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Students travel to Antarctica to experience pristine continent

March 22, 2012
	<p>Courtesy photo</p>

Courtesy photo

In December 2011, a group of MSU study abroad students on an expedition in Antarctica found their boat stuck on ice, stranded, but not for too long.

“We just enjoyed the scenery for a while,” social work sophomore Jennifer Campbell said. “About a half-hour later, I had taken probably 100 videos because about 100 whales were around our ship, teaching their young to hunt.”

Watching whales leap out of the water in pursuit of penguins is one of many opportunities students have in the program, joining an increasing number of people worldwide wishing to explore the bottom of the earth, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“It was something you’d see in a Discovery Channel video,” said Emily Evers, an environmental studies and agriscience senior.

In recent years, the frozen tundra of Antarctica has become a hot spot for ecotourism, said Michael Gottfried, an associate professor of geological sciences who occasionally leads the study abroad trip. Thirteen students participated in the program a few months ago, and another trip is being planned for this upcoming winter break, according to the MSU Office of Study Abroad.

“Not any two people have the same short list of reasons of going — the love of adventure and (being) off the routine path of MSU are some reasons why,” Gottfried said.

But the amount of people traveling to the continent could have consequences.

Evers said the students on her trip were told to wash their boots and not to take anything, even a rock, because it changes the environment.

“It is untouched; you can tell how things have changed after centuries of human progress,” she said. “If everyone wants a piece of it, it’ll be all gone.”

Although many nations conduct climate and other scientific research in Antarctica, the MSU trip isn’t based solely on science, Gottfried said. Students in dance, journalism, engineering and other majors have taken the trip not just to explore wildlife, but learn about the physical and biological aspects of the area, he said.

For majoring in social work, Campbell said she was surprised much of the information she learned through lecture and exploration related to her major. Because people from across the world travel to the continent, she talked with and interviewed people from Europe and Australia and gained more of a cultural experience while in Antarctica.

“People underestimate the pristine quality of this beautiful place,” Campbell said.

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