Curious about what it's like to work in remote Alaska? English alumnus Leah Shamlian '15 shares her experiences working for Trident Seafoods in Dutch Harbor.
Somehow, I lucked onto an internship that is a great fit for my interests. It combines the skills I learned through Puget Sound’s English department with the frameworks of thinking I learned from the EPDM program, it is in an industry that intrigues me intellectually (how do you regulate the global commons?), and it combines office work with field work. I seem to have a thing for remote islands: I studied abroad on the 8-square-mile chunk of limestone known as South Caicos and now get to fly out to the Aleutians to visit Trident’s processing plants.
Take Akutan, for example – permanent population 83. To get to Akutan, one takes a jet to Anchorage, where one looks around, is disappointed by the food options, and boards a turboprop to Dutch Harbor. Dutch Harbor has a dubious reputation but is stunningly beautiful; the plane buzzes a mountain (“Are we supposed to be this close?”), shoots the gap between more mountains rising from the bay, and then banks hard left over Shell’s Polar Pioneer rig, parked there temporarily, to land on a runway that was built during World War II for fighter pilots. In Dutch, one’s officially scheduled itinerary ends, and the options are to either fight for a seat on a small plane to Akun Island and then a helicopter to Akutan or, if the weather isn’t conducive to flying, to take a 5-hr boat ride over to Akutan. I got to experience both: on the way there, we caught a ride on a trawler, spotting a whale and lots of puffins. On the way back, we got the helicopter – there isn’t enough flat horizontal space on Akutan for an airplane runway – and learned that helicopters carry luggage in a sack suspended beneath, mail-drop style, so if there’s even a bit of mist, your packed clothing is going to end up damp.
An essay by Larry Gallagher says, “You don’t end up in Dutch by accident. At least not a single accident. A string of bad choices might land you on her beaches….” I’m okay with the bad choices, although I’m not sure what they were, that led me to the Aleutians. I love being able to combine English skills with environmental issues and apply them across industry problems and government regulations. The interdisciplinarity of Puget Sound is carrying forward into post-graduate life.