Semester at Sea: The Beginning

Semester at Sea: The Beginning

The Semester at Sea Series
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I don’t talk about Semester at Sea as much as I probably should.

It’s not because I don’t want to.

It’s not because people don’t ask.

But it’s hard to talk about it with someone who wasn’t there.

Because if you haven’t experienced SAS, if you haven’t sailed around the world with 600+ strangers that became like your second family, you won’t completely understand how that trip made each and every one of us a completely different person than who we were when we embarked in Hamburg.

I can give you the elevator speech that I prepared - that Semester at Sea was everything that I needed when I needed it.

I can name the countries that I went to - Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Senegal, Brazil, Trinidad & Tobago, through the Panama Canal, Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.

I can give you a glimpse into the voyage by updating my instagram account and Facebook with photos from each country.

But you won’t understand what Dick Nean means.

Or why I can’t eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without thinking of the Lido Terrace.

Or the feeling I got when the whole ship came together to sing-shout Bohemian Rhapsody in Kaisersaal a couple of days after the election results divided us.

Or how it felt to shave my head while everyone shouted my name and the ship crossed the equator.

Or what really happens when a girl sneaks a sick seagull onto the ship.

And while I could sit down and explain it to you, bring you into my world for those four months, part of me wants to save those memories for the people that experienced them with me.

Because I’m worried that if I tell you all of it, if I tell you every single detail, that some of the magic surrounding those moments won’t belong to us anymore. It will belong to someone who won’t cherish the memories with as much love and care as we do.

And there’s a small part of me that fears the finality of writing it all down - because as soon as I write about Semester at Sea, as soon as my fingers hit the keys and the words appear on my laptop screen, that chapter in my life comes to a close, and the memories belong to more than just me.

But I went on Semester at Sea to gain control of a life that was led by fear, and I have no intention to invite that part of me back into the driver’s seat.

So I’m going to try to bring you into my life at sea and share the moments with anyone who wants to listen.

All I ask is that you be patient.

Be careful with the memories.

Treat them well.

Be okay with not fully understanding everything that I tell you or write about. If you make an effort to do that, I will try my best not to get frustrated with you when you want to hear about my trip. Because I know you mean well.

I know you genuinely want to know.

But if you want to ask me about the trip, ask me about all of it.

Don’t just ask me about my favorite country, expect a two minute conversation, and then change the subject.

Because Semester at Sea can’t be summed up in two minutes. It can’t be defined by my favorite country, or my favorite food, or the “best thing that happened on the trip”. Because it’s so much more complicated than that.

But if you’re ready to sit down and listen (or read), I’m finally ready, too.

(This is part one of The Semester at Sea Series - a series that chronicles my 4 months sailing around the world.)





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A Senior's Last Week Of High School

The bittersweet end.
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Well, this is it. This is what we've worked so hard the last four years - who am I kidding - basically what seems like our whole lives for. This is the very last week we will set foot as a student in our high school's hallways. As most schools are getting ready to set their seniors free at last, it all begins to set in - the excitement, the anxiousness, and also the sentiment and nostalgia.

For seniors, the years since our first day as a freshman at the bottom of the high school totem pole have seemed endless, but as we look back on these last few weeks, we realize that this year in particular has gone by extraordinarily fast. It was just yesterday that we were sitting in our classrooms for the very first time, going to our 'last first' practice, and getting our first taste of the (very real) "senioritis". With all that's going on in our lives right now, from sports and clubs, finals, and the sought after graduation ceremony, it's hard to really sit down and think about how our lives are all about to become drastically different. For some it's moving out, and for some it's just the thought of not seeing your best friend on the way to fourth period English; either way, the feels are real. We are all in a tug of war with the emotions going on inside of us; everything is changing - we're ready, but we're not.

THE GOOD. Our lives are about to begin! There is a constant whirlwind of excitement. Senior awards, getting out of school early, parties, and of course Graduation. We are about to be thrust into a world of all new things and new people. Calling our own shots and having the freedom we have so desperately desired since the teenage years began is right around the corner. Maybe the best part is being able to use these new things surrounding you to grow and open your mind and even your heart to ideas you never could before. We get the chance to sink or swim, become our own person, and really begin to find ourselves.

