Chief Science Correspondent
About a week ago, I stood on the upper deck of the Laurence M. Gould and headed home from a three month adventure at Palmer Station, Antarctica.
I watched the beaming lights of the station slowly fade away into the mist. I would spend the next five days at sea, travelling through the Drake Passage and into Punta Arenas. Then, I would hop from airport to airport, finally landing in Columbus, Ohio.
I wasn't certain what to expect when my journey in Antarctica finally came to an end. I've been told that returning to the real world after living in near isolation can be a difficult process. What would it be like, returning to a life of crowds and cars, restaurants and shopping malls? Antarctica had changed my perception of myself and of the world. How would I fit into this now foreign, unfamiliar world?
Yet I believe, or at least hope, that I will always carry a part of this experience with me. I had the opportunity to work and explore in one of the most remote corners of the world. I watched sunsets on the top of a glacier and watched seals play outside the laboratory. I collected and studied fish that have adapted to waters so cold that few people have seen or known of them. I had the opportunity to meet an incredible group of people from across the world and all walks of life.
I learned so much in Antarctica - not only about Antarctic fishes, but about myself. And although I've seemingly slipped seamlessly back into my old life, I don't think I'll ever view the world again from quite the same perspective. I have been forever changed through this experience.
And it was there on the ice, alone but alone and free, that I learned to not only appreciate my life but my potential to live.
I learned to place less importance on certain things that once dominated my life. I grew up in a society that highly values materialism and commercialism. That meant that, as a woman, I've always felt pressure to focus energy on my appearance. I would spend more time and money than was really necessary on clothing and makeup. In Antarctica, I rotated the same five baggy t-shirts every week, I didn't wear makeup, and I generally didn't spend much time attempting to tame my wild, frizzy hair. I soon realized that these things that had been so critical within my former, modern life no longer really mattered.
That temporary change in my lifestyle continues to impact me. I find myself worrying less about the fact that the July heat has rendered my hair unmanageable, or that my now ghostly pale skin is more blinding than the sun on the beach. I feel lighter, happier, freer than I've been in a very long time.
I still carry a cell phone, I still pay my bills and I'll always be tempted by Starbucks and Chipotle. I'll still wear makeup, watch television and walk among crowds of people. But I believe that now, having lived in a world where these things are unimportant, that I'll learn to view these parts of my life in a different way - they're just parts. They're not the things that truly matter. Technology and material items should enhance our lives, not dominate them.
I will always be extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to travel to this incredible continent. For a short time I ventured out of my life, edging into a great unknown somewhere on the top of a glacier. And it was there on the ice, alone but alone and free, that I learned to not only appreciate my life but my potential to live - not just as a member of the endless crowd but perhaps as a person who forges her own path.
For more photos see Amanda's public Google Drive album here, or follow her adventure on Twitter (@ambiederman, #AntarcticAdventures).