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Student Reflections from Orientation Week

September 4, 2012

Last night we introduced Island School students to our blog and talked with them about opportunities to have their voices and experiences heard over the coming months here. Then we asked them, from the perspective of Orientation Week, just what it means to become oriented to a place, to this place. Enjoy their thoughtful responses, a new 12 posted each coming day.

Fiona Cerf

Here I am on the Cape of Eleuthera, a destination where few could point out on a map. A place where up until a couple of days ago, I still questioned why I’m here and how I made it. A little lost, and a lot nervous I wake up to a 6:00 sunrise filled with pink and orange brushes of color, and a curious smile. For the first time in a while, I felt excitedly lost; comfortably disorientated.

The last week here has been spent orienting students to the surrounding environment, schedule and community; showing us everything from the dining hall to the seemingly endless exploration spots. I find myself in awe of my surroundings, but more so myself as a whole. In the one week that I’ve been at The Island School, my emotional compass has fixed its magnets and now faces a steady north. With a few spins of the arrow now and then, through guidance from the people, ocean, and air, I find myself. Yes I know where I can go to get a Band-Aid for a booboo, and some GORP for my growling stomach, but more so through conversations and experiences over the last week, I know that the next 100 days will be the most incredibly, terrifying, beautiful and transformational experience of my life.

Watching my bubbles slowly rise to the surface from 40 feet below, in my first even open water dive today was such a new experience. I look at my surrounding, realizing that I’m literally in a new world. I couldn’t help but let some salt water seep in through my regulator as I smiled. Completely worth the burning throat, because is such a disorienting circumstance, I felt like it was the final step of my orientation here in Eleuthera.

Beyond the obvious plethora of rubrics and tours we are inevitably exposed to during the all mighty “orientation week,” the curveball was when I realized how the faculty did a fantastic job of quietly allowing us to orientate ourselves. This week was busy and overwhelming, but just being here, in an environment so foreign to me, I found myself subconsciously appreciating my newfound self.

I guess in a sense I cannot describe what exactly it means to be oriented. All I can tell whoever is reading this, is that exploring this place and my mind throughout this next semester, will be the most self-orienting experience I will ever have been exposed to.

Atalanta von der Schulenburg

In my opinion, being orientated is to be taught the rules and to be given a better knowledge about the new environment. I arrived at The Island School a day late, and was extremely confused and lost by the different infrastructure than what I was used to. I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it. I was given many rules, such as what was appropriate verses inappropriate. What I could say and when I could say it; where to go and what to do. The school I attend in Switzerland is a completely different lay out. Nearly every aspect of the school is different in comparison to The Island School, which made it even harder.

Although it was hard getting into the routine and understanding our day to day structure, all the faculty members were very specific in what they were saying and did their very best in explaining exactly what they meant. Being orientated into a different lifestyle, both socially and academically, is difficult. Especially, since it is hard to keep in contact with family and to get the support I am used to getting from them. I have been orientated into The Island School extremely well, however, it has been and still is very hard for me to adjust.

Brian Byun

Adjusting to a new environment can be unsettling to many people, but after years of traveling between countries, I have become oriented to orienting myself in a new place. The awkward silences and short conversations are something I have become accustomed to when meeting people. I don’t normally handle them very well, but I’m no longer scared of them. However, it is safe to say that I can never truly be oriented to a single place. There are always fluctuations in a single environment that shake things up just as one is becoming accustomed to it. The hot summer shifts in the cool fall just as we get used to the heat and humidity. Even after a week of orientation at The Island School, I am still having trouble orienting myself. My mind still refuses to believe that I am in the Bahamas and I wake up in the middle of the night wondering where I am. Everyday I get closer to my fellow classmates and dorm mates, but also learn new aspects about them and where they come from. Whether it’s in clearing my goggles in SCUBA or learning new species in marine ecology, the continuous learning and realizing makes it impossible to completely orient myself.

“I listen,” said a Native American when asked how he responds to a new environment [The Rediscovery of North America]. I believe that as long as we continue to listen, there will always be new things to become oriented to. I know that throughout the semester, more new ideas and new challenges will be introduced to me and my ideas and perspective will change accordingly. I just have to listen to my surroundings.

Macky Pesch

The IslandSchool is pretty chill, but being oriented here could be a challenge for various people—including me. To me, being oriented is to be placed, made comfortable, and be part of something. Also, to know what you are part of and what’s going to happen in that something.

Orientation is just meant to let people know what’s going on so they don’t get lost. It also gives you a chance to meet new friends and to make yourself comfortable. However, these events may make you feel disoriented or out of place. Sometimes it may take you a little bit longer to feel oriented in certain places. It all depends on your personality and who you are. For example, I do not feel totally oriented here yet because I still miss my friends and family and that feeling may not leave until I get home. I feel completely in place in other areas of the schooling though and these feelings cover the holes that make me feel disoriented, such as being in the water and diving. I am very positive that I belong at this school. To be oriented is to reach the comfort level where you are 100% confident that you are in the right place.

