By Nikki Jackson
My participation in the CIEE Bonaire Summer I program was an unforgettable and invaluable learning experience. In just four short weeks, I acquired more knowledge on marine ecosystems and the professional world of marine biology than I ever thought possible. The curriculum was tailored in such a way that maximized the learning experience, through the direct application of skills taught in the classroom in the field. Despite the program being extremely intensive, it was also incredibly fun. Between a camping trip to The Washington Slagbaai National Park, the weekend trip to Curacao for an intercultural experience, and the many things in between, as a student my time with CIEE Bonaire was one full of fun in conjunction with a constructive learning experience.
During the Summer I program, my fellow students and I were enrolled in two courses: Advanced Scuba and Marine Ecology Field Research Methods. Our schedules were jam packed, keeping us moving at a constant pace throughout the four week term. Both courses were efficiently scheduled to ensure a positive and conductive learning experience throughout this intensive four-week period. The instructors were very proficient in their course material, and provided us with a wealth of knowledge despite the time constraints of a four week program.
Within this short time frame, we received the training and certifications for SDI Advanced Adventure Diver, SDI Rescue Diver, DAN Diving First Aid for Professional Divers, and AAUS Scientific Diver. Coming in personally as a diver with little experience but an advanced certification, I was blown away with how much I learned in the Advanced Scuba course. Despite my being certified on an advanced level, I did not realize the deficit I possessed in my skills as a diver. I feel as though it has allowed me to reach a level of proficiency in diving which I may have never reached had I not taken this course. I believe this program was one of the best ways possible for me to further my personal career as a scuba diver, and has encouraged me to go on to obtain my Dive Master’s certification during my remaining month on the island of Bonaire.
I also was able to experience an entirely new aspect of diving in the Marine Ecology Field Research Methods course. In this course we received a look into what a career in marine biology field research truly is like. By conducting a variety of surveys (fish behavior analyses, REEF fish identification surveys, video transects surveys for Coral Point Counts, and AGRRA benthic, coral, and fish surveys) we obtained the basic skill sets necessary to conduct field research in the area of marine biology. For me, this was an invaluable experience, and truly solidified my interest in pursuing a career in marine biology. This was truly the biggest takeaway from my time here at CIEE Bonaire. Although I showed up to this program fairly confident that this was the direction I wanted to go with my life, I am leaving even more confident than ever that I know a career in marine biology is right for me.
I have nothing but good things to say about this program. I have spent my entire undergraduate career looking for classes that inspire me, and I have finally found them here at CIEE Bonaire. The staff members were extremely insightful and accommodating, making for a very personal experience in which you feel like more than a number, something I had yet to find during my time receiving my university education. I am very fortunate to have been a part of this Summer I session, and will also be attending the Summer II session, which I am certain will be equally as positive. Although it has been challenging at times, memorizing countless fish identifications for surveys and ensuring my buoyancy is as close to perfect as I am capable of while taking measurements, it has been an experience I will never forget and one that I will be sad to see come to an end. But I will be leaving Bonaire much better prepared for the road ahead of me in pursuing my career in conservational marine biology.