The hour was 1330 and my location was 18°52.37 N x 075°16.10 W. My task: to identify 100 of the tiny organisms that made up the goop I was peering at through an on-deck microscope. The rolling of the ship was magnified through the scope; I had to duck outside to steady my stomach. There were many logical reasons why a creative writing major was on this scientific research vessel in the Caribbean, ones I had dutifully detailed in my study abroad application. Of course I wanted to broaden my horizons and explore new academic disciplines. The program’s exploration of colonization and conservation complemented my Macalester education very well.
What I didn’t admit in my application was the truest reason I wanted to do a semester at sea: I started dreaming of sailing adventures as a child, flipping through the pages of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  I didn’t explain that for years I’d been writing stories about girls sailing on old-fashioned ships. I didn’t tell Macalester that my goal in studying abroad was not language acquisition, research, or a homestay, but rather something that seemed too naïve to admit: an adventure on the open seas.

Adventure is what I found. I balanced on the shrouds under the bowsprit while dolphins leapt under my feet. I steered through squalls and high seas (and I swear I nearly capsized us). I shot sun lines with a sextant, booted violently over the side, and climbed aloft to furl the tops’l. I even found a copy of Charlotte Doyle in the ship library and read it while curled up on a deck box. I accumulated a wealth of material to call upon for future writing.

Even though I lived out an idealized childhood adventure, the most exciting experiences were those in which my perspective changed or I gained a greater understanding of history, science, or humanity. I spent my semester bobbing through the vast blue spill that unites us all, and I stopped defining our world by the crust around the edges. While many study abroad experiences immerse people in a new culture and language, I experienced a force that transcends the divisions we experience on a daily basis. I learned a great deal about Macalester’s favorite themes—how colonization has shaped the reality of many nations, how complex and difficult conservation can be, and how important it is to examine subjects in an interdisciplinary fashion.

The real adventure, the discovery that I bring back to my daily life at Macalester, is that the world is so much bigger than everything we have already defined and dissected. We may understand a great deal, but there is so much left to experience and discover.

March 18 2013

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