Emily Robinson

Orientation is “the adjustment or alignment of ones self or ones ideas to surroundings and circumstances.” Arriving at The Island School the feeling of being new was refreshing but also disorienting. Home for so long has been a place of comfort that I know so well, but The Island School became my home just a week ago. Without the family, friends and reassurance of understanding and knowledge of my surroundings, I felt truly lost mentally and physically. The moment I stepped off the bus and saw the blue roofed buildings, I knew I had a lot of adjusting to do. It was a bumpy road, but as the days passed I have become more oriented. I have grown to know the people with countless name games and conversations around campus. Every story told and discovery builds on my orientation to this place.

The first day we took a class that gave us the key to unlocking the mystery of where we are now. Moving from station to station building on the little knowledge I began with on Eleuthera. I learned physically where we are but also mentally where we stand. As I learned more and more I now understand what a different environment I am exposed to out here on the whale tail of Eleuthera. I have absorbed every bit of knowledge like a sponge and learned how to adjust to a new lifestyle. A lifestyle where my showers are 2 minutes long, I have two hours to be an adventurous explorer everyday, and being influenced by people inspiring me to ask questions in order to understand my surroundings. This is a place where everything has a purpose and a story, you must just have to be willing to listen. As I listened on the facilities tour I learned that our garbage isn’t just put in a plastic green square in the bathroom that disappears after a couple days, but that it is sorted and reused all over campus. Marko, a man working on a bio diesel project, said that we must take this opportunity and change the world with the knowledge we learn here. Those inspiring words made me realize that The Island School is so much more than school, it’s a place to learn how to live our lives to the fullest and impact others with our ideas and words. As the knowledge has built and the confidence has grown inside of me, I feel less disoriented and more excited every day to be here at The Island School.

Hadley Edie

After an extremely long day of travel, we arrived in near darkness and settled into our dorms, attempting to learn as many names and figure out where we were as soon as possible. Lights out came quicker than I had expected, and I lay in bed wondering what I had gotten myself into. I wondered that again when I woke up at 6:10 to go snorkeling, trudging outside into the dawn light. I wondered how a place like this could exist as I floated through the crystal clear water, staring at colorful fish and a small sleeping shark. It all seemed surreal and like a dream. Just a few minutes later, however, I tripped and cut my toe. Blood gushed out of the cut, and I realized in an instant just how unprepared I was for this whole Island School experience. As I limped towards the dining hall I called out to the first teacher I saw (I didn’t know their name) and asked what I should do. They directed me towards the fishbowl? (I had no idea what that was!) At that point, I realized something: I was completely disoriented. I had no idea where I was, what my purpose in coming to The Island School was, and how I was going to make it through the next three months.

To me, orientation meant that you become familiar and comfortable with the people and events that occur in a specific location. You know names, you know the purpose of buildings, and you can get from point A to point B. As Ashley said, orientation is the adjustment or alignment of oneself or one’s ideas to surroundings or circumstances. As I have gone through this past week at The Island School, however, I have learned that it is much more than that. Of course that definition is important and relevant, but I have realized that in order to become fully oriented to a place you must learn all you can, not just about the things that affect you, but the things that affect the area that you’re living in. Through introductions to different classes, scuba lessons, free time exploration and meeting new people I have expanded my horizons and become oriented not just to The Island School, but to a whole new way of living. In just a short week, I have learned to take shorter showers, about driving laws in tons of different states, and why lionfish have such a negative impact on the environment. All of these facts have helped me to figure out a new definition of orientation—one that is far more comprehensive and complicated. Coming to feel comfortable in a space, gaining respect for it, and coming to love it like a home is all a part of that definition. This new situation and environment at The Island School has already taught me a lot, but I know that I am not done and will continue to be oriented over this semester, right up until the very end.

Harrison Glatt

So many new faces surround me. As I find my seat, 6B, on the ancient plane. It was one of those planes that I sometimes find myself “knocking on wood” before it takes off hoping to set my feet on the ground again. The vibrations as the engines turn on send a rude awakening chill through my body and before I knew it the plane was surprisingly in the air. Bouncing around at thirty thousand feet or so above the wide, treacherous ocean is not as exciting as I would have thought. This plane ride was the beginning of the journey that awaits me for the next three months. The process of becoming “adjusted to ones surrounding” had begun. I was beginning to become oriented with this foreign area. Stepping off the plane at Rock Sound International Airport was when the heat first hit me. I knew then, that life on Eleuthera would be different. After the heat struck, I started to itch. The bugs had begun their attacks. I saw the ocean as the van took the confused teenagers to their destination and right then and there I knew that I had found a different home, much different then New Jersey.

