GoAbroad Interview

Brittany Stevenson - Operational Director, Dive Instructor, & Mate

Brittany started her journey with Global Expeditions Group as a student in 2005 at ActionQuest. After working at ActionQuest for a few years during college she joined Sea|Mester in 2011 as a mate and dive instructor. After a few years of doing voyages on Argo and OceanStar her most recent role has been Operational Director, Mate and Dive Instructor aboard Argo. She holds her PADI Open Water Instructor certification as well as IYT Master of Yachts 200 ton Offshore license.  

You’re from Virginia, how did you hear about Sea|mester?

I first became associated with Sea|Mester and Global Expeditions Group when I was a student at ActionQuest for two years at the ages of 17 and 18. I knew from that moment that I HAD to work for ActionQuest! I fell in love with everything about the program, the hard skills the students learn, the soft skills they acquire without even knowing, and what I didn’t know then, but would soon realize, is how much being a staff within the company would affect me and my morals and goals of life. Once working for the company, I heard about Sea|Mester and imagined it to be everything ActionQuest is, plus so much more! It then became my new goal, and once I graduated university I was asked to join the Sea|Mester family aboard Argo.  

Whole crew sailing through the Med

What does your day-to-day look like as Operational Director/Dive Instructor?

The best thing about working for Sea|Mester is that there really isn’t a “day-to-day” schedule that I hold. One day I could be provisioning food for 30 people for a 18-day passage. Then the next day the first hour I am teaching students to breathe underwater for the first time, the next I am planning a hike or tour we will all do, and the very next I am teaching a leadership course. Overall though, my responsibilities include pretty much everything program related. I plan out the excursions and time we will spend in each location, do check ins and chats with the students as a whole and on an individual basis, as well as deal with any issues that might arise while on board.  

Diving in Cocos Keeling Atoll, Indian Ocean

You received your Open Water Diving certification as an eleven-year-old, what attracted you to marine life at that age? 

My father began scuba diving when I was around eight-years-old and we began taking family vacations where my father could scuba dive. My mother and I would snorkel around, and I was immediately engrossed in the underwater world and wanted to know everything about it.  Not to mention I look up to my father in just about every way, and if he was scuba diving, then I also wanted to be scuba diving! That passion and open-eyed lifestyle I had at that young age has not left. It only seems to be growing and that is one of the things I want to pass down to my students.

You now have your PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor certification, what attracts you most to the ocean these days? 

Oh wow, I mean everything to be honest! The mass amount of respect I have for the ocean is unexplainable. I think just as my job leaves me without a normal day-to-day lifestyle, the ocean is always changing and can be drastically different. I love to be on top of the water sailing, at the beach watching the waves come in, and especially under the water seeing the ecosystem in its natural world and how they all related and interact with each other.  

Provisioning with some helpers

You have a Master’s in Education; how do you apply this academic knowledge to your role at Sea|mester?

My focus was on elementary education, and even though there can be up to a 20 year gap in my kindergarten and Sea|Mester students, the same techniques can be translated amongst everyone. My goal for my younger students is to have them feel empowered, to want to gain the knowledge and feel better about themselves in a more positive outlook in a hands on approach. All of that is exactly what the goal is here at Sea|Mester too. So with these techniques and programs that I learned, I am easily able to translate into the Sea|Mester world. I believe having this understanding of how people can learn and grow at any age is truly amazing.  

What sets Sea|mester voyages apart from other on the water programs?

To be completely honest, I don’t know too much information about other on the water programs except Semester At Sea. That being said, there are three items that I believe make us such a strong program. First, the hands on experience we are able to provide to the students is exceptional. Second, the fact that the students are living within 112 feet of their fellow students, group members, and professors is unlike most academic settings in the world. And lastly, I believe we as staff are what set us apart. Many of the current staff were either students on one of the programs Global Expeditions Group runs, worked at ActionQuest, or have stayed with the company for many years. I believe that shows how great of a program we are running and how happy not only the students are with their experiences, but the staff as well. We are like a family, and it is great to be able to truly say you have family all over the world.  

Watch Team Two

What can students expect to take away from a Sea|mester voyage?

The student expects to take away scuba diving certifications, sailing certifications, CPR/First Aid certifications, experience of traveling around to different countries, and lifelong friends.  What they don’t realize is that they will take away so much more than that. Everyone on board, staff included, are constantly growing, becoming better leaders, becoming better team members, learning how to deal with conflict resolution in a healthy way, and most importantly learning to work together as a cohesive unit. The students learn very quickly that the boat doesn’t run on her own, or even with just the staff, we need their help. As soon as they realize that what they are doing makes a difference, they then take so much ownership and love into the boat, Sea|Mester, and everything there is to offer. The students walk away with so much, most of which probably isn’t even recognizable until they are off of the program and are looking back onto their experience.  

Watch Team Three

What’s the most important tip you could give to Sea|mester student about diving?

It will be a little awkward at first with all of the gear on, especially out of the water, and you might even be a little nervous, but all of that is completely normal! It will only get easier with each time you put on the gear and dive below the water's surface, so just try and relax. And most importantly, I am here for you. I will do whatever necessary to make this as easy and enjoyable for you. If you happen to struggle with something, then I will do everything to make you more comfortable and we can take all of the time you need, no rush.  

You’ve been with Sea|mester since 2008, what has been your most memorable moment in the last seven years?

I actually have a term called a “Sea|Mester Moment”, which is when you look around and realize how awesome it is what we are all doing, wherever we are doing it at. I ask this question to the students towards the end of the trip and it is amazing to see all of their answers. This past trip we were in St. Helena, a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just eating breakfast as we usually do in the cockpit. A student that is sitting directly across from me just points and very calmly says, “Hey Britt, there is a shark behind you.” I turn around expecting to see a small blacktip and there is a 25-foot whale shark right off Argo at the surface. We all are immediately in awe of seeing such a magnificent creature, one that has been on my ‘bucket list’ for years and years. Everyone puts down their breakfast, grabs their snorkel gear and cameras. and jumps in the water. Every single person got in the water that morning and swam around with this huge fish for over 30 minutes. Seeing the look on all of our faces and the rush we all felt was by far the most memorable moment in my time at Sea|Mester and my biggest “Sea|Mester Moment”.

Backflips with students

What is the most fulfilling part about working for Sea|mester?

There are so many parts of working for Sea|Mester that are extremely fulfilling. From seeing someone who joined us a little timid in their own voice and watching them find that voice throughout the trip and become a leader, to seeing the lightbulb moments they have during the voyage. But, by far the most fulfilling is when students tell me they want to come work for Sea|Mester or ActionQuest because they want to have the same affect on students that we did on them. Then a couple years later, actually working side by side with them; that is our experience coming around again full circle.

What does the future hold for Sea|mester, any updates we should know about?

Global Expeditions is always introducing new programs and activities, especially when it is related directly with Sea|Mester, so really anything could be possible. I would keep my eyes out for the potential of another sailing yacht like Argo to join the fleet.