A voyage to Antarctica to find yourself

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Met Office meteorologist Alison Davies has been one of four UK women experiencing the journey of a lifetime to Antarctica this month, with the Homeward Bound international expedition.
On her way home for Christmas, Alison took time on board her vessel in the Gerlache Sound, off the Antarctic Peninsula, to reflect on a life-changing voyage which has seen her develop her leadership skills and extend her knowledge of polar science and Antarctica.
In her journal, she says: “Outside, icebergs pass the portholes and every now and again there is a crunch as the boat breaks through a thin iceberg on our passage south. We are surrounded by snowy mountains and patches of rock peaking through snow and ice. Everywhere you look glaciers pour down mountains and end at the sea with crisp, vertical faces of ice. It is a magical place: silent, except for the noise of the boat and, very occasionally, a crash from newly-formed icebergs calving from the glacier front.”

Understanding emotional intelligence
Contemplating the leadership elements of the expedition, she added: “I am now on the final leg of the Homeward Bound expedition, which has the aim of developing women for leadership roles. So far we have focused on learning about ourselves: as to know how to lead others, you first have to know yourself.
“We have been encouraged to answer the following questions: Who am I; and what causes me to act the way I do? This challenge gave me quite an insight into how I act, particularly when I am stressed; and what I need to work on if I want to behave more constructively when under stress. There was a lot to digest and improve upon with the aim of developing more constructive styles enabling more effective leadership.
“From my Homeward Bound adventure, I realise that a big part of leadership is understanding emotional intelligence, including my own. The training developed a range of skills including how effective we are at ‘recognizing our own emotions and the emotions of others’. I was fascinated by how to use emotions in problem solving, as well as understanding emotions and how they evolve with time, and how to manage our emotions and the emotions of others.”

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The gentoo penguin is one of the more familiar species of Antarctic wildlife.

As well as the journey of personal discovery that Alison has been embarking upon, there is also the physical journey.  Alison continued: “After leaving Ushuaia, at the beginning of our journey, we crossed the infamous Drake Passage. I had heard many horror stories about the crossing, but we were treated to the ‘Drake Lake’, as the sea was very calm. It wasn’t long before we were exploring the South Shetland Islands and spotting our first penguins and icebergs. We visited many of the islands, including Deception Island which surrounds a volcano. Some of us went for a bracing polar plunge.”

Exploring the wildlife
During her journey to the Antarctic continent, which included a landing, Alison reported seeing a lot of sea ice. The wildlife is a highlight of any trip to Antarctica, and Alison’s was no exception. She said: “We saw three types of penguin: Adelie, gentoo, and chinstrap in abundance. We have also been treated to a display of multiple humpback whales feeding on krill, and many different types of seal, including elephant seals.
“Antarctica is an amazing location and perfect for when you need a moment of reflection or a sense of perspective on the world.”

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A female southern elephant seal takes time to inspect the expedition team during a shore visit. All pictures Alison Davies

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