Jillian Lessing - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

Well I was originally looking for a program to help me learn french and experience the french culture, but my older sister went on the Grenadines Advanced Scuba Diving trip and seeing her interact with her friends a year later was really influential for me. She made some lifelong friends on her trip and I realized that I wanted the same thing, so I decided to go on a Broadreach program. While looking through the different programs, I found that the master diver program in the Leeward Islands would probably be the best choice for me, and it was.

Why did you choose Broadreach over other program providers?

I was looking for an advanced diving course in the Caribbean for 21 days, and the master diver seemed like the best choice. I also really wanted to dive some more wrecks, and this program got to dive the Charlie Brown and I thought that would just be an amazing experience. While I wanted to go on a Broadreach trip just like my older sister, I wanted to do something a little different from her trip. The Grenadines trip only sees one other Broadreach boat, while on my trip I would see multiple. I really liked the idea of getting to meet a whole bunch of kids who have the same interests as me.

Group of friends on a cliff in the Caribbean

What was your favorite part about the Caribbean?

My favorite part was how beautiful the islands were. Each island was unique and had its own history and story. I really loved learning about Brimstone Hill on St. Kitts and getting to take photos on the cannons. I also really liked diving down to 60 feet and putting my hand in the black lava sand of St. Kitts.

Saba had this amazing pinnacle standing out in the middle of the ocean, which had the most beautiful beautiful reefs around it. I saw a shark, ten stingrays, multiple queen angelfish, a queen triggerfish, and even a four foot wahoo in a single dive. Nevis had this amazing volcano that made sunrises and sunsets a spectacle that I never wanted to miss. Ile Fourchue had these amazing rock figures that made the uninhabited island beautiful. I can never forget looking onto the cliff sides of St. Barth’s and seeing goats standing on these little ledges. And of course, I can't forget the soft, white, sandy beaches of Tintamarre that truly encompassed a perfect Caribbean getaway location.

What made your experience abroad unique?

I think my living situation really made my experience unique. Living on a 44 foot catamaran with fourteen other people was a real challenge sometimes, but it was also one of my favorite parts of the trip.

I remember our first morning on the boat, we were all a little hesitant and slightly uncomfortable. But after playing some fun teamwork games on the shore, we all really got to know each other, and since that moment, we got to know all the good and all the weird things about each other every single day. It takes a special group of people to live pretty seamlessly together for three whole weeks. After a day or two, we had our own little community on the boat and everything got into a rhythm. By the end of the trip, we were all completely comfortable around each other.

I am never going to forget that little world that we lived in for three weeks.

How did the local staff support you throughout your program?

Being that my program was very unique, we had a support boat follow us from island to island. They helped us get more supplies when we needed them, they stayed on the boat so all fifteen of us could go diving together, and they brought us wakeboarding and waterskiing. I also can't forget when we used one instructor Timmy as our victim in our EFR (emergency first responder) practice situation.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Honestly, there aren't many things that I regret not doing, because I took the effort to do everything available to me. I guess I regret not taking the time earlier on in the trip to talk to all the students. They all had amazing lives and I wished I took the opportunity to talk to them more.

In the beginning of the trip, we kind of split into three separate groups. All the boys hung out with each other, and the girls split into two groups. I wish I had spent those first couple days getting to know everyone instead of segregating into our separate groups. By the end of the trip we were spending all of our time together as one large group, but those first couple days were only dedicated to getting to know three or four people instead of fourteen people.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

Everyday was extremely busy and long, but always a lot of fun. We typically woke up at 5:30 a.m. or 6:00 a.m. and went to bed at 10:00 p.m. In the beginning of the trip, we spent the mornings in the water learning rescue diving skills, EFR skills, or specialty certification skills. Those mornings were followed by lunch and another activity. Sometimes we would have town time or get to go on a little land excursion. Of course, we also went diving a lot.

The evenings were filled with dinner prep, showers (which consisted of us shampooing, conditioning, and soaping ourselves in the salt water, and then finishing off with a ten-second rinse of freshwater), and alone time if we wanted it (but alone time was basically moving a ten feet away from the conversation). After dinner we always did a full boat clean up, where we bleached the decks and cushions outside, and even cleaned the bathrooms in the boat.

Toward the end of the trip when we no longer had rescue and EFR skill practice, we went diving. By the end of the trip, we had dove around 30 times in just 21 days. That was on top of the hours and hours spent learning the rescue and EFR skills.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

In the beginning of the trip, free time was few and far between, but when I did have free time, I usually read a book, took a nap, or took a shower (only in the evenings). There were two nights where only half the boat went on a night dive, so the night that I wasn't diving, everything was really quiet. All of us remaining on the boat basically separated to the different corners of the boat and read a book, or just sat there in the peace and quiet.

I personally spent that time washing my clothes because I was well due for clean clothes. But, I remember how quiet and serene it was. We were in Saba, which has a very small population, so their was no light pollution. I couldn't tell where the sky met the water and the stars were the brightest stars that I've ever seen. Even though I spent that hour doing laundry, I just remember everything being so calm.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I just loved how we had our own little world on the boat. My group in particular was very special. We were all very compatible with each other, and we never had any big confrontations with each other. There were times when one or two of us were in disagreement, but it never escalated to something big. I think it takes a very patient, respectful, and mature group to have no big issues on this sort of a trip, and because of this experience I became a better person. My patience and respect for others grew immensely and I also learned a lot about myself, more than I thought I could.

There were moments of pure happiness on the trip, which can be attributed greatly to the amazing group of people that I lived with for a couple of weeks.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

One thing that everyone should know before partaking on this trip is that it won't be a relaxing, slow vacation. We do a lot of activities, and while they were always a lot of fun, it was pretty tiring. Toward the middle of the trip, you are pretty exhausted because you wake up at an early hour, spend the entire day doing activities, and then finish off the day cleaning the boat and finally going to bed. Everyday was busy, but everyday was filled with their own memories and adventures. If you are willing to lose some sleep and work hard, then you will have a good trip. Just always make sure that you take advantage of every opportunity, because you will regret it if you don't.

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad (or should we say aboard?) impacted your life?

I have changed immensely as a person. I think everyone can say that school and stress has tired them out and they are just not the same person they used to be. That was definitely me. I have taken the most rigorous course load that my school has to offer and I definitely became a shell because of that. However, my trip brought the fun back into me. It sounds stupid, I know, but it is a big deal for me.

I have gone into this school year with a different mentality than I have in previous years. Usually I am dreading the school year and all the stress that the year brings. However, this year I went in with excitement. I was much calmer and I am much more excited to learn. I can only attribute this change to my trip this past summer. I became my old self during those three weeks and that was because I was doing what I loved to do, which is travel, sail, and dive.

Would you recommend your program to others? Why?

I would absolutely recommend this program to others because it will be a once in a lifetime experience. I mean, how many opportunities do you have to live on a boat for three weeks diving and sailing with a bunch of other kids who share your same interests? I have so many amazing memories from my trip and I have made amazing friends. I still text them all the time and I am still in contact with my instructors.

While I can admit that this trip might not be the right fit for everyone, because it is a long time from your family and you are living in a peculiar situation, it was an experience that I think most kids should get the opportunity to have. I wouldn't trade my trip for anything because I grew so much as a person, and if someone gets the opportunity to do what I did, they should consider themselves extremely lucky because this trip was incredible.