Posted: January 4, 2012

Name: Sophia Wassermann
School: Vassar College
Major: Environmental Studies
Program: Marine Resource Management Studies, Fall ’11

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
It’s a little bit of a cop-out to say that my favorite part was being there every day, but it’s the truth. My favorite part of the program was sharing this amazing experience with some of the best people I have ever met. The whole experience, from the research to the Saturday nights to even the bugs would mean so much less without the companionship and support I had from the amazing group of students I shared it with.

You’ve been in the Turks and Caicos Islands for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
The island now seems to me to be a place of contradictions. On one hand, Americanization is fairly prominent.  On the other hand, it is so alien to everything I’m used to at home. The locals are friendly as a group, but some are friendly through and through and some are filled with approbation about the program. Some of them are very interested in what we have to say concerning their practices, and some have no desire to discuss the fishing practices they’ve been practicing for years. It’s a unique place filled with its unique problems, but generally facing the same issues as the rest of the world, such as a treacherous economy and environmental degradation.

What is life at The SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
Life at the field station is greatly dependent on who you’re with! Everything (and I mean everything) happens in close quarters with everyone else. It’s easy to become frustrated with people for their habits, and its necessary to keep a level head! There are wonderful aspects as well, such as always having someone to take a walk or watch a movie with, or hold deep, meaningful conversations (there were a lot of those!). It’s a transition to do everything with the same people. Your professors are also your chefs in the kitchen, your roommates are your research partners. Personal space becomes an issue of perspective, created by a mosquito net or a bench facing away from the action. It’s a new world, filled with its own customs and patterns.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
Academically, the largest challenge was getting my work and reading done on time!  There was so much else to do, so many people to talk to that my natural inclination towards procrastination became even stronger.  Culturally, the biggest challenge was getting up the courage to go over and talk to the locals. We have such a good relationship with the island because we build individual relationships, and I found it challenging to begin some of my own.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
My favorite memory is one of the dives during our research when we were circled by a reef shark on the bottom and then up at the safety stop. At the time I was terrified, not knowing what to do if the shark got too close.  However, looking back, it was a pretty incredible experience, a really connection to that underwater world!

Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
Frozen, nostalgic, content.