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The kitchen steward job in Antarctica is widely recognized as the way to get your foot in the door on the world’s most remote continent.
Dan and I wanted to get a job in Antarctica, but our teaching and poli sci degrees don’t really translate into useful jobs on the ice. So, we decided to try for the kitchen steward jobs instead – and we got them!
This article is for all you Antarctica hopefuls that come after me. It’s packed full of tips and advice not only for when to apply and how to apply, but also with tons of details you need to know about the hiring timeline, pre-deployment process, and more. It covers:
- Where do you actually work in Antarctica?
- Intro to the kitchen steward job in Antarctica (hours, work duties, and more)
- How much do kitchen stewards get paid?
- Do you have to work nights and holidays?
- Where do I apply for kitchen jobs in Antarctica?
- How many times do you have to apply to get a job as a kitchen steward?
- Do you need a background in food service?
- What does the interview and hiring timeline look like?
- What are the interview questions?
- What is the PQ (physical qualification) process like?
- What is win-fly and winter-over in Antarctica?
- More Gana A’yoo Jobs in Antarctica
I’m SO excited to be a kitchen steward in Antarctica this season and I’m so excited to share everything with you so you can do it too!
Let’s dive in!
South Pole Station in Antarctica
Wait, where do you actually work in Antarctica?
The US has three stations on Antarctica: McMurdo (the largest), the South Pole (the coolest), and Palmer (the smallest).
These stations fill up with people and researchers during the Austral Summer (from October to February) and then empty out to skeleton crews for six months of darkness during the Austral Winter (March to September). For most people, working in Antarctica is a seasonal position.
You’ll most likely go to McMurdo, located on the Ross Ice Shelf, your first year because it’s the biggest base with over 1,000 people in the summer. In the winter the population drops to around 100 people. It has a gym, dock, dorms, hiking trails, and more and is basically like a tiny, cold, town.
The South Pole is much smaller and only has one building that everyone lives and works in. The South Pole summer population is around 200 and in the winter is goes down to about 50. The station is surrounded by an endless expanse of flat, white, icy tundra, so the scenery isn’t quite as interesting as McMurdo but… it’s still pretty cool to say you lived at the South Pole!
Palmer is the smallest station and the one you’re least likely to find yourself at. It’s on the Antarctic Peninsula and has around 40 people at its peak in the summer and 15 to 20 in the winter.
Your application will state which station you’ll be at for the position, but moving between stations is pretty common too. Some people even summer at one station and then move to another for the winter. If that’s something you’re interested in, ask your hiring manager about it during your interview.
Intro to the Kitchen Steward Job in Antarctica
The kitchen and janitor jobs in Antarctica are done through an Antarctic Support Contract (ASC) with an Alaskan company called Gana A’yoo. So, you technically work for the US Antarctic Program (USAP) but you’ll be hired and paid by Gana A’yoo.
Everyone in Antarctica, no matter the job, works a 10 hour shift six days a week. That comes with an hour lunch break and a half-hour morning or afternoon break, so you work 8.5 hours total over a 10 hour day, usually from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm. It’s not easy.
What are the typical duties of a kitchen steward? In Antarctica, doing dishes is about 60% of the job. Other duties include keeping the buffet line stocked with food and keeping the dining hall clean.
How much do kitchen stewards get paid?
In 2020, kitchen stewards in Antarctica will get paid abut $600 per week. Lead Dining Attendants, one level up from the stewards, will make around $650 a week. On top of this, everyone also gets a 16% bonus when they complete their contract.
Working in Antarctica is like working on a ship in international waters, where we pay taxes and are subject to the financial laws of whatever country’s flag that we work under. McMurdo is an American research station, so Dan and I will pay US state and federal taxes from our Antarctica paychecks. In Ohio, that’s about 15%, so the 16% bonus pretty much covers taxes and they cancel each other out.
So, if me and Dan stay for the winter season and spend a whole year in Antarctica, we will make $61,776 between us after we add the bonus and take out taxes. This pay is pretty good because we also get free travel, lodging, and food, so our only expenses will be small things like a bar tab or a phone bill.
Even if we spend $10,000 on the ice (a stretch) and then $10,000 on traveling through New Zealand, Australia, and Asia when our contract ends, we’ll still come home with $40k in the bank to save and invest. For a year of work and a three month vacation, that’s a pretty good trade!
