I have now been working in Alaska for a month and a half. And the raw beauty of the Last Frontier is unmatched. However, being so far from civilization as I’ve known it isn’t always a blessing.
In this sense, I don’t mean working remotely in the typical sense: working from a laptop in the comfort of your home or taking your work with you while you travel. If only. My job actually takes me to remote locations no tourists tread and the conveniences of home are all but a memory.
I have been based out of two locations so far: Dutch Harbor, Unalaska Island and Akutan Island. Aside from those who come to work seasonally, the local population and economy is pretty bare-bones. Dutch Harbor is the biggest “city” any of us in my position will see and its airport doesn’t even have security; with that, I bet you can infer what life on the rest of the island is like.
While this all might sound a bit shitty, it does have its benefits…
Pro: Save money
Some other jobs abroad I’ve seen want you to pay to work for them or only cover your room and board with no additional payment. However, I get my room and board covered both on land and at sea and have no outstanding bills to pay at home, so my bank balance builds quickly. Especially when I’m based in Akutan where the temptation of going to the pub I experience in Dutch Harbor is also eliminated. On a similar note, I also get to keep all my air miles, which adds up to about 24,000 miles a year!
Pro: See Alaska
I get to see all sorts of different Alaskan “cities” and scenery and its wonderful creatures. How many people get to say they see humpback whales every day?
Pro: the job itself rules
I enjoy the work I do and wouldn’t want to be in any other observer program. I’ve pictured myself doing this for quite a while, even citing my company as my “dream job” and although I don’t think I’ll be observing or working in fisheries forever, this is such a neat opportunity. If anything, this position will really pop on my CV when I move on. I also feel useful because the data I collect and send is used live to assess fishery stocks rather than having a lag time of a few years to create catch quotas. Finally, my job is really flexible: after this first contract, I can come back to observe as often (or not) as I wish and for as long as I want, but 60-90 days is the usual.
It takes someone in a unique (and possibly odd) position in life to take this job and I feel we observers are all bonded in that way. I get along with 99% of the other observers I’ve met and already consider a few of them close friends.
Pro: know thyself
Have you ever thought, “Man, I wish I could just sod off to the middle of nowhere where I don’t have to answer to anyone?” That’s pretty much my life. Don’t get me wrong, it gets lonely (more on that in a minute), but I can always call up friends and family and see co-workers in town. At home, I sometimes felt I couldn’t escape social pressures and obligations. This job gives me a lot of time to reflect on my life and my future.
Now, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies working in the middle of nowhere…
Con: no Internet
This might seem silly, but it really does suck when it’s the way our whole world is connected. Or rather, paying $80 for 5GB of Internet that takes ages to load, eating up your usage in a manner of days. Ugh.
Con: not seeing land for two months
Fortunately, I’m currently in a fishery that offloads regularly, so I do get to step foot on land every few days. But there are certain boats where you may be out at sea for months at a time. While the amenities are usually better on these boats, is it really worth it?
Con: butting heads
As I mentioned, you may be assigned to a boat for up to three months with a crew as small as five other people. If you don’t get along with one or more of them, it’s going to be a long contract for you.
I’m sure literally having depression doesn’t help my case, but being away from family and friends and any way to connect with them is especially a bummer some days. Also, the lack of stimulation I’ve always taken advantage of (even the simple things like going out to eat or going to a concert) can really drive you mad. I just have to remember to look forward to blowing all my money on concerts and travelling when my contract is over, I suppose!
All in all, this job is interesting to say the least and I’m glad I’m finally getting the ropes (pun intended) and coping with the “cons” I’ve mentioned. This isn’t a forever job for me and hope to get a permanent position at the headquarters in Seattle after a year or so, but for now, I’m happy with my work (read: pay and lack of financial obligations, I’ve just paid off my student loans!).
What do you think? Would you work abroad or remotely?
Photo by Rod Long.