Around the World in 106 Days
In January I embarked on the Spring 2013 voyage of Semester at Sea; a voyage that would take me, and 600 other students, to 12 countries in 106 days. After months of planning, unending safety lectures from my concerned but supportive parents, and struggling to fit all I “needed” into two duffle bags, I flew to San Diego, California to board the MV Explorer. This huge step outside my comfort zone would soon become the most incredible four months of my life.
The first few days were a whirlwind filled with orientation, learning my way around the ship, and meeting the hundreds of new faces. But I soon became familiar with how everything worked and developed an amazing group of friends. I felt more accepted and comfortable in my own skin than ever before. It didn’t take long to realize I was surrounded by many supportive, intelligent, and motivated individuals that were just as excited to explore the world as I was.
With evening seminars, classes, movie nights, daily lunches on the deck, games in the piano bar, and late night snacks, there was hardly ever a dull moment. Shipboard life was a huge part of the voyage. Sea Olympics, Neptune Day, pre-port lectures, Sunday evening worship services, and having the opportunity to travel with and learn from Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu were all additional highlights.
In-port travels created their own uniquely memorable experiences. Among these were touring the Atomic Bomb Memorial in Japan, trekking up to the giant Buddha in China; visiting an orphanage and holding a python in Vietnam; spending a day at the Singapore Zoo; riding an elephant through the jungles of Burma; taking a rickshaw through India; exploring the markets of Mauritius; experiencing a township homestay and attending Hillsong church in South Africa; volunteering at City of Refuge ministries in Ghana, tasting the foods of Morocco; and admiring the architecture of the La Famalia Cathedral in Spain.
The voyage changed many things about myself, the way I think, and the way I view the world. Although we come from many different cultures and backgrounds, we’re all connected. I truly believe that the power to love and the power to listen are two of the most valuable abilities that we have. If these were taken advantage of in more meaningful ways, the world would be a much better place.
I miss Semester at Sea more than I could have ever imagined. There were tears, moments of regret, and times I missed home so much I wondered if it was even worth it. But none of that even compared to the joy I felt from being surrounded such an incredible group of people and the amazing experiences I had while traveling the world with them. By the end of the voyage, they were so much more than just my peers, faculty, and crew. They had become my family and the MV Explorer had become my home.
Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu
It was an unbelievable honor to meet and travel with Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu during the voyage. He is such a big inspiration in my life, and having the chance to learn from him personally was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I am absolutely terrified of snakes. To this day, I still do not know why my hand shot up when our tour guide asked, “Okay, so who wants to hold the snake?” However, I don’t regret the decision at all. This experience is just one example of the many times I chose to take a step (sometimes a leap) outside my comfort zone during the semester.
Girls at the orphanage
Service visits were among my favorite in-port experiences. I absolutely fell in love with these two girls at an orphanage in Vietnam. Although we didn’t speak the same language, we were still able to communicate through our smiles and laughter. We spent the day decorating ourselves with stickers, taking pictures, playing games, hugging, and sharing songs.
Taking a thirty minute elephant ride through the jungles of Burma definitely ranks at the top of my favorite experiences. I had always wanted to ride an elephant, and having the opportunity to do it in way and in a place that so few people have ever done before is an experience that I’ll never forget.
The friends I made on this voyage were such an incredible blessing to me. I miss them each and every day. There is no doubt in my mind that I developed friendships that are going to last a lifetime.