The historic Amundsen tent in Antarctica where workers at McMurdo can still spend a night camping on the ice!
Do you have to work nights and holidays?
Because it’s light 24 hours a day in Antarctica over the summer, there are night shift workers to maximize the work that’s done on base. That means the kitchen is open 24/7 to feed them.
When I interviewed, I was told that every kitchen steward works half the summer season overnight and then switches to work the other half during the day. The night shift is nice because it’s a smaller staff and less busy, but the downside is that you’ll be off schedule from most of the rest of the base and it’ll be harder to join things like fitness classes, trivia, open mic night, etc.
The kitchen staff also has to work on holidays, cooking while everyone has fun at the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but you will get days off to make up for them. Paid holidays for kitchen stewards are Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July.
Where and when do I apply for kitchen jobs in Antarctica?
Now that you know what kitchen stewards do in Antarctica, it’s time to apply for the job!
You can find all of the open kitchen positions in Antarctica on the Gana A’yoo website. Because these are seasonal jobs (with most workers going down for the Austral Summer from October to February) hiring opens in January every year.
Applications may or may not be read on a first come first serve basis (but the general consensus is that they are) so the best way to be seen is to apply on January 1st when the jobs are posted.
If you’re new to the whole Antarctica hiring process and January 1st has already passed, you should still apply because there are always exceptions to the rule!
How many times do you have to apply to get a job as a kitchen steward?
Some people get lucky and get hired the first year that they apply. Other people apply for three, four, or even five years in a row before they get a job. It took two years for me and Dan to get the job, and from some internet sleuthing, it looks like many other people report the same thing.
Getting hired on the second try is common for two reasons:
- Because most people’s first application is after getting suddenly inspired to work on the ice – maybe by watching Anthony Bourdain or Frozen Planet – so they apply whenever they learn about the job instead of on January 1st.
- Because this first application is usually on a whim or a sudden inspiration, I think the Gana A’yoo hiring team is a little wary that the applicant really knows what they’re getting into. If you apply more than once, use the same email address for the applications and they’ll see your old and new ones and know that you’re serious about the position because you came back to try again. This makes them more likely to take a chance on you.
All of this is a detailed and roundabout way of saying: you probably won’t get an interview until the second year you apply, so apply the first year and wait patiently. Then, make sure to use the same email address and apply on January 1st your second time around and that’ll increase your odds by a lot!
Do you need a background in food service to be a kitchen steward in Antarctica?
I’m not 100% sure, but yes, I think so.
When you apply for a kitchen steward or any other job in Antarctica with Gana A’yoo, your resume has to be read and approved by a bot before it goes to the hiring manager.
The bot is looking for certain keywords like customer service, food service, dining hall, kitchen, etc. and if they don’t see them, your resume will be rejected before a human ever lays eyes on it.
So if you don’t have any food or customer service experience whatsoever, try to get some. And if you do, make sure you include those keywords in your resume!
What does the interview and hiring timeline look like?
Applications for kitchen steward jobs in Antarctica open in January. If you get through the first round of resume screening from the bot, you’ll get an email in late February / early March that says something along the lines of:
“Congratulations, you meet the minimum requirements to become a ____ (insert whatever position you applied for here). Your application is now visible to the hiring manager. Please respond to this email in one week to tell us you’re still interested in the position or we’ll remove you from consideration.”
You’ll have to respond to the email to say you’re still interested in the position and then wait a few more weeks with fingers crossed for an interview.
The first year I applied, I got these emails, but it never went any further than that.
The second year I applied, I got an email from a hiring manager at Gana A’yoo a few weeks later asking to schedule a phone interview!
Phone interviews take place in late March and early April and are with someone like the cook or sous chef who you will actually be working with you in the kitchen.
They ask pretty basic interview questions and the call lasts about 20 minutes. At the end of my first interview, I scheduled my second one for the next week.During my second interview, the new interviewer asked two or three more questions and then offered me the job on the same call (which I excitedly accepted!).The second interview was even shorter at around 10 to 15 minutes.
The next day I received a call from the Steward Manager who explained the pre-deployment process and sent me tons of emails with paperwork and medical forms I needed to get started on.
To put it more succinctly, my application and hiring timeline looked like this:
- January 1, 2020 – applied for 14 different jobs with Gana A’yoo and PAE.
- February 20, 2020 – received an email saying that I met the minimum requirements and my application would be reviewed by a hiring manager.
