Just 18 days into the semester and I feel like I’ve been here for years, the fastest, most compact and dense years of my life. Coming in everyone said “every day feels like a month and every month feels like a day.” I was suspicious of how that was possible because the first few days felt never ending, but now looking back I don’t know where the last 18 days went. Its hard to choose one moment that stands out to me as more pivotal than others because almost everything I have done has been new and out of my comfort zone. Of all the things I’ve done, the one thing that stands out to me as most special and shareable is my first SCUBA dive. Coming into the Island School I was extremely scared to dive. It’s a whole new world, a new domain with unexpected, unpredictable variables that I am forced to deal with in the moment. I took my first breath under water and looked up as I descended, slowly feeling the pressure on my body increase. I watched the clouds become more and more obscured by the choppy surface waves. I said goodbye to the familiar and comfortable and looked down into the new world underneath me. Looking down I couldn’t see the bottom, only a large drop off and a blue abyss. We swam around the edge of the drop off and slowly descended into the unknown. It seemed surreal, as I looked to my side, inside the nooks in the surrounding limestone walls I could see foot long fish with sparking, bright scales. Even surrounded by dark water my eyes were dazzled by the bright coral, sunlight and colorful fish. I was in awe of the size of the fish and their gorgeous, brightly painted bodies. There was so much to take in and the majority of it I did not understand, but I was able to appreciate the cluelessness and embrace it. I came up from the dive shocked by everything I had just seen. I was speechless, unable to comprehend the new world I had just become a part of. Although this is simply the story of my first dive, it sounds very similar to my journey to the Island School. I was confused going into a world of unknowns. I embraced the discomfort and looked down, forgetting the surface, everything I knew and felt comfortable with. So far it has paid off, I have been dazzled and loved everything the Island School has to offer. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the semester has in store and to live every day to the fullest because once the three months are over I don’t want to leave wishing I had done more.
The moment I took my bag off the baggage claim, I was overwhelmed with joy at the start of my new adventure, and I became brave. I knew I could do this. I had never visited the Island School campus before, but with every bump on the road I got more and more excited to see it in person. Stepping onto the Island School campus, I suddenly felt at home. All the teachers welcomed us all with bright, smiling faces. The journey had begun. The first thing we did when we arrived was unpack. My luggage hadn't made it to the island, so everyone generously offered up their own belongings. It already felt like we were becoming a family. That evening, the first dinner we had as a huge group was monumental. Everyone squeezed around one table and I felt like everyone was already so close with one another. I was going to learn so much. Each person who comes to the Island School has their own story and I was determined to know everyone’s by the end of the semester.
The best feeling in the entire world is being with people who are doing the same thing you love and are in a place because they want to be there. I also love pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. I realized that the Island School is a place for me. Everyone is here to make lifelong friendships, stories and to accomplish challenging goals. We are all meant to do this and it is going to be an experience that I will never forget. I've had to adjust to life here, but I still feel at home. I am in the moment and am being myself. I always remember to ~not count down the days, but make them count~. I am so excited for what the rest of this semester has to offer!
You would think after an early morning run or swim that the dorms would seem quiet while squeezing in a quick shower before heading off to breakfast, but the Treehouse dorms, both north and south, full of 28 girls, never seems to die down. Mornings are spent with French braid train lines out the door, loud music with the obvious accompanying of strange yet contagious dance moves, and on this particular morning, a lot of screaming. When making my way towards the bathroom after my pristine newly made bed shone behind me like every other morning here at Island School, my ears began to ring. “There’s hot water! Hot water!” Although we have been here now 18 days I was no longer familiar with these two words, “hot” and “water”, side by side in a singular sentence. I had become very familiar with the use of water in many new sentences, including the conservation of it and the use of cisterns, but in my time spent here so far, “hot water” had not yet been witnessed. I could not mentally resonate what was going on but quickly hands began to flood the shower stall which contained Treehouse’s newest luxury, hot water itself. Even though showers here consist of quick rinses and never exceed two minutes in order to fit authentic Navy styles, I can easily say this was the most enjoyable shower of my entire existence. Although that morning is still the only to grace my hot water shower toll, it’s enough for me.
For many, the first scuba week would be nothing new; it would be just another breath from a regulator. But for the vast majority it would be their first breath underwater, which is truly an amazing feeling. Breathing underwater unlocks another world of exploration and freedom and the way it is taught here at IS makes it so easy and enjoyable. Though there are many fears and assumptions going into scuba week, I feel that everyone comes out with full confidence in being able to reach new depths and really feel more confident in themselves. It brings out an appreciation of the underwater life that many can not achieve if not fully immersed in the sea. It is something I feel we are all very lucky do be able to experience and for many, something to cross off the bucket list.
