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Final Reflections from the Fall 2013 Voyage

It has been just over a week since the MV Explorer docked in the Fort Lauderdale port and the 500-plus students from the Fall 2013 voyage disembarked for the final time to meet elated parents and family and say tearful farewells (for now) to their shipboard community friends. Without a doubt, everyone from the ship—students, faculty, staff, lifelong learners, dependent spouses and children—is still processing the experience and will probably do so for weeks to come. Many are preparing for their Christmas celebrations. Several are posting images to Facebook of mini-Fall 2013 reunions in Philadelphia, Charlottesville, Virginia, and Chicago. So, it seems appropriate that on this Christmas Eve, we reflect on the gifts and lessons that our Semester at Sea experience has given to us. Although this is just a sample of the students who sailed on the ship, their thoughts and aha moments and takeaways from the voyage reflect that of many. We will miss you Fall 2013, but we most certainly will not forget you.

This voyage was nothing like I expected. I had emergency ankle surgery 10 days before my flight to London, which changed the game. Luckily, I was still able to come and made it through six weeks on crutches and the entire voyage in a walking boot. This boot has seen the world! Needless to say, my physical limitation has definitely been the biggest struggle. I was looking forward to backpacking and hiking around the world, but my expectations had to change. I still camel trekked in the Sahara, walked the canopy bridges in Ghana, did a safari in South Africa, and visited the Amazon. Doing all of those things made me realize that I can still be adventurous and explore these countries despite any limitation. I realized my ankle doesn't need to hold me back and I could still do things I wanted to do, just maybe in a different way. This was a really important realization for me.

I remember thinking at the beginning of this voyage that I needed to keep my guard up to every local who tried to talk to me in port. I thought they were trying to distract me and wanted to only take my money. What I didn't realize was they were just as interested in us as we were to experience their country. I have now learned to be open to any conversation with a complete stranger. We can learn something from every single person we come in contact with.

MELODY JACOBS– University of Virginia
My takeaway from the voyage is that the world will always accept you for who you are. It is your job to put yourself out there so it can have a chance. Realizing that helped me learn that making an effort is the first step. Semester at Sea allows students to experience the good, the not-so-good and everything in between about ourselves and our culture and other people and their cultures. Your experience is what you make it, but it also requires you to take the initiative to step outside of your comfort zone and learn about what makes others live the way they do.

CHELSEA STUART – Emerson College
I am able to take on novel and sometimes intimidating experiences with a degree of confidence that I didn’t have before the voyage. While I think I am a rather independent person, SAS has taught me a whole different type of independence, and one that I am sure will transfer into my life at home. With each new country, I found myself becoming more independent, more social, open to new experiences, and more comfortable with the fact that I’m not always comfortable. I discovered that I changed when I emailed my friends at home about what I had done. When I’m typing the details of my experiences, I often surprised myself by what I had done and that was really exciting me. Coming to SAS without knowing anyone was one of the most transformative aspects of the entire trip though, and I now leave with lasting friendships.

ELIZABETH (LIZZIE) HEINE – Colorado State University
From my semester with SAS, I learned that traveling is not only about where you are or what you’re doing, but who you're with, whether it’s a local you just met, a life-long friend, a group you’ve gotten to know during a semester, or by yourself, each experience is going to be different.

CHARLES (CHIC) FITTS – Dependent Spouse
The thing that has most surprised me about our voyage has been the students I have met and gotten to know. Many of you worked very long and hard to get here, and many of you have absolutely shown up for the possibilities and opportunities of the voyage. You have brought intelligence, curiosity, the courage to second-guess yourselves and to stretch out to embrace the possibilities before you. So many of you seem to understand that this is only the beginning, and you’re eager to keep growing. I think you are hugely impressive, and I envy the futures you will create for yourselves and others.

