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Reflecting on a Greenland adventure brings out the best in two different worlds

By Machiko Yasuda

July 15, 2008, 6:16 pm

People often say “home sweet home,” but the meaning of the phrase becomes much clearer after one travels for 21 hours from one of the world’s harshest climates to arguably one of the globe’s best.
That’s right. After three weeks in the ice of Summit Camp, Greenland, I am finally back home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
It could not have come sooner; the last week at Summit was probably the hardest one I had while working there with Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences associate professor Jochen Stutz’s group.
After taking our final measurements and finishing up all of our smaller projects ““ which included creating a soundproofing box for a noisy purge system, a sunshade for one of the instruments, and several other accessories ““ we had to pack the Long Path DOAS (or differential optical absorption spectroscopy) machine. (The MAX DOAS machine, the other instrument we use in Greenland, was at Summit before we arrived and will stay there for the rest of the year to continue taking measurements.)
Keeping in mind that it took about three weeks to load the thirteen huge crates necessary for the Long Path instrument and all our other Greenland equipment, it took quite a bit of work for the sole remaining group member and me to pack everything during the two days we had.
After we got all of our cargo and personal gear loaded up, we bid our final adieu to the blanket of white at Summit and headed back to Kangerlussuaq, our base before the flight to America.
Following a day and a half of exploring the tiny town of about 500 (as well as an epic 30 mile bike trip that wiped out this particular biking novice), we flew back on another C-130 jet to the Air National Guard base in upstate New York where my Arctic adventure began. About 15 hours later, I was home.
Finally sitting in my room, staring out my window at green California and listening to Bob Marley, I am in a position to reflect on what now seems a dream-like experience.
I went to Greenland primarily to work for the Stutz group and to learn more about atmospheric chemistry in order to continue the research that we do. I can say with certainty that I worked harder during these three weeks than any other similar period in my life; however, it is what I learned that will stay with me forever.
Never mind the vast quantity of concrete science that I acquired ““ my time in Greenland taught me even more about myself.
Perhaps my bike ride in Kangerlussuaq serves as an appropriate analogy. Hearing that some fellow Summit scientists wanted to bike the 25 or so kilometers from town to the edge of Greenland’s ice cap, I grew interested in coming along. Never mind the fact that I have absolutely no experience in mountain biking (the only bike I possess does not even have gears), or that the only bicycles available to us were partially broken and helmets or pads were not provided ““ I was going.
Just like the whole trip to Summit, I had little idea of what I was getting into. Just like my time in Summit, I was faced with an ever-present onslaught of obstacles, from looming boulders on steep downhill sections to huge stretches of deep and unbikable sand. And just like when I was at Summit, I felt constantly rewarded: by the amazing scenery we rode through, the company and common ties of those I biked with (formerly co-workers, now friends) and the sense of accomplishment of finishing something I did not think I had the capacity to.
Some say that it is only by pushing ourselves to our limits that we truly understand what we are capable of, but pushing myself to my absolute peak at the peak of the Arctic taught me that there is actually little that we are not capable of.
No matter how hard a day or a moment may seem ““ be it due to overwhelming exams, relationship strife, or bone-chillingly cold wind ““ I have learned that we can not only survive through such times, but thrive.
College is a time of growth and self-realization and I know that some reading this blog may be incoming freshman to UCLA.
To those, as well as the returning students of our fine university, I would like to remind of the almost endless array of opportunities available at UCLA, particularly in student research. Had I gone to a different school, I am doubtful that such an experience would have been available to me as a freshman.
And sure, your calling may not come in atmospheric chemistry in Greenland. Maybe you will find it in the study of the prehistoric art of the Middle East. Or you may find a niche in classical trumpet performance in Germany.
Whatever it may be, utilize the options and resources offered at this incredibly endowed university. We are all incredibly lucky to have such rich research opportunities available to us, and it would be regretful to not capitalize on them while we still can. Plus, the benefits of getting involved are immense.
You may start your research experience hoping to grow as a student or as a scholar, but I can guarantee that, like me, you will grow as a human as well.

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Machiko Yasuda
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