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Fall Study Abroad

Sustainability in Pacific Island Communities and Ecosystems (SPICE)

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. 

Fall 2022 | Pacific Islands

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 the Pacific in an effort to learn what they can tell us about the global issues of environmental sustainability and cultural continuity.

Where?

Cruise Track: Pape’ete, Tahiti » Pape’ete, Tahiti
Destinations: Pape’ete, Tahiti › Rangiroa › Nuku Hiva › Fatu Hiva › Mangareva › Pape’ete, Tahiti (possibly others TBD)

When?

October 3 – December 23, 2022

Oct 3 – Nov 5: Woods Hole shore component

Nov 9 – Nov 19: Tahiti shore component

Nov 20 – Dec 23: At sea.

Program Highlights

  • Field research methodologies including on-site observations, data collection, and interviews 
  • Oral storytelling and communication skills
  • Synthesis of scientific and humanities-based approaches to sustainability issues

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

  • Participate in collaborative engagement with a variety of environmental stakeholders
  • Conduct marine science and humanities research on campus and in the field
  • Share experiences through digital storytelling and science communication
  • Synthesis of scientific- and humanities-based approaches to sustainability issues

The coral reefs, fisheries, and forests of the Pacific Islands are areas of extraordinary biological diversity. For the communities of people living on these islands, these are spaces for securing livelihoods and affirming identities as people of the place. From the earliest days of island settlement through the ecological and cultural violence and erasure brought by western colonialism to contemporary impositions of capitalism and transnational “projects,” the people of these island communities have confronted and often overcome challenges of sustainable adaptation.

The SPICE program and its courses seek to

  • Identify sustainability issues in these island communities through marine scientific and humanities research
  • Trace the connections between past and current ecological states and community responses (including material culture, practices, and local histories and experiences)
  • Teach students the value of respectful collaboration in these communities

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 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, Pacific Island 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. 

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 Pacific Island cultures, coupled with explorations of the key factors in effective scientific communication in the age of podcasting and other digital audio media.

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. 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.

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

* Due to COVID19, some programs in 2021 - 2022 may reduce or omit port stops.  

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.

Directed Research Topics (300-level, 4 credits.)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Seminar exploring humanities and social sciences approaches to understanding and resolving contemporary climate-related issues. Development of research and writing skills through analyses of case studies and guided seminar exercises. Requires field data collection, research paper and presentation of results.

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.

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.

The Ocean & Global Change (300-level, 4 credits)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Ocean ecosystem change in the anthropocene: warming, acidification, fisheries depletion, and pollution. Review principles of circulation, seawater chemistry, nutrient dynamics, and biological production to understand causes and consequences of change. Conduct field measurements for contribution to time-series datasets.

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 the Admissions team for the code!)
  2. Submit two writing samples (500-750 words each)

    List your full name on each. Use either red button below to upload both your essay and your writing sample.

    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.

    Upload Essay and Writing Sample

    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.

    Upload Essay and Writing 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 should be uploaded using the link below.

    Upload High School Transcript
     

  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 our Admissions Team
    Interviews may be conducted over the phone or in person, depending on our team’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 our SEA Admissions team.

​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.