Studying abroad was something I always wanted to do, but not something I felt I had to do. That was true until one day, I was browsing through different study abroad options and came across something called Semester at Sea. This is a program where students live and take classes on a ship while being taken to different countries all around the world. After looking at some videos and social media posts about the program, I had my mind made up right then and there that this was something I had to do. Fast forward 9 months later, I arrived to the ship with about 550 other college students from around the world and embarked on what would be the greatest adventure of our lives.
Living on a ship for a semester was an interesting experience that took some time getting used to. No privacy, limited internet connection, and there always seemed to be a light sway to the ship that would make everyone sleepy. It was also a little weird living a few floors below your professors. While I don’t think I could live on a ship for an extended period of time again, that was my home for almost 4 months and I miss it every day. I will never forget the beautiful sunsets, the caring crew members, and that feeling of pure excitement the night before the ship would pull in to a new country. We were all one big family and the ship was our home. My voyage included the countries of Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Senegal, Brazil, Trinidad & Tobago, Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. How it worked was we would take our classes when the ship was in transit from one country to another. Once we pulled into port, we had about 5 days to do whatever we wanted within the country.
During my time abroad, one of my favorite things to do was to visit and learn about all the historical sights. The Acropolis in Greece, the Colosseum in Italy, the La Sagrada Família in Spain, and Machu Picchu in Peru were a few of the places I visited. It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I was standing in a place with such rich history. It was a surreal feeling for example when I was walking through Machu Picchu knowing that an Incan Civilization once lived here centuries ago. My time abroad was also filled with riveting adventures and staying out until 6 in the morning some nights. However, the things I most enjoyed were learning about different cultures, interacting with locals, and taking in the sights and sounds of the country. I learned and had so much fun by just simply walking around.
It’s hard to put into words the impact that traveling has had on me. I met the most wonderful people and had so many unforgettable experiences. Being back home a few months now, I have this inner peace and never feel the need no be stressed out regardless of what is going on. One of the experiences that really impacted me was when I visited a rural community in Senegal. They welcomed us with open arms and showed us how they would complete their day-to-day activities with few resources. They had very little, but the kids were the happiest kids I have ever seen in my life. Just walking around in some countries, you see how lucky you are to have so many great opportunities that many other people don’t. Another experience I will never forget is our trip to Gorée Island in Senegal. A local woman named Amy, showed us around the island and led us to the House of Slaves. This is where many men, women, and children would be held until they were sent away because of the slave trade. Amy was such a sweet and friendly person, but you still hear the pain in her voice when she was explaining to us these atrocities. It was heartbreaking to see the conditions that people were imprisoned in. Having experiences like these have impacted me in ways I can’t explain. It seems like the only thing I’m interested now is exploring and learning more about the rest of the world.
While being abroad, it’s a given that you’re going to be pushed out of your comfort zone. My advice would be to take advantage of these moments. Try things you normally wouldn’t do back home. Venture out to the less touristy area of the country. Eat the weird looking dish on the menu. Take part in cultural activities. Lastly and most importantly, smile and have a friendly conversation with the locals. By having this attitude, I came home with no regrets, awesome stories, and a full heart.