Why Williams-Mystic: Exploring the benefits of a semester by the sea

April 20, 2016 by Tom Van Winkle

Why should you apply to  Williams-Mystic, the coastal and ocean studies campus of the College?

Last week, in the rain and shifting winds, while Previews students toured our campus in the cold, damp weather, I was dancing outside Paresky in a Moby Dick-inspired white whale costume, singing sea chanteys next to an inflatable 46-foot sperm whale. Why would the Executive Director of Williams-Mystic go to such lengths to grab your attention? Sometimes it takes a cetacean staring you in the face or swallowing you whole to challenge your fixed mindset. And no matter your class year, Williams-Mystic is the very jolt your academic career might need.  As Cody Remillard ’16 said on his last day with Williams-Mystic a few months ago: “This has been the best semester of my college life and I really wish I had taken it earlier.”

So why is Williams-Mystic so appealing when you can go study abroad? The answers will challenge your assumptions about study away. Hence, in David Letterman “Top 10” style, let me rattle off 10 solid reasons that might surprise you and, hopefully, challenge you to think differently. Here goes!

Reason 10:  Williams-Mystic is the only semester offered at the College where your experience is truly interdisciplinary and experiential. Every class interacts with the others all semester. Science, history, literature and policy are woven together. Have you ever come across a world problem that was solved by a single discipline? I haven’t. At Williams-Mystic, the ocean and all of its complexity is our case study, and it challenges you to look at problems from multiple perspectives. In other words, you learn to walk in the other person’s moccasins on a daily basis.

Reason 9: Got water? Three-quarters of our planet does. It’s not just for scientists anymore, nor has it ever been. Williams-Mystic classes all live under the umbrella of the environmental science major, but students of any major can study our coasts and oceans at Williams-Mystic, all while meeting the College’s writing and distribution requirements.

Reason 8: Do you care about global warming and that often overused and misunderstood word, “sustainability”? We do – quite a lot. At Mystic, you will learn about these things, live them and experience what we’re doing to solve these environmental problems.

Reason 7: We travel more often and to more places than study abroad programs.  While your home base is the quaint New England town of Mystic, Conn., you will spend weeks aboard a tall ship, weeks traveling to California or the Pacific Northwest and several days in the Mississippi Delta. You will experience cultures you never knew existed.

Reason 6: You can take a semester at Williams-Mystic and still study abroad if you plan ahead! Williams-Mystic is the only program that you can take part in starting the first semester of your sophomore year.

Reason 5: You will live in a small community in a home on the campus of an iconic museum. You cook, live and get to know students from all over the country in an intimate setting.

Reason 4: Williams-Mystic gives you a taste of graduate school. In every class you will design, carry out and report the results of your own original research. You are the principal investigator! You will write more than you have in any semester, and students’ research often leads them to additional summer study, internships and senior theses.

Reason 3: Your class might be interrupted by a whale, sea lion, otter or angry bird. Yes really!  (Just ask a student from last fall.) And you will develop closer relationships with your professors than you ever thought possible, because you travel with them, eat with them, surf with them and sail with them. Can you say 4:1 ratio?

Reason 2: You can get a job, stay in shape and learn a skill.  While at Williams-Mystic, you spend part of your time learning a 19th century skill and also have the opportunity to work as a research assistant or worker in an operating shipyard/museum. Even if you are an athlete, you can keep your guns and your core in fine shape with free membership at the local YMCA.

Reason 1: It will transform your thinking about your education as you unlearn bad habits you have developed. Say goodbye to playing the game of learning what your professor requires in order for you to get an “A.” Williams-Mystic is about you, what engages your deepest, grandest passions. It’s about being real with yourself and truly discovering that you have more in you than you thought you did. Plus est en Vous. [“There is more in you.”]

Sound too good to be true? Well, the only reason I’m willing to jump around in a white whale suit is because I know that it’s true. Jump around with me and see if you have what it takes to succeed in one of the most rigorous and rewarding experiences the College has to offer. We only have eight spots to offer students here each semester. So, if you think you have what it takes, apply now. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

Tom Van Winkle is the executive director of the Williams-Mystic Program.

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