When you sail across the Atlantic Ocean, there are dolphins everywhere all the time. Dolphins must enjoy following boats, because whenever Ben Berejka saw them, they were alongside the ship or swimming toward it. They would spin and flip, coasting along the bow wake like they were surfing. At night, shooting stars darted across the sky. Sometimes grey rainbows stretched from horizon to horizon, arching over a bioluminescent sea.
“Living on a boat for 90 days made me a more honest person. I learned the best way to be is to just be yourself.” says Ben Berejka, ‘20 who sailed from Nice France to the British Virgin Islands in Fall of 2018. Berejka, a biology major with minors in studio art and anthropology, was one of a handful of molecular biology and biology majors who went abroad this past semester. Balancing an abroad experience with major requirements can be tricky, but it is possible.
“I would recommend the program to anyone as long as you are overloading your schedule before you go and are prepared to overload it when you get back” Berejka says, half joking. Berejka’s abroad experience was a little unusual, because his program wasn’t accredited by the college. He can still graduate on time, but his credits didn’t transfer over.
“I knew my sophomore fall that this wasn’t going to count for credit and I was like I’m going to do this anyways. I wanted to work with marine animals, and since I go to school in Ohio, I had to go somewhere else if I wanted to experience marine biology and get my diving certifications. I also knew I wanted to spend as much time on a boat as possible.”
“I did a lot of homework. If you’re going to waive a semester of residency you have to really know your program. You have to know backwards and forwards the programs you could have taken and why you chose yours.”
Before going abroad Berejka had never been on a boat. Afterwards, he was advanced open water certified. He also took classes in marine biology, oceanography, seaman-ship and leadership.
“While we were sailing we had two fishing lines out the back. If we caught a fish we would do an impromptu anatomy lesson. We would dissect it, inspect the contents of its stomach for plastics, and talk about its life history traits. Then we would have it for dinner that night.”
With his new diving certification, Berejka has dreams of training California sea lions and bottle-nose dolphins for the US navy. For now, he has to readjust to Kenyon life.
“It’s a culture shock to be back. On the boat, we were disconnected from social media. We had to become comfortable being quiet or find a way to socialize. Now, when I’m hanging out with friends and we reach a moment of awkward silence, everybody reaches for their phone even if there’s nothing there. I hate that.”
Sometimes when Berejka is in class and looks out the window, he starts daydreaming about the waves.
Going abroad doesn’t necessarily mean crossing the ocean. Two biology majors, Fiona Ellsworth, 20’ and Gracie Gavazzi, 20’, both stayed in the US to do research. In fact, going abroad as a biology major doesn’t necessitate studying biology. Ellsworth spent her abroad experience in Chicago, conducting an independent history project.
“Although I am a biology major, I spent a semester doing history research at the Newberry Library in Chicago. I had an amazing time both working at the Newberry and exploring the city. I loved taking time off from my science studies to write and research about history, but I also managed to occasionally weave my science background into my work. My final research project was on Cholera in the Nineteenth Century, and while most of my 50 page paper was focused on the influences of immigration and poverty on government health policies, I enjoyed explaining how the Vibrio cholerae microbe interacted with its host, drawing on knowledge from the Microbiology course I took at Kenyon.”
Grace Gavazzi spent her semester at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where she was able to conduct field research, take classes and head an independent research project at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Gavazzi had not been planning to go abroad, but she knew the program would be a fantastic opportunity to do research in her area, and her advisor was very supportive. Looking back, Gavazzi says the program was perfect for a prospective environmental researcher. She was surrounded by peers with similar interests, worked with mentors in her field, and attended classes that were both interesting and academically rigorous.
“This photo actually won me second place in the photo contest that they do every year during the Semester in Environmental Science. I had an amazing opportunity to work on an independent research project of my choosing and I chose to see how nitrogen loading into ecosystems affects the grazing of marsh cordgrass by small invertebrates in New England marshes. The tiny blobs on the picture are actually snail bites left by a kind of marsh snail that I was studying. I actually made the agar with small ground up flecks of marsh cordgrass so that the snails would have a medium to eat on. To me the bites look like little wet footprints. I am thoroughly grateful for this opportunity that I had because it really gave me a feel as to what an ecosystems scientists really has to do in order to pursue a research topic. I highly recommend this program to anyone in the science department that has interest in biology, ecology, or environmental science.”
For Gavazzi, a day abroad meant spending hours counting snail bites on agar, while Ellsworth spent her afternoon researching cholera. Meanwhile, Berejka fought sea sickness in a classroom miles from land. Now that they are back at Kenyon, all three describe their experiences as transformational and encourage others to spend a semester abroad as well. As for finding the right program, their advice is as diverse as the trips they went on.
“Go abroad” Berejka says, “and do something as different as possible from what you are doing here. Kenyon doesn’t have everything. If you’re going to go abroad, do something completely out of your comfort zone. Do something you’re interested in, but broaden your horizons.”
Gavazzi agrees it’s important to find a program that “really interests you”. She suggests that prospectives should “really take the time to mull it over and immerse yourself in your experience once you’re there.”
According to Ellsworth, it’s important to “not feel confined by your major when choosing an OCS program. While I’m happy to be back studying Biology in the Squad, I wouldn’t change a thing about my amazing semester studying history in Chicago.”
The recollections of Berejka, Gavazzi and Ellsworth have made me even more excited for my own trip abroad in a year, and I’m eager to hear more. For those who have gone abroad, what was your experience like? How did it change you? Did you befriend any dolphins as they swam alongside your boat? Did you see rainbows at night?
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