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Study Abroad in Fall

SEA Semester: Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures & Ecosystems

Pursue a more sustainable relationship with our oceans... Voyage to paradise in this place-based and comparative environmental studies semester. Visit several South Pacific islands to confront challenging questions of colonial conflict, cultural identity, and environmental justice, and to examine relationships between political structures, culture, and the natural environment. This program concludes with a shore component in New Zealand to compile and process research findings.

Fall 2020 | Polynesia » New Zealand

Voyage Map

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Application Deadline: Rolling Admissions

What?

This environmental studies semester at sea takes an interdisciplinary look at the people and islands of Polynesia in an effort to learn what they can tell us about the global issues of environmental sustainability and cultural continuity.

Where?

Cruise Track: American Samoa to Auckland, New Zealand
Destinations: American Samoa > Tonga > Fiji > Auckland
Port stops subject to change.

When?

August 24 - November 14, 2020

Aug. 24 - Sept. 18: Shore I in Woods Hole
Sept. 24 - Nov. 7: At Sea
Nov. 7 - 14: Shore II in Auckland

Program Highlights

  • Share experiences through digital storytelling
  • Participate in collaborative stakeholder engagement
  • Explore Pacific island environments including Tonga & Fiji
  • Conduct on-site anthropological research

Who Should Apply?

This study abroad program is particularly appropriate for Environmental Studies/Science majors but students from any major are encouraged to apply.

Program Description

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Skills Gained

  • Field research methodologies including on-site observations and interviews
  • Sustainable development project management
  • Synthesis of scientific- and humanities-based approaches to sustainability issues

The remote islands of Polynesia are some of the most special and significant places in the world. Their coral reefs and tropical forests are oases of biological diversity, and their human populations possess an equally rich diversity of histories, languages, and social practices. Western colonization brought about disruptive changes in the economies and cultures of island societies that, over many centuries, confronted and often overcame their own challenges of sustainable adaptation. Today, western values, consumer products, and cultural suppression have severely undermined the close connection between island cultures and the environment. More extraordinary, however, has been the many ways in which indigenous Pacific societies have either resisted imposed ideas and practices or incorporated them as their own. These societies, which span from Hawai’i to New Zealand to Easter Island, and everywhere within the Polynesian Triangle, confront global challenges while constantly reshaping, in local terms, what it means to be Polynesian.

In this semester, students will examine what the future holds for these islands, and whether they can offer solutions for how we manage our natural resources that may apply to other regions of the world. Developed by SEA faculty in conjunction with local partners, this semester is uniquely situated to immerse students in collaborative relationships with communities and agencies in the region working for environmental and cultural sustainability. The program will begin with a shore component in Woods Hole where students will be introduced to the history, culture, and geography of remote Pacific Islands. Visiting scholars will share their work on environmental science, Polynesian voyaging and navigation, and traditional art and cultural practices.

Students will then begin their sailing research voyage, visiting several South Pacific islands to confront challenging questions surrounding cultural identity, colonial conflict and exchange, and the complex connections between human communities, political structures, and the environment. They will explore issues of sustainability with local officials and residents while visiting historical, cultural, and environmental management sites, and investigate the complex factors that threaten fragile island ecosystems and the surrounding marine environment in an effort to pursue a more sustainable relationship with our oceans. The program will conclude with a shore component in New Zealand where students will assemble and present their research findings.

Program faculty place significant value not only on students’ informative interactions with sustainability projects and practices, but on their ability to function as effective communicators in public settings as well. An integral part of the program’s curriculum involves developing the required skills for persuasively communicating ideas and facts about sustainability to audiences of every size. Storytelling skill development takes place within the context of examining the role of oral narrative tradition in Polynesian cultures, coupled with explorations of the key factors in effective scientific communication in the age of podcasting and other digital audio media.

Set Foot on Earth's Newest Island

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The Fall 2020 program may include a visit to Earth's newest landmass, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai (HTHH), a newly formed volcanic island within the Kingdom of Tonga. Students may be able to advance a recent collaboration between SEA and NASA by visiting and studying the island for the third year in a row, taking part in this mission as researchers and explorers alongside SEA’s scientific research staff and crew, as well as NASA scientists.

HTHH was formed in 2015 during a volcanic eruption, connecting the small islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai which were remote and uninhabited by humans. Since the formation of HTHH, NASA has been keenly interested in this landmass as a rare opportunity to examine pathways of erosion and colonization and has done so largely through satellite data. The island has persisted longer than expected, sparking questions of the dynamics behind its longevity and geologic composition. The Mars team at NASA is most interested in HTHH, as it offers a proxy for understanding some geologic dynamics on the Red Planet. One might even consider HTHH “Mars on Earth.”

In 2018 and 2019, SEA Semester students and crew, along with NASA and Tongan partners, visited HTHH in a dedicated scientific mission. You can learn more about this work in NASA's Earth Observatory blog, SEA's Currents blog, a 2019 Newsweek article, and a WCAI Living Lab Radio interview. The potential of revisiting HTHH again in 2020 depends greatly on a lengthy permitting process, granted through the Department of Lands, Surveys, and Natural Resources in the Kingdom of Tonga, essentially by the King himself.

The relationship between Tonga, NASA, and SEA is a unique collaboration. This is an invaluable opportunity to study early phase ecological succession and colonization, and students contribute to groundbreaking discoveries. It is also an ethnographic opportunity to understand how Tongan sense of place relates to HTHH in a constantly shifting seascape. We will keep admitted students up to date on the prospects of continuing this valuable research collaboration in 2020!

Life on Shore

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At the beginning of every SEA Semester program, up to 25 students from various institutions across the U.S. — and often the world — come together on SEA’s residential campus in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on scenic Cape Cod, just down the road from the village of Woods Hole, a world-renowned hub of oceanographic research and discovery.

During this initial shore component, you’ll undertake coursework with SEA faculty that will prepare you personally, academically, and practically for the second part of your experience at sea. You’ll develop an original research project, explore the connections between humans and the ocean, and learn the principles necessary to crew a tall ship. You’ll also have access to some of the world’s foremost scientists and policymakers addressing the leading environmental questions of today.

Living in fully furnished private cottages on our campus, you’ll share all of the responsibilities of community living including grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. From day one, your class will begin building skills in teamwork, communication, and collaboration, all of which will prepare you for the demands of living and working together at sea. Everyone will play a role in meal planning, provisioning (each house gets a pre-paid grocery card on a weekly basis), and meal prep, which is a great opportunity to hone your organizational and budgeting skills – not to mention putting your culinary skills to the test!

Morning and afternoon classes take place a short walk away from the cottages in the main academic building, the Madden Center. This facility also hosts the library, computer lab, science lab, faculty offices, and is home to the SEA administrative offices. A midday break allows time for lunch, a pickup game of frisbee, soccer, or volleyball, or a run along the local beach. Then it’s back to the classroom or off on a field trip for the afternoon. The course schedule is intensive, with academic activities scheduled from roughly 9am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. Evenings and weekends are usually free, though sometimes community activities are organized by your faculty or the Head Resident on campus.

While the coursework on shore will require much of your attention, there’s always time to explore the surrounding area. Take the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard or the bus Boston, just 1.5 hours away. There are miles of bike paths and beaches within easy reach of the SEA campus, and we encourage students to stay healthy and active ahead of joining the ship.

The shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA Semester. It prepares you to be effective in your roles as researcher, crewmember, and shipmate at sea, and equips you with the tools to embark upon a successful ocean voyage.

Life at Sea

While the shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA Semester – providing important preparation for a successful ocean voyage – not surprisingly, students look forward to the day they ship out.

As your time in Woods Hole comes to an end, you’ll feel a mix of excitement and perhaps some trepidation as well. You and your shipmates may ask, “Can we really do this?” Because of the intentional design of all SEA Semester programs, you can be confident that the answer is, “Yes!”

The sea component of SEA Semester immediately immerses you in applying practically what you have just learned in the classroom on shore. As you set sail, you take on three roles: student, crewmember, and researcher. Life at sea is full as you take ocean measurements and samples; participate in classes; stand a watch as part of an around-the-clock schedule, on deck and in lab; and assist with navigation, engineering, meal preparation, and cleaning. Depending on the voyage, you may also make port calls – an opportunity to break from the rhythm of life at sea and to visit a foreign destination, not as a tourist, but as a working sailor and researcher.

Privacy and sleep are both limited aboard ship, yet there is always time for personal reflection. Teamwork takes precedence as you assume increasing levels of responsibility for the well-being of your shipmates and the ship itself. “Ship, shipmate, self” will be your new mantra, representing a shift in priorities for all on board. A phased leadership approach over the course of your time at sea will allow you to gradually assume the majority of shipboard responsibilities under the watchful eye of the professional crew. Near the end of every program, each student will lead a complete watch cycle as part of a rewarding final capstone experience.

