It turns out that many of us have arrived 24 hours before the Homeward Bound program starts this evening. Fellow participant Karen Alexander and I worked together at the Scottish Marine Institute during my second postdoc from 2014-2016. She is now based in Tasmania, Australia. Over dinner last night and breakfast/lunch this morning we had met a fair few new faces. Knowing that the welcome dinner would be the start of an intense few days, Karen and I decided to walk down the mountain into town to explore - the city is small, with one main street and mostly tourist shops.
And so it begins, the Antarctica part of the year-long 2017/18 Homeward Bound program. Homeward Bound is a global women in science leadership platform. 1000 selected women will take part over a decade (2016-2027). We are the second cohort; the largest all-female expedition to Antarctica (78 women scientists).
We first met in January 2017, a year ago. It was our first monthly Zoom call (like Skype). We've seen each others faces, often over coffee, sometimes wine. The global time zones meant joining from bed, on the train to work or at 10pm after a long day, each for an hour. There was often so much to think about or do between the daily demands of work and life. The month between them passed quickly.
There we were; tired and enthusiastic all over again. Often it was overwhelming; so much to do, so little time, so many faces. Would we ever know everyone? There were triads, teams of three or four grouped together for meetings between the monthly Homeward Bound calls. This sometimes worked, but often didn't due to geographic regions and there not being a purpose. There was so much other program content to do (coaching sessions, life style inventory, science themes, visibility writing) This was just a chat so it often got pushed.
When we started sharing our various Homeward visibility stories, how we would describe ourself, our logisitcs (fundraising, travel plans etc), or excitement (visiting research stations, the wildlife, the time away from email, scientific collaborations) or fears (how were we going to find the money, 4 weeks was a long time to be away from home, what did we have to pack, would our insurance cover us?)
We got to know each other and better than that, we had created a safe space. No-one knew what we were going through but each other, and from this shared experience, we grew a network. 80 women scientist selected from across the globe, at different career stages, different backgrounds, different stories but oddly united. It was still overwhelming. Who signs up for this crazy experience? They must all be fearless and maybe loud and bold - would being on a ship with everyone be too much? I bought noise cancelling headphones. And now was the day we would meet up.
It was overwhelming to meet in a small room (prior to entering the function room) Putting 80 people in there at the best of times would have been intense. Add excitement, nerves, reunions, familiarity, travel stories and anticipation and the noise was deafening. Once we were seated in the big room (pictured above) for dinner, with 77 strangers (and two friends), it seemed more manageable. Everyone has worked an entire year to get here, said goodbye to loved ones, travelled many miles to the 'end of the world'. We recognized some, connecting previous stories with current faces and for many, including me, I couldn't believe how many people I didn't recognize! Dinner wasn't long enough, not even to get the introductions and questions asked for the 10 of us at each table, yet we are all exhausted - and tomorrow is the start of the first full day.