Fall’16 begins!

Hi all! Mauro, Assistant Director of Admissions, here with a quick introduction: the Fall 2016 semester began on August 22nd, with our newest crew of 17 students coming from 12 different colleges and universities. Students very quickly “learned the ropes” (or “lines,” rather) of the WM way of life since day 2 of their semester started with boarding the Mystic Whaler for a short 2.5 day Block Island Sound excursion, which our newest blogger Hannah Thomas writes about below. Everyone welcome Hannah and let’s ready ourselves for another exciting semester full of adventures told from her point of view–take it away, Hannah!

Week 1

There is a certain level of anxiety and excitement that comes with the start of every semester. Freshman year the prospect of college was thrilling, and I remember that while the thought of moving nine hours away and meeting new people made me a little sweaty, the excitement of starting what many refer to as the best years of their lives won out.

After a year of transferring colleges, crippling anxiety and the fear inducing realization that the best years of my life might be further down the road, entering my sophomore year intimidated me. Much like my freshman year, it left a lot to be desired. Classes were interesting yet not as challenging as people promised they would be, my social life on campus was non-existent, and my only respite was the weekends when I got to work at Mystic Seaport which I cornily refer to as my “Happy Place.”

Having worked at the Seaport for three years I associate the tall ships and smell of codfish with physical activity and good people. I am my happiest and best self at the Seaport. Not only is the museum home to the last surviving wooden whaleship (huzzah!), but it also is home to perhaps the most concentrated group of hardworking, intelligent, and kind people I’ve ever encountered. Suffice to say, I love it, and I want to spend all of my time there. I am a huge nerd.

Rather than allowing me to worry away the summer thinking about another year at the same old institution, I was encouraged by my coworkers and mother to apply to Williams-Mystic so that I could go to school, have incredible life experiences, and be happy all at the same time. For the first time in years, the start of a semester brought with it a sense of hope and excitement that I thought I had lost somewhere during my freshman year.

Orientation began like many do. We, the students, spent the first day moving into our assigned houses. I was fortunate enough to be placed in Albion which is perhaps the cleanest and definitely the greenest (in color) of the houses. I have a double and I still have more room than I do in my single at my home institution. Granted there is variety between houses, but honestly I think most people are pretty content with the living situation. I digress. After move-in we congregated on Seaport grounds for a brief introduction to the program and faculty and then we were fed – which obviously was great.

Following a fairly typical, albeit, enjoyable first dinner as a group, we returned to our houses to prepare for the next day’s far more unusual orientation activity. Maybe I have been oriented to schools one too many times, but the icebreakers, course selections, and awkward game nights have grown old. Fortunately for me, by day two we had set sail on the Mystic Whaler and were headed for Block Island. A quick disclaimer: the Mystic Whaler is not from Mystic, nor is it a whaleship, but it is still cool and was a lot of fun to sail on. As I mentioned previously, I work at Mystic Seaport. I am fairly familiar with sailboats and quite familiar with the area, but that did not mean that the Whaler was in anyway boring or unsatisfying. It was cool. Really cool. Again, this may sound nerdy, but keep in mind, there were no icebreakers. There was just a boat, a crew, our delightful faculty, and a group of seventeen college students who turned out to be far less nerdy than I had been picturing.

I do not want to assume things, but I feel like it is safe to say that an orientation that involves sailing on a schooner and throwing pancakes at the men who work the Mystic drawbridge is unique to Williams-Mystic. Unique, quirky, and fun. Somewhere along the line, and I am sorry that I do not remember the specifics, the crew of the Whaler made it their goal to serve the bridge controller breakfast every time they went by. I think he used to come over for breakfast when he was not working, or something like that. Regardless of the reasoning, the tradition has held fast, and as we motored down the river – sailing came later, fear not – seventeen bright students put their minds to the age old question of how to best throw a pancake at a drawbridge. Several of us opted for the Frisbee method, and while we tried our hardest, I think only one pancake, thrown by the captain himself, landed in the huge net that the bridge controller held out the window. Perhaps a lesson for this man to eat breakfast before he goes to work, rather than relying on the goodwill of a local schooner and her crew. It should be noted here that I am not athletic and therefore was not even close to getting my pancake in the net, but nobody made fun of me, which left me feeling like this group of people might be all right.

For two days, we sailed around Block Island Sound. We learned how to tack the boat which was very cool and far simpler than anything I have encountered on the square-rig vessels I am more familiar with (brag). While a lot of the focus was on sailing the Whaler, we also got an introduction to some of the material and people we would be working with. I could go into detail and probably say something science-y embarrassingly incorrectly, but instead I will just say that learning about the environmental issues in a body of water or region seem a lot more relevant when you are actually sailing on said body of water instead of when simply sitting in a classroom.

Many of us opted to sleep on deck at night, and some of us were even foolish enough to sleep on deck both nights. I say foolish not because it was really bad-it was just so cold. I usually pride myself on my preparedness but I do not think I could have been fully comfortable up on deck at night unless I had some twenty odd blankets and fleece footie pajamas. However, the romanticism of sleeping under the stars and staring up at masts won out for me – and many others – and so we slept on deck. And while I shivered under three thick wool blankets, it was a pretty memorable experience and definitely beat sleeping in a dorm room with cockroaches (which is what I have grown accustomed to).

After two full days of sailing we returned to our lovely campus, Mystic Seaport, and began to prepare more seriously for the semester ahead. Back at home we had communal living to explore, classes to start, and jobs and skills to select: all things I will happily cover in the days and weeks to come. In the meantime I have Oceanography homework to do and a Marine Policy snack to prepare. However, I would like to end each post with a final piece of wisdom from a movie about the sea.  When someone asks where you are sailing to, respond à la Jim Hawkins in the 1996 hit movie “Muppet Treasure Island,” and simply say “Wherever the wind may take us!” I am not saying this happened on the Mystic Whaler, but dang, wouldn’t it have been cool if it had?

Author: williamsmystic

A one semester interdisciplinary ocean and coastal studies program integrating marine science, maritime history, environmental policy, and literature of the sea.

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