World citizen recounts her travels

LEWISTOWN – For the first time in several years, Julie Aurand did not go to her summer job in Alaska and admits to enjoying what – for her – was a relaxing summer.

Soon she will head off to her other summer job, in Antarctica, the bottom of the world, where December and January are the warmest months of the year and temperatures usually range from plus-20 to minus-20 degrees. But then it can get above freezing or it could be minus-40 in summer, she added.

She went to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, initially as a dining room attendant in 2000, but quickly got shifted to the recreation department. When she returned to Antarctica in 2006, it was to serve as broadcast engineer of the local television station. Her job as the station’s sole employee consists mostly of scheduling, and training volunteer disc jockeys for the radio station as well. She works for a private company that is part of the Antarctic Support Contractors, working under the National Science Foundation. This year’s season in Antarctica will be her seventh, the fourth in a row.

“I love it down there. We all work 60 hours a week, but there are lots of opportunities to do a variety of activities,” she said. Those activities vary from marathons and sporting events to knitting club and a climbing wall.

But then, she loves Alaska, too. Work, her sister and two nephews make it a very attractive place. Her regular summer job there the past four years had been as a lead guide/manager, leading treks in the 49th state with Exposure Alaska and Matamuska Glacier. She leads glacier and ice climbing treks of one day, or multi-day, multi-activity treks. She is a certified wilderness responder she said, adding that there are all kinds of issues and encounters when trekking in remote areas.

“I don’t mind the cold climate, but I don’t seek it out,” she said. Alluding to her summer 2013 away from a comparatively chilly climate, she admitted, “It was nice not to have my feet in cold, wet boots this year.”

Aurand is a 1990 graduate of Lewistown Area High School and a 1994 graduate of Shippensburg University, with an elementary education degree.

Her teaching degree has opened the way for many opportunities and adventures.

“I love teaching, and you can do it in different places around the world,” she explained. “Having an education degree can never hurt you.” And it goes along well with her lifestyle.

Her exploits in far-flung climes earned her the Shippensburg University’s 2012 Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

Daughter of Harvard and Jennie McCardle and the late Nelson Aurand, Aurand’s first adventure was a trek in Nepal, during which she was an assistant.

This was followed by two years teaching in the small eastern European nation of Moldova with the Peace Corps.

Since then, she has taught three years in the Eskimo village of Napokiak in Alaska for three seasons, at Bethel one year and another year at Kasigluk. From her Eskimo students she earned the nickname, “Joo-Lee,” from their pronunciation of her name. She has also taught in Korea, and in the Marshall Islands.

Ironically, Aurand never has gotten above her bachelor’s degree, but she is constantly studying. She couldn’t fit a master’s program into her schedule, she said. She is a certified yoga instructor, teaching from Alaska to Antarctica. She got her first level of certification to teach yoga – 200 hours – in Bali, and just got her 500-hour certification after she spent July studying more yoga at the Peaceful Valley Ashram in the Clarion area. She has returned to Alaska to teach yoga classes for a month before heading to Antarctica.

She also is a certified teacher in English as a Second Language.

Also ironically, she has never taught in the contiguous 48 states, except for her student teaching.

Along the way, she has climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan, spent time on a glacier in Patagonia. hiked the entire Applachian Trail, dropped in to visit her stepsister, Libby McDuning, in Sydney, Australia, several times, and with her companion/partner Bill Jirsa, hiked the Pacific Coast Trail in California, 250 miles from Fresno to Lake Tahoe.

While in Alaska, she also trained for her private pilot’s license, following in the footsteps of her late father.

Another pastime Aurand enjoys is cycling around Africa. She has a motorcycle, which she stores at a friend’s farm near Johannesburg, South Africa. The bike has knobby tires “so it can go most anywhere, on paved roads or dirt roads.” She has made several three-month tours through southern Africa, roughly from Namibia, Botswana and Zambia south, except Zimbabwe (because of the political situation there). When she travels in Africa, she’s always prepared for any new adventure – “I always carry rock climbing shoes in by backpack,” she noted.

Jirsa is a ski instructor who worked at Crested Butte Ski Resort in Colorado. Aurand is a certified mountain safety volunteer, who also enjoys skiiing. Her job there was at a coffee shop on the mountain; she rode the lift up to the top, then skied down to the shop – and skied home at the end of the day.

This summer Aurand spent May and June with her sister, Dr. Jeanette Legenza and her sons Mitchell and Drew in Eagle River, Alaska – and took some courses – went hiking in July, visited her mother in August and has returned to Alaska to teach yoga in September, then she will head to Antarctica in October.

But Ferguson Valley is still “home-home,” she said, adding, “I grew up here. But when Bill and I are together, we say Alaska is home because that’s where we spend the most time.”

Never knowing what adventure lies ahead- and some of them come spur-of-the moment, between here and there – Aurand said, “I’m really happy with my life. I feel very lucky.”