The Antarctic – The Ultimate Outdoor Classroom with Jennifer Long

Who is Jennifer Long?

I had the honor of hearing Jennifer speak at TedxLangleyED. She started off her speech talking about GEO EDUCATION and I was literally on the edge of my seat the whole time.

Jennifer was selected by National Geograhic to be one of 25 teachers from across Canada and the US to travel to various places including Greenland, the Arctic, Atlantic Canada and Antarctic to learn in the ultimate classroom. She shared her story about her adventure and about how she helps her students connect to the environment through her experience.

Jennifer lands with two feet on the Antarctic Shore!
Jennifer lands with two feet on the Antarctic Shore!

Accolades and Accomplishments:

Jennifer has a LONG list of accomplishments to share… here are some of the highlights:

  • Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology from UBC
  • Bachelor of Education in Secondary Science from UBC
  • Master of Educational Technology from UBC
  • Took a 2-year leave of absence from 2010-12 in order to move to Costa Rica and work at a not-for-profit environmental school in Monteverde. The first year I was the science teacher the second year I was the sub-director (VP) of the high school.
  • Have organized and taken 3 groups of students to Mexico to build houses for families in the suburbs of Tijuana
  • Have organized and taken two groups of students to China, one group also travelled South to rural China in order to volunteer at a small elementary/boarding school.
  • Have organized and taken two groups of students to Costa Rica to volunteer at the Cloud Forest School
  • Took a group of 4 students to the ECO4 Environmental Conference in Heredia Costa Rica, where we were one of three student groups to present.
  • And I saved the best for last…. 2014 National Geographic Grosvenor Fellow.

Jami – “Tell us about your big adventure in Antarctica… how did you get selected, was it what you expected? What surprised you about your trip? What did you learn? Do you think you’ll ever go back?”

Jennifer – “Just over a year ago I came across a link that a friend had posted on Facebook with the caption “How cool would this be?”  I followed the link to the National Geographic Education page and read the description for the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship.  It was professional development opportunity open to teachers across North America.  Each year, National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions send teachers to places such as the Arctic Svalbard, Greenland, Iceland, Atlantic Canada and Antarctica in order to gain first hand experience and knowledge that they can then share with their students and community.  I agreed with my friend, this sounded cool.

I used the last few days of my Christmas holidays to work on the application, which included a number of written responses to questions such as “What role do you believe educators play in preparing students to be global citizens and environmental stewards of the planet?”

Just over a month later I received “the phone call” part way through my Honors Science 10 class.  The secretary rang my classroom and said in a very confused voice “National Geographic is on the phone… do you want to take it?” I ran to the prep room and the voice on the other side of the phone told me that I was one of 25 people chosen and that I would be travelling to ANTARCTICA!  I don’t think I heard much else after that!

Antarctica Adventure
Now this is an outside classroom worth exploring. Talk about hands on learning!

After 10 months of anticipation and preparation, I finally reached Antarctica and it was everything I had hoped for and more.  I had done a lot of reading and research, but nothing can prepare you for actually experiencing the vastness and the intensity of such an amazing environment.  I went down with the expectation of seeing lots of ice and penguins, but I don’t think I fully grasped what “lots” meant.  To see, smell and hear thousands of penguins at one time is a memory I won’t soon forget.  You could sit for hours mesmerized by their awkward, single-file waddle from the water to their rookeries, or engaging in the never ending shuffling of thieved pebbles from one nest to the other.  In a single bay I was able to observe glaciers, icebergs, bergy bits, growlers, and brash ice…and recognize the difference between each of them.  We saw sludge ice, ice flows, pack ice, tabular icebergs, dome icebergs, floebit ice and frazil ice.  No two pieces of ice were the same, and its beauty blew me away.  I was also amazed by the amount of color that surrounded me.  The expedition I was on was called “The Journey to the White Continent” but I really felt it should be renamed “The Journey to the Blue Continent”.  As ice becomes more compressed, decreasing the amount of air within the structure, it changes how light is reflected.  Less air means red and green light spectrums are absorbed while the blue spectrum is reflected.  This had the effect of causing the ice to take on some of the most vivid and ethereal blue colors that I have ever seen.

Antarctica Adventure
Blue Icebergs everywhere.

