by Aubrey Hastings '13
Student Life Editor for The Elm (with link to Elm web site)
This article about Washington College women's swimming captain Sarah Sykes appears in the September 16th, 2011, issue of The Elm and has been republished here with permission.
Junior Sarah Sykes was not content to stay home this summer. She began the summer working as an intern at Tidewater Veterinary Hospital in Southern MD, a mixed practice where she assisted as a tech during surgeries, ran blood work tests, and went out on farm calls. Sykes then ended up traveling abroad to Bermuda and South Africa before returning to WC for the year.
Sykes took her studies to the ocean this summer under Dr. Munson along the shores of Bermuda. Here she was among the WC biology students who spent two weeks at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences.
"The trip was fantastic and I really learned a lot," said Sykes.
The course in Bermuda consisted of many snorkeling adventures, lectures, lab, and a research paper focused on environmental issues associated with the impact of tourism and population growth, as well as coral reef ecology. The course earned Sykes four credits toward graduation.
Upon returning from Bermuda, Sykes spent three weeks in South Africa–a place near and dear to her family. Sykes's mother was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. When her grandmother passed away last November, she had insisted her ashes be spread in the ocean in front of the house her mother's family has owned for years in Ramsgate, South Africa.
"That may have been the main reason we went, but my grandmother also wanted us to have an amazing trip filled with many happy memories traveling around the beautiful country, because my family and I had not been back there in 15 years."
Along this journey, Sykes and her family visited Ukatula Lion Park for two days. There they had the once in a lifetime experiences of playing with two week old lion cubs, bottle feeding cubs, petting a tame cheetah, and walk alongside one year old lions.
"This was truly an amazing experience. South Africa was the highlight of my summer," said Sykes.
Weeks of beautiful beaches, visits with family, and nights spent in rugged outdoor cabins followed until the Sykes family reached the house in Ramsgate, where it was actually the winter season.
"The house is fenced-in completely with more keys on the key ring than you can imagine. This is not because the area is full of bad people; it is because there is quite a lot of poverty outside Ramsgate with people who would do just about anything to get by in life," said Sykes.
After a week in Ramsgate, the Sykes's flew to Cape Town, where they would end their trip.
While there, they visited a community center called Mah Afrika Tikan, a center the family has donated to over the years. There, Sykes met some of the children, as well as some adults, who were taking computer classes so that they could join the working world. The opportunity also arose for the Sykes's to visit two different families living within townships, or ghettos.
"It was truly a humbling experience. One of the families had nine children with one single father who was doing everything he could to keep them all healthy and clothed, after his wife left him with nothing but the children. They live in a tiny shack, no bigger than the dorm rooms we live in here at WC, and yet there are 10 of them living in it. It makes me stop and wonder why I ever complained about having only one roommate," said Sykes.
Seeing these families in the community center truly impacted Sykes.
"The people who work in the centers are doing all that they can to work with families and children to keep them out of gangs and keep them in school so they can better their lives. They tell the kids that just because they are born in a shack does not mean that they have to spend the rest of their life in one. I feel truly blessed just for having met these individuals and am much more appreciative for every little thing I have," said Sykes.
The last days of her trip were spent cage-diving with great white sharks, viewing the penguins at Boulder's Point and the seals at Seal Island.
"I was the first one in the cage and the last one to get out. It was such a rush of adrenaline to see the ocean's greatest predator only inches from your face, especially when it came right up and bit the front of the cage. I have always loved watching Shark Week, but this summer, I had my own Shark Week," said Sykes.
This is not a summer that Sarah Sykes will soon forget, filled with lessons and experiences that she will carry with her through WC and the rest of her life.