A lot of people talk, in conversation, personal blogs, and wide-release movies, about Antarctica’s isolation.
It’s true that the research stations in Antarctica are some of the most isolated communities in the world. Most of don’t take a 13-hour flight to New Zealand and another five hour flight on a C-17 U.S. Air Force plane to Antarctica to get to their home and place of work for the season.
Every now and then, the reality of how isolated I am and how far I am from home hits in me with a heaviness in my chest and a twist in my heart. I can’t take a bus back home. A flight out of here requires a giant mountain of logistics, and only happens if you’re seriously ill or injured and the small clinic here can’t treat you. The Internet is quite slow at times, and I have to use a phone card and dial 35 digits to talk to anyone at home.
But true homesickness has only hit me a few times, and it’s never lasted more than one day. Between working 54 hours a week and participating in band, knitting group, library, craft room, and other miscellaneous parties and events, I haven’t had a lot of time to keep up with my world back home.
And I am so far from home, and living such a different life with such new, different people, that it’s almost easier to separate myself from my old life. Having a Facebook connection that moves at a glacial pace (haha, glacial) keeps me disconnected even more. And frankly, I think that’s better for me. I spent the last two and a half years living in the same wonderful community with roughly the same people, and had three years at the same job. I got comfortable. I “settled down.” Now, since early October, I have been living in a wildly new home in a hilariously isolated place with a new job and ALL the new people. There is so much newness in my life, I think trying to balance my community and activities back home with all the newness here would make me crazy. It would be like trying to be two different people at once.
I love and miss my Madison community, but it rarely feels like a physical, homesickness ache. It’s like I’ve tuned myself out of my life back home for the sake of my mental health. Trying to establish the McMurdo community as my new community is a survival tactic. And with my constantly changing, 24-hour shift schedule, it’s not easy. I have little pockets of a social life, making a few friends here, another friend there, and trying to form a close community when my newness to this community and work schedule sometimes make that difficult.
Living at a U.S. research station adds another dimension to this isolation. Even though I’m over ten thousands miles from home, McMurdo Station is very American. We use U.S. currency, drink American booze, watch American football on the sports channel, drive on the right side of the road, and have dog-eared copies of “The Times Digest” sitting around the galley, so we can keep up with what’s going on back home and around the world even when The New York Times homepage won’t load. We are far from home, and yet we are not. We are on a new continent but not a new country. It’s like a little piece of America has been transplanted to this distant, frozen world. McMurdo Station could be moved someplace in the U.S. and it would feel exactly the same.
Except in the U.S, there would be trees. And it might be warmer. And I might be able to stream my favorite radio station.