The ice and the penguins were just the beginning.  I literally have notebooks full of thoughts and observations that I am looking forward to going back over in the coming months.  There were Fur Seals, Sea Lions, Leopard Seals, Weddel Seals and Crabeater Seals, Sei Whales, Humpback Whales, Killer Whales, and a Minke Whale that swam no more than 5 feet away from my zodiac. We saw more birds than I could begin to list.  And all the while, we were learning about these species from National Geographic and Lindblad naturalists whose passion for this place was contagious.

Penguins, Penguins everywhere!
Penguins, Penguins everywhere!

I think it’s impossible to visit Antarctica and not to fall in love with it.  This is why it’s concerning that at the same time as we were having these awe inspiring moments, that we were also observing the effects of man on that very same ecosystem.  While we (North Americans) have become accustomed to seeing media headlines about glacial melt, it suddenly becomes real when you are standing in front of one of those massive glaciers.  The impact of climate change becomes real when you are excited about seeing your first baby penguin, only to hear that chick mortality rates are rising due to increased precipitation in this cold dessert (the downy feathers of the chicks can’t retain heat when they get wet).  You suddenly question buying nutritional supplements when you realize that the omega-3 fatty acids are coming from the very krill that form the basis of the Antarctic food chain.

"A "Killer" way to spend the day." Jennifer couldn't help herself from this joke!
“A “Killer” way to spend the day.” Jennifer couldn’t help herself from this joke!

These are only a few of the “hard” lessons I learned in Antarctica but they are just as important as the positive ones.  There are no permanent residents on the continent, which means that it’s the researchers, the naturalists, the photographers and the tourists who fall in love with Antarctica that bear the responsibility of going back to their home countries and advocating for its protection.   I have been very fortunate in the two months since my return to have a number of opportunities to talk to various groups of students, teachers and people in my community about my experiences.  I hope that my passion for this amazing continent has been infectious and that I’ve been able to make this distance place seem a little more real for them.

Jennifer Long - Arctic Adventure
Whale bones in the foreground, spectacular landscapes in the back!

As for whether I’ll ever go back… I hope so.  I feel like every moment of that trip I was trying to soak absolutely everything in, and yet I still feel like there’s so much to learn.  What I saw and experienced in Antarctica was only the tip of the iceberg (sorry, had to do it, just too perfect not to).”

Port Lockroy
Port Lockroy

Jami – “What is your favorite inspirational quote?

Jennifer – “I think a quote that really resonates with my personal and educational philosophy would be “People protect what they love” by Jacques Cousteau.  It’s driven a lot of what I do with students in terms of international travel and environmental education.  I think that if we want to foster a generation of environmental stewards and global citizens that we have get our kids out into nature and experiencing other cultures.  If they learn to respect and love these things then they will in turn want to protect them.”

Antarctica Adventure
Humpback whales coming over for a visit.

Jami – “Can you tell us about a time that you were scared?

Jennifer, “About two years ago I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. It is an incurable inflammatory bowel disease in which my immune system is attacking my intestines, or more specifically the microbes in my intestines.  While researchers know that genetics, environment, immune system and microbes play a role, they aren’t certain of the exact cause. So basically, what I heard, was that I had an incurable disease, whose cause was unknown.  And as I started going through the information online, the prognosis was scary.

When you’re diagnosed with something like Crohn’s, it’s definitely overwhelming and I was worried about how it was going to impact my life.  I have always been an active person, and love to travel.  I definitely have the wanderlust, and I often spend my two months of summer on the road.  In 2010, I took a two-year leave of absence from my job in Canada so that I could move to Monteverde, Costa Rica in order to work for a not-for-profit environmental school.  I was able to experience, first-hand, much of what I had learned in my Biology degree, and it was they type of experience I was hoping to repeat again later in my career.  I was worried that health issues, and limits to travel insurance would curtail my dreams.

In the time since my diagnosis I have been fortunate to work with a very knowledgeable specialist and I have connected with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada, attending a provincial symposium.  I’ve learned that as Crohn’s variations go, I have the mildest ones possible and I’ve found it quite manageable with medications.  I’ve learned how to listen to my body and recognize flare-ups as they start, modifying my diet, exercise and stress levels accordingly.  Being able to travel somewhere like Antarctica, with no health or insurance concerns has certainly shown me that while Crohn’s will always be a part of my life, that it doesn’t have to define me or change my dreams.”

Jami – “Who inspires you? Why?”

