On my second day on board ship we saw a cow and calf blue whale,” says Emerald Kains. “The opportunity to share a moment with the largest animals on the planet was so surreal and moving.”

Kains, a recent graduate of Vanier Secondary School, was part of the Students on Ice Arctic Youth Expedition that travelled by research vessel and land to Iceland, Greenland and Labrador this summer.

Kains joined 75 international high school students between the ages of 14 and 18, as well as a team of 45 scientists, educators, aboriginal leaders, artists and writers for two weeks at the end of July and the start of August.

During their time on the expedition the group visited remote Arctic communities and archeological sites, encountered a wide range of Arctic wildlife, took part in scientific research and learned first-hand about the impacts of climate change.

“It really struck home for me when I realized that the area we brought the ship into in Greenland to explore wouldn’t have been accessible 40 years ago because it would have still been covered in ice,” Kains explains.

“At that moment I really started to understand how great the changes in the Arctic are.”

The Students on Ice program provides youth from around the world with educational expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica.

Its mandate is to educate and inspire the next generation of polar scientists, environmental leaders and social innovators, and provide them with a greater understanding and respect for the planet.

“The way we got to experience the Arctic environment was so unique,” says Kains.

“In many of the places we visited, especially in Greenland, it was so secluded with just our group there. Being able to take in the landscape with a group of people that you are becoming so close to in such a short period of time was very special.”

More than 1,600 high school and university students from 40 countries have visited the polar regions with Students on Ice since its founding in 2000.

Like 80 per cent of her shipmates, Kains received a scholarship to take part in the program – in her case, from the Yukon Government and the Northern Climate ExChange.

“I think I may have been given the scholarship because of how honest I was in my application,” Kains laughs.

“I have a passion for travel and I really love to learn, but I really wasn’t very educated on environmental issues before I took part in the trip and I laid that out in my application,” she adds.

“The trip, especially working with the educators on board and the elders in the Torngat Mountains of Labrador, taught me so much,” Kain says.

“Now it feels so personal and close to me. I really feel that I am personally affected by what is going on in the world and I really want to create a powerful difference.”

As a first step toward that goal, Kains will enter the general science program at Yukon College this fall.

“I’m just now looking into stuff to do for university after my foundation year at the college,” she says. “My time in the Arctic has really made it clear to me that I want to focus on research, potentially on marine mammals in the Polar Regions.”

Kains is quick to encourage other young students to consider the Students on Ice program.

“It was phenomenal and was probably the most amazing experience of my life so far.”

More information about the program is available at www.studentsonice.com.

Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at [email protected].