Friday, January 18, 2008

the toughest job we ever loved.

the mcmurdo station RPCVs (returned peace corps volunteers) had a little get-together at the chalet last month. here we are!


sharona (cameroon), shuttle driver
neoma (honduras), shuttle driver
vince (nicagarua), janitor
me (mongolia), admin coordinator
myrna (chile), admin coordinator
jenny (mongolia, but she left a year before I arrived), dining attendant
mike (cape verde), housing supervisor
travis (peru), supply materialsperson
lindsay (peru), admin coordinator

and here is the text of an article I wrote up about our gathering for the peace corps online magazine:

A remote location with strange cultural phenomena.
Exotic foods and the accompanying gastrointestinal distress.
Homesickness, frequent e-mails, language lessons, cross-cultural sharing, and occasional frustration with bureaucratic red tape.
The opportunity to make a small, but very real, difference.

Sound familiar?

To the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, they sure do.

In what was probably the southernmost gathering of RPCVs in history (77° S), nine of us came together in December to share our Peace Corps experiences and stories with each other, friends and co-workers. All of us are employed at McMurdo Station as contract workers during the austral summer season, which lasts October to February, and which sees a flurry of activity all designed to support scientific research and exploration of the Seventh Continent.

The United States Antarctic Program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, has three year-round stations on the continent – McMurdo, Palmer, and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. McMurdo is the largest of these, with over 1100 people in the austral summer season. Roughly three to four hundred of these are scientists who have secured funding from the NSF to gather data for various scientific projects, ranging from atmospheric and ozone studies to antifreeze properties in fish and penguin blood. The rest of McMurdo’s residents are the support staff that help to operate and manage the station 24 hours a day. The sun doesn’t set in the austral summer, which (coupled with the short five-month field season) means operations continue around the clock to get everything ready for the next long, cold winter.

McMurdo has everything that a small town or college campus or remote mining camp would have – an airport (actually three), a harbor and pier, a cafeteria, a library, a store (complete with video rental), a chapel, three gymnasiums, a craft and ceramics room, a state-of-the-art laboratory, warm and cold storage facilities, a power plant, staff berthing, a heavy shop to repair vehicles, a Wells Fargo ATM, and even a tiny greenhouse. Supplies are flown in via military aircraft on a regular schedule during the austral summer (no flights arrive over the winter), and a resupply vessel steams into port late in the season to carry away a year’s worth of waste.

The support staff at McMurdo is made up almost universally of adventurous, well-read and well-traveled people that leave friends and family behind for several months a year to deploy to Antarctica and support scientific research and exploration in our individual roles. It’s the perfect place for an RPCV to feel right at home.

For more information about the USAP, go to


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