Traveling By Sea And Visiting A New Country (Almost) Every Week
This past semester, I chose to study abroad with a rather… unorthodox program.
I traveled by ship instead of plane, lived in a cabin instead of a dorm, and found myself in a new country almost every week for about 15 weeks. This program, called Semester at Sea, took almost six hundred students to 11 countries across the globe, in Europe, Africa, and the Americas. In four short months, I crossed the equator on four different occasions, and cultivated a newfound appreciation for each corner of our planet, regardless of size and stigma.
No cuddle buddy or mother’s lullaby can come close to the serenity of waves rocking you to sleep each night. The black Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Pacific Ocean, all crash quietly against the side of the ship, directly underneath the porthole. Serene, that is, after you get used to it. The first major challenge was finding our sea legs, combating the rocky waves that no student anticipated. But a few days passed and the rockiness subsided. No longer did we fall over on our way to the dining hall or fall asleep while reading (literally the only time I ever fell asleep in class!).
Adjusting to the waves was easy compared to some of the other challenges we experienced.
Traveling through the middle of the ocean means two things: no Wi-Fi and no cell phone service. For a day or two, this does not seem too bad. But the first stretch, from Germany to Greece, was NINE DAYS. Imagine nine days with no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or worse, Netflix. Our Semester at Sea e-mails and for a short period of time, BBC News were our only forms of contact with the outside world. But soon, we managed to put down our now-useless smartphones, and rely on the most incredible sunrises to wake us up and sunsets to entertain us.
Traveling by sea came with challenges, but it also allowed us to move more freely around the world.
We found ourselves in a new city in a different country nearly every week. First Hamburg, then Athens, then Rome, Barcelona, and the list goes on. Waking up in a new country never got old. It felt like being a child again and waking up on Christmas morning, except more fantastic.
On these mornings, we would wake up, wait for the ship to be cleared by immigration, and then step off the gangway into a place just as new, wonderful, and welcoming as the places we visited before it. Walking in the streets meant something different, whether it was Florence, Marrakech, or Jaco. Different sights, different street art, different people, different smells, different music… something completely new and completely wonderful each time.
It was this manner of traveling that truly allowed us to learn about the world and the forces that shaped the societies that exist today, like colonialism, wars, and politics. Not only did we learn about the World Systems Theory, but actually witnessed its effects on people in Europe and Africa alike. Deindustrialization became more than just a concept to know for an exam; it became a part of reality in places around the world like Senegal and Ecuador. In Brazil, we walked among buildings that had remnants of colonial-era architecture sitting next to buildings with mosaics, just like the ones on the medieval buildings in Moroccan medinas.
Through this program, I was able to experience the wonders that places all over the world have to offer. I learned to appreciate the differences of people and look past the stereotypes associated with places like Senegal and Ecuador. I was able to view Goree Island with reverence and revel in the beauty of Pailon del Diablo.
Semester at Sea is not a typical study abroad program.
Some students may claim their host countries as their second homes, but we claim the ocean as our one and only, and boast a family about six hundred strong. Sure, we learned in a classroom (well, cruise ship lounges converted into classrooms), but the most important lessons we learned were from the people we met and the cultures we tasted. Sure enough, the world was our classroom.