Friday, December 16, 2011
The Last Days On the MV Explorer
Oh, America. Home of the free, land of the brave. The Fall 2011 Voyage of Semester of Sea, the 107th journey of the Institute for Shipboard Education’s premier study abroad program, has come to a close in the Sunshine State of Florida. The days between leaving Honduras and now have been filled with literally every single emotion possible; there’s been excitement, anxiety, fear, joy, sadness, resentment, frustration, boredom, lethargy, and, most importantly, overwhelming gratitude. It’s weird being back, and it’s even weirder thinking that the life I came to know and love so well has abruptly come to its end.
The day after Honduras saw the beginning of the packing process. While I came with what seemed like an enormous amount of stuff, I left with even more. My bags were packed with clothes, flags, trinkets, my yoga mat, souvenirs, gifts, basically a whole slew of things I didn’t come to the voyage with. Most importantly, perhaps, were the lessons I tucked away into my bags, stuffed neatly between the postcards and magnets that have been hanging from my wall. I packed away my new found confidence, relationships, and views on this amazing world of ours. It’s hard to classify the whole experience, what it has meant, and how I’m going to let it influence my future. That being said, I can say one thing for sure: this world of ours is so incredibly beautiful that 111 days exploring it hardly gives it justice. My awareness has moved away from local and has gone global, as I’m now more interested in how things affect each other throughout the entire world.
So, what exactly happened besides packing? On that second to last day on the ship, a reentry panel was held for people interested in discussing reverse culture shock and the process of coming down from our experiences abroad and coming back to our lives away from the MV Explorer. While their words were helpful, they reminded me that what lies ahead will not be easy. It made me remember how I felt when I returned from Europe in the spring and how utterly lost I felt at first, how America seemed so different and weird. It took a while to readjust, and the discussion made me realize that readjusting back from Semester at Sea will, very likely, take much longer. Faculty member Wendy Goldberg spoke on the panel about the topsy-turvy feeling we will experience. She drew upon Alice in Wonderland for a number of interesting and rateable metaphors about the nature of dropping into all these new places and then coming back to something we recall with familiarity and fondness. I have to say, after falling through the rabbit hole and seeing all that Wonderland has to offer, pulling myself back out is proving to be an interesting experience.
I ate dinner with Jackie and Kat, my shipboard extended family. At the beginning of the semester, I signed up for an extended family, thinking I would be placed into a large family with two lifelong learners as parents and a bunch of other students as siblings. Instead, I received a mom and a sister. Frankly, after having had dinner many different times throughout the entire semester, I am glad it ended up working out exactly the opposite of how I expected it to. We were able to discuss more personal experiences in the countries and on the ship that wouldn’t have been able to have been shared had my family been upwards of ten people. I’m grateful for having such a loving, tight-knit family on the ship that I knew I could always count on.
That night, the Acting 1 and History of Musical Theatre classes performed their final scenes and student-written musical, respectively. Acting 1’s students explored a number of different self-written monologues, scenes from various plays , and South African opera songs. Admittedly, some were better than others, but overall, they did a great job and kept everyone entertained, despite some technical difficulties regarding the spotty sound system of the Union on the ship. Following that, SAS: The Musical was performed! The History of Musical Theatre class has been working all semester on writing and putting on an original musical. The story was essentially about life on the MV Explorer and the two forbidden relationships between a student and a crew member and the dean and a lifelong learner. Though cheesy, it was hilarious and enjoyable, with many of the jokes only really making sense to those on the ship. That reminded me, though, of how special our community became over the whole voyage. We have so many characters and personalities that it’s no surprise to me that so many jokes sprung out of the people on board. Following the performances, the final Coffeehouse was held. I, of course, spoke, sharing some more of my writing. If the musical reminded me of the personalities and jokes, the Coffeehouse reminded me of the sheer sublime talent of many of the different people I have come to know and love. It’s been a real privilege being in their company and sharing all of our work with one another. It has only solidified my desire to continue writing and creating.
