Welcome, Spring ’13!

Happy New Year! Stephanie here again at the blogging helm, writing with thoughts on the start of the semester from the perspective of a Williams-Mystic staff member and recent alumna. If you’re a new reader or a parent/guardian/friend of one of our current students, welcome! I’m so happy that you’re here and sharing in this experience—we’re very excited for the Spring ’13 semester to get underway and for the adventure to begin!

The month of January was certainly a busy one here at the Williams-Mystic offices: we’ve been working hard finalizing travel plans for our upcoming field seminars, preparing for the launch of our new website, and anticipating the arrival of the next class. Amongst these tasks was the renovation of Johnston House, one of five student homes on our campus. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mary O’Laughlin, our Director of Finance and Administration, we were able to complete the renovations in time for the house to welcome occupants yesterday on S’13 arrival day. While it certainly was hard work, I enjoyed working with my colleagues as we assembled couches and tables, placed pots and pans in the kitchen cabinets, and made the house into a home. From new living room furniture to colorful artwork and tons of light, Johnston joins the rest of our houses as a fully updated student house that four students will call home for the next 17 weeks.

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As I mentioned above, yesterday was arrival day for the Spring ’13 class, which brought students from far and wide to our campus here in Mystic, Connecticut. Arrival day is one of my favorite days here: I truly enjoy meeting the students who we’ve interviewed and emailed for the last few months, along with their families and friends who helped them get here. This class in particular is special, as it brings us to our 1,500th student at Williams-Mystic. This past September, we celebrated our 35th year as an academic organization—that’s 72 semesters of interdisciplinary maritime study! Each class is immortalized in the halls of Labaree House with a class picture, where the familiar faces of many of our faculty and staff greet me each day when I come into work. And in just a few months, S’13 will join them.

Heading home last night, I felt a quiet happiness come over me as I drove past our now occupied student homes and saw the soft glow of lamps through the falling snow. It reminded me of my own time at Mystic, now two years in the past. I remain grateful to have returned as a staff member and to now have the opportunity to share in the experiences of another class. Together we will set sail of the Florida Straits, trek to the West coast and back, and watch the flowers bloom as spring returns to New England. Tonight we’re headed to break bread at the first community dinner, the traditional start to the semester. I for one am looking forward to a good meal, good company, and the start of something new and wonderful.

I’ll sign off with a welcoming quote for the new class, one that offers perspective and I hope inspires you for the next seventeen week:

“It isn’t by getting out of the world that we become enlightened, but by getting intothe world…by getting so in tunedin that we can ride the waves of our existence and never get tossed because we become the waves.” – Ken Kesey

Fair Winds,

Stephanie

Reflections on F12: Living and Learning with Intention

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It has been just over one week since F12’s closing brunch. Our class loved sharing this time of closure with the incredible staff and professors who we already miss; our last few days in Albion, Carr, Kemble, and Mallory Houses were filled with lots of laughs, lots of cleaning, and lots of hugs.

My bags from the past semester still sit on the floor of my bedroom (I’ll unpack tomorrow, I promise), though I’ve pulled out my flash drive of photos, my ditty bag, and my copy of Moby-Dick. The watch on my wrist still reads in 24-hour time.  I’m still in search of one of the hooks I made in the shipsmithing shop, though the other sits atop my bookshelf waiting for a wall to become its new home. On my dresser (AKA the collector’s shelf) I have a redwood pinecone, a sand dollar, and an empty shell of good ol’ Littorina littorea. My prized item is a hunk of clam’s shell that was eaten away by a sponge, with a beautiful matrix of purple and white tubes.

These physical reminders of my time with Williams-Mystic are important to me, but they are dwarfed next to the magnitude of the less concrete lessons I walked away with. Most distinctly, I know that I have learned the importance of intention­—to travel, to live, to read, to research, to adventure, and to form community with intention.

I have always felt wonder upon arriving at a new beach or taking in a breathtaking ocean vista. This wonder is an important part of traveling for me, and it has been since I first toddled onto Rehobeth Beach, DE on a family vacation. Williams-Mystic has taught me to do more than just wonder, however­. It has taught me to inquire, to discuss, to observe details, and to remember. I will probably never be lucky enough to travel again with experts in marine ecology, oceanography, sea literature, marine policy, and maritime history…it’s like having an encyclopedia with a sense of humor driving your van! But these professors have taught me what questions to ask the next time I visit a new coast, beach, or town. They have taught me that an intentional, inquisitive interaction with a place is so much more productive than a trip filled with wonder alone.

Williams-Mystic taught me about travel but also about living intentionally at home as part of a community. The members of F12 have come to rely on one another for all kinds of support: in Mystic, it’s impossible to simply live in a room next to someone; the relationships built from being shipmates, classmates, and housemates are strong and built on a foundation of intentional community. I know I will be in touch with my fellow F12s for many years to come. It won’t often happen by accident, since we are spread around the country and the world. But these friendships will last because we know that our community is worth maintaining. Living in such an intense and caring community has taught me to approach all new places with the intention to create meaningful bonds.

I am entering a new semester at Williams in 2013 with a renewed vigor for academics, completely inspired by my research projects at Williams-Mystic. At college I have often felt that I have merely skimmed the surface of a vast subject (political theory, maybe, or genetics) by the time I have taken my final exam and sold my books at the end of the semester. My research projects, as guided and inspired by my lectures and reading materials in all four of the classes I took in Mystic, have taught me to research and to write with intention. I am walking away from this semester with the confidence and enthusiasm to conduct independent research. Having the detailed attention of my professors at such a cozy institution as Williams-Mystic has inspired me. I couldn’t bear to sell any of my books from this semester, and for the first time I don’t feel as if my journey with them is over. I even search daily for updates on the wind farm project I researched for marine policy class.

While I still feel as though I have only skimmed the surface of the vast oceans, I now have the intention and ability to pursue these studies further. Whether my ocean studies continue in a classroom or in my own research and travels, I know with certainty that I am not finished learning about the ocean. As a biology major and a concentrator in leadership studies, I will not always be reading or researching about the ocean. However, the lessons I have learned at Williams-Mystic will inform all of my academic work in the future.

I am so grateful to have been able to experience Williams-Mystic, and I am filled with excitement for the class of S13, who are probably wondering about their new housemates and beginning packing their bags right now…

Fair Winds,

Anna