The teachers had told us about a tree hidden somewhere in the inner loop. Apparently, there were two banyan trees, but no one gave us directions to where they were. A group of friends and I were determined to find these two trees. On our first Sunday, we departed on our adventure. I was our group’s self-designated photographer and took photos throughout. Our first stop was at the water towers. Surprisingly, within 15 minutes, we found the first banyan tree. It was a stunning group of massive vines.
The real adventure begins in our search of the second. I was at the tail of the group so I do not know how the group decided where to enter the bushes, but in an attempt to find the second banyan tree, we went bushwhacking. We crawled under thorns and around venomous banana spiders. We would lose each other through the thick bushes, and would hear a lot of Marcos and Polos. Our legs were completely scratched up and our necks sunburnt. Continuing for hours, we found nothing, as we kept getting more and more cuts throughout our legs. We were probably a good mile in before hopelessly turning back. The trip back was harder than the trip in because we were anxious to get back to campus. We returned to campus not having found the second banyan tree, but I was actually very pleased with our journey. We may have not achieved our destination, but we achieved an unforgettable and unmatched adventure.
With Pat’s voice beginning to settle us all down, I looked around at my 52 new friends as we gathered in the boathouse. He told us that we were about to go on an adventure, and this time we would be going on a discovery alone. All of us were to scatter throughout the tip of the island with the objective of finding “our place.” He explained that our goal was to observe. We were to observe our surroundings, the place we were in, and how we can best fit into this place. He told us to observe the smallest thing next to us such as a grain of sand, and then to refocus our minds to observe something large, like the expansive horizon stretching along the beach.
Nervous, excited and confident, the 53 of us set out on our own adventures. I soon found myself dropping my rusty bike on the side of 4th Hole beach, and right then I knew that I had found my spot. I ventured down the rocky beach a little way until I found a small, circular area of pure sand, and that’s when I knew to stop. I set down a towel, pulled out my place-book, and finally took a minute to look in front of me at the ocean. I grabbed a pen out of my backpack, flipped to the next blank page of my place book, and just let my words flow. After a little over an hour had passed, my hand became numb and I decided to end my entry. Over the course of that hour, I reflected on everything that had happened from my arrival to Eleuthera up until that point, the emotions I had felt from transitioning from life at home to a new place, the relationships I had made that I already knew would last a lifetime, everything that I had already accomplished, and most importantly, I wondered how did I ever get the chance to end up sitting on a beautiful beach where I had found a small refuge. Below is an excerpt from my entry from that querencia session:
The Island School Three Day Kayak provides many experiences and challenges, but few know about a secret that makes it a true success. For those who have camped, you know how much better camp food tastes. If you’re like me, you like cooking for yourself on such adventures. So, when we were asked to volunteer for our jobs, I was the first to raise my hand for bush chef. Here is what my bush cooking looked like:
The morning began with warm oatmeal. These perfect little oats were paired with a few glacé raisins, honey, and brown sugar. On the side bright oranges and sweet apples were offered. Due to the cold night, the students rushed to fill their bowls with this sweet breakfast. The many hungry teenagers relished in delight when they found out that there was excess food for just about every meal. For lunch, warmed tortillas were offered with both a meat and cheese. The salami was thinly sliced and diced to a pristine cube. The cheese was grated to flakey perfection and sprinkled on top of the meat. The true key however was not the meat or the cheese, it was the salty cassava chips that were crushed and spread on top of the tortillas. After such a perfect meal, the many kayakers were ready to continue their 16-mile journey.
For dinner the chefs arranged a few special treats: caramelized onions and escargot. After a long hunt, the fishermen returned without any fish or lobster; they instead brought sea snails. The chefs were excited to start cooking as dinner was a huge event. The onions were diced and put to cook early, sizzling in a pan based with pristine olive oil. The rice was then put to cook and the beans were warmed. Behind the scenes, another chef worked hard to cut some extra cheese. When the food was ready, the chefs prepared people’s dishes. They carefully laid out a warmed tortilla and based it with rice. Beans came next, topped with cheese, and a few scoops of the now golden onions. On top of the burrito bowl, garlic and salt spices were added. After the food was served, the chefs got to work with the sea snails. Cracked out of their shells, and prepped for cooking, the group grew eager to taste such a delicacy. Put to fry in an olive oil based pan, the garlic herbs were added to give the dish its distinct French aroma and flavor. To everyone’s surprise, the snails were delicious and marked the end of the last kayak night. For many, food highlighted their trip. For everyone, they wished the journey didn’t have to come to an end the next day.