Make a Memory

by Steph Trot

While academics are a prominent and excellent facet of Williams-Mystic, another important component is the community fostered by the program, Seaport, and town. I came to Williams-Mystic from Bryn Mawr College, which is deeply rooted in fostering a sense of community through tradition. We have four annual traditions that bring the entirety of the undergraduate population together to celebrate and honor one another. Each may be looked at as a right of passage, after which the younger students become a full member of the collegiate community.

Williams-Mystic is much the same, in that we have our own class traditions that bring us all together. One of the traditions is Sunday meeting, where our house sits down to discuss the upcoming week, plan out meals, and organize a trip to the grocery store. Another involves watching the Batman movies up here in Kemble House with pizza bites and homemade cookies.  From the very silly banana dance to meals with faculty and staff, it’s these little things that truly bond us together and define us as a class.

Last Sunday, several of these habitual class activities melded together into a truly wonderful day. While at first confused as to why my alarm was ringing at 7a.m., I quickly remembered that I had told a friend I’d go sailing with them out in Snapdragon.  My housemate was an impromptu guest, and together the three of us made our way onto the water and witnessed a glorious sunrise. From there, I met up with the rest of my house and we headed into town to have breakfast at the home of Rachel and Katie, who serve as our House Advisor/Science TA and Williams-Mystic Director of Admissions. Katie just got a new cat (Rosie!), who greeted us by skirting around the living room and then hiding under the couch. An alumni from the class of S’10 was there, who told us about memories from her semester and enriched the conversation.

Once the pancakes, bacon, and eggs had disappeared and Rosie had come out of her hiding place, I headed over to a nearby café to read Moby Dick for Literature with two other classmates. We ran into a member of the Seaport staff who had attended our Pacific Northwest Field Seminar and had a fun time catching. I really like how the Williams-Mystic community extends into the greater perimeters of Mystic – you never know who you’re going to run into while on the treadmill at YMCA up the road or who you’ll see while wandering through the bookstore by Mystic Pizza. But at the end of the day, it’s ultimately the most satisfying to walk through the front door of my house here and see the three happy and familiar faces of my housemates.

When I think back on the last 2 ½ months, I find it remarkable that I’ve become so close with 24 individuals whom I had never met. Yesterday I was working in Labaree House with another classmate, who asked me if I had achieved whatever goals I’d set for myself at the beginning of the program. I came to Williams-Mystic with an open-mind, ready to handle whatever was thrown my way and grow from the experience. I didn’t have any specific “goals,” like climb the rigging of the Conrad or learn how to sail on my own. I did, however, strive to take advantage of everything offered by Williams-Mystic, which I can happily say I’ve been doing. I would recommend the same to any future classmates: take out the Snapdragon, invite your advisor to lunch, watch the sunrise from the YTB dock, make a memory.

Fair winds!

Hands-on-learning

by Steph Trott

Another week in Mystic has gone by, and S’11 is as busy as ever! I’m happy to report that everyone performed well at Moot Court last Thursday and learned a tremendous amount about the legal practice of Marine Policy. After a weekend to recoup and work on a short essay for Maritime Literature, it’s back to the weekly routines of class, work, and maritime skills.

One of the academic reasons I was initially interested in Williams-Mystic was learning in a hands-on, experiential manner. In addition to having guest speakers visit, we often hold class in a location pertinent to an area we’re studying. This particularly applies to the Maritime History class, for which we start every class at a new location somewhere in the Seaport to listen to a presentation from a classmate. This mini-lecture, called Material Culture, usually involves a specific object that’s related to our readings and acts as a segway into the main lecture. For my Material Culture several weeks ago, I presented the Temple Toggle Iron, used in the prime days of the American whaling industry. While I utilized first-hand written accounts in my presentation research, I learned even more about the harpoon from Bill Scheer, who works in the James Driggs Shipsmith Shop. Over hot cocoa at my kitchen table, Bill thoroughly explained hidden details about the harpoon, its creator, and its construction. Everyone here is so eager to share their knowledge, which I find truly enriches this already unique semester.

