South Africa 2014: My students ARE my peers

To complete our dive certification we must complete four open water (i.e. in the Indian Ocean) dives over two days. 

Our transfers to the beach occur between 6:15 and 7:15 a.m. with breakfast available from 5:30.  We are loaded like cattle into the pick-up trucks and herded to the beach.

The sun is up and, thankfully, is beginning to afford some warmth against the chilly morning.  The wet suits are cold, however we manage to pull them over our goose-bump riddled skin. We line up on the log facing the sun and looking at the expansive ocean beyond for our briefing.  The first dive is only an orientation. No skills will be expected as we simply experience the underwater world together for the first time. The remaining three open water dives will require us to repeat all the skills we completed in the pool. 

Preparing to launch our boat.  We walk beside it until it is afloat and then scramble into the boat for take-off.

We all perch at the edge of the boat, heavy with gear. The countdown for our rollback into the water is about to begin.  How will we feel once it’s time to actually roll over the edge backward into the ocean?  Are we ready?  We should be, we’ve completed all the proper checks.  The captain of the boat shouts, "1, 2, 3, go".  We all plunge backwards into the sea.  With our inflated BCDs, we bounce back to the surface. breathing through our regulators and realizing that so far everything is fine. 

Transport to and from dive site.  Near the dive site we put on all our gear (which is in the center of the boat during transport) and prepare to roll off the edge.  

Our instructor beckons us to the buoy that contains the line that will guide us to the bottom.  I position myself towards the back in case I have trouble equalizing.  We descend.  It's a bit murky but I can see the guideline.  Bubbles from those preceding me percolate upwards towards me.  The person in front of me is flailing and fins are hitting me in the face so I switch to the other side of the rope and experience significantly more calm.  I'm breathing fine.  I'm equalizing.  Everything is working.  Soon the ocean floor emerges below.  The others leave the rope and gather at a sandy spot near our instructor.  Coral and beautiful fish surround us.  Yes, we have entered a whole new world.  It's amazing.  It's calming, despite our chaotic presence.  Mostly I feel like I'm trying to avoid the kicking fins and flailing arms of my co-divers, my students.  It's interesting, in this situation, their role as “my students” has completely dissipated: they are currently my peers, as we are in this, learning and experiencing together. Yet, I still worry about them and hope they are all having a good first dive.   The thirty minutes flies by and I can't believe it's time to ascend.  We successfully surface. Finally we heave ourselves, with help, back onto the boat.  We are handed lollipops that are balm to the salty taste in our mouths.  We suck happily on our pops as the boat speeds us back to shore.  Everyone is smiling and everyone is feeling a sense of accomplishment, though we remain a bit reserved knowing that we still have to pass a skill set down in the ocean.

We have a two hour break before our second dive.  Mostly we spend it in the sun, soaking up some rays and getting warm. The first part of the second dive involves covering some skills at which we all are successful.  Then, we have some time to follow our instructor in observing the sights.  This is when we realize how fun it is to dive.  This is when we realize we probably WILL return to the water as a diver.  That afternoon we are asked to reflect on our dive experiences.  Our thoughts are similar and we share together.

The next day we complete our final two dives for certification.  Before the final dive, however, a few things happen.  A student loses his mask in the ocean.  An instructor attempts to find it to no avail.  Then, another student, all rigged up, loses his sense of balance and falls off the boat before we are at the actual dive site.  Ha ha.  So, he has to take off all his gear, board the goat, and re-rig himself.  Finally, in our pre-dive check it is discovered that a student did not properly check her oxygen tank and has rigged up an empty tank - she must wait on the boat for a replacement tank.  With all these mishaps I have no comment, after all, any of it could have happened to me.  Again, there is this strong sense that in this situation I stand on equal ground in every way with my students.  As co-students, we all turn to our dive instructors for guidance, questions, and help.  For all those able to complete the entire certification process, we are 100% successful!  Two people were unable to finish due to sickness or injury, however, I’m confident they will complete their certification this summer.

We are certified divers!

During our fun dive on the following day, we are significantly more relaxed as a group as we approach a dive as certified divers.  During the dive I receive a tap on my shoulder.  It’s my buddy signing to me asking for my air levels.  I signal back.  There’s my buddy.  My student.  My peer.  We are depending on each other to be there for one another and to make sure we both make it to the surface safely.

This transition from student/teacher to peer has been an interesting one. We’ve been able to get to know each other on a whole new level.  It makes me appreciate my students all the more.  They are delightful, fun, interesting, thoughtful, and trustworthy.  I advocate working with students on a non-school sponsored trip.   It’s eye-opening and rewarding.   I suspect that it builds foundations and relationships for years to come.