Sisters at Sea
During the semester of Spring 2020, we had the amazing opportunity of circumnavigating the world while furthering our educational careers. For those who don’t know, Semester at Sea is a Study Abroad program that takes an even deeper approach to seeking out new cultures and learning opportunities. There is really no better way to see the world than having classes that overlook the deep blue waters and visiting countries weeks at a time. Our voyage was originally scheduled to visit eleven countries in 106 days. Talk about a trip of a lifetime. Sadly, we had some obstacles keeping us from being able to see all these wonderful places. While being denied access into China, Malaysia, India, and Ghana because of COVID-19 wasn’t an ideal situation, we still have extraordinary experiences that will stick with us forever. As much as we would like to talk about every single one of those experiences, that would take pages. Here is a little snapshot into a couple of memories from our time abroad!
Upon embarking the M.V. World Odyssey to participate in Semester on Sea, I had planned to visit eleven different countries, become immersed in various cultures, and form relationships with people from all around the world. I eagerly anticipated the passport port stamps I would gain. The early end and empty passport did come as a disappointment. But over the two and a half months I floated in the middle of the ocean, I gained so much more.
Each experience while on Semester at Sea brought forth learning and growth. I learned the importance of staying positive during times of uncertainty. Focusing on the good and gain of each situation is beneficial not only to ourselves but also to everyone around us. Throughout the voyage, I would wish that my eyes could capture photos, so I could hold onto a memory as I lived it. Of course, this is impossible, but I did learn how to live in the present and savor each moment. I know I will never forget the beauty of the sunsets, coming nose to nose with a sea turtle, or hiking ten miles through the mud. However, I never truly realized how important each moment was until all I had were pictures and memories. As a SAS alumnus, I now hold onto those in-between moments a little longer. If anyone wants to go on SAS or learn more, let me know!
My time on Semester at Sea was nothing short of astonishing. Gratitude is the word on my heart. There is something just so special about the community on board the M.V. World Odyssey. 500+ people from all different places, coming together for one central purpose: to dive head first into cultural awareness and understanding. In lighter terms, we all shared a love for this world!
It was three days before reaching Vietnam that we decided to visit the villages of Sapa. Never in my life had I heard of this place, but you only go to Vietnam once, right? There is simply no easy way to visit the villages of Sapa. After a two-hour flight, half-mile sprint to the bus stop, and six-hour sleeper bus, we were finally there. For the next 7 hours, we hiked through hills and rice patties . . . all adding up to 12 miles at the end of the day. Throughout this trek, I was able to see first-hand the lifestyle these people had. Every person I encountered was nothing but friendly and welcoming. That night, our group did a local homestay, waking up the next morning to the smell of homemade crepes and fresh coffee. The second day, we trekked again. This time we were able to stop at Chi’s house for lunch. She opened up her home to us just like we were family and taught us all to make our very own spring rolls.
I remember a specific moment from that day so vividly it is like I am still there. In a house with concrete floors, in 40-degree weather, all 8 of us were huddled around the only fire in the house, freezing our booties off. People were complaining about being tired and that they were cold. In the background, I saw 3 little girls with no shoes on, playing games together trying to decide who had to go refill the water system. They were so happy. So full of a joy that goes far beyond circumstance.
I have so many funny stories, breathtaking photographs, and cool-looking passport stamps, but raw, real stories like this are what Semester at Sea is all about. Even in the middle of a pandemic, the world had so much to offer.
Sydney Bruce & Emma Kaiser