Prank Wars and Pasta Dinners: A Q&A With Fall ’17

By Katrina Orthmann (University of Minnesota ’19), the student blogger for Fall 2017.  

What was the most rewarding or impactful experience you had on a field seminar?


One of the coolest experiences I had was aboard the [US Brig] Niagara and began with the Chief Mate asking if I wanted to climb aloft and help furl the fore-topgallant; I confused the topgallant with the topsail and responded with an enthusiastic “sure!” For those of you who don’t know, the topgallant is way higher than the topsail. I climbed up to the fighting top, looked to the topsail – where I thought I was going – and no one was there. So I looked a little higher… and there were Bosun Matt and my shipmate John. I climbed higher and higher until I reached the topgallant, laid out, and started furling. I was scared out of my mind but Matt distracted me from my anxiety by pointing out landmarks in Erie and the setting sun. I swore I could see Earth curving around us. Afterwards I climbed the long way down, shaking with adrenaline but longing to go back up. It was such a beautiful and powerful experience, seeing the boat below me, and all my shipmates seeming so tiny – chatting and laughing and happy. 


Every field seminar has generated moments of extraordinary emotion and intellectual stimulus. However, I found the most impactful location to be the Redwood Forest in California. After learning about so many problems and controversies on the field seminars, it was refreshing to visit a place so tranquil and soothing.



The most rewarding experience I’ve had as a part of Williams-Mystic was sailing aboard the Niagara. That field seminar brought to life so much I’ve learned about sailing and sailors, from the bond with your ship to the hard work and dedication of a crew. The night of the “All-Hands” call, when we were frantically hauling in sails in the middle of a squall, everything ended up fine because we took care of the ship and she took care of us. That’s not a lesson you can easily learn from a book.


Being on the field seminars helped open my eyes to the challenges and perspectives of people across the country. For example, in Louisiana, we met people who refused to let the loss of land keep them from leaving their homes.  It’s easy to question their decisions to stay given all the challenges they face, but when you meet them and hear their stories, you begin to understand their perspectives and the importance of fighting for their homes. The field seminars directly exposed us to issues we can sometimes be ignorant to; they have made me want to be more proactive, to educate others, and to join the fight to make this world a little bit better.

What has been the best house dinner you’ve had?



The best dinners are the ones we have with other houses. My favorite was the time we had wings, but I also enjoyed the salmon dinner we had the other night. Our group chat is always active with people asking for ingredients and inviting others over to eat. It is probably my favorite part of Mystic!


Johnston House has some pretty good dinners. My favorite so far has been when my housemate Kim made Dominican beans and I made honey mustard chicken.  We’ve also had some yummy enchiladas, pastas, risottos, and Asian-themed dinners.


On Family and Friends Day, Mallory hosted a pasta dinner with our families and people from other houses. Mallory’s dinners tend to be very social, and we have a tradition of going around the table and telling five-minute life stories. That night we went around the table and everyone told two-minute stories. It was really fun hearing the parents tell stories about our classmates when they were younger, and it was really nice to get to know everyone a little better in general.

Where is your favorite place to study?


I like to study at any of the numerous coffee shops in Mystic. While I love Bartleby’s, one of the baristas is so friendly and chatty that I sometimes can’t get much work done. My personal favorite is Sift Bake Shop; their pastries are so delicious it’s unreal. If one of Sift’s croissants or macarons can’t motivate me to write a paper, nothing can.


I like to study in Carlton [Marine Science Center]; there’s usually a bunch of us in there at any given time, which is kind of fun. Also there’s a coffee maker and a mini-fridge – what else could you ask for? The Savoy Bookshop in Westerly is another really cool place, but sometimes I spend more time looking at books than doing my homework.

IMG_1226 (1)

How do you spend your free time in Mystic?


Most of my free time is spent walking through the town. To call Mystic scenic doesn’t begin to do it justice. Mystic epitomizes the peaceful New England town and the idyllic setting makes going for a walk well worth it.


I was worried about being in such a small town since I go to school in New York City, but there’s so much to do here. In my free time I like to explore the town and find new restaurants, coffee shops, and bookstores. I’ve also tried to take advantage of the parks and river here while the weather is still warm.


I love to wander around the Mystic Seaport Museum in my spare time. The exhibits are not only fascinating and alive but the people who tend them are equally engaging and interesting. Making friends among the staff is fun. They’ve taught me a lot I would never have thought to ask in class. Plus, the more you learn the more you’ll want to stay, and who knows? You might become one of them someday. I also work at the shipyard any chance I get, helping to restore the Mayflower II as my student job. The shipwrights are extraordinary people and it feels great to be a part of the project.

What have been the best house-to-house pranks played so far?


This semester has seen a bit of a prank war develop between Mallory and Carr. It all started when we bragged in the group chat about the fried Oreos we made, so Carr house came and stole them. This spurred a full-on war between houses in which a tire swing and toaster were stolen, furniture was rearranged, and even our house’s portrait of P.R. Mallory was stolen. Not to worry though; Mallory House has big plans to avenge Mr. Mallory.


I think the best house prank we played was hiding Mr. Mallory’s portrait in our living room. He liked it there. The length and ingenuity of the prank served to reinforce our superiority in the forever-debated case of Carr House v. Mallory House. However, stealing Johnston’s sign (twice! They still haven’t noticed the second time…) and displaying it in Carlton was hilarious, as was the time we replaced Mallory’s toaster oven with the “Roller Toaster” matchbox car (get it? For Carr House?)


Is there anything you want to tell prospective students about Williams-Mystic?


This program is hard but it is so, so worth it. I’ve never had so much fun or experienced so much while traveling, and I’ve made such good friends. The workload is no joke, but the professors are always willing to help, as is everyone else. 



This semester I have made the most extraordinary friends – people with whom I can sail 1812 warships and play Avalon for hours in the New Orleans airport. 


This program will be one of the hardest things you ever do academically, but the things you’ll learn, the people you’ll meet, and the places you’ll visit will make the hard work worth it. Not to mention, you should take advantage of any opportunity given to you, from surfing to learning the Argentine Tango and anything in between.


Coming here will be the best decision of your life! You will learn so much and meet some really incredible people. Don’t you want to be a part of something this unique and special? You will become a part of this community for life.

Author: Williams-Mystic

An interdisciplinary ocean and coastal studies program integrating marine science, maritime history, environmental policy, and literature of the sea. All majors welcome and 100% of financial need met!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: