With a splash, I enter the crystal clear water, put my fins on, and take in all I’ve been missing. Descending into the warm vibrant blue water, I look around keeping a tally in my head: 17 green sea turtles. The excitement overpowers me; continuing to grow larger with each turtle that glides past in the turquoise Curaçoan waters.

My passion for exploring the ocean started when I was about four years old; I became heartbroken by the news euthanasia was involved in being a veterinarian and decided I wanted to “work with sea turtles” instead. At age 12, I started volunteering at The New England Aquarium. There I started my love for coral ecology and reef-dwelling organisms. This was the first place I felt I belonged: everyone there had the same sparkle in their eyes while talking about fish. At age 16 my friends were planning extravagant sweet sixteens, while I opted to quit my career as a classical ballerina to finance my PADI Open Water diver course. As I sat at the edge of the rundown pool and drew my first breath of cool, dry air from my regulator my love affair began. That first open water dive changed everything, a love for scuba grew in me that I wanted to continue to build on.

Months later after lots of parental convincing, I embarked on a marine biology trip to Key Largo; the colorful corals swaying in soft currents, the rainbows of fish darting, and the adorable nurse sharks trekking through the endless blue inspired a curiosity for this place I had seen mostly from photographs. Since that trip, I have worked harder than ever to make my hopes of becoming a marine scientist a reality.

After exploring the waters of Key Largo, my passion burned brighter than ever. This past summer I completed an academic trek to Curaçao, where I studied the relationship between anemones and shrimp in the most personal way possible, observing them in their natural environment. Measuring anemones and peeking inside to investigate the contents. By the last dives, I felt as though I had been molded into a real scientist. With my new knowledge, I saw these simple-minded organisms in a different light. Realizing that even a sponge holds a crucial role in the reef ecosystem. Watching the drum fish zipping in and out of the crevasses on the reef, I felt like I belonged. Diving didn’t feel like something I did for fun anymore, but what I wanted to do with my life. Swimming through the shallow water I couldn’t help but marvel at the hundreds of thousands of years of growth and evolution. When I started my Advanced Marine Biology, I had a tremendous respect for these mesmerizing coral reefs, yet by summer’s end, I felt like I was bringing home a renewed passion for the ocean and the skills to become a real scientist.

My love for marine biology has brought me far on a journey of self and ocean discovery. Exploring different places, learning new things, and experiencing different cultures have become seeds within me that I continue to embrace. My travel experiences have enriched my education beyond what I have learned in the classroom. From researching the in-depth history of shark evolution for my AP Biology class to the proper way to dissect and fillet a lionfish, my discoveries have shaped my aspirations.

I have learned that even facing the struggles of anxiety, these new situations and new people have caused me to feel excited rather than anxious. My travels have taught me to appreciate differences; diversity is what makes us unique. Most importantly, I learned that a smile can overcome any language barrier. I get told all the time that my mind will change, but my first career choice and the experiences that come with it continue to excite me. This passion morphed into my life’s purpose.