Island Time: Spending a Semester on Catalina Island

USC Wrigley Institute

By: Autumn Gupta

What do six students, one dog, a bison named Bill, and five professors all have in common? That’s right- they’re all participating in the USC Environmental Studies Program‘s “study abroad” semester at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island- aka the most outdoors, star-filled, hands-on experience-based learning you can get from USC (or anywhere frankly). I was fortunate to be one of the six students and have loved every minute of my time on the island.

Our classes are structured in a block schedule, meaning we take one class for about three and a half weeks and then switch to an entirely new class. Being able to focus on one subject at a time allows for a greater understanding and more in depth look at the material, which is awesome when what you learned that morning in lecture is directly applicable to the field work you do that afternoon.

cat semester 1

The six Cat semester students in front of Shark and Little Harbor on our trip to Avalon for the day.

During the three and a half weeks of class, the professor comes out and lives with us on the island. What’s really cool about essentially living with your professor is that you get to known them well outside of the classroom setting. Some nights after dinner we would sit for an hour talking about the latest episode of “Making a Murderer” or discussing various internship/summer opportunities or what classes you should take for specific graduate school programs. I now have five different professors who I feel would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation or help me in general going forward. As a current freshman, it’s nice to know that I already have these kind of connections and mentors in my life. Also, “office hours” are literally whenever they are awake to meet with you, which is super convenient.

Cat Semester 2

Class one day: snorkeling and looking at eelgrass densities in Little Harbor.

While we do spend a fair amount of time in “class,” with lectures in the morning and field work or labs in the afternoon, we have ample free time. Some of this time we fill with kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, exploring caves, visiting Two Harbors & Avalon, sleeping, watching Netflix, putting together puzzles- basically whatever we can think of that sounds fun. Oh and doing our homework of course. One of my favorite aspects of living on an island is just how in touch and integrated you are with the environment. I see foxes, birds, squirrels, and bison on an almost daily basis. Even the plant life is beautiful, albeit painful- especially when you run into a prickly pear cactus which seem to be everywhere.

Living on the island is exciting in itself, but sometimes you just want to interact with different people, which is why this program is perfect, because LA is only an hour and a half boat ride away. We have students who go back every weekend and we have students who have only been back to the mainland twice in four months. Overall, I’ve had one of the best semesters of my life in terms of getting a great hands-on education, experiencing the natural beauty of Catalina, and living on an island for crying out loud. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity and encourage anyone even remotely interested to seriously consider the program! Even if it’s just for a weekend or a day, Catalina Island has a lot to offer and is worth seeing once in your life- I know I am going to miss it come May.

cat semester 3

The natural beauty of Catalina is stunning! One of our almost daily views.

Autumn is a freshman in the USC Environmental Studies Program, class of 2019.

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