Revolution, Jane Austen, and Kayaking 101

As you may have guessed from the seemingly random title of this blog post, I’ve taken a wide variety of unique and interesting classes at William & Mary, including a freshman seminar on the French Revolution, an English class that focuses entirely on Jane Austen, and a kinesiology course on whitewater kayaking! I’ve had the opportunity to explore many different disciplines outside of my major – classes that I may never have considered taking before. Some of these classes have included Protest Culture in Italy, Contemporary Social Problems in the US, Intro to Environmental Science and Policy, 3D-Design, and Environmental Ethics. Although I’m taking mostly history courses this semester, I have enjoyed stepping outside my comfort zone into other areas of study. Ironically, the class that pushed me the farthest outside my comfort zone was one that I initially took “just for fun.” During the spring semester of my sophomore year, I signed up for whitewater kayaking, a one credit, pass/fail course. I figured that spending a couple of hours each week on Lake Matoaka would be a fun way to relax between my other classes.

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A relaxing morning by Lake Matoaka

I soon discovered that I’d be spending much more time floundering in a pool than in my kayak. During one of our first classes, we met in the pool to practice wet exits, a quick way to get out of a kayak after capsizing. While this was an extremely crucial skill to learn, it became one of my least favorites to practice. Capsizing itself wasn’t as easy as it looked; purposefully flipping myself upside down underwater while trapped in my kayak took a lot of will power. I left each class with a nose full of chlorine from my less-than-graceful attempts. A few weeks later, we practiced a more advanced skill called rolling. This maneuver basically allows you to flip your kayak right-side-up after capsizing, and it is particularly useful when you’re out on a river.  If you lookup legit kayakers on YouTube, rolling looks relatively simple. For me, on the other hand, “rolling” meant an hour flailing around in my kayak while inhaling ridiculous amounts of pool water. Luckily, mastering the roll was not an essential requirement for passing the class.

After several weeks of capsizing in the pool, it was finally warm enough to practice paddling on Lake Matoaka. I gained a lot more confidence in myself and my kayaking abilities as we practiced different strokes and went through fun obstacle courses on the lake. At the end of the semester, we went on an afternoon whitewater trip to put into practice all that we had learned. At first I was a little nervous about flipping my kayak, hitting a rock, or forgetting everything I had learned over the past few weeks. Thankfully, everyone in my group managed to stay inside their kayaks during the trip. We confidently navigated the river and successfully rode through several rapids! All of our practice in the pool paid off, and I had a great time out on the water.

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Posing in front of our kayaks after a successful river excursion!

While I’m happy to say that I can now – more or less – cruise through a river in a kayak, my whitewater adventures are just one example of some of the unique classroom experiences I’ve had at William & Mary. I’ve enjoyed the benefits of a true liberal arts education over the past three years. I love being able to explore so many different fields of interest, from kayaking to Italian to colonial American history! When class registration rolls around for next semester, my advice to both prospective and current students is never be afraid to try something new!

Categories: Academics, Campus Life, Student Blogs Tags: , ,
2 Comments
  1. Erin Wall
    • Ann Waters

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