Emma Roos: “I feel that other opportunities have opened up for me”

Emma Roos: “I feel that other opportunities have opened up for me”

Alexandra Gordienko

Interview

Dina Karavaeva

Photo

Anthropogeos expedition met Emma at the South Pole, at the ALE tourist camp. She worked there in the staff team. It was her first time at the South Pole, but her second time in Antarctica. We talked to Emma after she got back home.
Tourists stay at the South Pole not longer then for 1-2 days.
— Emma, could you please tell us more about yourself? What do you do for a living?
— I live in southern Sweden, I am a researcher in the field of criminal psychology. I work for the Swedish police, the Department of Education. I teach how to conduct interrogations and carry out interviews. I used to take part in investigations of serial murders.
How did you decide to go to Antarctica?
— In my spare time, I worked for a tourism organization in Sweden. They have small guest houses in the mountains, far away from the roads and cities. People who come there to ski or hike use them for overnight stops. They didn't pay me, but on vacation I could live there, and at the same time look after the guest houses. A few years ago in the winter, there was almost no one, but one day Hannah arrived. She worked in Antarctica, and by that time I knew almost nothing about the continent. She told me a lot about it, about odd looking cars, airplanes, penguins, and showed me photos. All this really impressed me. I wanted to go there so much! However, Hannah only confirmed my fears that it was very expensive and suggested that I try to find a job there. I liked the idea, but I decided to think carefully about it when I get back home. In the end, I sent my CV and, to be honest, I did not expect any answer at all. But all of a sudden I got an invitation to an interview. That's how I ended up there.

I wrote that I was used to being away from people and alone, not taking a shower for months, and not communicating with my family for a long time

What kind of work was it? What exactly did you write in your CV and cover letter to the company?
— My CV is very boring; it's literally a list of scientific articles that I wrote because I'm a researcher first. Therefore, I thought it was unlikely to impress them, and instead of a CV I described my experience working in the mountains in Sweden for many years, and also that I am physically strong and can dig snow with a shovel.

But first I studied their website to understand what they do and what kind of work they offer. About several positions, I thought: "Well, I can do this", I tried to imagine what it would be like to live there, and decided that it should be very similar to the mountains in Sweden. So I wrote that I was used to being away from people and alone, not taking a shower for months, and not communicating with my family for a long time. And also that I like it all very much. I think I sent my resume to a position in the hotel team, which I eventually got.
South Pole camp. Dining tent
Main working space in the camp at the South pole is a big dining tent.
In reality, was it similar to working in the Swedish mountains?
— The common thing was that you are very far away, and even if something happens at home, you can't do anything about it, so there's no point in even worrying. But many things were completely different. I was still on vacation in the mountains, but in Antarctica I had to work, and quite intensively, all seven days a week. You're also surrounded by people there all the time, and I'm used to being alone. And the sun never sets there. The weather is similar in many ways, but it is better in Antarctica than in Sweden. It can be very windy there, but most of the time the sun is shining and in the mountains it rains and snows constantly.

in Antarctica I had to work, and quite intensively, all seven days a week. You're also surrounded by people there all the time, and I'm used to being alone

You've been to Antarctica twice. How did your family react to the decision to go there? Was it a surprise for them or did they expect something like this from you?
— My family is already used to the fact that I do something like this all the time. They are very supportive of me. I have two brothers and two sisters, and we are all very different. And our parents were always happy about it. When I told them that I was going to go to Antarctica and they wouldn't be able to communicate with me for three months, they were very happy for me and proud. They told all our friends about it, so I had to show photos and talk about Antarctica on my return. And if we speak about my colleagues… Well, they were shocked, especially considering that I had to ask for a vacation during the first trip. The conversation was something like this: “Boss, I need to leave. The good news is that it's only for 3 months, and the bad news is that I need to leave in a few weeks.” They were shocked, of course, someone did not understand such a decision, and someone was terribly jealous. So the reactions were very different.
— What was your job in Antarctica about?
— ALE Company has three permanent camps in Antarctica. I worked in two of them: at the Union Glacier and in a small camp at the South Pole. I was part of the hotel team that maintained the facilities in working order for the guests. For instance, we helped with accommodation, tents, monitored all utilities, toilets and showers, prepared water, that is, dug a lot of snow. I like this job, I like to work in the fresh air and in Antarctica all your life takes place in the fresh air. Unlike my usual job it's also quite difficult, from the physical point of view of course.
Emma Roos at the South pole camp Emma Roos at the South pole camp Emma Roos at the South pole camp
Main task for Emma in the camp was taking care of guests.
— What was that for you? Some kind of downshifting? A way to reboot your brain?
— Yes, something like a break. Psychologically, I have a very hard job, especially if I do it all year. So yes, it was a great break. But if in the mountains, where you are alone most of the time, the brain starts thinking about serious things, then in Antarctica there is too much work and too many people.
Why did you decide to go there again? In a year?
— I think the main reason for the return there was the people. Basically, you can find a remote place to dig snow anywhere. But Antarctica is an opportunity to spend time with amazing people. They don't want to do what they have to do, what society expects from them. They prioritize their personal desires and wishes. That's what makes them so interesting.

