noticeable as you’re mesmerized by the light show above. You realize that this is what the sky will look like for several more months.

Imagine that your circle of friends includes several people who have terrain features named after them or who have summited Everest (and other notable peaks) multiple times, though these people certainly aren’t boastful of their accomplishments. Imagine that one of the best meals you’ve ever eaten was prepared in a tent, 800 miles from running water. Imagine that you’re one of a handful of people who has seen the once-per-year sunrise at The South Pole.

Imagine this:
All of these things that you’ve experienced are part of your job!

These things are only a minuscule part of working in Antarctica, but over time these threads are woven into the fabric of fond memories and revered experiences.

Most of the time, working in Antarctica is drudgery, pure and simple. We have hellishly arduous conference calls, awful fluorescent lighting, a never-ending mountain of bureaucratic red tape and ineptitude, budget struggles and a vast array of nonsensical corporate rules, as well as many of the other things that people deal with in their jobs each and every day. We have all of that AND we have the problems created by extreme weather; and we have to wash dishes and scrub toilets, yet all who come, and especially those who return, do so because the experience, as a whole, surpasses imagination.

I’m often asked why I keep coming back – the short answer is usually something along the lines of “If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand” – but when I actually stop and think about how privileged I am to get to do some of these things I realize just how badass it is to work in Antarctica.

*paraphrased quote from Neal

Getting a Job in Antarctica Continued….

Written by Will on . Posted in Contract & Seasonal Jobs, Expat Life, Income & Jobs, Nomadic Lifestyle, Overseas Jobs, Quirks, Working and Living in Antarctica

Machu Picchu

Quite some time ago I wrote an article on how to get a job in Antarctica. I wrote it because it was something I knew about and I figured that a lot of people visiting this site might appreciate the information. That still holds true, but I since I’ve been doing some work with some friends of mine on the Antarctic Memories Message Board I have come to the realization that the information that I provide may not be enough, in itself, to help a lot of the people who want to pursue the Ice lifestyle.

During my work on the Antarctica Forum I have met some people who were highly qualified for the positions that they were applying for; yet year after year they were being passed-over for jobs that needed to get filled. It struck me then, that the people who are successful in getting hired are the ones who are best equipped to navigate corporate red-tape. I find this realization a bit ironic because the majority of people who end up working in Antarctica are vociferously anti-corporate, this is even more true with those who return season after season.

I figured I’d try to put some tips together to expand on getting a job in Antarctica. You’re marketing yourself so remember:

Everything that you do during the hiring process needs to reflect that you are a professional. If your only email address is one that says something about you that could be perceived as negative or inflammatory, get a new email address. Use spell check and use proper grammar. Have someone proof read it if necessary. Don’t do a half-assed job of filling out the job application, even if all of your relevant experience, references, etc. are spelled out in your resume.

Speaking of your resume, it may very well speak volumes about your years of experience or education, but what does it say about how you add value to your employer’s business? And on that topic, can you work in numbers and percentages? Something along the lines of “increased widget sales by 13% resulting in a $30,000 increase in revenue” See…your resume is being reviewed by people who speak in such strange tongues and though they may not understand what any of that means, it does give you common ground which may be enough to get your application from “in review” to “interview” status.

Go ahead and call – in fact, I’d encourage you to call. On the RPSC website, there’s an 800 number. Call it, if you haven’t got the name of a particular person whom you have explicit permission to call, just ask to be connected to HR. Strike up a conversation with the person, get their name, ask questions about how the hiring process works, ask if they’ve ever deployed to The Ice before – if so, ask specific questions about The Ice. I really don’t think they’ll mind. Think about your last experience in a fluorescent light hell-office. Anything to take your mind out of there, right?

