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Student Stories

Zach Huffman

Zach Huffman

SEA Semester Class:

C-237 (Ocean Exploration)


Macalester College


Computer Science

SEA Semester Research Focus:

Scientific Research - Recirculation of the Gulf Stream

Why did you choose SEA Semester?

The program SEA Semester had to offer seemed like a very unique and incredible opportunity in a number of different ways. The combination of a classroom education and six straight weeks of practical experience, essentially one long lab, really drew me to the program. The intensity of living your education, totally separated from the outside world, and having no escape from your 134-foot long world was extremely exciting. I also really looked forward to taking my first small steps into “the real world” in sharing a house with 11 others on campus and having to cook and clean for ourselves. In addition, the prospect of leaving the northern US mid-October and spending the rest of fall and the first part of winter essentially in the tropics was certainly attractive.

What was the singular most memorable moment of your SEA Semester experience?

Sailing into Bequia. Everyone was on deck, watching the excitement of our first port stop, when one of the mates called for eight volunteers to harbor furl the tops’l and the course, and that we would be scaling the mast—naturally, I jumped in as soon as I could. Watching the lush, green rainforest glide by against the vibrant blues of the sea and sky, all from about 40 feet up was phenomenal. It felt like something straight out of a movie, sailing past this totally raw, uninhabited landscape. It was one of the most fantastic things I have ever seen in my life, and I seriously doubt that I will ever forget it.

What were the strongest aspects of SEA Semester?

Definitely the practical side of the academics; there’s nothing like applying what you have learned to real-life scenarios every day, in terms of education. You are truly living the experience—there is no escaping back to the dorm, the house, the apartment, no sinking into the computer to socialize on facebook or watch Youtube for hours. This made for an intense, but extremely rewarding semester. Also, I feel like a huge aspect of the experience that is sometimes under-appreciated is the crew. What really sets something like this apart from a typical college education is that everyone who is out there on the boat is there because they want to be.

What were the most challenging aspects of SEA Semester?

Honestly the most challenging part for me was the physical environment. I was violently ill for a day or so after leaving port, which was a nightmare. Though I managed to overcome my seasickness, the rocking and rolling of the boat made for a difficult and often frustrating environment. It would sometimes be a challenge to walk from one end of the boat to the other, in terms of keeping your balance, and anything not secured was prone to fly around, making any type of work below deck difficult. Sleeping was also often a challenge, whether the movement was too intense or the noise of objects (namely the dishes in the hutch) crashing around kept me awake.

Words of advice for future SEA Semester students?

If ever you feel overwhelmed by the accumulation of hardships upon you—physical, emotional, and otherwise—remember that it’s all been done before, by people just like you, and that your entire class is going through the exact same thing. Be supportive of them, and they will get you through.