Walking on to Western Washington University’s campus five years ago, I was sure that I was going to be a business major. I did DECA in high school, was good enough at math, and figured, “Why not?” My first class as a freshman was accounting 240 at 9 in the morning, and with forced, bursting enthusiasm – I slept through the whole lecture. I dropped the class two weeks later, and for the first time in my life had no idea what to do next. Five years later, I find myself jetlagged and tired after spending a month in the Siberian arctic.

It’s hard to say exactly what happened over the past 1/20 of a century, but it came and went a blur and dropped me off where I am now. Graduated with a degree in environmental science and able to reflect on not only this trip, but the somewhat meandering journey that got me there.

Besides the logistical achievement that it must take to get 30 people to the northeast corner of Russia and back (through snow and missed connections), the breadth and amount of science that happened in our time there is pretty staggering. As some groups tirelessly collected firewood, there were people braving the weather on inflatable boats mapping lakes. While some people ignited soils determining carbon, others analyzed samples using equipment that, by all means, is shocking to see in such a remote place. In (very limited) restropect, the whole undertaking seems wildly ambitious, but there we were – able to help the project achieve what it set out to do while making it home in one piece (at least physically).

My journey to the Polaris Project went through Washington, Massachusetts, and Bermuda – conducting various research projects while trying to earn a degree. I got on a plane to Russia a little burnt out looking back at the hours of homework, labwork, and general tedium, but on my plane ride home, I couldn’t help but think about what I could do next, where I could do it, and how I could manage. I knew that this month of research would either confirm that I was, indeed, ready for a break, or remind me why I dropped accounting in the first place. I feel pretty reenergized and I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to spend my summer this way.

In the grand scheme of things, a month is hardly a blip of time, but something about the Polaris Project allows those four weeks to seem like 12, all while flying by in the span of one endless day. There was something kind of poetic about seeing night time for the first time as we woke up in Moscow to fly home. Having graduated in March, I kind of viewed this summer as a victory lap or a culmination of my undergraduate career. And while I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pump my fists once or twice realizing where I was, I’d be naive  to think that this summer  didn’t help me start something new.