Bailey Reigel's Chesapeake Semester Experience

Bailey Reigel's Chesapeake Semester Experience

Bailey Reigel of the women's swimming team spent the Fall 2018 semester participating in the Chesapeake Semester. Here is her experience.

By Bailey Reigel '20

It is difficult to describe "Chesapeake Semester" in a few short paragraphs. Each individual who participates, takes in different aspects of it and walks away from it with a family and a head full of knowledge. In writing this, I hope you get a good understanding of the reason I decided to do this program and all the many reasons I loved my experience. I applied for the Chesapeake Semester because it would allow me to have a hands on learning experience that can't be found at any other school. That being said, "Chesapeake Semester" was actually the reason why I decided to come to Washington College. I had high hopes that I would learn more than I ever had about topics that interested me so much. Throughout my entire semester, a small bus would take me to all of my four "journeys." This small bus is the place that I had the opportunity to bond with a group of strangers that I now consider some of my greatest friends. Each trip my group and I would "pile into" the bus and drive off to our next great adventure around the Chesapeake area. The Chesapeake truly has a unique culture and there is so much more to it than just crabs and fishing.

Over many years, the Chesapeake Bay has formed a culture of people. The bay is a way of life. It is a community of people that love and cherish the bay and the land surrounding it. I was able to study the poetry, music, artwork, and personal craft that surrounds the Chesapeake Bay. I found that the uniqueness of these topics were rare and could only be found in the Chesapeake area. I got to "time travel" into the past and learn about how the native people used the bay and how much it has changed over all these years. I got to write papers from the perspective of a Jamestown settler, and I got to write poems that showed the thoughts of a disappearing Smith Island. Throughout my semester, we were asked difficult questions, forcing us to ''dig deeper" into the problems that surround this bay. We studied why there are less crabs, how sea level rise is effecting this area, how agriculture causes nutrient pollution, how urban development is harming ecosystems, and how we can possibly fix the myriad of problems that the bay is facing. The health of this bay is very important to history, culture, the economy, and the environment. Harm to the Chesapeake Bay will surely affect us all sometime in the near future. The bay is a place where nature and human culture have "collided." The Chesapeake Bay needs to be protected and should be held close to everyone's heart.

I was also lucky enough to travel to Guatemala and Belize during this semester. In Guatemala, I climbed Mayan temples and pyramids while howler monkeys screamed around me. I was lucky enough to get to hike through the jungle where Mayans from our past once walked. I got to dive into a new world under the sea in Belize and live among the colorful fish, coral, and much much more. Seeing the world from the perspective of a fish was life changing, and I felt as if I fell into a National Geographic magazine. Observing fish behavior up close was something that I never thought I would do. I got to sit on the edge of the dock, with my toes in the ocean, and look out while the sun made the sky dance with colors. I got to sit and watch an octopus hunt and change from red to teal in seconds while a spotted eagle ray casually swam by. I got to hike through mangroves, while doing a trash clean up and so much more. The experiences I had in these places were magical and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

One of the greatest things about this semester is the bonds that I formed with my peers and my professors. Over this entire fall semester my classmates and I "grew up" together and really became a family. We are the biggest bunch of misfits that you will ever lay eyes on, but I think that's what makes us all so special. It is a group of accepting and loving people that were brought together because of their love for the environment and the Chesapeake Bay.

For me this entire semester was really important because it allowed me to grow as a person. One of the things that is really stressed is "Challenge by Choice," meaning you set your own goals and you do everything to reach that goal. I challenged myself to not say "no" to an experience.... even if I was scared or didn't think I could do it. So for me it was a semester full of firsts. It was my first time being a "Chester Tester," eating raw oysters and conch eggs, and jumping from a cliff into light blue water. It was a semester of getting dirty and climbing through small gaps in rocks to see the beautiful inside of a cave. It was a semester of meeting the locals and falling in love with them and their culture. It was a semester of holding a tarantula and eating termites that tastes minty. It was a semester of starting a fire without matches and eating mushrooms that we found in the forest. It was a semester of digging for arrowheads, sleeping in tents, and kayaking for about five days straight. It was a semester of learning to be confident, learning to be bold, learning not to shy away from adventure, and learning difficult topics. It was a semester of learning from mistakes and bettering myself through the process. This experience, by far, has been the best semester I have had at Washington College and it is all thanks to Chesapeake Semester.