Elders & Youth Conference – Day 1

What a day!

Today marked the opening of the Elders & Youth Conference here in Barrow.  My day started at 8am AKST, with a ride courtesy of Arcticab to the Iñupiat Heritage Center for a nice continental breakfast with the community elders and youth, hosted by Ilisaġvik College, the local community college.  It was noticeably colder today than yesterday, and the conference, of course, got off to a start in darkness, as the morning twilight wouldn’t appear until much later in the morning.  While I was setting up the Rosetta Stone table, the elders and youth were in an adjoining room at the Heritage Center saying an opening prayer and singing Iñupiat hymns.  It was so nice to hear them, and I could only wonder what they were saying – but I imagined, of course, that it was something deeply spiritual and inspiring to set the tone and mood for the conference.

At registration, we were each given a nice hoodie and name badge:



The hoodie reads, “Kiikaa Iñupiaqta,” which roughly translates to, “Let’s go Iñupiaq.”

I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos in today’s entry – something weird happened to my camera yesterday so the pictures turned out kind of otherworldly for whatever reason.  Maybe the cold finally got to my camera or something.  Once again, it is incredibly cold here, and my poor continental-U.S.-piece-of-technology simply isn’t used to such extreme temperatures.  But I digress…

Each conference attendee and exhibitor alike had to fill out a registration form in order to receive his or her name badge.  The registration form asked what village I was from, so I had to get clarification on whether I should enter “Harrisonburg, Virginia” or “Barrow” as my village.  We were already off to an interesting start.

Luckily, as the first exhibitor that showed up, I had my pick of the tables, so I picked the one that would draw the most attention and was most centrally located and directly in front of the large window that had a gorgeous view of the vast snowy tundra and horizon where twilight would appear a few hours later.

I immediately began setting up while it was still dark out:




I eventually had to move my table off to the side due to a simple lack of a nearby electrical outlet.  Once I got everything fully squared away, all throughout the day I had several elders and youth (as well as other visitors) stop by the table and ask questions about the program and Iñupiaq language-learning using Rosetta Stone.  Elders’ reactions ran the gamut, from wonder and surprise to suspicion, while youth was much more open to the idea.  Both made comments that they liked the fact that some of the images were of their world, while what they didn’t like about their program is that most of the images were of a world and people to which they didn’t really have much, if any, exposure.  I fully understood; Barrow (and the other villages in the North Slope Borough from what I understand) can be rather insular.

One visitor beamed with joy upon recognizing her two sons in the program!  Another visitor, with her baby in tow on her back, asked me to show her the Iñupiaq Level 3 content and she proceeded to go through several slides quite happily, with baby quiet as a whistle just observing the hustle and bustle all around him.

In fact, Patuk Glenn, museum curator, is in one of the first images in Level 1, Unit 1, Lesson 1 of the Iñupiaq program!


At lunchtime, the entire foyer of the Heritage Center quickly turned into a giant family-style buffet cafeteria and dining room.  I was careful to wait until all of the elders had been served first, and then Christy, who works at the front desk at the Center, advised me to get in line to pick up my plate of delicious spaghetti and meatballs, along with salad and garlic bread – which I happily did.  I brought my plate back to the Rosetta Stone table, by which time there were people sitting all around me on both sides and in front, including (I later learned) the North Slope Borough representative to the Alaska State Legislature.

After lunch, I resumed manning the table and answering questions while demonstrating the program every single time and handing out pamphlets.

At 3:00pm, I gathered my things and went to the youth library in the Center and proceeded to set up for a workshop:


In this workshop, I had only a handful of youth show up, to whom I explained the program and its structure, and we spent most of the next hour going through the various types of Focused Activities (they really enjoyed the Speaking activities so we placed extra emphasis on those).  Proficiency levels in Iñupiaq varied greatly with my workshop participants, and I made sure that everyone had a chance to practice their language with the Rosetta Stone program.  They seemed to enjoy it immensely, and there was no shortage of smiles and laughter with this group.  It was truly a nice experience facilitating this workshop!  For their efforts, I ensured that they each received a “Change the World” Rosetta Stone button, so that they would have a little memento by which they could remember the workshop.

After the workshop, I returned back to the foyer and began breaking down the table, as it appeared that the conference was wrapping up for the day.

As people were making their way out into the darkness and cold of the late afternoon (it was significantly colder than the previous day), Patuk asked me if I wanted to join them for an Iñupiat potluck at the Piuraagvik Recreation Center.  I was happy to attend, so I quickly made my way back to the Airport Inn hotel (this time in a local Alaska Cab), grabbed my bags and suitcases, and proceeded on to the Top of the World Hotel to check in for the evening.

My room at this hotel is significantly larger and more modern, and the frozen Arctic Ocean is literally just feet from my window.  It makes for a pretty cool view; however, while I’ve been in my room it has only been dark out.  Still, it’s cool to know that the ocean is only a stone’s throw away.  Due to the proximity of the hotel to the ocean, I was humorously advised by the front desk agent against wandering out in the nighttime, as polar bears can obviously blend in very well with their surroundings and are more prone to come closer into town.

Still, I managed to find a new friend in the front lobby of the Top of the World Hotel:



After getting quickly settled in to my new room, I took an Alaska Cab to “the Piuraagvik”, as it’s called locally.  When I entered, the smells of all kinds of seafood and other edibles immediately struck me, as did seeing dozens upon dozens upon dozens of people sitting at tables, happily enjoying their meal, many of whom I noticed were eating with their hands – which I thought was cool.  I got in line and when I got to the serving tables, the servers where kind enough to explain to me what I was about to eat:  Arctic goose soup, a type of young cod, another type of unknown fish, and of course, muqtuq – bowhead whale!




The whale was interesting.  At first, it didn’t seem to have much flavor and the skin was rather chewy, but then I got hints of butter and almond from the whale blubber.  It was surprisingly pleasant, actually.  I also snapped a video for Hunter, who asked that I videotape my first experience eating whale (which was a great suggestion; the video is kind of funny).  I’ll try to upload it in the next couple of days.

Once the potluck was over, I volunteered to help break down the dozens of tables, and with help from many other attendees, the Piuraagvik was back to normal in no time.

After that, it was time to come back to the hotel and get some rest before doing it all over again.



What you see out of the window, that snowy expanse that goes on into the darkness of the night, is the Chukchi Sea portion of the Arctic Ocean.  It’s that close!

Of course, the night simply wouldn’t have been complete without a Rosetta Stone commercial to remind you that you are in the right place at the right time, even in a place as remote and isolated – and as magical – as Barrow, Alaska.




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