Carolyn Kovacs is a marine science instructor from the US who sailed around the world while working for Seamester for four years.
What is your favorite travel memory?
My first semester with Seamester we crossed the South Pacific, and due to a connection with a friend of a friend of a crew member, we planned a stop to a small village in Fiji.
We were invited to attend church with them and then had a big meal with everyone in the village. The singing was beautiful and the food was delicious. Aside from our connections there, hardly anyone there spoke English and we definitely didn't speak Fijian, but through miming, food, and laughter we communicated enough, especially with the kids, who loved playing hand-clapping games.
We were invited back to the village the next day for dancing and tea, which we assumed meant we would get to learn some dances from them or watch them dance, but it really meant that they wanted us to dance for them. Last-minute I led a group of our students in a Zumba routine in their community center!
The whole weekend there was really amazing and one of those experiences where you wonder "how did I end up here?" but are so thankful you did.
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
I started out working for Seamester as the marine biology instructor, and over time took on many more roles - watch team leader, provisioner (think of organizing the food for 30 people!), and program manager. I personally learned and grew a lot from these skills I picked up, as well as from all of the countries that we visited and the cultures I was exposed to.
I think one of the main things that changed for me throughout this transition though was what I got out of my job - when I started I was excited to be able to teach what I love and to travel the work, but by the end what got me most excited was just seeing how much our students grow throughout the course of a semester.
Seamester is amazing, but it is also tough - you learn to live and work in a small space with a tight-knit group of people, you keep watch of the boat 24/7, you are taking classes, cooking for your crew, cleaning, exploring, and pushing yourself to the limit of what you can fit into a 90 day time period. Students end up changing so much during this time and realize what they are capable of, and seeing that always give me major "proud mom" moments.
I think the shift in what I personally got out of the job is what changed the most.
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
One of my favorite things was actually hearing from a parent review "My son cooked breakfast for me when he came home... and it was good!" I think this illustrates that a lot of the skills and experiences students take away from this program aren't just related to academics or travel, but also include life skills that they are then happy to share with others in their lives.
Some of my other stories more related to the program itself include how many students we have had that came back to work with Seamester or our sister program ActionQuest, or went on to work in the sailing and diving industries or to study marine science. I also love when I see photos of groups of students who still get together years later to go traveling together - there is one group of girls from my fall 2014 group that I have seen traveling together in Cambodia, diving together in the Galapagos, and most recently I think they were in the BVI! Friends that travel together stay together!
If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?
I love being on small tropical islands far from anything else, and the trips that venture into the South Pacific are the most amazing to me. The Caribbean to Tahiti trip was one of my favorites, as we not only got to visit the Galapagos but the Marquesas islands and atolls in French Polynesia that were some of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Then island hopping from Tahiti to Australia has to be one of the most amazing experiences possible (I got to do it twice, how lucky am I!?).
However, I also absolutely love Southeast Asia and the culture there, so any trip that ventures into Thailand or Indonesia are also high up on my list. All that being said, my year on Ocean Star going around the Caribbean islands was also amazing, there is such a variety of cultures within these different islands and I love that on the Ocean Star trips you have more time on land to explore and do beautiful hikes, as well as a lot of time to scuba dive in some great locations like Saba and Dominica.
What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?
Seamester is unique in the program that it offers... Yes, there are other programs that also take place on boats, but I think that Seamester offers the most well-rounded experience and the one that is most likely to actually change your life. I don't mean that to sound dramatic, but I mean it because this program pushes you and exposes you to so many different things - scuba diving, sailing, marine science, how to be a leader, cultures of multiple different countries, cooking, working as a team - you get pushed outside of your comfort zone in so many different ways that you HAVE to walk away from this program changed in some way. And that is something I absolutely love.
Our staff works very hard to make sure that the students have the support that they need to be able to accomplish all of these things, and you and up creating some very special bonds amongst the crew in the process.
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?
In order for a company to be successful, I think that the people who are working for the company really need to care about what they are doing. That is especially true for a company like Seamester, where both the office and field staff often have long and non-traditional work hours.
People often comment on how lucky we are to have these jobs, which is true but don't realize how much work also comes with it. The people who work for Seamester literally live their work and they do it because they love to share their passion for travel, sailing, diving, and marine science with others.