Anna Kelly, a 17-year-old teenager from West Hendred and pupil at St Helen and St Katharine in Abingdon, writes about her Arctic expedition

LAST year, I won a place on an expedition to the Arctic with Students On Ice, an organisation which aims to educate young people about the Polar Regions.

A keen geographer since discovering cold environments for the first time in Year 9, I was thrilled to be able to expand and enrich my knowledge, and this trip proved to be the ideal vessel for it.

Along with 131 other school and university students from around the world, I spent part of my summer break travelling from Oxfordshire to the Arctic via Ottawa, Greenland and many other astonishing locations around the Arctic Circle.

My group began in Ottawa, flying to Kangerlussuaq in Greenland to set sail for the fjords and islands along the country’s west coast, and then crossing the Davis Strait.

Words cannot do justice to the immensely beautiful landscapes surrounding us when sailing down Sonderstrom Fjord.

Visits to one-of-a-kind features such as Pikialasorsuaq, the North Water Polynya or ‘The Great Upwelling’ provided glimpses into parts of the world which are seldom seen by those who don’t live there.

Discussions, debates and workshops on the ship also added an important sense of engagement with the people as well as the landscapes our group were visiting.

I chose to attend a panel discussion on the culture of the Sami people and their deep connection with reindeer herding.

Several of the Sami students were involved and hearing about the challenges that they face both politically and in the face of global warming was very eye-opening.

Meeting some of the different communities of the Arctic made a deep impression on me, both on board ship and on coastal visits.

I met so many First Nations and Inuit students and staff, all of whom have been delighted to talk about their histories, cultures and daily lives.

It was so interesting to hear about the Arctic from people who know it so intimately.

We also visited Coutts Inlet on Baffin Island - it was so special to witness the joy of the Parks Canada Inuit as they returned to their former homeland, and I learned so much about their resilience and resourcefulness in living off the land.

The trip also stopped at Ilulissat Icefjord, widely known as an ‘iceberg factory’, which was our first experience in iceberg territory.

At its height around a decade ago, it was the main outlet for 10 per cent of Greenland icebergs.

We were able to go out in the zodiacs and explore close up, which was a definite highlight of the expedition.

Our zodiac driver was so knowledgeable and also knew a number of traditional unaccompanied Greenlandic songs, which he sang as we were cruising.

It was really moving and I learned so much, both about the different types of icebergs and their importance in fostering the productivity of the local ecosystem.

Later on, we landed on the shores of Ilulissat, a 5000-strong community at the edge of the icefjord and the Ilulissat UNESCO World Heritage site.

Earlier that day the captain had been concerned about finding a lead clear enough of ice to access the coast, so we were very lucky to get there.

My love of geography and interest in the environment have been richly expanded by my travels, and it has also inspired my A-level studies.

I applied for Students on Ice because it is an incredible opportunity to experience these places in real life.

The charitable organisation is based in Canada and leads educational expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, to educate the world’s youth about the importance of the Polar Regions.

I felt so privileged to be there and I’ve developed a better understanding of the Arctic, which I hope to use in the future to promote positive change.