TK Kim & Kaila Pearson
"It feels really cool to have come full circle and be an instructor for OSO aboard the Team O'Neill, while also able to remember being in the kid's place."
We’ve asked TK Kim and Kaila Pearson, two of O’Neill Sea Odyssey’s past students and current instructors, to share their thoughts about their unique connection to, and teaching experience with, the OSO program. Here’s what they had to say….
When I was nine years old, and a student at Natural Bridges Elementary, my class attended the O'Neill Sea Odyssey program. It was the best field trip ever! My favorite enthusiastic teacher, Mrs. Kostelec, organized the trip. I remember especially how cool and different it was to crawl around on the black netting in the middle of the catamaran with the ocean water flowing underneath. I also remember the marine biology lesson where I was first introduced to the two types of plankton - zooplankton and phytoplankton. This experience of fun and learning most definitely aided in my curiosity with, and interest in, the ocean.
I went on to study ocean science at UC San Diego (Scripps) where I recently graduated with a BS in Marine Biology. Now back in Santa Cruz, I work aboard that very same catamaran as an OSO instructor, teaching kids the fun and importance of marine and environmental science, something I feel is so important in school curriculum, especially with what is going on in the world today. The OSO program teaches kids the consequences of our actions on the earth and what preventative steps we can take to aid in conservation. Like the experience was for me, it's also an opportunity where kids can be inspired by how rad and cool and exciting marine biology and marine ecology are. I feel blessed to be able to share my stoke with future generations through the Sea Odyssey program.
What does the ocean mean to you?
The ocean is 100% a part of who I am. The ocean gives me inspiration that I use for art, science and other fun hobbies. Growing up in Santa Cruz has made me have a strong rapport with the ocean. Daily interactions made me feel like the ocean was really a part of who I am. My dad had me on a surfboard before I could walk. I learned to swim, fish, dive and appreciate the ocean at a very young age.
My first OSO experience was in 2004, when I was a fifth grader at DeLaveaga Elementary School. There are several memories I recall from that one day with my classmates. I remember being absolutely terrified of the open ocean (it was my first time after all, on a boat on the ocean) so it took me a while before I could muster up the courage to crawl onto the net. Even then, I was paranoid I was going to fall through the holes into the turquoise blue abyss beneath. I remember eating a small piece of kelp at the encouragement of the ecology instructor. We were all curious but I didn’t like the slimy texture. I also remember tasting the plankton water sample in the biology station. Even though I was probably shaking with fear almost the entire time, I really enjoyed myself. It was an experience I'll never forget.
I am so grateful that I now get to serve on the Sea Odyssey team, alongside phenomenal instructors like those I met 14 years ago. As someone who has a passion for teaching and working with kids, I know how much of an impact we are all capable of making in their lives. Whether it has been as a counselor or a surf instructor, I have greatly valued being a part of our younger generations' lives, and now that I work for O'Neill Sea Odyssey, I am able to help that generation understand the importance of our environment and ocean.
What does the ocean mean to you?
It's crazy how much my attitude toward the ocean has changed over the course of my life but for me, the ocean means sanity. Even though I grew up in Santa Cruz and spent much of my time outdoors, I chose to stay on land due to an irrational fear of the ocean. Today, I spend almost all of my free time surfing and now teach aboard the very sailboat that marked my first experience on the ocean. And now, whether it is floating face up in the ocean getting lost in the sky, enjoying party waves on ankle biters with friends, surfing incredible overhead waves with just a few out, just simply staring out at the endless cerulean blue we call our ocean, or eating sushi (can't leave out sushi), all of this IS my therapy. All of this helps me retain my sanity in the midst of the chaos and busy-ness that too often conquers our lives. I understand that not everybody feels the same way but the more we realize that the environment and ocean can benefit us, and take actions in order to spread that knowledge, the better the world will be.
Thank you, Kaila and TK, for coming full circle and joining the Sea Odyssey team. You each share a valuable perspective that we and our Ocean Stewards truly appreciate.