Hélène Grandjean filming at the station's doorsteps - © International Polar Foundation

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Interview: Hélène Grandjean (Laborelec)

The International Polar Foundation is publishing a series of 4 interviews with some of the guests having attended the Princess Elisabeth Station's inauguration in Antarctica mid-February. How was it to see the building for the first time in its surroundings? What was it like to live in Antarctica for a few days? The first person to answer our questions is Hélène Grandjean, Rational Use of Energy Specialist for Laborelec

Your experience was different from the other VIPs. How so?

I arrived in Antarctica ahead of the others on the 10th of February. Electrabel had organised a contest to send an employee to Utsteinen to represent the GDF-Suez Group down there and I won. I was in charge of making a movie during my stay I could use afterwards to share my experience.

During my stay, I lived in the camp. I really appreciated everyone accepting me as a member of the team. It made the experience more real. I spent half the time filming and half the time helping my colleagues from Laborelec install the electrical smart grid. When the other VIPs arrived, we had a great time having a look around and taking part in excursions. Of course, I represented GDF Suez at the inauguration. The values reflected by this project are shared by GDF Suez, and we are really proud we got into it.

The journey there must have been interesting.

The first flight from Cape Town to the Russian station was weird because it was on an old plane, which was not made to transport people, so I was a bit worried. But the second flight between the Russian station and Utsteinen was probably the best part of the entire trip. It was the first time I really got to see Antarctica, and it was a really nice view from the plane because there were no clouds. We saw a lot of different and interesting landscapes along the way.

From the plane, you're in the middle of nowhere, and then suddenly you see the station in this field of white.

I'd seen photos of it before, but it was very different seeing the station in real life! When we were arriving at Utsteinen the pilot even offered to do an extra tour around the station before we landed so I could get some good footage of the station.

You were there for 12 days. What were your impressions of Utsteinen?

I'd had feedback from some colleagues at Laborelec who had already been there and told me that it was a really nice atmosphere. They told me I'd be living in a camp and I was really excited about that. At first I was a bit worried about how cold it would be and how I could handle it, but as it turned out everything was quite comfortable. I was sleeping in a tent the whole time, but I was a girl scout when I was younger so I'm used to it. The sleeping bags were really comfortable, actually. I never woke up being cold at night.

You were also lucky enough to stay a bit longer than expected.

I was supposed to leave on the 17th with all the VIPs, but there were no seats left of the plane. Alain Hubert knew I was really enjoying my stay and still had work to do so he told me that I could stay for a few more days. I was happy to be able to enjoy Utsteinen for a bit longer!

You were having such a great time. Returning must have been difficult.

It's really hard to get back into normal life after you've done something like that. I was there for 12 days - not that long, but long enough to be disconnected from the outside world. A trip like that really gives you a whole new perspective on things. If I had any opportunity to go back I'd definitely go. It was really beautiful and an experience of a lifetime.

Author: IPF

Picture: Hélène Grandjean filming at the station's doorsteps - © International Polar Foundation

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