Dow diving in a school of jacks in the British Virgin Islands. Photo by Jillian Dow.

At the start of 2019, I was feeling a bit lost as to what I was really wanting to get out of my college experience. I was in the midst of my second year of school, feeling like I was finally settling into attending the University of Maine at Machias (UMM) after transferring from the University of California at San Diego for the spring 2018 semester. I had just completed a successful season playing for the UMM women’s soccer team and was on track with my marine biology coursework. Still, I was having trouble finding direction with my education. Since I was in the second year of what I believed should be a straightforward four-year degree program, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to figure it out. 

I’ve been drawn to the ocean for as long as I can remember. I’m lucky enough to hail from a lobster fishing family in Downeast Maine, with many of my early memories involving trips to the beach or out on one of the family boats. For the last several years, I’ve spent summers aboard the R.L. Gott, a nature tour vessel operated by Island Cruises in Bass Harbor, Maine, educating visitors about the Maine lobster fishing industry and the importance of it to the community I come from. All of these are reasons I chose to pursue an education based around our incredible marine environments.

Over the summer, I took a geographic information systems-based internship on a project dealing with the proposed introduction of hydroelectric power to a small, coastal Maine community. Despite loving the research I was involved with, I missed my usual time on the water more than I ever imagined I would. By August, I was still feeling a little lost and had begun to question whether or not marine biology was even the right field for me to pursue.

Enter Sea|mester. On one particularly discouraging afternoon of internship work, I made a split-second decision to send in an application and see what happened next. I had considered studying abroad before this point, I had even considered Sea|mester, but the timing hadn’t been right; at least that’s what I told myself. The day after I submitted the application, I answered a call from a Sea|mester Admissions Counselor, and within a week the application process was moving forward. Less than two weeks before I was supposed to start classes for a normal semester at UMM, I took a chance and made plans to sign on as a crew member aboard the S/Y Ocean Star for the fall semester instead.

As I near the halfway point of my 80-day voyage through the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles (Oct. 29 marks day 40, and my first midterm is fast approaching), the greatest thing this trip has taught me is to just take chances. So far on this journey I have flown outside of the United States for the first time, and I did it alone. I have trekked through rainforests to reach volcanic peaks and leaped off a waterfall 40 feet high in Grenada. I stood on the edge of an active volcanic crater in St. Vincent, snorkeled with sea turtles in the Tobago Cays and dove on the wreck of a sunken cargo ship off of St. Kitts. This has truly been an opportunity of a lifetime, and exactly the change of pace I was needing to get to know myself better. I am pushing my limits with each new adventure and have found new energy to further my studies once I return home. I think the greatest thing that you can do for yourself is to leap out of your comfort zone every now and then and say yes to things that scare you. If you’re ever given the chance, I would strongly encourage you to do the same. You never know what good might come out of it.