RACHEL DARCY – Ithaca College
Each story heard is a new lesson learned. We should always ask questions, actively listen for the answer and take the lesson learned. Talking to new people is the best way to learn new things. One should not be afraid to approach people and ask questions to learn about a new culture. Every small story heard is new learning experience.

ANGELA ANTHONY – Eastern University
I learned to fully embrace the unknown of the future with joy and leave fear behind. Semester at Sea has opened my eyes to new possibilities and endless possibilities that I never would have accepted because of the fear I once held. I learned to let go of fear.

AMANDA STEVENSON—Santa Monica College
One of the most memorable SAS experiences would be the night I won third in the talent show and the continuing days after that. I had never received so many sincere compliments and questions in my life and while at times it was a little strange, like being talked about as I entered my astronomy class, the entire shipboard community made me feel so special and I know I won’t get that anywhere else.

SARAH SLOANE – Professor at Colorado State University
My favorite part of this voyage, aside from the students, was the pleasures of friendship, on and off the ship. The continuing importance of laughter and the ways a community looks after each other. I’ve enjoyed seeing how quickly a community can form, how quickly people build bonds, in a closed environment like a ship. How we learn to take care of each other very quick. How fast we learn to be each other’s allies, in our shipboard lives and when we strike out across a new port together.

SOPHIE CONNOT – University of Nebraska, Lincoln
One thing I will take away from this voyage is the kindness I was given in port. I was astounded by how genuinely kind people acted towards me around the world. Regardless of my home country, race, religion, and looks—not to mention being a complete stranger—I was welcomed by numerous other strangers. I plan to pay that forward in every way I can when I return home. I especially want to seek out international students and visitors and be a guide and friend towards them. I know how difficult it is to be in a foreign place with no personal ties, so I want to pass on the kindness that I was given in the countries we visited throughout the voyage.

JOHN BOYER – Professor at Virginia Tech
What a fantastic, exhilarating experience Semester at Sea has been for me professionally, but also personally! I now think about education and the next generation of students in an entirely different—and frankly way more positive—light. Such a huge mount of knowledge and life lessons have occurred in the last four months within this community. Truly, this is a milestone event in all of our lives, and I am a firm believer that just such journeys should be a mandatory component of undergraduate education across the nation. This is not about learning every nuance of a foreign culture, it is about building a global citizenry that is knowledgeable, comfortable and fluid operating on a global stage. That is the future. It is the future that I want all students to be equipped for, and I believe Semester at Sea does as well.

HANNAH FEROCE—Univ. of Pittsburgh
My biggest take away from this voyage is that real life doesn't have to mean settling down and staying in one place for the rest of my life, like it does back home. I can go as many places and do as many things as I want to.  I never had an Aha! moment where everything changed for me, but I did have a bunch of little moments that together changed my life. My favorite part of SAS has been the community. The people here are some of the best I’ve ever met, and it is amazing how close we’ve gotten in just four months. I can’t believe that these people weren’t in my life just a few months ago, but I know that they will be the rest of my life.

MEGAN SCHUCK – Fall 2013 Staff —Outreach Coordinator
Semester at Sea is incredibly powerful. I sailed as a student in Fall 2001 and 12 years later I am back as a staff member. It has been, of course, a different experience sailing as a staff member, but the sentiment of SAS is the same. I have become so close with so many people and being able to now watch how much these students have grown in four months is amazing. I'm pictured here with my extended family on the ship. I love all of my “nieces” and “nephews”.

KATHY NGUYEN — UC Santa Barbara
Semester at Sea has been such an encompassing experience in multiple ways. I have learned so much and have grown so much. I think one of the biggest takeaways I have from this voyage is that adventure is everywhere. I came to SAS thinking that traveling could be difficult and that it may be quite some time before I get to travel so extensively like this again. Now, I know it’s not hard to plan a road trip around the U.S. or fly to the other side of the world to see my new SAS friends. I’m so stoked to see what else is out there and I think that is the greatest gift I received from SAS.

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