A Teacher’s Arctic Summer Blast

Star of the Sea middle school science teacher Cristina Veresan in the Arctic PHOTO COURTESY ELLEN TAYLOR

Star of the Sea middle school science teacher Cristina Veresan in the Arctic

It is often one of the first questions and assignments given to students when they return to school each fall: “What did you do on your summer vacation?”

And while many dread writing about “going to the beach” or “getting a summer job,” please excuse Cristina Veresan if she’s chomping at the bit to share what she did this summer. After all, she only experienced “the trip of a lifetime.”

The Star of the Sea middle school science teacher was one of 25 educators from the United States and Canada selected for an exciting Arctic voyage aboard National Geographic Explorer.

“It’s a partnership between National Geographic and an adventure tour company called Lindblad Expeditions,” explains Veresan, who grew up in New Hampshire. “I am very fortunate to be one of the few chosen for a National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship. It’s a great program for teachers that includes an amazing voyage somewhere in the world, and my expedition was to the Arctic!”

The professional-development opportunity, which is named in honor of former National Geographic Society chairman Gilbert Grosvenor, started in April with a pre-voyage workshop in Washington, D.C., where Veresan and 24 other educators prepared for their 11-day Arctic expedition.

“They really prepared us well for this adventure,” says Veresan, who moved to Hawaii in 2012 after teaching in Florida for six years. “We learned about the Arctic summer and what it was going to be like to have the sun up all day and all night. We also learned about all the winter gear we’d need, all the layers of clothing that we should pack!”

The adventure more than lived up to the hype, and Veresan soaked up every minute of it. She marveled at the region’s spectacular wildlife that was filled with polar bears, walrus, reindeer, whales and birds. And she watched in awe as their ice-class vessel Explorer pushed its way through packed ice floes and glaciers.

The 35-year-old Veresan often pinched herself to see if it was all a dream.

“I had an amazing time,” reflects Veresan. “I got to hike out on the tundra, explore the frigid waters by kayak, and I got to see the Austfonna Glacier, the third largest ice cap in the world.”

Veresan says the cold Arctic air was more than kind to the educators, but there was one element of nature that took major adjustment.

“I was prepared for the cold, it was around 40 degrees, 50 degrees — so not as bad as I expected, and I had plenty of gear to keep me warm,” Veresan says with a smile. “But it was a little tough to adjust to the constant daylight, so I experienced the midnight sun up in the high arctic this summer.”

National Geographic photographers took great care in teaching the educators how best to document their adventures and experiences. Veresan says she’s excited to share those precious moments with her students at Star of the Sea when they return to classes.

“I’m so excited to share this not only with my students but also other teachers and community members,” says Veresan. “The expedition travel has broadened my perspective on the world and I want to share that with students. I learned so much about Arctic ecology from the naturalists on the ship, and saw firsthand and learned about the effects of climate change on the Arctic. I left with a real sense of urgency about protecting our polar regions.”

It was a cool summer vacation — literally — and one that provided enough material to last a lifetime.

“This was a true voyage of discovery for me,” says Veresan. “I went to a totally different part of the world and saw new sights, and now I’m back here in Hawaii seeing familiar sights with new eyes.”