The orientation process had begun. For the past week I have been immersed in many different exercises and classes that have gotten me more familiar with The Island School and surrounding areas. I have learned about different marine life that inhabit the areas around The Island School in Marine Ecology, and have had a first hand experience while SCUBA diving off shore. I have learned some of the history of the Island of Eleuthera and the Bahamas. Most importantly I have become oriented to the new life journey that has just embarked. I have become more familiar with waking up at six in the morning, running and swimming, before the break of dawn. I have gotten used to living with twenty guys that I have just met and all are extremely nice. I have become more acquainted with things that I have not had an opportunity to at school in New Jersey. The process of orientation and familiarizing myself with my new land and home has just started and will continue to happen until I step off that plane in New Jersey the first week of December. At that time, I will have been completely oriented with the new land and step back into my former comfort zone and hope to shed what I learned over this upcoming semester with friends, family, and anyone interested in learning about the awesome experience of The Island School and becoming oriented in a new culture.

Isabelle Swearingen

To me, to be oriented to a new place means to be welcomed. The first few days on the Island, I was without both of my checked bags. Luckily the other girls, most of whom I had only known for hours, were so willing to share their belongings with me. I felt welcomed into the community when people offered me Island School shirts, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. Although they may have been small, these simple acts of kindness were what made me feel a part of the community, or oriented, the first week.

I think that to be oriented also means to understand your surroundings. I felt especially aware of my surroundings during the systems tours. In this tour we were taken around the entire campus and were shown how and where everything at The Island School works. We were taken everywhere from the fruit orchards to the cisterns. I felt like I was oriented and thoroughly understood how the community functions.

John Rumery

When you feel like you belong, and the things around you begin to settle in as that of routine, then perhaps you can call yourself oriented. To be oriented is, more specifically, to fit or align yourself into the circumstance you are put into, regardless of how foreign they may be. To be oriented isn’t something that happens in a universal manner I don’t think, because the biggest part of being oriented is the comfort level you feel. While one person might have integrated into the Island School the moment they set foot on campus, someone else may still be sitting coy in their chair nervous to ask the names of people they’re yet to meet.

For someone to be orienteering the wilderness of a new area, or for students to orient themselves into a new landscape of peers and teachers, both of which are very different scenarios, the meaning remains near identical. Orientation is a unique word in the sense that it may not have one set definition; it might vary from person to person. How you go forth becoming oriented, and what you do to help others achieve the same comfort level as you is what defines your personal version of orientation.

Jake Versano

Jake: When did you feel disoriented?

Jesse: When all of you people started showing up here.

To me these two weeks of “orientation” is solely a fortnight of a lifestyle change. Orientation can mean a lot of different things to different people, similar to the differences in how people will react when everything around them changes drastically. I personally believe I have done a great job letting myself settle in with the community, the land, and the culture. It has not been a full week yet but this orientation has given me the building blocks to ensure that I will thrive here in the next three months. What I have taken out of the orientation so far has mainly been to set up my own sense of place. This includes everything from the new types of food to the abstract methods of learning. The only moment I have felt disoriented was a hint from my past world. I watched a video two days ago for the first time that my youngest brother made a week ago. He made the video the night before I left at a dinner with my extended family. He is a smart-alec, 12 year old boy, yet he went around the room filming each and one of my family members saying goodbye along with a few words of wisdom. Now this does not disorient me to the point where I would think about wanting to go, rather I believe I took the high road. Watching the video made me realize that I have been transitioning successfully so far, and that comes with the fact that no transition is ever easy. I am proud of myself for going away for this long.

Katie Holmes

To become oriented to a place, “one must adjust or align oneself or one’s ideas to surroundings or circumstances.” Here at The Island School, we are going through the first week of orientation and to be honest, I have yet to become completely oriented to this unique community. In order to truly become oriented, I believe I must know the land, know the people, and fully understand the responsibilities that come with living there.  I should see the environment in my head before seeing it with my eyes. I should know the people who have also come to orient themselves and the stories of the people who have already come and gone. Before truly becoming oriented to a place, I should know the land and community well enough to understand how the place will direct the choices I make.

At The Island School, I am still becoming oriented and I might still be going through different types of personal orientation up until the end of the semester. There is so much to explore and discover about myself and about the community around me. I have already started my under-the-water orientation today during SCUBA certification. I got to see first-hand how the world looks from a fish’s perspective. I connected with the other divers and began to understand why the ocean is so important to anyone with the courage to dive deeper and explore further. Another time when I had to orient myself was during the systems tour around campus. There were so many new ideas to explore that helped me to understand the goals of this developing community. When I learned about navy showers, it gave me a better idea of what it means to be here. I met hard workers like Spencer, who was working to improve the sustainability on the island.  He is one of many people with a long-term goal to have students bring knowledge back home with them. This gave me a better perception of where I am and what it means to be here. There is still so much to discover in all aspects of the community around me and I am excited to continue “adjusting and aligning” myself here at The Island School.

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