Jennifer, “This may sound cheesy, but my dad would have to be one of the people who most inspires me. He’s taught me the importance of work ethic, integrity, and respect for other people.  His career started off as a special education teacher before moving into administration.  As a young child I would go along on fieldtrips helping push wheelchairs or participating in the activities. As an adult, I spent a couple of years working at the same school and so was privy to the way he interacted with people at work.  He genuinely enjoys talking to people so he would leave his office door open no matter how busy he was.  He placed a great deal of importance on building relationships and treated everyone with an equal level of respect.  It’s my hope that people witnessing my interactions would be able to say the same thing.

My dad has lived by the motto “It’s all part of the adventure” and that’s helped shape me both personally and professionally. Our family grew up hiking, cycling, kayaking and generally spending time in nature.  By the time I was 15 he was taking me on 500km cycling trips from Jasper to Calgary. Although I’m sure he heard “are we there yet” more than once, it was these experiences that instilled in me a passion for nature and outdoor activities.  He’s still one of my favorite people to go hiking with and although I’d love to say that it’s now him trying to keep up with me, he still going strong! Because of his background in teaching and administration a lot of our talk on these hikes surrounds education. He’s encouraged me to integrate what I love into what I teach and he’s a big part of why I now teach an Eco-tourism class through which I take students out paddle boarding, hiking, and camping.”

When asked who inspires her it was obvious! Her passion for the outdoors started with some pretty fun family adventures!
When asked who inspires her it was obvious! Her passion for the outdoors started with some pretty fun family adventures!

Jami, “One song that always makes you get up and dance…”

Jennifer, “Oh my goodness there are so many that it’s really hard to choose.  My 6-year-old niece, 4-year-old nephew and I often have “dance parties”, so I feel like I end up dancing to a lot of songs like Barbie Girl, or the one from the Lego movie.  But as for a song that I really couldn’t resist, I’d probably have to go with a classic 90’s song like Gonna Make you Sweat by C + C Music Factory.  Having lived in Central America for a couple of years I’m also a sucker for anything Reggaetone.”

Jami, “Finish this sentence, I think it’s important for children to connect with nature because…”

Jennifer, “… it allows them to gain an appreciation for it, and appreciation leads to respect, and respect leads to a desire to protect.  If we want to foster a generation of environmental stewards who are going to help solve the ecological problems of the future then we have to equip them not only with the tools to solve those problems, but the passion and desire as well.  I think that passion comes directly from spending time in nature!”

Jami, “Another finish this sentence, “My favorite family adventure is:”

Jennifer, “Looking back I’d probably have to say that my favorite family adventures were the times spent driving across Canada.  My mom’s side of the family lives on the East Coast, so at the beginning of every summer we would load up the car and camp our way across the country.  Because we were young, we didn’t know the route we were taking or where we would end up each night (looking back, I’m sure my parents had a plan).  My sister and I always enjoyed exploring the new places we’d visit, and begged our parents to stop at old favorites such as Drummondville, Quebec. We participated in the Provincial Campground kids programs and collected stickers, filling our “passports” as we went.  It was a great way to learn the geography of the country and there was the added bonus of the anticipation of seeing our family in New Brunswick.”

Jami, “What’s your favorite solo adventure?”

Jennifer, “Any sort of travelling.  While I obviously like to travel with friends and family, I also really enjoy travelling alone.  When you’re travelling alone your focus shifts outwards to what’s going on around you.  You spend more time quietly observing and I think you can learn a lot from that.  As a solo traveller you are also more approachable and therefore meet some very interesting people.  After my time in Antarctica, I travelled to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions in order to visit various archeological sites.  Although the three people that I toured with were strangers, we ended up having these amazingly profound conversations about culture and genealogy.  Had I been travelling with a friend, I don’t know if I would have made those same connections.”

Jami, – “Last question… an important one!  Girl Guide Cookie Talk:  Do you like the chocolate or vanilla ones best?”

Jennifer, “I’m going to go with neither…  I’m a sucker for chocolate mint stored in the freezer.”

To learn more about Jennifer and her passion for geo education check out her blog at: 


Jami Savage
Jami Savage
Jami Savage is one of the top Family Travel Writers in Canada, and has been featured on CTV and Vancouver Sun, and more. Go here to read our families story about how we went from backyard adventurers to world travelers, and how you can do the same. If you want to send Jami a quick message, visit her contact page here.

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Jami Savage

Full Time Travel Writer, Mom who is passionate about empowering and educating travelers on how you can use your own tourism dollars as a catalyst for positive change worldwide. Click here to learn more about us, our family, and how we lead an adventure filled life!

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