In order to go to Antarctica for the second time, I had to quit my job. When I went there for the first time, I took a long-term vacation. When I told people that I quit my job, many were surprised and asked how I was going to live on, what I would do. They simply couldn't understand how a person could leave a permanent position. When I spoke about it in Antarctica, everyone answered me: “Wow, how great! Congratulations!”. And this is what I really appreciate: people are not afraid to be free and do what they really want. Someone works constantly and takes a vacation for these three months, someone is looking for something temporary between their trips, someone chooses to live very modestly and work less. I feel at home when people who think like that surround me.

you can find a remote place to dig snow anywhere. But Antarctica is an opportunity to spend time with amazing people

— During your stay at the South Pole, you met many tourists and expeditions. Who do you remember most?
— Some of the guests did incredible things in their lives. For example, it is quite common to meet a person there who has conquered Everest several times, or climbed all seven peaks. I have met at least two people who have flown into space.
Amundsen-Scott research station. Veiw from the South Pole
You can see the research station Amundsen-Scott from the South Pole camp.
How is everything arranged for workers in the camps?
— The main camp at Union Glacier is much larger than all the others. And there is a completely different system if compared with the South Pole. There is a camp manager who looks after everything at once, and there are workers divided into several sections. I worked in the hotel and kitchen section. People from other departments have always worked in shifts: three weeks at the Union Glacier, three weeks at the South Pole. This is a new system for the hotel group. Three years ago, there was no one from the hotel group at all in the small camps, then they began to send one person for the whole season. I was very lucky to become this person. At the pole, the entire camp team is smaller than my hotel group in the main camp.
— Why did you want to go to the South Pole?
— It's a very strange place, and I couldn't even dream of getting there. All time zones meet there, and you can literally travel around the world in a few seconds. When I returned from there to the main camp, it seemed to me very noisy and overcrowded. Another reason why I wanted to get there was expeditions. The South Pole is their final or passing point. There are also very interesting studies being conducted at the South Pole, where you can visit the scientific station. Unfortunately, it can't be done often enough, but I was lucky to be there.
Tell us more about this visit.
We managed to visit the station with a guide and other guests. It was so odd to see this giant station just one kilometer away from our tents. You get into a building that has walls, heating, a greenhouse, a music room, a library, gyms, sports hall ー everything you could have dreamed of! It was so different from how we lived. I would like to know more about the research that is being conducted there. Maybe next time I'll have this opportunity.
Do you remember your first impression of the Union camp immediately after arriving in Antarctica?
The first thing that struck me was the plane ー a giant Ilyushin, which is so different from passenger liners. On the last flight, I even sat in the cabin, which is very unusual for camp workers ー they usually sit in the back with the cargo. This is, of course, inconvenient, but also an interesting experience. So the first impression was definitely a plane, so big and noisy, with a Russian team. After landing, it seemed to me that there was not such a big difference with Sweden: there was also snow, ice, mountains ー I got used to this landscape. Arriving at the camp is always about a crowd around you, and I flew with people who had been working there for years. They were talking to each other, greeting each other, and I didn't know anyone at all. Then we were given a tour to show how everything works. Then you had to figure out where you were going to live, put up a tent, pack your things and find equipment. A lot of work and information for the first few days.
It's a very strange place, and I couldn't even dream of getting there. All time zones meet there, and you can literally travel around the world in a few seconds.
— Do the workers live in tents similar to those provided to guests? Are there beds, a table?
— The guest tents are quite large, for two, you can stand up inside to full height. The camp workers live in small tents for the mountains. But everyone has their own, like a small house. They are very small, the maximum that you can do inside is sit down. Therefore, many dig a recess at the entrance so that they can stretch out to their full height. Inside there is only a mattress, I also kept my two large bags there as a wardrobe. On my first visit, I learned from my own experience not to put things in a tent when a storm practically destroyed my home with me inside. I woke up from the fact that the wall was lying on my face, and I couldn't understand what was happening, I tried to push it away and put it in place, but I realized that it wouldn't work and I needed to get out. The supports were broken and I had to evacuate. Putting things in a broken tent in a storm can hardly be called a pleasant thing. So I learned to keep my things packed. My two bags were my closets, there was also a mattress and a small set of things that I used every day.

