It is a condition that has afflicted Oak Harbor High School science teacher Jonathan Frostad since he was a child flipping through the pages of National Geographic Magazine.
The overwhelming desire to travel the globe has paid off in a big way for Frostad, who has been chosen as a 2016 Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. He is one of 35 K-12 educators from the United States and Canada to receive the honor.
Frostad, 43, will depart June 3 on a two-week voyage aboard the National Geographic Explorer to Svalbard, Norway, an island about 600 miles north of the northern tip of mainland Norway. A trip to the edge of the polar ice cap may not seem like a dream vacation to many, but it’s the trip of a lifetime for Frostad, one he’s dreamed of since he was 12.
“I started making a list of all the places I wanted to see and the amazing things on earth, and on that list were two places in particular I put stars next to,” Frostad said. “Those two places were Svalbard and the Antarctic.”
Frostad, who has taught in Oak Harbor for 15 years, has traveled extensively around the world already. Being well-traveled, he knew that mounting an expedition to either of his dream locations would be not only difficult but expensive, especially for a teacher.
“I figured there’s lots of other cool places on this list, I guess I’ll never get to Svalbard. And then this came up,” he said. “Of all the places I could have been picked to go, because there were 35 spots spread around, I ended up with Svalbard. So it was kismet.”
Frostad turned in a lengthy application for the fellowship in December. He thought they must have been mistaken when he learned he had been selected from as many as 1,000 applicants.
“I really didn’t think I would get it,” he said. “It’s so competitive and there are so many great teachers out there, so I really wasn’t expecting to get the call.”
The fellowships are meant to give teachers hands-on professional development opportunities. Frostad, who holds a master’s degree in science education, said he hopes to bring back a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the issues being faced in the arctic.
“That’s my personal goal, to increase my own knowledge and understanding of what’s happening with the shifting climate,” Frostad said. “Of all the talk and all the debates and arguments about climate change, up there there’s nobody arguing, because they’re watching it happen; every year there’s less ice.
“The people that live there depend on the weather, depend on the ice pack to do things and the ice pack is breaking up sooner every year,” he continued.
He believes there is a global impact that affects not only people, but businesses, in both positive and negative ways.
“There are companies that are moving there because the Northwest Passage – for the first time in the history of mankind – might be open in the next ten years,” he said. “They might be able to start shipping things from Asia to North America through the Arctic.”
Frostad said he hopes to study what the changes could mean to the ecosystems and the life there that depend on a once predictable cycle. As the climate shifts, the area could potentially open up to things like shipping, mining and oil exploration.
“In a sad way, not only is this probably my only chance to go that far into the arctic, but I might be the last generation of people that has a chance to see polar bears in the wild,” he said. “So I want to get up there and learn as much as I can about what’s changing and how that impacts us here and around the rest of the world and bring that to my students.”
Those real life experiences will be turned into real life lessons in the classroom.
“It’s what I try to do every year with places that I go,” he said. “I try to bring some piece back with me that makes it more real for them to learn about. It helps make the story more relevant for them.”
Frostad said he wants to make connections for his students as well. He is hoping to record students asking questions about the arctic, and play them for the scientists, naturalists and experts on board the ship. He plans to record their answers and put it all together in a mini documentary when he returns.
On the lighter side of his expectations, Frostad joked he would like to hug a polar bear, although he doubts he would be able to slip away from the ship long enough to make that rather dangerous dream a reality.
The Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program is now in its tenth year. It was established in honor of former National Geographic Society Chairman Gilbert Grosvenor because of his commitment to geographic education, according to a press release. The expeditions were donated in perpetuity to the National Geographic Society by Sven-Olof Lindblad and Lindblad Expeditions in honor of Gosvenor’s efforts to enhance and improve geographic education across the U.S.
Frostad, who has tried several other things professionally, said there’s really nothing he’d rather do than teach.
“Teaching was always at the heart of what I knew I wanted to do,” he said. “I like watching people make new understandings of their world, and I like facilitating that. I really like watching the light bulbs go off, especially about the natural world, and watching kids realize connections between them and everything else and how stuff works. Keeps me young.”
As for his wanderlust, Frostad said it’s always been there. That travel for him is about learning and understanding and exploring his home.
“Why travel? It opens the mind, it diminishes differences,” he said. “This is my home. This is where we live. I know it’s impossible to see it all, but I’ve been driven to see as much of it as I can.”
Of the many places Frostad has traveled, each has helped him take a step on a journey of self-discovery.
“They all have things that have changed me; every place I’ve been has made me see the world in a different way and made me a more whole person,” he said.
His adventures so far are many – climbing into Sulphur-spewing volcanoes, diving with giant manta rays and whale sharks, kayaking with Orcas, exploring caves in tropical Thailand – but he feels a particular affinity for India.
“The place I feel most at home on earth is India,” he said. “And it’s about the most difficult place I’ve ever been. There’s nothing easy about it, there’s nothing nice about it. It’s kind of an inexplicable draw, but that’s where I keep going back to.”
Frostad is heading into uncharted territory for himself as he travels to Norway for the first time. He plans to stay on for a bit following his voyage to connect with his Norwegian roots, visiting distant cousins.
He said he still can’t believe how lucky he is to be a part of what could be his greatest adventure.
“I’ve been really fortunate and gotten to do a lot of really cool things in my life,” he said. “But to be involved with a team with those people in that place, I’m very humbled and excited.”