In addition to our usual Material Culture presentation yesterday morning, we went on a walking tour of nearby Stonington Borough. While I’ve been visiting Stonington with my family for countless summers and would like to think that I’m familiar with the area, I learned a great deal about the village that I had never before known. It was fascinating to learn more about the Portuguese community that once thrived there, as well as to see first hand Greek Revival architecture dating back to the early 1800s.

Another form of hands-on learning happens two afternoons each week, when my classmates and I head onto the Seaport groups to partake in classes about traditional maritime skills. These skills, which include Demonstration Squad, Music of the Sea, Boat Handling, and Shipsmithing, offer the chance to study with a member of the Seaport staff who excels in a particular maritime trade. My skill is Demonstration Squad, in which four of my classmates and I learn about maritime skills such as sail making/handling, traditional life saving, and knot-tying.

Yesterday we climbed aloft on the Joseph Conrad, a square-rigged ship maintained by the Seaport as an exhibit and used by local schools and summer camps. The view from the yards on the Conrad is breathtaking: you can see the entirety of the Seaport grounds in just one sweep! Once back on the ground, we headed out on the river to practice rowing in the 30-ft. whaleboat. I’ve had experience rowing in the past, but never in something that required five people to operate! It was great to be on the water, and I’m hoping that the weather holds up tomorrow so that we can head back out.

While aloft on the Conrad, I spotted the new Williams-Mystic sailboat, Snapdragon, as she sailed back up the river on her maiden voyage. The absolutely gorgeous Nordica 16 was built in 1976 in Exeter, Canada and was donated to the program by the family of a W-M alumna. She’s the perfect vessel for students to learn and practice sailing, and I can’t wait to take her for a spin.

Fair Winds!

Louisiana, it’s all about the people

by Steph Trott

Hello hello! S’11 has once again returned to Mystic after yet another amazing experience away. As I wrote in my last entry, last week we visited the beautiful state of Louisiana for our final Field Seminar of the semester. It was such a treat to leave the early-Spring chill of New England for the sunshine, humidity, and warmth of the South.

We spent our first full day in New Orleans, which I had never before been to. After a walking tour around the famed French Quarter, we were given a few hours in which we explored the neighborhood, munched on beignets and chicory coffee (which you absolutely have to try if you’re ever in NOLA), and found some one-of-a-kind antique shops. After a cruise down the Mississippi on the steamboat Natchez, we drove through Thibodaux and stopped at Zam’s Swamp Tours for a guided expedition into the Bayou. We held some baby alligators, a yellow boa constrictor, and played with two adorable goats (who weren’t food for the gators, as some classmates led me to believe!).

We were very graciously hosted by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), which served as home base for the majority of our trip. I can’t say enough nice things about the facilities, the food, and the people who accommodated us. While the last two seminars have focused on finding a sense of place through the environment, this trip placed a heavy emphasis on the unique communities and people who inhabit the region. We met a man who caught his first gator when he was younger than we are, had an amazing and truly Southern lunch at the home of an influential Grand Isle resident, and were shown what we believe may be a 2,000 year old core sample by a Williams-Mystic alum. Seeing this tightly-knit community that so openly embraced a group of twenty-something college students made me think of my own community at home, and reminded me that it’s the people we choose to surround ourselves with the truly make our experiences unique.

Now, however, we’re back in Mystic and are putting our noses to the grindstone. This week our class is preparing for the tried and true W-M tradition known as Moot Court. In the simplest of terms, we’re going to be arguing a court case pertinent to Marine Policy in front of two judges. It involves a lot of reading and preparation, and ultimately counts toward our final class grade.  It’s certainly a lot of work, but I’m confident that my classmates and I will rise to the occasion and come through with great success.

In other news, this Saturday is Family and Friends Day! My parents will be making the drive up I-95 this Friday, and I’m really excited to show them everything I’ve been up to here. There’s going to be a lot going on, including talks by our faculty and staff, demonstrations in skill areas like shipsmithing and chantey singing, and a river tour on board the W-M vessel J&D.

Fair winds!