Meet Keri Nelson, the woman who has been working in Antarctica since 14 years


Life in Antarctica is one which everyone dreams of back home but we all know little about how to achieve it or how to get there. Keri Nelson stepped into Antarctic ice for the first time 14 years ago as she was selected for the sponsored US Antarctic program in a logistical position. Her first job in Antarctica was that of a janitor, one she undertook happily because it gave her the chance to visit Antarctica on a sponsored program by the US. “When you are applying for an Antarctic program, you need to be flexible in terms of the work you do.”

Keri’s Instagram feed gives a sneak peak into the life of Antarctica amidst glaciers, seals, penguins and the beautiful aurora skies. Living in Antarctica comes with its own set of challenges. “As the world is taking a more feminist narrative, Antarctica is too seeing various gender stereotypes broken. Women working here are cargo offloaders, electricians, janitors, cooks and postmen as well as scientists and researchers. In Antarctica, the ratio of women taking up these roles is higher than the rest of the world. People in Antarctica are doing great jobs, irrespective of their gender”, says Keri.

Keri was born in South Korea and was adopted by Caucasian US parents. She also represents a woman of diversity in Antarctica. Her father is Swedish American and her mother is a Norweigein American. She is married to someone from the UK who she met in Antarctica, and they now live in Minnesota. “Being an orphan, I’m lucky to have had the experiences I have had in my life. I would have never thought that I’ll go to Antarctica to work”, Keri recalls. Having heard about the program from her school friends, Keri decided to apply and was thrilled when she was accepted into the program. She was willing to take up any position which would give her the chance to explore the glacial continent.

Keri has taken up various logistical positions in Antarctica. She has been a store manager, janitor, beverage manager, postmaster, laundromat and a dishwasher. She has been doing service jobs in Antarctica and she loves to explore the continent during her off day. In her free time, Keri likes to sit on the ice and watch penguins as they live in the space around her. “Sometimes the penguins forget that I am there and they come very very close to me, almost hugging me, it’s a very special feeling one which can’t be described in words”, Keri says.

She has also worked at all 3 US stations in Antarctica: Palmer Station, McMurdo Station as well as South Pole station. She has spent the last four years at Palmer station, the smallest US station which only has 45 people. Keri absolutely loves adventure, “When you are in Antarctica, every step you take is an adventure”, describes Keri. “The journey to Antarctica is itself very adventurous. To reach Palmer station, we take a flight to Chile and then take a boat to the station which takes us around 4 days to reach”, Keri explains. From Palmer station, Keri often takes small zodiac boats to smaller glacier islands which are completely inhabited. She explores the space on her own without anyone else, where she feels like she’s the first person stepping onto that land and exploring a completely unexplored zone. “It’s like watching an IMAX movie in real life, over unlimited durations of time.” describes Keri.

Keri was working as a store manager at McMurdo station (US’ largest station) in Antarctica when Alex walked in to buy something. Alex was a Phd researcher at the Scott station (New Zealand station), 3 km away from Keri. Both of them felt a connection and they continued meeting in Antarctica. Keri has been going to Antarctica for deployed missions since the last 14 years whereas Alex was only there for 6 months. They got married in 2014 and have been in a long distance relationship. “Antarctica is the only place in the world where Alex and I had the chance of meeting because we are from different countries, and it happened”, says Keri.

To find your dream of going to Antarctica, Keri says “You need to be persistent with whatever you want to do. Persistence always finds its way through. People always remember persistent people.” In October, Keri will be going back to work in Antarctica at McMurdo station as the store manager. She hopes to continue working in the Antarctica and finding herself more amidst the glaciers, penguins, seals and the arora everyday.

Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.


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