A journey of discovery

By: Merry Cherney, high school alumna High School Study Abroad, Marine Biology

My parents advised me not to fall in love in high school. They warned me it would never last and could only end in disappointment. Yet, here I stand on the edge, eyes tightly shut, lips pursed, heart racing, ready to take the plunge. With a splash, I enter the crystal clear water and open my eyes to all that I have been missing.

My passion for exploring the ocean started four years ago, when I grew bored of the same old summer camp routine and longed to experience what the world had to offer. Eager to see what lay beneath the waves, I embarked on a Scuba diving trip in the Caribbean. As I drew the first breath of cool, dry air from my regulator and glanced around at this otherworldly place, my love affair officially began. The colorful corals swaying with the soft current, the rainbows of fish darting to and fro, and the lazy sea turtles slowly trekking through the endless blue inspired a sense of curiosity for a place I had seen mostly from above. Since that summer, I have traveled all over the world exploring the secret wonders of the world’s oceans and continuing my quest to see where this passion leads.

After exploring the coastal waters off Honduras and the Red Sea of Egypt, I was ready to learn about the creature that has intrigued me most. This past summer I completed an academic trek to Fiji, where I studied sharks for a month in the most personal way possible, observing them in their natural environment. My heart raced when I saw that first torpedo-shaped figure dart into sight, and my body froze in fear as a 13-foot bull shark snatched a fish head just three feet from my face. Yet, strangely enough, at these moments, my fear turned to fascination.

By the last couple of dives, I leaped into the water and searched around as if looking for old friends. With my new knowledge, I saw these “man-eaters’ in a different light. The characteristics that most people fear did not look so daunting once I realized their powerful jaws and speedy agility are the perfected products of millions of years of evolution. When I started my shark studies, I had a healthy respect for and a bit of trepidation about these feared creatures, yet by summer’s end, I felt like I was leaving my fears behind and bringing home in its place a renewed passion for the ocean and all of the creatures that reside in it.

My sense of adventure has started me on a journey of discovery. Exploring new places, learning new things, and experiencing different cultures have become seeds within me that I will continue to nurture. My travel experiences have enriched my education beyond what I have learned in the classroom. From the migration patterns of sharks to the proper way to drink Bedouin tea, my discoveries of the world have coincided with my personal discoveries. I have learned that there is no fear that I cannot face, and that new situations and new people cause me to feel excited rather than anxious. Each new culture I experience teaches me to appreciate differences; diversity is what makes us unique. Most important, I know that a smile can overcome any language barrier.

I guess my parents were wrong. My first love has never disappointed me and continues to excite me. I look forward to each new adventure; whether beneath the earth’s waters or on the earth’s surface, there is a lifetime of learning that awaits me. This is one high school romance that may lead to a life-long commitment.