Chai Comrie (back row in blue t-shirt) said he gained a new life experience studying abroad.
By Kilisha Fain
Florida A&M University College of Agriculture and Food Sciences (CAFS) student Chai Comrie said he gained a new life experience during his recent venture studying abroad.
Whether taking an exciting journey countryside or abroad, traveling is one of the best ways for college students to have new experiences and witness different cultures. For Comrie, the opportunity to explore new and foreign environments meant learning new skills and gaining a new network of friends.
The first-year animal science pre-vet major recently traveled to Heraklion, Greece, to participate in the International Ocean Discovery Program (IOPD) for a six-week study, aboard the JOIDES Resolution (JR), a scientific ocean drilling research vessel that maneuvers into the ocean floor to collect and study core samples, giving scientist a glimpse into Earths development.
Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program ran from February 9to March 21, 2023, to teach students about how the study of the Earth’s core is significant to understanding climate control and the earth’s history. Comrie said he always aims to take part in opportunities that enhance his professional growth.
Last fall, Comrie saw an announcement sent out by faculty member Dawn Lewis, Ph.D., about an upcoming opportunity to participate in a program aboard a scientific ocean drilling vessel.
“I had been thinking about studying abroad for a while, so I saw this as a chance to see if I could do it,” he said.
After a lengthy application process, the Fort Lauderdale native received an email confirmation of his acceptance into the program.
“I’m always up for learning new things to build on my experiences,” said Comrie. “So, the fact that I had a chance to visit new countries, while also participating in field research was exciting for me. It was also a chance for me to connect with other students with the same interests as mine.”
After 20 hours of travel, Comrie arrived in Heraklion, where he took a brief tour of the city before boarding the ship. On board, he joined 15 students from colleges around the country, along with JOIDES Resolution crew members, professors and staff representing Columbia University, Texas A & M University, the University of California-Berkeley, and NASA.
Comrie said his first two days were spent learning about the ship, its many laboratories, practicing evacuation drills and receiving other instructions. He described a typical day at sea as one that included waking up at 6 a.m., taking COVID tests before breakfast, then assembling in the meeting room to learn the activities for their 12-hour shift.
“Most days, we prepared smear slides of the core and microfossils that were collected and conducted multiple research tests. We even had lessons in filming and writing children books”, Comrie said. “Our day typically ended around 8 p.m. each night, then, we would play games, watch movies or even sing karaoke.”
In addition to his visit to Heraklion, the ship also docked in Tarragona, Spain, where Comrie said he enjoyed tours of the city and partook of the local cuisine. Following an overnight stay in Barcelona, Spain, the group parted ways and Comrie prepared for his return trip to Tallahassee.
Lewis, an instructor of CAFS organismal biology and microbiology, said connecting students with opportunities like these can be transformative.
“These programs expose students to an array of scientific research practices and techniques”, said Lewis. “It’s also an opportunity for them to network with students from across different countries.”
Lewis said Comrie was the first student from an HBCU to be selected for the program.
In addition to research offerings, IODP provides opportunities to attract, retain and diversify the workforce in the field of science, which is currently a major challenge facing most countries. Lewis said the program also addresses exposure gaps among student populations of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
“This is an NSF funded program,” said Lewis. “My hope is that these experiences will serve as a mechanism for increased engagement in science and technology and provide a vehicle for professional development in scientific research.”
Travel expenses, including lodging and meals were paid for by the Ambassadors for STEM Training to Enhance Participation (A-STEP) and the U.S. Science Support Program.
“The best part of this experience for me would definitely have to be the people, not just the students, but everyone on the ship, because they were all excited about the experience.” said Comrie.
His advice to other students considering studying abroad is simple. “Do it. Make sure you have an international plan to stay safe, always travel in groups, but most of all, just go for it. If the opportunity comes your way, don’t be afraid to take the leap.”
For more information about the International Ocean Discovery Program, please visit the IODP website.