- March 26, 2020 – received an email from the Food Service Supervisor to schedule an interview.
- April 3, 2020 – completed my first phone interview and scheduled the second interview.
- April 7, 2020 – completed my second interview with the Program Executive Chef and accepted a verbal job offer.
- April 8, 2020 – signed a formal offer letter and began the paperwork and PQ process to deploy!
We are officially set to deploy on October 1, 2020, but I’ve been told we could go up to two weeks before then. In the meantime, I’m working to get all my pre-deployment requirements completed as fast as possible.
What are the interview questions for the kitchen steward position?
The interview questions are pretty typical and it seemed to me that they’re mostly just making sure you understand that this isn’t a vacation to Antarctica and there’s going to be a lot of dishwashing involved. Some of the questions I was asked in my interview were:
- What does good customer service look like to you?
- What makes a good leader / manager?
- What’s a time you dealt with conflict in the workplace?
- What’s the one takeaway you want me to leave with about you?
At the end of the call you’ll also have time to ask them some questions about the job and life on the continent, so make sure you have a few prepared! I had about 1,000 things I wanted to know so that part was pretty easy for me.
What is the PQ (Physical Qualification) Process like?
After you get the job offer, be prepared for a lot of paperwork and doctor appointments.
First I filled out and signed about 20 pages of paperwork. Then I took and passed the ServSafe Food Handler Course (which took about three hours). Finally, I got emails about my drug screening and PQ Packet.
The drug screening is pretty self-explanatory, but completing the PQ packet is more involved. It comes from the University of Texas Medical Branch Center for Polar Medical Operations and to complete it you’ll need to:
- Fill out your medical history
- Get blood work done
- Get a physical, EKG test, DTAP vaccine, and flu shot (and a gallbladder ultrasound if you’re a primary or alternate for the winter)
- Get a dental check-up and full set of X-rays from your dentist
The blood work and drug screening does get billed directly to Gana A’yoo, but you’ll have to pay for everything else yourself and then submit it to Gana A’yoo for reimbursement. And even though you won’t deploy until September or October, the PQ packet needs to be done as fast as possible after receiving it.
Shackleton’s hut is an awesome piece of history still standing at McMurdo
What is win-fly and winter over in Antarctica?
The typical seasons in Antarctica are the Austral Summer from October to February and the Austral Winter from March to October.
Staying for the Austral Winter season is called a wintering over, and it’s not easy. The sun sets for months and the winter conditions make it too dangerous to fly, so leaving the continent is impossible.
If you want to winter over in Antarctica, ask about it during your interviews and they’ll place you as an alternate with the chance to snag an official winter position after a few months of work on the ice.
Since the station populations drop so low in the winter and there are 24 hours of darkness, it’s pretty understandable that they want to make sure anyone who winters over works well together before they commit to keeping them.
Dan and I are alternates to winter over when our primary summer contract ends in February 2021. If we get it, our contract will go all the way to October 21st (although we could leave up to a few weeks earlier than that).
During our interviews, we were told there’s a very good chance we’ll be chosen to winter over if we want to, and that we can tentatively plan around it. So, even if it’s your first year as a kitchen steward in Antarctica, wintering over is not a long shot if that’s something you want to do!
Win-fly is another term you should be familiar with. Win-fly refers to the people who fly in early for the summer season. A small group of kitchen workers fly into McMurdo at the tailend of winter in August to prep the kitchen for the summer season.
If you want to do this, you can request to be an alternate for that as well. Generally you can either winter over or go down as win-fly, but probably not both. Ask about it during your first interview if you’re interested!
More Gana A’yoo Jobs in Antarctica
I am so excited to go to Antarctica as a kitchen steward at Mc Murdo with Gana A’yoo. If you want to get your foot in the door in Antarctica, the Gana A’yoo kitchen and janitor positions are one of the best ways to do so, but they aren’t the only option.
Check out the Gana A’yoo website to see all the positions they’re hiring for, like admin coordinators, hazardous waste techs, HR positions, and so much more! Or, read this broader article about how to get a job in Antarctica to discover the rest of the opportunities you can apply for on the continent.
Good luck, maybe we’ll see each other on the ice someday!
This article is part of the See the World series. Read the rest below:
Or, explore the complete Working Abroad series for more step-by-step guides to making money while you travel!
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