Last semester, instead of beginning my junior year at Concord Academy, I drove three hours north to join the Chewonki Maine Coast Semester Program’s sixty-seventh semester. The Chewonki Foundation operates a variety of programs, including the Maine Coast Semester, on its  400-acre campus on a peninsula in Wiscasset, Maine. This campus includes a relatively small built environment, a forest, two tidal rivers, a salt marsh, and a farm. A key focus of the program is the connection to and sense of place, so these landscapes quickly became familiar to me. 

Before leaving, I was both apprehensive and excited. On multiple occasions, I considered calling everything off and having a normal junior year. I was concerned that I would have a difficult time adjusting, that I would miss out on memories with my family and friends and that the transition back to CA would be difficult. Now, these concerns seem very small in comparison to the experiences and knowledge I gained. 

I adjusted relatively quickly to life at Chewonki and my new peers by throwing myself into community life and trying lots of new things. I became accustomed to waking up early for morning farm chores, followed by breakfast, morning meetings, and a packed school day. I was thrilled by the opportunities that had drawn me to Chewonki initially—our weekly phenology assignment, which involved sitting in the woods alone for an hour each weekend; natural history field labs; and classes and activities focused on the natural world. I also learned to love tasks like dish crew (similar to kitchen duty, but for half an hour twice weekly) and work programs (projects including things like invasive species removal, trail maintenance, and farm chores).

However, it was undeniably difficult to readjust to my normal life and to school at CA. One reason for this was that, due to COVID-19 procedures, we were not able to leave the Chewonki campus for the entire semester, excluding field labs and emergencies. This led me to forget a lot of small things about life in the “real world,” as I started calling it, such as the fact that commuting takes time out of your schedule, what people look like, and how to pay in a store. Another factor that made the transition difficult was that I was moving from a very tight-knit and focused community of about 60 individuals to a much larger school and world. I felt a bit stranded without my Chewonki friends and teachers, and I had to figure out what I wanted my life to be like as I re-integrated into my world. 

More than two months after returning, I feel pretty well adjusted to life at home, and I have a new perspective on the lessons I learned from my experience. Something I have realized that I really valued about my semester away was the strong sense of community it provided. I was able to participate more fully there in a way that I have not in other communities, and this is something I hope to take with me to other experiences in my life. Another valuable aspect of my time at Chewonki was the lack of emphasis placed on technology.  Students did not have their phones, and we had school Chromebooks available from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. I believe this led us to spend our time in more valuable ways than we might have otherwise, such as having conversations and going for walks. While it would be almost impossible for me to eliminate technology in the same way at home, I am now interested in finding ways to cut down on my tech use and connect with others in person. 

Overall, my semester away experience was amazing and transformative, and I am so glad I made the choice to attend. I would strongly encourage anyone considering a semester program, Chewonki or otherwise, to apply, and if accepted, to take a leap of faith and attend.