In some of my other posts, I’ve hinted at my love/hate relationship with Semester at Sea. I have some big feelings about the program. Most of them involve a deep, personal indebtedness for bringing the world to my doorstep, for providing an entry-point into homes, villages and cultures that I’d otherwise have little or no ability to navigate (at that time) on my own, and expanding my view about so many religions, cultures and ideas.
I took several classes on the trip. I hand picked them to give me ultimate intellectual exposure to the variety of ideas I’d encounter on my travels. The Sociology of Religion, for example, encouraged relatively deep study into the world’s religions before we had the opportunity to actually participate – as much as we’d be able, as outsiders – while in the country. It’s one thing to watch a Cao Dai ritual from the outside. It’s another thing to appreciate the rationale behind each figure, each symbol, and each action.
My other course, which was one of my inspirations for this blog, was my World Literature class. Before porting in any new country, we read a handful of biographies and novels written by folks who actually live in the country. Headed to Cape Town? Awesome! PLEASE ascend Table Mountain – and send me some pictures! But also, maybe consider visiting Khayelitscha through the eyes of a young girl who symbolizee the injustice of Apartheid. I maintain that there is no better way to experience a culture than through the lens of the participants. Now go visit Robbin Island and tell me how it makes you feel.
The view from Table Mountain IS beautiful…
Too good to be true? Of course. What isn’t?
Just Lauren, Andrew, Katie, Bryan and I hanging out in Mauritius!
For every individual like myself, Stephanie, Lauren and Katie, who was there to genuinely learn, graciously share experiences, and give back as able, there were folks who were there to take, take, take. I get it. Bartering is part of the culture. Dive in! Have fun! Exchange some good natured tug-of-war around pricing. But at the end of the day, those hand-whittled statues took him hours to make, and you’re trying to barter him down to an insanely low price just for the hell of it. That dollar means nothing to you. That dollar means a lot to him. Is it really worth it?
I believe that travel – real travel – must involve more than a tour, photos, and coming back with a great story. It’s seeing a place as it is meant to be seen, and stepping back into your own country as if on foreign soil, forever changed by the experience. For some folks, Semester at Sea helps you do just that. I remember returning to the states through the port of Miami and being shocked and dismayed in South Beach. I cried when I saw how many types of bread there were in the mini-mart. How can we have so much, and so much choice, when others have so little?
If you are of college-age, looking for a great entry into travel, someone to help you with excursions, tell you if the water’s safe and facilitate learning opportunities, Semester at Sea is a great option. If you are looking to brag about how much partying you did in each country, do us a favor and save those berths for someone else.
Who Am I?
Where have I been?
Check out the image below for a visual of all of the amazing places I’ve been fortunate enough to experience and My Bucket List for the places I hope to visit soon.