October 2012: NikkI Rickett

1998 European Studies & German

What am I doing now?Nikki in the Snow
I'm working for an independent specialist tour operator, Discover the World, directing the marketing and product development for study visits abroad. We even arrange Iceland field visits for Keele's School of Physical and Geographical Sciences!   However, my real passion is for Antarctica; I was a Base Leader down south with the charity, The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. I spent a total of eight months living in Antarctica, stationed at the historic base of Port Lockroy.  Imagine a kind of ‘National Trust on Ice’ if you will; a wonderful old wooden hut built in 1944 and set up as it would have been in the fifties!  Just this March I came back from spending nearly three months as an expedition team member on board MV Orion, lecturing and guiding trips in the Ross Sea (Scott and Shackleton’s huts), Southern Oceans and sub-Antarctic Islands. But for now I'm on terra firma in Surrey’s warmer climes!  

How did you get to where you are now? 
My languages opened doors for me into the travel industry, and I was lucky enough to join a company with destinations that really sparked my interest. I started off arranging polar expedition cruises, which is how I found out about the Trust (having visited Port Lockroy on a reccie). I took a leap of faith and applied to work with the Trust, which was way out of my 9 to 5 comfort zone.  My language skills were key to me being accepted (as we welcome so many international visitors from the ships).  And it probably helped that I’m a pretty robust person who’s happy to pick up a shovel and a paintbrush.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?  
Definitely running the base in Antarctica. If someone had told a very shy 18 year old me that I’d be doing that around 12 years later, I never would have believed it. I had a great team beside me, and each season we season we welcomed over 14,500 visitors, as well as fundraising, monitoring the wildlife (yes, we had to count the penguins) maintaining the historic buildings and artefacts (despite massive snowfall and the cold temperatures), and having to navigate around 1,500 breeding Gentoo penguins on an island the size of a football pitch. Oh, and we had no running water, no mains electricity, and also no boat. Great fun but challenging at times. And... taking a (frozen) turn up the mast, helping MV Orion’s bridge navigate through pack ice in February this year!  

And your biggest mistake?
Upon reflection, I think personally I’d have gotten more out of my studies if I’d taken a gap year before Keele to do some travelling. 
 
What are your ambitions now?
It would be wonderful to settle down with my partner somewhere with mountains near the sea or a lake. He also loves wild remote places (we met in Antarctica), so we will have to see. Alaska, Canada and Scotland are on the dream list!  And I can’t imagine not going back to Antarctica at some point.  The pull of the great white continent… 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field? 
Go out and explore! Destination knowledge, confidence (which you’ll get through travelling), as well as languages, are really important. Enthusiasm and your own desire to learn (about wildlife or the explorers for instance) cannot be underestimated.  Also, you have to put in the hard work and loyalty to a company to get something back (my boss has been unbelievably accommodating with sabbaticals, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get). 

Nikki at Keele Hall What made you choose Keele University?   
The front cover of the prospectus caught my eye, showing a leafy Keele Hall. The friendly and approachable feel to the campus, as well as the good reputation for the course, made up my mind.  My Head of Sixth Form had also done his PGCE at Keele and loved it.

What kind of a student were you? 
Quite quiet and shy actually, but that improved after having spent time in Frankfurt on the ERASMUS scheme as part of my course. I had to work hard to get the results; I wish I was a natural linguist, but was completely thrilled to get a 2:1. I remember looking at the board in the Students' Union and not believing my eyes! 

How has Keele influenced your life? 
I'll forever be grateful to Keele for providing me with a very secure and friendly environment in which to study and spend some ultimately formative years, and for introducing me to my two best friends; James who was on the exact same course as me, and Maria, who lived in the room next door in Barnes C block in our first year. Just a couple of months ago we pitched our tent at St David’s next to a Prof from Keele’s Business School; it was great to reminisce about my time at Keele. Very good memories. 

What is your favourite memory of Keele?
The excitement and pride of graduation day and the joy of the culmination of four years work - just brilliant.  

What is your impression of Keele now? 
A place that is expanding rapidly with new buildings!  And still the same friendly campus atmosphere, beautiful surroundings, and bizarre on-top-of-a-hill-microclimate that typifies Keele!