City at the bottom of the world

This is pretty much how I feel right now:

While I may not be headed on a quest through Middle Earth like Bilbo Baggins, I feel like I might as well be. Just look at this place:

Punta Arenas and National Park Torres del Paine

Next week, I am headed to Punta Arenas, Chile as a part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps program. When I first learned about my deployment location, I recalled the vague map of South America I had in my head. Great! I thought, I’ll be somewhere on the west coast of the continent…right? Nope! A quick search revealed that I would be going to the Tippy-Tip-Bottom-of-the-World-AKA-Almost-Antarctica:

And in fact, the city of Punta Arenas is used as the base for many Antarctic expeditions and is looking to bolster its reputation as the “Gateway to Antarctica.” But more on that later.

Learning that I would be going to such a beautiful, unique, removed location immediately excited my sense of adventure. I gawked at images of the landscapes. I started reading about the history of the city (fun fact, Punta Arenas is actually translated from English, “Sandy Point”). I started brushing up on my high school Spanish (still a lot of work to do there).

So, why is IBM sending me there? The IBM Corporate Service Corps (or CSC) is a pro bono consulting program which, since its launch in 2008, has contributed over 3000 participants on over 275 teams to nearly 40 countries around the world. It’s the largest private-sector program of its kind, delivering over $70 million in market value consulting on over 1000 projects.

IBMers selected for the CSC are placed on teams of eight to fifteen and deployed for four weeks to the assigned location. There, they partner with government, business and civic leaders in emerging markets to address high-priority issues such as education, health and economic development.

My team is “Chile 9,” that is, eight other CSC Chile teams have gone before us. The Chile 9 team is made up of 15 IBMers from all around the world: India, China, Hungary, Canada, Mexico, and more. We have been divided into four sub-teams to tackle projects for four separate host organizations. Much more on my teammates and our work to come!

The months of anticipation for this trip are finally coming to an end. Time for me to get some last-minute cold-weather gear (YOU try shopping for a winter coat in New Orleans in April…) and start packing.

¡ Hasta luego !

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