Our time on Semester at Sea has been many things: it’s been exciting, liberating, exhilarating, unique. It’s been challenging, at times, and rewarding at others. It’s something we will look back on, months from now, years even, to help reevaluate ourselves and our place in the world.
The growth we have experienced is not temporary, for this voyage will impact us for a lifetime.
“Semester at Sea has taught me that one person really can make a difference and that people are inherently good,” said Emily Tomich, a public health student at Elon University. “My dreams for Semester at Sea came true, and it has inspired new dreams. I can’t wait to see where my time on SAS will lead me.”
Looking back, it’s clear just how far we’ve come.
We arrived with a clean slate as we set sail from Halifax, with open minds and open hearts.We could only imagine what was ahead as we unpacked, gathered in the union, and said our first hellos. We shook hands with newfound friends, with our professors, and our deans. We got to know one another on a personal level, sharing travel plans over pasta and potatoes.
We learned one another’s stories. We found one another’s strengths, and we became a shipboard family.
“We will never go back to the people we once were,” said Meghan Donaghy, a psychology student from Loyola University Chicago. “Now that we’ve been initiated into the Semester at Sea family, there’s no going back.”
We took Europe by storm. We climbed mountains, we camped out for sunrises, we savored local cuisine.
As we neared Africa, we grew anxious to see the drastic differences between Europe and Ghana, and even more so, the differences between ourselves, and the people we were about to meet.
When we arrived, we immediately became aware of how welcoming and hospitable Ghanaians were and, later, how adventurous and loving South Africans were.
Here we learned a valuable lesson: traveling is not about the places you go, it’s about the people you meet. It’s the experiences you have, interacting with friends old and new. It’s dancing in a small village in the rain, laughing with local children, and using our bodies to convey messages across language barriers.
“I know now more than ever that I really want to devote myself to policy work and human rights advocacy,” said Caralena Peterson, an admin and policy studies student at Duke University. “I really feel like Semester at Sea has helped me to confirm that. I have been learning to do things not out of guilt, but out of love.”
In South America, we sipped mate with locals and danced tango in the streets. Our minds and our hearts were tested as we delved deeper into different countries, scribbling furiously into our journals as we returned back to the ship.
We spent long days at sea, but those days flew all too quickly.
We are different now.
How can we explain to those at home what it feels like to have witnessed the Cliffs of Moher? To see a love lock bridge in Germany? To hear a heartfelt story from a Ghanaian tribesman, meet a survivor of Apartheid, or walk through a favela in Rio?
We’ve slept in small villages, on hammocks, under the stars, we’ve found ourselves more comfortable in the world than we ever could have.
We have done what very few have done before—explored the Atlantic Ocean, reached the center of the globe, and walked on three continents with the same pair of shoes.
This voyage has not been without hardships. There have been times where the troubles of the world have become our own, when personal conflict at home has left us heart-broken, when we came together to support one another through the loss of a shipmate.
We have cried together, supported one another, and created a family here.
Together, we pressed onwards and came out on top. The friends we have here, now, caught us when we fell. Though we come from different corners of the globe, we are all one people. We are all one family.
We no longer place any importance on the color of our skin, the religions we adhere to, or the nationality we claim.
Through everything, we have grown. We have learned from our professors, and those who enhanced our voyage during their time with us– like Ambassador Shannon, from the US Embassy in Brazil, who sailed with us down the Amazon and helped us to realize the importance of Brazil in a global context. The classes we took, sponsored by the University of Virginia, helped us feel more confident in business, writing, and astronomy. We can point out Orion’s belt with ease, and we can tell you about the Irish Revolution, too.
Whether we found our roots of Europe, re-evaluated our place in the world in Africa, or became more comfortable with new languages in South America, Semester at Sea has changed us. As a shipboard community, we realize now what’s important in life, and what isn’t.
We have had the opportunity of a lifetime. And when we feel like we want more, that our lives aren’t enough, let’s instead appreciate what we have, what we saw, and those amazing people we met on the Fall 2012 voyage of Semester at Sea.
We can say “Welcome” or “Fáilt,” or “Accueil” or “Bienvenido” or “Awkwabe,” or “Bem-Vindo”: it all means the same thing. You are welcome here, with me, with all of us. Anytime.