Student - July 2, 2020

‘Frozen eyelashes are unavoidable’

Hannah Begemann

Who? Anne Bruls (24), MSc Biology
What? Internship at BioCEED, The Centre of Excellence in Biology Education
Where? University of Svalbard in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen

‘The word ‘exotic’ tends to conjure up images of tropical islands, but Spitsbergen is exotic too, what with its climatic extremes. It fascinates me to see how plants and animals have adapted to that. For my internship I am looking especially at vascular plants, for which I am making a taxonomic key. This key will eventually be used in ArtsApp, a BioCEED project.

‘My internship at BioCEED includes helping create online course material. That is particularly relevant now that, following the university’s advice, many students have gone home because of the coronavirus. There are very few tourists on the island too, so it is pretty empty here. But it’s nice because there are no Covid-19 infections so we don’t actually have to keep our distance. But people don’t gather on café terraces in large numbers as it’s only 5 °C here in the summer.

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‘It is even colder in the winter months, when it is nearly always dark, and temperatures go down to -32 °C. You must wrap up well and keep moving here. But you do have to watch out for frostbite, and frozen eyelashes are unavoidable. The tricky thing about frostbite is that you don’t always feel it happening. Last spring, when my fingertip froze, I only realized it when I went indoors and found it had gone white. Frostbite doesn’t heal fast because a blister forms, the way it does with a burn.

‘You get a health and safety course at the start of every course to prepare you for such situations. It includes everything you hope you’ll never need, like what to do if someone falls down a crack in a glacier, and how to shoot a polar bear if it attacks you.

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‘Being able to ski is useful when you do your fieldwork, too. Skiing here is not the same as in the Alps. You are always off-piste and there are no ski lifts. All in all, this is a special place for me, where I feel at home. I came here for my minor on my BSc and for my MSc internship, and if possible, I would like to do a PhD here. If that doesn’t work out, I would most like to live in Norway or Sweden. I don’t see myself living in the Netherlands again in a hurry.’