Over the past two weeks, Pune-resident Zareen Cheema explored a harsh but strikingly beautiful landscape that few others will ever set their foot on. Her international research expedition to Antarctica is an experience the 19-year-old can’t stop raving about.
Cheema, a second-year engineering student at Cummins College of Engineering for Women, Pune, was the only Indian among 66 students from 15 countries chosen for the Canada-based expedition this year.
From December 25 to January 8, she visited penguin colonies, saw huge albatrosses, braved the inhospitable weather with temperature dropping to below 10 degrees. The group sailed from the southern-most city of Ushuaia, in Argentina, then crossed the Drake Passage and passed Elephant Island — considered quite difficult to reach – before moving on to the Antarctic Peninsula.
“The sun in Antarctica shines 24 hours. We could explore the place and work for as long as we wanted. It’s a place that’s so powerful that it can bring about a permanent change in oneself. It gives a sense of awe and wonder that has no parallel,” said Cheema.
The expedition, run by a charitable foundation, required her to cough up around Rs10 lakh, which she said she could arrange through crowd-funding, corporate sponsorship and help from college.
Consul General of Argentina in Mumbai, Tomas Ferrari said, “To have young minds like Zareen Cheema display such genuine passion for the environment and issues concerning global warming, is truly amazing.” Cheema said she aspired to become an astronaut. Recently, Cheema was shortlisted among more than 700 people for Mars One – a one-way mission to the red planet. The project would send four humans to settle on Mars in 2025. Last year, she won the second prize in NASA’s space settlement design contest and was part of European Space Agency’s ‘Space Camp’ programme at Norway.