SURREY â€” If you ask Wylee Fitz-Gerald what she did over her summer vacation, expect the answer to surprise you.
The Frank Hurt Secondary student was part of the Students on Ice Arctic Expedition for 15 days in July.
Fitz-Gerald, who is entering Grade 12, was one of 85 students who went on the trip that took her from Ottawa to Kuujjuaq, Quebec, then a boat trip over to Greenland, where they finished in Kangerlussuaq before a flight back to Ottawa.
In order to retain a place on this trip, Fitz-Gerald had to answer a series of questions about her about leadership roles she’s taken in the past and what she has done as an environmentalist.
"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t realize I’d get picked. I was hoping for it, but it surprised me," she said.
One of the key components of the trip was climate change, and it was pretty hard-hitting for Fitz-Gerald to see what had happened to some of the glaciers.
"Students on Ice talked about how in 2005, they’d been to that same fjord and that same glacier we were looking at had been a tidal glacier at the time," said Fitz-Gerald.
"Now when we did the landing, we had to hike all the way to it. In that short nine years, it had retreated all the way back into the land mass.I think that was one of the biggest things for me. You could see the fine lines where the glacier retreated where everything above that line was light and everything below was brown. Nothing has regrown," she added.
Now that she is back home, Fitz-Gerald is motivated to spark change in Surrey. She is advocating for the city to put in place a program for water barrels – something she says Vancouver, Burnaby and Delta have already done.
"You can use this water for watering your plants or washing your car. It’s also very helpful in times of a disaster. I live on a fault line. If there is ever an earthquake and we cannot retrieve water at the time, those with rain barrels would actually have access to water because they could bring those rain barrels to an area where you could grab water and then purify it," she said.
Fitz-Gerald received a Leacross Foundation scholarship amounting in over $10,000, which funded the trip.
KPU STUDENTS VISIT GHANA
In a separate program in another area of the world, Emma Cleveland, a fourth-year sociology student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, spent two months in Ghana with students from Harvard University.
Ayesha Khan, a fellow KPU student, on the trip, accompanied Cleveland.
The summer course took students to study the West African and Caribbean slave trades.
Cleveland said the course was very challenging and the workload intense.
Unlike at Kwantlen where she could just read her textbook, she found she truly had to immerse herself in her studies to succeed in this Ivy League field school.
"It was probably close to 100 to 150 pages of reading a day. The class was split in two: a lecture and then a debate. It was really good because it challenged me to do my best and apply myself," Cleveland said.
The Canadians and Americans stayed at the University of Ghana’s international students hostel, as six Ghanaians took part in the field school as well.
The course also included a two-week trip where the students were able to travel to major cities like Accra, Cape Coast and Kumasi to see historical slave trading castles and posts.
"We always learn about putting theory into action and it was emotional being there for two months and learning about the material and then actually going to all of these places where it happened," she said.
Cleveland said that there is a lot of history in the West African country and that the slave trade was abolished by Britain in 1807, but the industry didn’t collapse until closer to the 1900s.
The Kwantlen students were in the country during the 2014 FIFA World Cup and a local soccer association sponsored them to take suitcases of soccer balls to an underdeveloped neighbourhood.
Prior to them arriving, Cleveland said the neighbourhood had one tattered ball to share.
Both Cleveland and Khan received Irving K. Barber One World Scholarships to help fund their trips.