Things we don't even know yet are in the works with new people we haven't even met yet. These friendships we find will be the ones to last us a lifetime. The adventures we experience will transform into the advice we tell our own children and will become the old tales we pass down to our grandkids when they come to visit on the weekends. We will probably hate the all night study sessions, the intensity of finals week, and the overpowering stress and panic of school in general, just like we did in high school... But it will all be worth it for the memories we make that will outlive the stress of that paper due in that class you absolutely hate. As we leave high school, remember what all the parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors are telling you - this are the best times of our lives!

THE BAD. The sentimental emotions are setting in. We're crying, siblings are tearing up, and parents are full-out bawling. On that first day, we never expected the school year to speed by the way it did. Suddenly everything is coming to an end. Our favorite teachers aren't going to be down the hall anymore, our best friends probably won't share a class with us, we won't be coming home to eat dinner with our families...

We all said we wanted to get out of this place, we couldn't wait, we were ready to be on our own; we all said we wouldn't be "so emotional" when the time came, but yet here we are, wishing we could play one more football game with our team or taking the time to make sure we remember the class we liked the most or the person that has made us laugh even when we were so stressed we could cry these past few years. Take the time to hug your parents these last few months. Memorize the facial expressions of your little sister or brother. Remember the sound of your dad coming home from work. These little things we take for granted every day will soon just be the things we tell our college roommate when they ask about where we're from. As much as we've wanted to get out of our house and our school, we never thought it would break our heart as much as it did. We are all beginning to realize that everything we have is about to be gone.

Growing up is scary, but it can also be fun. As we take the last few steps in the hallways of our school, take it all in. Remember, it's okay to be happy; it's okay to be totally excited. But also remember it's okay to be sad. It's okay to be sentimental. It's okay to be scared, too. It's okay to feel all these confusing emotions that we are feeling. The best thing about the bittersweet end to our high school years is that we are finally slowing down our busy lives enough to remember the happy memories.

Try not to get annoyed when your mom starts showing your baby pictures to everyone she sees, or when your dad starts getting aggravated when you talk about moving out and into your new dorm. They're coping with the same emotions we are. Walk through the halls remembering the classes you loved and the classes you hated. Think of the all great times that have happened in our high school years and the friends that have been made that will never be forgotten. We all say we hated school, but we really didn't. Everything is about to change; that's a happy thing, and a sad thing. We all just have to embrace it! We're ready, but we're not...

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My Future Is Unpredictable And That's Totally Alright

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations.

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For six months, I had plans to study abroad in the Dominican Republic during the fall semester of junior year. Filling out what seemed like endless applications and paperwork, searching for travel ideas on Pinterest, and writing a class research paper on the DR's relationship with its neighboring island, Haiti, I was prepared to live and learn about Dominican culture hands-on.

Then on the Thursday before Finals Week last spring, I read my email. My study abroad program in the DR had gotten canceled. In the span of 30 seconds, my future had taken a new course. Less than a week later, I was submitting papers to study abroad in a new country where another adventure awaited: Ecuador.

If there's anything I've learned in the past year, it's that life is unpredictable and we can't control it. The future is unknown. But-

Who wants to know exactly what's going to happen in the next few years? I mean, I believe it's good to have a direction, but you don't have to have the entire journey pinpointed straight to the core. You meet people, you get inspired, you see things, you have experiences. And you go from there. (Though, I totally respect people who have clear ambitions and stick with them their entire lives.)

Where I was a year ago was a completely different path than where I find myself today. Last summer, I worked four different internships/jobs in the span of three months. A year ago, I would never have guessed my following summer unfolding with an immersion trip to India, a solo adventure to Taiwan & Hong Kong, and becoming a certified yoga instructor. A year ago, I hadn't met half of my best friends. A year ago, I hadn't seen poverty in a third-world country. A year ago, I wasn't even sure I wanted to major in Environmental Studies.

Just because I don't know what the future holds doesn't mean I can't set goals. I have a destination, an idea of where I'm headed and where I want to go. While abroad in Ecuador, I want to learn about sustainable development and coffee production as well as enhance my Spanish skills.

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations. I know the format of the program. I'll be taking classes and living with a host family and then doing an internship at a farm. Otherwise, I have no idea what's going to happen. And that's what I'm looking forward to the most. The spontaneity. The unexpected. As one of my good friends would say whenever he doesn't have formal weekend plans, "I'm improvising." And you know the one rule of improv: Always say yes.

¡Hasta pronto, Ecuador!

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