Harborough lecturer is back from his Antarctic expedition

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A university lecturer from Market Harborough is back from three weeks in the Antarctic, studying people.

Dr Nathan Smith’s job was to see how people from different cultures got on under extreme conditions in the frozen south.

Dr Smith, a lecturer in sports psychology at the University of Northampton, said: “It was an amazing experience.

“People from over 20 different countries in a place with no boundaries or borders were really open and humble and interacted very well.”

With no mobile phones and no internet, the expedition team were stripped of all normal contact with home and families.

And in multi-national teams of 10 they had to co-
operate in sub-zero conditions with frequent high winds and even blizzards.

“The idea is to see how people perform together in such an extreme and isolated environment” Dr Smith said before the expedition.

“I’ll be observing the others and taking notes, and there’s a questionnaire before and after the expedition.

“For me it’s a professional opportunity. The chance to be able to collect this sort of data doesn’t happen very often.”

Dr Smith hasn’t been back in Britain long, but he said four initial points came to mind.

Firstly, he was struck by how keenly expedition members felt this was a unique chance to get to know themselves, as well as each other better.

Secondly, while there were minor cultural clashes, they didn’t cause conflict in this environment.

Thirdly, expedition members felt they had a new appreciation of the “fragile nature of the planet”.

And lastly, while he was braced for a different way of life in Antarctica, he had not expected the “reverse culture shock” of having to brace himself to deal with a fast-moving, multi-tasking modern life again when he returned home.

The expedition was organised by British polar adventurer Robert Swan. The project boat sailed from Ushuaia in Argentina, a town nicknamed “the End of the World”, and became a cramped home for the expedition members while they explored Antarctica.

Expedition members came from countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, India, China and the United States.

One of Dr Smith’s lasting memories is travelling back to the project boat in a small dinghy in a blizzard.

“We were all completely soaked to the bone” he said. “That was pretty tough.”

Dr Smith specialises in projects relating to the psychology of expeditions.

He says: “Most individuals choosing to operate in unusual, and at times extreme and isolated, physical environments report some form of psychological benefit.

“These include improved perceptions of personal strength, confidence, appreciation for life and understanding others.”

He added the main feeling from his Antarctic co-adventures was empathy – “empathy for each other and empathy for the natural world”.