Student disappointed by OCS program

Dr. Yuri Takrakov Dr. Yuri Takrakov

I recently had a chance to speak with English major Peter Pokorski '04, back at Carleton after four months of studying the "Indigenous Literature of Antarctica" in Antarctica. Reflecting upon his time there, Pokorski noted "I didn't really learn that much. My advisor, Candace Lines, told me that I would have a rich and rewarding experience in Antarctica. But when I returned to tell her what I thought of the program, she was gone." Pokorski applied to the program through the University of Tijuana's Departamento de los Programas Extranjeros Ridiculos. "Frankly," he said, "communication was a little difficult because of the language barrier." He added, though, that it "seemed like a good deal at the time."

When he disembarked from the plane, a transport carrying goat's milk and olive oil from Tierra del Fuego, the only people to greet him were a gentle Athabaskan named Kantishna and the frozen corpse of Robert Falcon Scott. "It was a wake-up call for me to see that man sprawled out on the side of the runway. I mean, I was told that it gets cold in Antarctica, but it was supposed to be summer. The program started in July, for God's sake." When informed that seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, Pokorski's pupils dilated and he quickly changed the subject.

"Kantishna and I left the runway on his dog sled. Man, that guy can mush. You know, he won the Iditarod back in '83." I asked him to return to the subject matter of the OCS program. "Ok, yeah, anyway, when we arrived at the igloo I met my roommates, Gunnar and Thor, two Swedes from Malmo, and Od, a Nordic fellow from Oslo. For some reason they never stopped talking about wanting to move to Minnesota." After cozying up with his new comrades, Pokorski and the Scandinavian trio met Dr. Yuri Takrakov, a former Russian nuclear scientist and the program's leader. When I inquired as to why a nuclear scientist that worked for the 'evil empire' was teaching literature courses, a pensive look appeared on Peter's face. "Beats me," he said. "The people at the U of Tijuana said that he was the best qualified for the position."

"Really?" I asked.

"Well, not in so many words," Pokorski replied. "It was more like 'Profesor es muy bueno.' I managed to translate that much with the limited Spanish that I remembered from sixth grade."

They went to work right away. Dr. Takrakov explained to Pokorski and his fellow students that they would learn about every aspect of the indigenous literature of Antarctica. "But we just dug holes in the ground for eight hours a day. Me and the guys would end up with strange marks and burns on our arms and faces. When I asked about the literature of Antarctica, Takrakov said that it was 'in the rocks.'" Upon hearing my suggestion that something didn't smell right, Peter replied "Well, there was this one time when I found this box that said al-Qaeda that contained a powdered form of the rocks we had been digging up. I didn't have my Spanish translator on me, so I couldn't figure out what it meant. I'm guessing that it meant 'rocks' or 'minerals' or something like that." I began to explain my thoughts to him, but he interrupted. "Also, Takrakov would disappear for long hours into the huge communities of penguins that surrounded our igloo. I don't know what he did, but something was fishy."

After four months of hard labor "reading the rocks," Pokorski was ready to go home. He gave his condolences to his Northern companions. Dr. Takrakov said his goodbyes to the students, telling them, "The work you have done here will change the world, someday." Peter then boarded the all-nighter transport of MSG and potatoes from Port Moresby to the Falklands, and arrived in Minneapolis the following Tuesday. Asked to sum up his feelings about his study abroad, Pokorski said "Although the program turned out differently than I expected, I feel that every experience helps me develop as a person. For instance, I developed a strange growth on my neck, but Dr. Takrakov said I would be all right. He's certified by the USSR medical board, you know. You live and you learn. That's my philosophy in life."

At press time, Pokorski was in the ICU for radiation sickness.