Adventure on an unprecedented scale defines your life as a scholar. It takes some getting used to, but after a few months of hopping around countries and continents – traveling to the World’s most incredible locations and meeting some of the World’s most remarkable individuals – extraordinary adventure becomes the norm.
So what happens when April comes around and it all ends; when it’s time to head home and continue with the life you left behind? I simply did not continue with the life I left behind. I began an entirely new chapter – a chapter that has been inspired, influenced and supported by the people I met during my year as the European Scholar.
Two months after the end of my scholarship I was surfacing from a dives surrounded by the numbingly beautiful Arctic landscapes of Svalbard. I was at work – diving the Arctic. A dream. I knew if it hadn’t been for the scholarship I wouldn’t be here. The experiences I gained as a scholar have propelled me into the diving industry and landed me in positions I believe would have otherwise taken years to achieve.
So, after one unexpected phonecall in early June I was employed as a Dive Guide on two Oceanwide Expeditions navigating around Spitzbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago. Yes the usual dive guide chores of tank filling, gear lugging, fiddling with clips and fins and masks kept me busy. And yes it could be extremely cold at times. “Why are you here when you could be doing this in the Bahamas?” one of the guests on-board the ship asked me as I was driving a zodiac past icebergs so surreal in their splendour that I could never quite get my head around the fact they were actually real. “I could be in the Bahamas yes. But, I would chose this any day and every day.”
Throughout the scholarship year I became more and more aware of the World and how much is out there. I decided I wanted to explore and work in the planet’s more unique places with the polar regions being top of the list. I have been fortunate enough to work in many beautiful places, but Spitzbergen was staggering. As I filled tanks on the foredeck I would look across the calm sea as the mountain ranges slinked by under a sky that exhibited a shade of blue so vivid yet delicate I knew I would never see a anything like it elsewhere.
I can best describe Spitzbergen as otherworldly. When you combine dreamlike landscapes with the rich summer fauna of the Arctic, especially the big players –polar bears, seals, walrus and whales – you have a place that is near inconceivable. Seeing a polar bear charge across the ice and dive head first into an ice hole in pursuit of a seal; getting a call to my cabin at 2am telling me to head to the bridge as fin whales have been sighted; or diving under a colony of over a million black guillemots are just some of the experiences that help to define how incredible working here was.
To watch black guillemots peering through the water and literally doing a double take at the divers beneath them was hilarious. I think there is something really pleasing about witnessing birds underwater. Their startled looks said it all – these guillemots certainly weren’t expecting to see us. With few if any other divers ever visiting these sites the diving is expeditionary style. Sites were chosen based on charts and mini-scouting missions. Some sites drew rounds of applause, others not so much. But, when you are diving at 80°N it’s about more than just the dive itself. It’s about the Arctic.
Working in the Arctic and getting to dive some of the World’s most remote dive sites made me appreciate just how far I had come since I embarked on the OWUSS scholarship just over a year ago. My mind was abuzz when the scholarship ended – where was I going, what was I doing, what was coming next? The Arctic made me stop thinking what next? I was living in the moment and loving it.
Click here to learn more about the Scholarship program, including how to apply for the 2013 Scholarships: