Monthly Archives: February 2016


There are supposedly four steps to the formation of a new group: Form, Storm, Norm, and Perform. “Forming” is the initial high of new people’s company. “Storming” is when people begin to clash and make many mistakes, but also learn to adapt to each other and look out for them. I believe we have hit this “storm” phase. Despite the hurricane that was this week though, it looks like we’ll soon be able to “norm,” and later even be able to “perform” this sailing thing smoothly.

This first week passed in a whirlwind of slideshows, lectures, knots, drama, canoodling, swearing, plagues, and homework. It’s hard to believe that it only lasted a short seven days.

Aside from the social dynamics, classes have been giving students plenty to keep busy. Nautical Science has been a steady source of homework, and is unlike any other course I’ve taken. We’ve learned to locate ourselves using landmarks or stars, read and predict weather patterns, and set and strike sails for different situations. The class has long homework sets that involve laying on the floor over a full-size chart and calculating currents or positions. Along with learning many different knots, it’s a fascinating, yet demanding course.

Along with homework, students (now known as “shipmates”) also have to take care of ourselves. This includes forming chore groups, cooking, and shopping for ourselves. Although I’ve gone an entire semester off the meal plan, it’s been a little different cooking for a house of seven. What I would consider a completely acceptable meal, such as raw tofu and carrots, is not always appetizing to my housemates. I’ve actually had to look up recipes in my short time here. Following recipes has been an adjustment, believe me.

The first week has also been a bit of a crash-course in how to look out for fellow shipmates. The weekend was eventful. Some of the students on the program are gap-year students fresh from high school, and they took the opportunity to throw their first college party. Well, they certainly succeeded. Complete with barfing, canoodling, and drama, I’d call it a smashing success. Or a smashed success, at least.

By Monday, dehydration and regret hung over many a poor soul, and that was when the plague hit. Students fell like flies to a particularly nasty stomach bug, and from there, the rest of the healthy community started to succumb. There’s even been a rumor of bedbugs in one of the houses. It’s all just part of the normal process when a group settles into a new surrounding. It’s been teaching us to take care of ourselves and others, and the new microbiome that will emerge from it will be a stronger one, I guarantee it.

Despite the odds, I have managed to stay remarkably healthy. Others, in their attempt to get over sickness have been chugging gallons of water. This is not a good idea, and one student actually began hallucinating from lack of electrolytes, a condition known as hyponatremia. Luckily, an EMT-trained shipmate swooped in, and a few salty crackers later, all was well.

Yes. This first week was a bit of a hurricane. But an educational hurricane nonetheless. We’re beginning to learn how to take care of each other. So despite the rough start, I have confidence that as long as we tackle the coming weeks together, we can make it.

Socializing and Other Stressful Things

Meet Silvia.

Silvia is our new mascot. She is a stuffed rat that my sister taxidermied for one of her classes. Silvia has decided to accompany us on our adventure, because my sister’s boyfriend does not want her to stay in his house in Boston while we are away.

Perhaps I should introduce my sister. Her name is Erin. For this adventure, we are pretending to be twins. This is her with a bowl on her head. As personalities go, we make very compatible twins.


Erin is actually 23 and has graduated from Middlebury, but for the purposes of this SEA Semester adventure, she is 20, a junior at Middlebury, and has adopted my birthday so we can turn 21 together in March.

Just as Erin is not actually 20, Silvia is not actually female. In fact, Silvia used to be a male rat with certain “frighteningly large” attributes. Erin decided not to stuff those, so Silvia now lives her life out as a female stuffed rat.

As we drove to Woods Hole from Boston on Tuesday, Silvia adorned our dashboard, sprinkling it with dandruff as her lovely white cotton ball eyes gazed down the rainy roads. Finally, after months of anticipation, we were on our way.

Fortunately, Silvia did not accompany us to orientation. She may have given us a great conversation starter, however, I’m not sure how much she would increase our chances of making friends.

Perhaps it was Silvia’s absence, but it seems that we have successfully made friends in what I would consider record time. I was shocked by how many different kinds of people are in this program. East coast, west coast, that middle part. Even Italy and Mexico. Yet despite the differences, each and every one of these individuals is incredibly friendly, charismatic, and very willing to play frisbee.

I live in “A” house, while Erin lives in “B” house. Since houses spend a lot of time together doing daily activities such as cooking, grocery shopping, talking about feelings, and sliding down the stairs on mattresses, it doesn’t take long to bond with your housemates.

After orientation, Wednesday dawned bright and sunny, reminding all of us that we were starting school again. We were familiarized with classes, professors, and the community of Woods Hole.

The tour of Woods Hole was especially fascinating, with the visit to its Marine Biological Laboratory Library being the highlight. Very casually, our guide pulled out old science journals, Nobel Prizes, and even a signed copy of the Origin of Species.


Old science journals – each is hand-painted with illustrations of each species.




Yup. A real signed copy of Origin of Species.


A Nobel Prize for the discovery of green fluorescent protein – a discovery based in Woods Hole.

Within the first couple days, Nautical Science has quickly become my favorite class. I’m relieved that most other people have also never sailed before. This probably shouldn’t comfort me, but at least we’re all clueless together. In this class, we cover topics like reading “charts” (the nautical word for “maps”, apparently), celestial navigation, knots, and other important topics pertaining to how we will actually sail this boat thing.

Sailing this boat thing will require a little more than just Nautical Science, it turns out. It will also require all the twenty-two students aboard to put aside small squabbles or grudges, and work together as a team. Within the first three days, there are already some very interesting and charming characters emerging. My roommates are boisterous and endearingly inappropriate. My housemates are a calm and jovial group, with many gushy feelings, delicious recipes, and never-ending support to share with each other.

As the days go by, my other classmates’ personalities have become more and more evident. As we prepare to spend six weeks basking in each other’s body odors, it’s nice to know that I’ll get along well with everyone in this group. Everyone here is slowly but surely cohering as a (semi) functional group, and this gives me hope that in a few short weeks, we may actually be able to do this sailing thing.

An Unwelcome Vacation

A college campus during finals is filled with stress and emotions. Heavily-caffeinated and unshowered individuals scurry around, overcome with not only the strain of classes, but the overwhelming nostalgia of another semester ending. The stress reduces students to emotional wrecks, and study time soon becomes time spent crying over a stapler, or spilling out one’s heart and soul to one of the geckos in the biology department. Not that any of these occurrences have ever happened to me, mind you.

I especially dreaded this fall semester’s ending, because it meant that I would have to endure a two month break before I could start my semester abroad. Now, of course I love spending time with my family, and a little bit of relaxing is fine by me. But there was no way I could possibly endure two months of inactivity – sitting on the couch, watching Downton Abbey with my parents, and going to my mother’s yoga classes. If that was my life for two months, I might as well take up knitting and adopt a cat. I genuinely wished that I could completely skip over these two months and be in Boston, ready to start SEA Semester.

The Sea Education Association (SEA) is a field-based environmental education program where students spend six weeks taking classes at Woods Hole, an oceanographic research community on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They then spend around six weeks at sea on a research vessel. Once aboard, along with academic and research duties, students serve as active crew members, navigating, cooking, and fixing toilets (so I’m told). Starting February 16th, I will spend six weeks at Woods Hole, taking classes and designing a research project to complete once aboard the ship. Starting at the end of March, I will fly to New Zealand with my classmates, and board the SSV Robert C. Seamans, a sailing research vessel. After six weeks at sea, we will arrive in Tahiti in early May.

So with that intimidating description, you may be wondering if I have any idea what I’m doing. The short answer is no. I’m from Idaho, and have never been to sea. Do I get seasick? Probably. Do I know which end of the ship is which? Maybe. But rest assured that I can swim, and can even tie a few climbing knots. Yup. I’m one-hundred percent qualified for this adventure.

I’ve been looking forward to SEA Semester for a very long time now. I’m eager for more research experience, and SEA’s work with plastics especially fascinates me. SEA has the longest record of ocean plastics to date, and their research is used around the world. I can’t wait to get elbow-deep in some real field research. Or a bucket of seaweed, at the very least.

That promise of real research was, unfortunately, two months away. Faced with the inevitable agony of two months at home, I formulated a plan to keep me busy. I signed up for an online computer programming class, started working at my local ski resort, Bogus Basin, and began helping out at my old horseback riding teacher’s place. Needless to say, I was no longer bored. In fact, I was almost no longer sleeping. Success! I thought. I wouldn’t give myself time to think about how bored I was, and I would be in Boston in no time!

But, as always, these two months weren’t about to let me off so easily. All I had wanted was a normal and tedious job to make me feel productive (and help pay tuition…) until I could happily depart for Boston. But no. Bogus decided to be different. As I began working in the kitchen there, I became charmed by the flow of the kitchen. Sharp knives, hot food, and inappropriate humor flew from every corner of the crowded space, and for some reason, it sucked me in. The people there sucked me in. From snowball fights in the kitchen to hernia jokes, these people were relentless in their ability to force their friendship upon me.

So now as SEA Semester inches nearer, I remember my wish from a couple months ago – to be done with this long break. Yet now, with this long-anticipated ending looming ahead, I find myself back in my finals week state. Soon, I’ll be talking to a squirrel about my feelings. And what would I say to that squirrel? I’d tell it how much I will miss the bickering, the dancing, and the bus conversations from all my Bogus pals.

So as this long winter break winds to a close, I can only hope that SEA Semester will make for an experience that’s just as painful for me to end as this unexpectedly delightful winter break.