When you step off one of our ships, you’ll take away academic credits, self-confidence, lifelong friends, a toolbox of skills and knowledge, and a sense of direction that will serve you far beyond your voyage.

"Life at sea is concentrated: every moment holds more substance, texture, and complexity than I am ever aware of on land. Tapping in to the rhythms of a ship, you slip like a cog into a well-oiled machine: each part has purpose, and together things run smoothly. This environment is one where actions have meaning, repercussions are real, and each moment teaches the meaning and value of hard work done well. At sea I learn that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for.” SARAH WHITCHER, Clark University, Biology Major

SEA Stories: SPICE Podcast

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

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Academic Credit

SEA Semester: Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures & Ecosystems (SPICE) carries 17 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.

Course Descriptions

Cultural Landscapes & Seascapes: A Sense of Place (300-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Field-intensive analysis and documentation of dynamic relationships between nature and culture in specific coastal, island, and ocean places. Apply cultural landscape and related interdisciplinary bio-cultural approaches to place-based environmental studies.

Marine Environmental History (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Employ methods and sources of historians and social scientists. Examine the role of human societies in coastal and open ocean environmental change. Issues include resource conservation, overfishing, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.

Maritime History & Culture (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Explore impacts of European maritime ventures on the societies they contacted in the Atlantic or Pacific, with focus on the resulting social, political, economic, and cultural changes. Investigate responses documented in the post-Colonial literature of indigenous people.

Nautical Science (200-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Learn the fundamentals of sailing ship operation, in preparation for direct application at sea. Navigation (piloting, celestial and electronic), weather, engineering systems, safety, and sail theory. Participate as an active member of the ship’s crew on an offshore voyage.

Oceanography (200-level, 3 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Explore how interconnected ocean characteristics (bathymetry, seawater chemistry, biological diversity) and processes (plate tectonics, surface and deep-water circulation, biological production) shape global patterns across multiple scales. Discuss destination-specific environmental issues and hot topics in marine research.

Syllabi

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How to Apply

  1. Complete an application form
    Apply online. (Note: the application fee is waived for students from affiliated institutions. Contact your Admissions Counselor for the code!)
  2. Submit two writing samples (500-750 words each)

    List your full name on each. Submit via email to admission@sea.edu or fax to 800-977-8516.

    1. Two-part essay (500-750 words): Why have you chosen to apply to SEA Semester and what do you expect to gain from your experience? How will the SEA Semester program to which you're applying (The Global Ocean, Oceans & Climate, etc.) complement your education? Be sure to address both questions.
    2. Academic writing sample of your own choosing (2-4 page excerpt if longer than 4 pages). This should be a reflection of your best written work from a recent course, and on a topic applicable to your SEA Semester program of interest (science, history, environmental studies, literature, etc.). Please include your name and the context of the sample (course title and brief description of the assignment). Poetry or college entrance essays may be submitted only as a secondary sample.
  3. Request and submit transcripts
    Official college transcripts are required for all applicants. E-transcripts must be emailed to admission@sea.edu. Hard copies must remain sealed and be sent directly from your institution to:

         SEA Office of Admissions
         P.O. Box 6
         Woods Hole, MA 02543

    High school transcripts are required for students who have not yet completed two years of college. They may be unofficial and submitted via email to admission@sea.edu or by fax to 800-977-8516.
  4. Submit two (2) undergraduate academic references
    The online application will provide a link to email the reference form to your professors directly. If you require a PDF version, please click here.

    Both should be from undergraduate level instructors; at least one should be from an instructor (i.e. professor, academic advisor) who has taught you within the past year. We also welcome additional references (i.e. coach, academic, personal, etc.). Letters of reference will only be accepted as supplemental to the online form.
  5. Schedule an interview with your Admissions Counselor
    Interviews may be conducted over the phone or in person, depending on the Counselor’s schedule. Topics of conversation may include life at your college/university, academic and extracurricular interests, transition from high school to college, your expectations for life at SEA, and how you learned about our program. The interview is also a great opportunity for you to ask questions about SEA.
  6. Submit the Student Participation Approval Form to the appropriate authority (study abroad office or academic advisor) on your campus
    This form is accessible through our online system and ensures that you go through the appropriate channels at your school for off-campus study approval (if applicable) and credit transfer. If you're not sure who to contact on your campus, ask your SEA Admissions Counselor.

​Apply for a Passport: Please note that all SEA Semester students must have a valid passport - NOT a Passport Card - before joining the program.

Apply for Financial Aid: If you plan to apply for need-based financial aid, download a financial aid application (pdf) and submit it with your application for admission.