Preparing for the interview:
Since the positions are widely varied, it’s hard to say how your interview might be set up, but there are some standard questions which you should really think about. There aren’t right or wrong answers to any of these necessarily, but some answers will fit better with working on The Ice. Your technical skills and job experience are probably fairly well laid out and explained fully or you probably wouldn’t have been considered for an interview, and the person interviewing you may not know a whole lot about the technicalities of your job anyhow, but you should have a copy of what they’re looking at in front of you during the interview (the interview will likely be over the phone by the way). The things you need to have well thought-out answers for are more along the lines of how you resolve conflict and why do you want to come to Antarctica. You really need to be thinking about those things and have strong, confidence inspiring answers for those questions. Superior skills in navigating corporate Labyrinths coupled with some luck will get you to the interview stage, a strong interview will land you the job. Be prepared for it, if going to Antarctica is a dream for you, you don’t want to blow this chance.

Post interview coping strategy:
Before you hang up with the person interviewing you, you should get their contact information and ask for permission to contact them later. I’m highly opposed to emailing someone because written words are misunderstood with far more ease than spoken words, but that’s just me. At any rate, whatever medium you decide to use to follow-up with someone, make sure and do it. At the very least, send a short note thanking the person for their time and for answering your questions (you did ask questions during the interview, right?). Anticipation gets very hard to cope with at this stage and you might need to hear something one way or the other to allow you to go on with your life. Call back and be courteous without being nagging or overbearing.

The hiring process is very strange in that the person interviewing you may very well not be able to tell you what to expect to be paid. This is a function of HR and seems to be a closely guarded secret. A couple of things to keep in mind – a weekly salary that is offered to you is not inclusive of the end of season bonus that you will get if you successfully complete your contract season. Also, all meals and housing while you’re on The Ice is company provided. While you’re on The Ice you won’t be paying for electricity or water or fuel for your car or any of those other things that you have to pay for “back home” and so, the wage you may be offered might seem low, I can tell you in my case that I’m financially better off for being on The Ice.

More Ocean Search & Rescue

Written by Will on . Posted in Contract & Seasonal Jobs, Expat Life, General, Income & Jobs, Nomadic Lifestyle, Overseas Jobs, Working and Living in Antarctica

Machu Picchu

Last Friday the OSAR team participated in a training exercise. Temperatures here have dropped a bit – I think somewhere in the high teens, possibly lower 20s. Those temperatures really aren’t much of a consideration when around station; not much bundling up is required when shelter is never further than a few short steps away, and in fact, the buildings of station provide a significant windbreak. Out on the open water, however, can be quite a different story. There was a light breeze blowing in the morning with a tad bit of snowfall. I was braced for a day full of misery.

My anticipation of misery caused me to prepare for the worst – I dressed right and fared well during the exercise. It turned out to be quite an enjoyable day actually. Presently there are lots of icebergs out and about and an escape from the constant drone of the diesel generator on station was welcome.

 

 

 

Here we are in the boat – approaching a hairball landing. The intention, I guess, was to boost confidence in one’s abilities to actually land a boat in big swells and go ashore over snowy, ice-encrusted cliffs. As it turns out, the proper motivation needed to scale up an icy rock is 20 feet of ice cold water below it.

 

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Friends

Written by Will on . Posted in Expat Life, General, Global Travel, Lore, Legend & Stories, Nomadic Lifestyle, Overseas Jobs, Quirks, Travel, Working and Living in Antarctica

Machu Picchu

The last northbound ship for the season has departed. Each time a ship leaves, it takes friends with it. Those left behind pay homage to those who are leaving. The water is cold.

[flashvideo filename=/video/PierJump062609web.mov image=http://www.vagabumming.com/video/PierJump062609web.jpg plugins=viral-1&viral.functions=embed&viral.onpause=false&viral.callout=always /]

The Many Hats of Palmer: People Doing Their Regular Job

Written by Will on . Posted in Contract & Seasonal Jobs, Expat Life, Income & Jobs, Nomadic Lifestyle, Overseas Jobs, Working and Living in Antarctica

Machu Picchu

When we’re not washing dishes or scrubbing toilets or shoveling snow or responding to emergencies we fill the spare time with work. Here’s a short video of a cargo operation on the pier:

[flashvideo filename=/video/PierOps062409web.mov image=http://www.vagabumming.com/video/PierOps062409web.jpg plugins=viral-1&viral.functions=embed&viral.onpause=false&viral.callout=always /]