Thursday, March 19, 2009

Where West meets East

Drumroll please . . .  I have a village assignment!  I will be moving to Gambell, Alaska to teach levels 5/6!  It's funny the way God works; three months ago I was not even considering this village.  Now, I am extremely excited to go!!!  It's nice to finally have an actual place and job specification to plan for and think about.  Here is a little information about Gambell, for those that are unfamiliar with the Bering Strait region.

Gambell is located on the northwest cape of St. Lawrence Island, 200 miles SW of Nome, in the Bering Sea.  The city is 36 miles from Siberia (Russia).  In other words, I will be closer to Russia than mainland North America!  On a clear day, I will be able to see Russia.  Gambell is 19 miles from the International Dateline.  Average summer temperatures are 34 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and average winter temperatures are -2 to 10 degrees F.  Extremes from -30 to 65 degrees F have been recorded.  I don't even want to think about the windchill right now.  The Bering Sea freezes in mid-November, and does not completely break up until the end of May.

It will be no surprise that you can only access Gambell by boat or by plane. It is roughly 1 hour to Nome by a small bush plane, or 1 hour 15 minutes to Unalakleet.  Mail comes every day if the weather is accommodating.  

The people of St. Lawrence Island are Siberian Yupik, and reside either in Gambell or Savoonga.  Gambell has a population of roughly 650 people as per the 2000 census, and the school is one of the largest in the Bering Strait School District (with about 160 students).  Their particular dialect of Yu'pik is closer to the Russian dialect than the mainland Alaskan, and they have maintained their traditional ways of life more than many other villages in Alaska due to the island's isolation.  Ivory carving is a major source of income, and many of the villager's ivory work is featured in major American museums such as the Smithsonian.  They lead a subsistence lifestyle based upon marine mammals, and still use walrus-hide boats to hunt.  A limited amount of tourism is afforded to Gambell due to the abundance of seabirds in the summer.

Here are a few pictures of the geographical situation of St. Lawrence Island:

The staff at the Gambell school will be almost entirely new personnel, and I am excited to begin a new school year with them.  I'm a little nervous, but I am ready for both the good times and the challenges. 

Thank you to everyone that helped me along the way, especially those from BSSD.  Now the adventure begins!