When 15-year-old Emi Kingan was planning her summer holiday, she decided to do something a little different. While other students were looking to relax on sunny beaches and enjoy the warm summer days, Emi opted for a more unusual destination - the High Arctic.
The Canadian International School student signed up for the Students on Ice Arctic Expedition, and spent her summer on a boat exploring the polar coastlines and glaciers of Greenland and Canada.
When Emi first heard about the expedition, she jumped at the chance to go. "Ever since I started middle school, I've been very interested in geography and the sciences," she explains.
She was especially interested in the environmental impact of energy, and how it affects climate change. "So that really kind of got me interested in this experience, and when I found out I'd be learning about this from scientists from around the world I was really excited," she says. "I mean, I did see there was a cultural aspect but I didn't really think much of it, I was just so excited about the science aspect. But when I was on the trip, the culture was so much more interesting than I thought."
Emi was one of 112 students from across the globe that came together in Ottawa, Canada, for the expedition. The group of secondary and university students was joined by 80 educators who specialised in science, culture and polar exploration. "The youngest in our group was 14 years old," Emi says. "The oldest of the educators was 94 years old.
"It started off in Ottawa with us doing team-building exercises, getting to know each other. And then we flew to Greenland, and boarded this boat called the Ocean Endeavour, and we sailed along the coast of Greenland."
But the expedition was about far more than just science. The group also spent time with the Inuit communities in both Greenland and Canada. Emi was able to talk to community members and elders, and learn about issues faced by a society that is very different from the one she has grown up with in Hong Kong.
"I did cry a bit," she admits. "It wasn't about missing home; just hearing the stories from the northerners about some issues they have was kind of shocking. They were sharing all that, their experiences. And you couldn't help but see that they were vulnerable."
But while the Inuit communities face tremendous hardships, she also discovered they shared a deeper relationship with the world around them. "By speaking to these people, I got to see their connection with nature," Emi explains. "It's very strong. They rely on it for food, for travel, clothing, everything. But they also respect it so much."
Students learned about Inuit culture both on and off the boat. About 30 per cent of the students on the expedition were from northern aboriginal cultures. "Getting to speak to them during meals was a very rewarding experience," Emi says.
"Sharing my culture - you know, living in Hong Kong my entire life - and them sharing their lives was really special." For Emi, these moments of connecting with the other students in the harsh arctic environment were the most rewarding aspects of the trip.
Throughout the expedition, the students attended lectures and workshops, and participated in science experiments and activities. "It was just a mind-blowing experience," Emi says. "Each day I'd struggle to remember all that we did, because, you know, we did so much."
And while she loved learning about the environment and the science behind climate change, Emi says her favourite moment wasn't about science or culture: "It was the arctic swim we did. Just two weeks prior to [the swim], we didn't know each other. But now we were all freaking out: we had to swim in below-zero-degree temperatures. And … seeing everyone support each other [through] this swim, because we all wanted to do it, was amazing."
Through all of the different culture and science activities, Emi says the biggest lesson she learned was how everything is linked. "Our world is all connected. Even the sea currents - they go all over the world," she says. "The actions we do here in Hong Kong, they end up around the world."