Remove outside distractions. Place participants in close proximity. Provide opportunities for intellectual stimulation and open dialogue. Promote group activities that are unique and extreme in nature to build common references between the participants. These are the ingredients for structuring an environment for creative group dynamics and problem solving. This is the structure of the Antarctic Forum.
Blended through excursions to inlets in small harbors, islands and peninsula landings along the Gerlache Strait are talks covering economics, climate, science, philosophy and religion. Discussion groups range from small intimate settings to theater panel presentations and salon style conversations. All topics are open for dialogue with the group, and opinions are expressed openly.
The trip started with the expected reserve, some mingling but much politeness and caution. However the combination of 10 p.m. excursions to visit a Gentoo penguin colony, late afternoon toasts using glacial ice for cooling in the beverages, unexpected sighting of a pair of whales as they circled the glaciers, surprise bad weather when we had stopped at Fort Lockroy, and dinnertime tours around a bay to see seals, birds and other wildlife have melted the reserve. As glasses were raised in toast, it was noted that the masks had melted away and would remain that way until the ship docked and participants headed back home. The return of the mask was mimed with sadness.
Above all else, music has provided the backdrop for a blending and mingling. An impromptu chorus rehearsal for a visit to the Chinese Great Wall Station had large numbers from the group practicing “The Same Song” and “Friends Forever” (Auld Lang Syne) in Chinese. Those of us who know no Chinese sang out with great enthusiasm and were welcomed into the group.
Perhaps the most extraordinary was the evening performance of the arts — Ning Li the illusionist, and the musical performances by Ning An (pianist), Gregrio Robino (cellist) and Dan Zhu (violist). From Chopin to Tchiakovsky to Saint-Saens to Mendelssohn, the music filled the theater and brought all to their feet. This will send us off to the Chinese Great Wall Station tomorrow with Professor Yang, the first chief scientist of this location.