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Kathy Pao Reflects on the Similarities of Semester at Sea and the Clinton Global Initiative University

Kathy Pao (left), Fall 2012 alumna, stands in front of the Clinton Global Initiative University that took place in April, 2013 at Washington University in St. Louis.

Before I embarked on Semester at Sea I would stare at this poster on my wall; to anyone else it was simply a canoe beached on a tropical island, but to me, the poster represented everything I had yet to see beyond the confines of my college campus. Semester at Sea was my chance to explore new horizons. My opportunity to break the rut I was experiencing at my home campus; my opportunity to travel, experience, and learn things you just couldn’t get from a book or classroom. I had wanderlust and Semester at Sea was my solution.

After travelling to a dozen countries on four continents, the world changed from a vague abstraction to a very real place. I got lost in places where I couldn’t speak the language, I met friendly and not-so-friendly people, and I had expectations fulfilled and disappointed; in other words, I experienced life. If there’s any sort of universal truth I can conclude, it’s that people all around the world have the same aspirations in life. Though the details may be different for each person, the same nature of people exists everywhere. We are connected on this earth through our humanity, through our ubuntu; “I am because other people are.”

The greatest aspects of Semester at Sea were being exposed to new walks of life and meeting new people.  Hearing people talk about their stories, what they’re doing, and what they want in the future, taught me so much more than any reading assignment ever could. Reminiscent of my experience on Semester at Sea, the Clinton Global Initiative University brought together a diverse array of people united in pursuit of a common goal. On Semester at Sea, the goal was to see the world and find our place in it; at CGI-U, it was to commit to making a positive change by giving back to the world that has given us so much.

It was an honor to sit in the same room with the esteemed collection of panelists. Each one of them has made a tangible impact on a global issue. Their stories were incredible because they taught innovation, self-confidence, but most of all perseverance. They were living proof that though one person can make an impact, we should never have to face these problems alone.  Being at the University of Washington in St. Louis for CGI-U, showed me that none of us are alone in our pursuit of change. Walking into the field house with 1000 of my fellow students, I felt exceptional but simultaneously small, both privileged and humbled. The same feeling I got when I looked out on the horizon and all I saw was ocean.

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