I can vividly remember nights as a child when my younger brother and I would stay up late looking at my dad‚Äôs Semester at Sea pictures as his slide projector beamed them onto the wall of my room. We were fascinated by his Canon camera (which he bought in Hong Kong while on SAS), the strange looking film, and the beautiful pictures that exposed us to the world for the very first time. Although I didn‚Äôt realize it then, I now understand how much my dad was shaped by Semester at Sea.¬† His flexibility and easy-going nature are a perfect compliment to his love for adventure and spontaneity. He never hesitates to give help or ask for help, and is always interested in ditching our ‚Äúplan‚Äù to get advice from a local. I try to emulate him in any way I can, so I knew from a very early age that Semester at Sea would be in my future.
My friend, Erin, had a similar story. ¬†She always seemed to follow in her Mom‚Äôs footsteps‚Äîfrom her choice of college to her decision to become a film major. And, like me, she ended up following in her Mom‚Äôs footsteps once more by enrolling in Semester at Sea. To Erin it seemed like a natural choice. She‚Äôd already inherited her mom‚Äôs fierce passion for travel, her uncanny ability to embrace every new experience, and her talent for nurturing strong, lasting friendships. When she decided to go on Semester at Sea, Erin hoped to emulate her Mom‚Äôs stories of wonderful travels, crazy experiences (like sleeping in a Buddhist temple and eating only Reese‚Äôs pieces for 2 days straight), and, of course, new friendships.
However, neither of us could have anticipated just how incredible the friendships that lay ahead of us would be.
On the second day of the voyage, I met Erin for the first time while we were both sitting in the computer lab. We were doing research about our first port, Hawaii, while sharing the advice others had given us before the trip. Erin told me that one piece of advice her Mom had shared with her was to go out on deck while pulling into each port, take pictures, and look at the country she‚Äôd soon immerse herself in, just as her mom had done during her own Semester at Sea voyage years before. My ears perked up when I heard that she had a parent who was also an alumni of the program.
‚ÄúWhen did your mom sail?,‚Äù I asked with curiosity.
‚ÄúIt was the spring of 1985,‚Äù Erin replied.
‚ÄúOh my God!,‚Äù I shrieked, ‚ÄúMy dad also sailed in Spring ‚Äô85! I wonder if they knew each other?‚Äù
We immediately turned back to our computers and emailed our parents to find out if they had known each other. My dad was the first to respond, writing ‚ÄúOf course!‚Äù He didn‚Äôt elaborate much in that first email, so we were curious how close they had been. Luckily, right before I left for Semester at Sea my dad had all of his old slides converted into digital photos. I said to Erin, ‚ÄúLet‚Äôs look through them! Maybe your mom will be in one of these photos.‚Äù We had only gotten to the second photo when Erin squealed, ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs her!‚Äù We later found her mom in many more of my dad‚Äôs pictures. Erin and I were both amazed. Not only had our parents sailed on the same voyage, they had been close friends.
Erin‚Äôs mom emailed soon after. ¬†She wrote, ‚ÄúOmg, I know Billy! Wait, how do you know him? I‚Äôm confused.‚Äù
Erin quickly wrote back, ‚ÄúI‚Äôm sitting with his daughter right now!‚Äù
Since meeting each other at the start of the voyage, Erin and I have been inseparable friends. We spent our 21st birthdays together (which are only three days apart). We have traveled together in Hawaii, Japan, South Africa, Ghana, and soon in Morocco. We have spent endless nights staying up late and teaching each other about our lives before the ship. We have eaten almost every meal together. And we‚Äôve even tried to recreate some of the photos that our parents took together back in 1985 during their travels.
With 626 other students on board, there‚Äôs a chance that Erin and I might not have met or ever discovered that our parents had been friends. I feel lucky for our serendipitous encounter at the start of the voyage that brought Erin into my life. Although we only met a few months ago, our friendship was set over 28 years ago on the Spring 1985 voyage.
For us, this is only the beginning. Erin and I will be traveling around Europe together after the voyage ends, and we‚Äôre already planning to visit each other at school. Our parents, who had lost touch, are now in contact again after all these years, and we‚Äôre looking forward to getting the four of us together one day to celebrate the legacy of a Semester at Sea friendship that has spanned the generations.