This is my fith winter teaching in Kotzebue, Alaska. Each year I teach 17-22 adorable second-graders in a well-equipped classroom at June Nelson Elementary School, which has an enrollment of about 290 (pre-K-5th) students. The kids are predominately Eskimo. School runs from 9am - 3:30pm from mid-August until early May. It's a good job in an interesting location.
Kotzebue is a town of about 3500 people located above the Arctic Circle. It's a regional hub for several outlying villages and has a couple of grocery stores, a bank, two restaurants (both Chinese; run by Koreans), a large hotel, a bed & breakfast, a big hospital, a radio station, one taxi company, and a good airport with three Alaska Airlines flights a day. Two barges come in each year to deliver freight, otherwise freight comes by air, so everything you buy here is double what it would cost elsewhere. The town is a couple miles long and a quarter mile wide.
Kotzebue itself isn't very attractive, but the area is beautiful. The town sits at the end of a small penninsula on land that is frozen most of the year. When it thaws, you can see spots of water everywhere as you fly overhead. Typical tundra. The ocean water freezes in November and starts to thaw in April. Off in the distance to the Northwest, you see some lovely hills; the foothills to the Brooks Range. There is a road that makes an 8-mile circle out of town and back allowing easy access to beach picnic areas and berrypicking .
Most of the people here are Inupiaq Eskimo and live a subsistance lifestyle- hunting, fishing, and berrypicking. At first I didn't notice much "culture," but the longer I'm here the more I'm noticing. One day walking to the post office I saw three dead seals lying on the beach- someones successful hunt. Snow machines and 4-wheelers are more popular than cars, and many people take a cab to get to work when they don't feel like walking.
My first two winters I usually took a cab to work on winter mornings then walked home. Now I walk to school and often get a ride home with a co-worker. Cabs cost $6 ($4 for seniors) no matter where you want to go, and they pick up other people on the way. When the cabs stop running, you're in trouble because it means a blizzard is well underway. One winter I tried to walk home in one and made it as far as the hospital where I was stuck for nine hours, just two blocks from home. I learned my lesson: if the cabs aren't running, stay put!
There's a lot of new construction going on. Some of it uses stacked freight containers (pictured here; partially finished). You end up with a lot of small but indestructible rooms. I'm looking forward to seeing one finished.
All in all, I'm enjoying my time here. I miss not living closer to friends and family, but I have a good apartment, great co-workers, great students, and incredible sky-scapes.