It all started in the year 1971. Susan Mason had just sailed on the Fall 1970 Voyage of Semester at Sea and was in Los Angeles to meet up with some friends. In that group was Elaine Deutsch, who had traveled 3,000 miles from Richmond, Virginia to Los Angeles to board the ship for the Fall 1971 Voyage. Despite being on two different voyages and living most of their lives on the opposite ends of the country, the two hit it off during a spontaneous party prior to the inaugural¬†voyage¬†of the S.S.¬†Universe.
‚ÄúWe piled into Elaine‚Äôs room and had this big ruckus party, and her roommate‚Äôs parents weren‚Äôt real crazy about it so they reported us and the dean came down. We hadn‚Äôt even left the dock yet!‚Äù said Mason in between laughs.
‚ÄúSo that‚Äôs how I started my voyage‚Äîin trouble with the dean,‚Äù added Deutsch.
Unknown to them at the time, that single encounter and their mutual connection through Semester at Sea would be the foundation of a close friendship lasting over 40 years. The two alumni decided to join the Fall 2018 Voyage from India to Myanmar to relive some of their favorite ‚Äòship life‚Äô moments; although it was clear that much had changed since 1971.
‚ÄúThe S.S.¬†Universe campus had linoleum floors, the closet doors were metal like lockers, and the air conditioning would break down and we would have to take our mattresses up to the top deck because it was too hot in our rooms,‚Äù Deutsch said. ‚ÄúIt was uncomfortable, but we didn‚Äôt know that. We thought it was great!‚Äù
For Mason‚Äôs voyage, the ship layout was the most striking difference, marveling at how voyagers had bathrooms in their rooms and didn‚Äôt have to walk down the hall to shower or use the toilet.
‚ÄúIt was much more like a college dorm experience back in the old days. We had the girls dorms and the boys dorms,‚Äù Mason recounted.
Both women spent their time on the ship sharing stories with voyagers and Lifelong Learners about the impact Semester at Sea had on them and how it changed the trajectory of their life. The international experience they gained from their voyages allowed Mason to work in the travel industry for the tourism authority of San Diego. For Deutsch, the experience allowed her to make a much more personal change.
‚ÄúI had never really traveled, and being on the ship both times gave me the courage and the confidence to realize that I could be out there by myself. When I came back in spring of ‚Äô74, I went home to Virginia and asked ‚Äòwhy am I in Richmond, Virginia?‚Äô So I packed up everything and moved to California. Which I don‚Äôt think I could have ever done had I not known that I could do it on my own,‚Äù Deutsch said.
Working in the travel industry, Mason has helped people book cruises and other maritime adventures, but finds it incomparable to a Semester at Sea Voyage. She hopes that the mission of Semester at Sea can resonate with adults who want a unique travel experience.
‚ÄúWhat I always like is the fact that you see a variety of countries and cultures on this voyage and you‚Äôre in the country long enough to get a pretty good taste of it,‚Äù she said. ‚ÄúOn a traditional cruise, you could be in a country for eight hours, get back on the ship and go to the casino. That can‚Äôt happen here, so you have time to experience quite a bit of the culture in another country.‚Äù
Even after 40 years, the two women still recounted the moments that took their breath away on each of their voyages. Mason‚Äôs voyage stopped in Greece, a place that she had always told herself she would eventually visit.
‚ÄúSo when I got to Greece on the ship and we took the bus and we came up the hill and saw the Acropolis, I burst into tears. It was a dream come true and it was so wonderful to be there. And knowing that I had affirmed it years ago having no idea how I was going to get there, and there I was‚Ä¶it was magical.,‚Äù she said between tears.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs overwhelming sometimes to think of where we are,‚Äù Mason said. ‚ÄúThe Taj Mahal, the Great Wall‚Äîall these places you‚Äôve heard of, all your life you‚Äôve read about them, but to actually put your foot on the ground and touch it. You cannot replicate that. You just can‚Äôt.‚Äù
It was a world of difference sailing with Semester at Sea in the year 2018. But for a brief moment, watching the sunset over the horizon, sharing stories through the night with old and new friends, and not knowing or caring that there was limited wifi, it was as if they had traveled back to the 1970s to relive a fleeting memory of their past that would change their lives, forever.