The pandemic has altered futures and disrupted many students’ academic paths and potential jobs. I find myself at the center of this. In 2020 we all assumed it would pass like everything else and we could go back to “normal.”
I was a sophomore at Smith College full of drive and hope, applying to over 20 internships for the summer and looking forward to my study abroad the following spring in 2021. One by one, each internship got canceled, never knowing if I even qualified for any of them and still, I had hope. Fall semester comes and it’s online. I struggle but it is not the academics I can’t keep up with – it’s everything else. I have computer science at 6am, three times a week, because at home I have a 3-hour time difference from school and if anyone knows me, I am anything but a morning person. My cat of 19 years passes, a presence that has been there all my life, left at one of I’m hardest moments.
Isolated, I have no “study bodies” or friends to cry or laugh with, I leave a 2-year relationship, and am left with so much pain and frustration. Grasping at solutions I do see, I don’t feel, I don’t work, waiting for time to do the work for me. However, I still have my study abroad to look forward to the next semester and I cling to that with everything I have. I have applied and been approved to go to Australia and study the Great Barrier Reef. My disaster semester comes to an end and I don’t feel accomplished, just depleted. It’s a month before my study abroad when I get the email: it’s cancelled. Devastated, I apply to classes and show up at Smith which is still online. My friends are happy to see me, and we make it one of the most memorable semesters I’ve had at Smith.
Studying abroad was something I wanted to do no matter what, and while SEA Semester is technically not abroad this year, it was a place the pandemic couldn’t possibly reach me because of the ship aspect. However, the pandemic would not be my biggest challenge. As a little girl, my family could not go on a road trip until I was around 8 years old. I would get motion sickness just going to and from the grocery store. I’ve since learned to always travel with ginger slices and a lemon. Even now, I get motion sickness on planes and when I attempt to play video games. Despite all this, I apply to SEA Semester, fully aware that a big part of it would be on a ship. The confirmation comes and I am beyond excited.
The program starts in Woods Hole Massachusetts with an academic on-shore portion. Meeting so many new people is a shock after being isolated for so long. My two roommates help me navigate my lows and encourage me during my highs. After experiencing a week-long power outage resulting from storms with winds upwards of 90mph, freezing from lack of heat and ice cold showers, we fly to the U.S Virgin Island of St. Croix. Here, it is always 80 degrees Fahrenheit with an added 70% humidity. It’s great. A week later we are on the SSV Corwith Cramer and I’m not seasick! From here we sail between the islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas, snorkeling and taking samples of the coral reefs. I see turtles, rays, fishes with so many colors as well as flying fish!
Then we start to sail for real, leaving the land behind and going down towards the British Virgin Islands, Guadalupe, and Martinique. I get sick almost immediately. I’m out for about 3 days wondering when it’ll end.
During the day I’m curled up on the deck and at night I stare up at the stars as I’m tossed around. I throw up overboard, in the toilets, and in all the wrong places as well - on the deck, in the shower and in Macy’s goldfish… Kelly seemingly popping out of nowhere to clean up my messes like it nothing. Mahalia always around to lift my spirits. I watch as life goes on around me wondering when I’ll get to join it. The three days come to an end, and I can eat real food, have conversations, and sleep at night. But it’s far from over since writing papers, being in the lab, and going below deck are all a gamble.
I’m tired of feeling mildly sick, not enough to throw up just enough to be really uncomfortable. I lose sight of why I came and what makes me happy.
That day, we see dolphins and a whale! I start to work with my sickness and become really efficient when I am not sick. Looking at the waves for hours on end, I see their deep blue beauty, bright blue tips all topped with white frosting. More dolphins come riding the waves like children playing in a water park. “They are majestic beings but definitely not graceful” one of my classmates’ comments as they belly flop and backflip off the waves. On my dawn watch I wait as the sun slowing rises, mesmerized by the pale purple color adorning the clouds. On my evening watches I watch the sun slowly sink below the horizon into the ocean, the sky staying pink long after it sets.
At night I watch the moon sparkles on the waves and in the day the sun sparkles. When in lab I’m shook by the creatures we pull from the ocean - tiny fish, strange globs, and so many “cocopodes.” (I recently learned they are called copepods.) Every day is a battle, sometimes I win and sometimes I don’t. On my good days I’m a sponge taking it all in, trying to learn as much as possible; on my bad days I stare at the ocean trying to memorize the waves.
I can’t tell you it was all I had hoped for and more, that it made up for everything I had lost to the pandemic. However, I can tell you that I saw so many magical things, learned hard lessons I couldn’t have done anywhere else, and met some amazing people. I do know for certain that I will not be getting on another 130ft tall ship in the near future.
In the end I am endlessly grateful I had the opportunity for this experience and am thankful to everyone who made it possible: Amadi for her endless playlists/crazy personality/someone to vent to, So for their art inspiration/night walks and talks, Macy for her continual encouragement, and Mahalia for her ability to put up with me at 1am
Thank you for listening:)
Maya Morales, A /Starboard Watch, Smith College ‘22
P.S To family: Hi guys! I’m alive! Also I’ll be ready for foody when I get
back:) and hopefully sab will vacate my bed. See you soon!