12.31.2011 12:47:03

12.31.2011 12:47:03. That’s the moment that stairs paved my way to a new world. As I descended on them from the plane, I noticed their similarity to other airline stairways: decrepit condition, shaking as you move, white paint coming off and just wide enough for one person. But then, how different could stairs be anyway? Well, they could be if they deliver you to a land like no other, a land at the end of the world: Antarctica.

As I took my first step on that land, I smiled and my eyes were already glowing more than the strongest stars, staring at the best sight in the world. Finally, after days of anxiety, excitement, anticipation, daydreams and preparation, I was here. Finally.

I soaked in the world around me—the icebergs in all their blue-green-white splendor, the cold land covered with snow, the sky in absolute nudity, the tiny streams, the smiles and screams of joy of my Wharton mates as they hurriedly tried to cover themselves in every layer of clothing possible, and the plane next to me—a symbol of mankind’s mastery of the most inhospitable land on earth.

Each day of our six there brought with it an unforgettable experience. We trekked miles, soaking in beauty. Penguins entertained us; they danced in their black and white coats, swam in the cold waters and covered the land in thousands. The seals settled lazily on the beaches, gawking at us aliens as we passed—occasionally posing for the perfect photo-op, sometimes welcoming us with trumpets like the sound of a thousand humans belching together. We hiked glaciers. We bathed in the sea. We braved the strong winds to set up our tents. We cooked on the tiniest stoves in the world. We drank from the purest streams. We slept (at least tried to!) five nights on cold land and in almost 24-hour sunlight.

But what topped it all was what we achieved as teams and as leaders. As we handled multiple tasks, trekked on difficult terrains, made “crucial” decisions every day on what to cook, when to wake up, what to pack for our trips, how to set up our tents, which side of the tent to sleep in, what speed to walk and when to stop for breaks—we became more aware of how we function in tough conditions. We learned how to support and lead our teams. We learned how to manage people and resources, how to make tough decisions.

At the end, I left with lifelong memories—the rewarding, heavenly white glow at the top of a glacier after a strenuous trek; the penguins dancing around me as I soaked in the pure air and looked out at the horizon over the Southern Ocean. These are the moments when you say to the world, “Thank you. Thank you for letting me live a whole life in six unforgettable days.”

(Editor’s note: This post first appeared in its original form on the MBA Program’s Student Diarists blog on March 16, 2012.) 

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