The final day came. The ship was awash in weird emotions; people seemed to be wandering the hallways aimlessly as we enjoyed our last moments on our floating home. Upon finishing packing, my room was empty, further adding to the bizarre feelings of the last day. When everyone was done moving their baggage to the designated location on the ship and collecting their passports and yellow fever vaccination cards, we had some downtime. I ate my final dinner outside on the 6th Deck, watching the sunset for a final time over the endless ocean. I’ve been lucky enough to see so many amazing sunrises and sunsets throughout this semester. How am I supposed to recreate the sunrise over Cape Town while we approached South Africa or as I slowly moved through the entry portal into Angkor Wat in Cambodia? What about the explosion of red, purple, orange, and blue as the sun dipped into the ocean each night from the back of the ship or over the Arabian Sea in Kerala, India? The beauty I have witnessed is indescribable, humbling, and, quite simply, awesome. There’s still so much left for me to see around the world that this voyage has not quenched a thirst, but rather has only set me on fire with more questions, desire, and hopes for truth, understanding, and exploration. Following dinner, I went to Linda’s 22nd surprise birthday party, hosted by Jake in one of the classrooms. Many of my good friends were there, so it was a happy celebration of not only her birthday, but the semester as a whole. The night officially ended with convocation, a recognition of the whole four months and those lucky graduating seniors.
Then night unofficially never ended. I stayed awake all night, hopping between all the groups of friends I have become a part of—I never fell into one single clique, which I am thoroughly happy about. I spent time with Lou, Diana, Causey, Natasa, Valleria, Mike, Brad, Ali, Jake, Linda, Nick, Johnny, and plenty more. The last crew I hung out with ended up being Lily, Mary, Cristina, and Lauren; apparently, Abby, Alden, Ricky, Kevin, and I think some others were with them, too, but they disappeared to bed. Mary and I ended up staying fully awake the longest. When the time came for breakfast, we moved upstairs to eat. As we sat in dining room on the 5th floor, the lights of America started to become visible. Miami and Ft. Lauderdale twinkled in the distance. When we finished eating, we went to the front of the ship and experienced our first moments back in America. I had made a sign then night before that I held up and took pictures with: 29,052.5 nautical miles. Can you believe it?
It started to rain at one point. We migrated inside so we could avoid the moisture. However, when we moved to the back of the ship to see the parents as we made our final movements into the port, the sun began to shine through the clouds. In this moment, I was reminded that even in times of darkness, such as leaving behind the life you love, there is always a light to guide you back through to the other side.
Then it came time to really say goodbye. I raced about the ship, giving my final hugs, saying my final words to people, and shedding some tears in the process. I was one of the earlier groups to disembark, so I didn’t have as much time as others. When it was finally my turn, I grabbed my backpack, slung my Ghanaian drum over my shoulder, and walked out onto the gangway for the last time. As John, Luke, Whit, Ionna, and I slid our cards one final time, we said farewell to the MV Explorer and the lifestyle that is Semester at Sea. I greeted my parents with loving hugs and a statement of how overwhelmingly thankful I am to them for this eye-opening life experience. We drove away, me in the backseat slowly attempting to rationalize the finality of the program. I haven’t gotten there quite yet, as I keep feeling like I’ll be walking back up the gangway to my room tomorrow, but eventually I’ll get there.
How did I celebrate? Lunch with my parents at Chik Fil A and dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. Reverse culture shock, much? The next few days were spent in Naples, Florida, home of nothing but elderly people. I spent almost the entire time catching up on TV shows and sleeping. The frustration of being home hasn’t fully hit me yet as I am not quite home in my own house in my own bed.
Where am I this weekend? Having a unique intellectual adventure at COLORADO COLLEGE. I’ll write something more sentimental later, but know this: Semester at Sea changed my life, and my friends from the program, quite literally, mean the world to me.
Oh, ocean blue, I miss you terribly. You will always be a part of me.