It's hard to believe that it's been a year since I flew to London to meet the MV World Odyssey and spend the fall circumnavigating the globe on Semester at Sea. One year ago, I set off on the adventure of a lifetime. I had never been more excited or more terrified in my life. I honestly thought I wasn't going to be able to do it. Even just moments before I got on the ship, I stood at the bottom of the gangplank and thought about turning around and heading right back to Heathrow and getting back on a plane. I had never been so scared in my life. But the second I put one foot on the stairs leading up to the fifth deck, I knew there was no turning back and I was in for the most life-changing three and a half months of my life.
Studying abroad or just traveling in general is the biggest privilege any person can ever be afforded. There is something about exploring cities with new people and trying weird foods and getting lost in shady cities at midnight that teaches you about yourself in ways that you can never learn in a classroom. It also teaches you to check your privilege and be more aware of it. When you see people living under trash bag tents and children running around on the streets without shoes and disabled people left in alleyways to fend for themselves, you can never look at your world the same again.
Living for four months on a ship was like living in our own little country. There's no Internet in the middle of the ocean (a crazy concept, yes I'm aware) so we actually had to talk to people and have deeper conversations about what we were experiencing and who we were as people. We spent late nights in the Kaisersaal, laughing about stupid inside jokes and early mornings on the eighth deck watching the sunrise from beginning to end. Acceptable interruptions to class included, but were not limited to, dolphin sightings, whale watching, kids dressed up as pirates, and brief power outages. Sanitation warnings, rogue crickets, and peanut butter rationing became an integral part of our daily lives. Ship life was the best life.
A year ago, my life was always interesting. Every week, I saw some place new. I met people who I couldn't necessarily communicate with, but who showed me their homeland with pride and joy in their eyes. I ate incredible food (Let us never forget that moussaka at the base of the Acropolis) and some other more questionable delicacies (Shark meat tastes just like chicken, in case you were wondering.) I feared for my life on multiple occasions (don't arrive in Naples after sundown) and thought I was coming home with malaria at many different points throughout the voyage. I cried when I saw a dolphin off the side of the ship and laughed until I couldn't breathe on my different occasions. I met three of the most amazing friends I will ever have and who I know will be standing by my side on my wedding day, all because I had no one to eat dinner with on the third night. I saw myself change every single day. I felt myself heal. I witnessed a group of total strangers morph into the most special and strong community I've ever been a part of.
A year has passed since the best days of my life, but I know that even more greatness is in my future. I would give anything to be back there. But life keeps going and it's too short to wallow in the sadness of not being on the ship. Instead, I chose to live my life every day in a way that would make my shipboard community proud. I chose to help those that I am able to and smile at those I can't. I chose to use my voice to bring awareness and change. I chose to smile because it happened instead of cry because it's over.
So in the words of my dearest Allie Vognild, here's to the friends who became a family, the ship that became a home, and the dreams that became a reality. Stay SASsy.