What do you think is the most important thing to take with you to Antarctica?
— Surprisingly, you need a lot more ordinary clothes there than you can imagine: light things for work because it's not so cold there. On the first trip, I was very uncomfortable because I worked a lot indoors and I had nothing to change into. I'm also not cold at all, and if I move or do something, I'm always hot, so I often worked even outside in just a T-shirt. In the first season, I could not imagine that I would wear a regular T-shirt so often. But during my second visit, I took this into account.

Both times I also brought Pepparkakor, Swedish Christmas gingerbread. But in general, the food there is very good, I don't even eat like that at home. So it's not necessary to bring some of the products with you, but the taste of these gingerbread cookies reminds me of home. I brought some books with me, but it was too cold at the South Pole to sit in a tent and hold a book in my hands. It was much more comfortable to get into a sleeping bag and listen. So next time I would bring more audiobooks with me. I also found out that all apps with music and books by subscription stop working there after a month, even if I paid for three, because you need to go online at least once every 30 days.
— Could you tell us more about the food? Good cuisine is definitely not what you expect from Antarctica.
ー We had breakfast, lunch and dinner, and twice a day we were given pies, and there was always a large choice of them. There was always a lot of different fresh food, fruits, strawberries ー everything was very tasty. I definitely didn't expect to eat strawberries in Antarctica. And it was the same at the South Pole, and when we were at the American research station, its residents told us that they were jealous, because their diet contains much more canned and dry food. It was very hard to come home after the work season, here I can't offer myself five different fruits for breakfast, and no one will cut these fruits for me.
— Do they deliver food from the mainland? Or are there some kitchens and equipment there?
— The food is delivered from Chile. Of course, sometimes when the weather is not very good and it is impossible to deliver something, we have to solve this issue in some other way, but usually fresh food supplies are regular. There are several different methods of storing food, for example, everything that needs to be stored in the refrigerator must be moved out of the cargo very quickly because otherwise everything will freeze.

There was always a lot of different fresh food, fruits, strawberries ー everything was very tasty. I definitely didn't expect to eat strawberries in Antarctica

— Can you say that Antarctica has changed you? Your goals, mindset, life?
— Perhaps, but my work in the mountains in Sweden has changed me much more. Almost everything that happened to me in Antarctica was not new to me, so I wouldn't say that it somehow had a very strong impact. But perhaps my idea of how to live has changed. Because three months in Antarctica is much more than a vacation. I realized that I can work like this and live on it. This has changed my attitude to the need for constant stable work. I am 44 according to all the canons, at this age I should have a career and a stable job, but I think Antarctica has fed my desire to do something else.
 at the time of the interview, in the summer of 2021
— Are you already thinking about what you could do? About such not quite “ordinary” work?
— I have an offer for a temporary job, and many would regard it as a step back, but for me this is a great opportunity because it will give me a chance to do something completely different after. I don't know what it is yet, but it could be anything. Besides, I don't like to travel the way it is usually done, for a week or two. I like to stay in one place for a long time, to live there, to work, to learn the local way of life. And I think I can do this more often, even though I'm 44 years old. Maybe, for example, find a job in Spain for a year, who knows. I feel that other opportunities have opened up for me, and now I see them.
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