Samso, Denmark

SAMSØ ISLAND, DENMARK — I have come to College of the Atlantic for a master’s degree. I am on this trip to study sustainable energy systems, and the community building that goes into their implementation.

My undergraduate degree is in Interior Design, a degree that funnels students into the architectural field.

There was a hole in our training, however — sustainability. That is why I am here. I have wanted to bring these systems to my region of Maine, but do not have a vehicle for it.

This trip is going to be wonderful and intense. We were issued a Samsø “monster” course summer reading list, which was invaluable to me. Spare minutes at work have been filled with the summer readings. It has been 10 years since I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, and I would be lying if I denied any nerves about returning to graduate school as an adult.

The self-doubt that inevitably grows on us when we exit the supportive environment of an educational institution has crept into my bones, and I didn’t see it coming. Preparing for the class by following the reading list helps tame the nerves, and embrace the fun of going back to school.

I finally find myself packing. Although it has been years since I have traveled abroad, I am amazed at how easily I autopilot through what I know I need — rain gear, underwear, hat, gloves. I skip what I know will be unnecessary weight — multiple pairs of shoes and the larger camera stay home. I indulge in a few items — art supplies, and a rather large pair of headphones I know will hold my head in place so I can sleep on an overnight flight.

At 3 a.m., I pick up Kate, another student who also happens to be nontraditional, and we embark on a 48-hour travel marathon of car, bus, plane, plane, tram, plane, plane, train, ferry. It has been marvelous having someone to travel with.

We meet people on the plane and discover the fun of saying “We’re on a class trip,” and watching our fellow airline passenger raise one eyebrow at the two of us — clearly not schoolgirls — as they wonder what we mean. We smile back and revel in our own joke, before explaining that we are a graduate student and an alumni … on a class trip.

I think I will like this island. After 3,400 miles and two full travel days, we arrive in a place that looks remarkably like home. My eyes will barely stay open. My left shoulder has withstood all it could carrying my shoulder bag through multiple airports.

But we have reached the sea, and my aches and pains disappear as if dissolved by the presence of salt air. I am tired, which is the best kind of happy.


— Andrea Russell grew up in Maine and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Interior Design from Syracuse University. She is a Registered Maine Guide who works in the Patient Access Department at Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor while pursuing a Master’s of Philosophy in Human Ecology, with a focus on green design, from College of the Atlantic. “My ambition is to try to bring ecological design solutions to Down East coastal Maine,” she said.