My Itinerary

My Itinerary
Where I will be between August 26 and December 13

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Five Stages of Grief

According to Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, as we are dying or when we have suffered an enormous catastrophic loss or trauma, we experience five distinct stages of grief. These are the Five Stages of Grief:

Many mornings I wake up and think that I will be back on the MV Explorer and sailing to another foreign land by the end of the day. I keep thinking that this just another port, albeit much longer than all of the others and with much more downtime. I imagine myself running back to the port, worried about making it before on-ship time so I don't have to deal with the dreaded Dock Time. I have tricked myself more than once that I'll be in a new country next week for a few days before retreating back to my floating home. I have trouble believing that just as quickly as the 111 days began, they ended. There seems to always be something outside that reminds me of a place I saw, a person I met, or an experience I had, keeping me in this perpetual state of thinking I am still a student on Semester at Sea.

I really don't like a lot of what I see in America on a daily basis. I detest our obsession with popular culture; I don't care about Beyonce's baby. I despise our paranoia. TSA Employee, do you really think that the 3-year old who can barely create a coherent sentence is going to blow the airport to smithereens? Frankly, our American culture seriously lacks in the same kind of depth as many of the places I visited. Sometimes I wish I spent less time sleeping or in my room or doing nothing on the ship, or that I chose to do something differently in one country or another. I'm absolutely broke and it sucks. Some of the questions people have asked me about my experience at sea have been absolutely idiotic. I can't drink alcohol (legally), I can't go to bars, I can only go to clubs on certain nights, the city I go to school in seriously lacks in cultural and economic opportunity, my list of grievances could go on, and I know that if I were still on the ship, these problems and annoyances would only exist in the very back of my mind.

What I would give to be back, to have another buffet plate of countries to visit and experience. There isn't much holding me back from selling all my stuff and going on another adventure aboard the MV Explorer, or entirely independently. I'd gladly trade one of my final three semesters of college for another one at sea. More than anything, though, is that I wish the dreams I have been having while both awake and asleep could become actual realities, that they could be moments I recall fondly rather than mere imaginings in my head each night; I would give up my misty-eyed daydreams for 111 more days.

I'm bored a lot of the time. I tend to get sad when I'm bored, thus leaving me to nostalgically ponder the life I used to live. I miss the sublime sunsets over the ocean. I miss the excitement of pulling into some new port every week. I miss the lifestyle of Semester at Sea (because it really was a lifestyle). I miss that feeling of lostness I would get every morning when I would look out my window and wonder where I was in the context of the greater world. I miss the distinctness of each ocean and sea we would sail through, something I truly did not expect when I signed up for the program. I miss the booming chorus of beating ocean waves every night as the ship would rock me to sleep. I miss the world. More than anything else, though, are my friends. I miss the friends I made on the ship and in the country. I've said this before, but I feel it needs to be said again: my friends I made while on Semester at Sea, quite literally, mean the world to me. It's proving to be difficult moving on with my life without them at my side.

When I first applied for Semester at Sea in January of last year, I knew that at some point it would have to end. That's the nature of life. Everything comes to an eventual end. Between Honduras and Florida, nobody really knew what to do, and everyone dealt with the upcoming shock in their own way. Since then, everyone has dealt with returning to America in different ways. One thing most of us have held in common, though, is wondering whether or not SAS was a dream. Did it actually happen? Did we actually sail 29,052.5 nautical miles around the world in 111 days? Did we visit that many countries in that short amount of time? The answer? Yes, yes we did. How glorious it was to wake up in a different country each time we sailed into a new port. Digging deep into the culture of so many unique places allowed us the chance to really understand much more of the world than a lot of other people our age do. I'm so thankful that I got to have this experience. It was the time of my life, and I know, deep down in the furthest chamber of my heart that if I were to sail again, it just wouldn't be the same experience. After unpacking all my new clothes, magnets, trinkets, and gifts, I realized that none of those are what made Semester at Sea special to me. What really made Semester at Sea so special to me, or at least one of the things, were the delicate moments I had both on and off the ship in which I felt like I was part of something greater than myself, like the world had something to tell me. And it did. Oh, how it did.

These are the Five Stages of Grief. As denial proves to be unrealistic, anger too hard to maintain, bargaining too foolish, and depression too sterilizing to matters of the present, I feel myself moving closer and closer to acceptance. Semester at Sea happened, and it was incredible. Thanks to everyone involved.

Class tomorrow. Colorado College tomorrow. Life, as they say, goes on.

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” 
-Hermann Hesse

The sunrise over Ft. Lauderdale on the final morning.


  1. Sam that was a joy to read. As a non-anything on board Explorer for the third time (ie. wife of faculty), I knew all through the trip, having experienced it before on FB, how significant the voyage was going to be to all of you when it was over. That you would have made life long friends and that you would wish desperately to be back, sailing round the world still. While it's happening we all take it fore granted and it's not until we're back in the (so called) real world that we appreciate its importance in our psyche and in our lives. I wish you the very best of luck in your future but keep in touch with your friends...they understand.

  2. Sam. Thank you for taking the time to write and post and for bringing the dream back to life for a bit. We each miss you. When you want to visit Atlanta, you will always have a place to stay...

  3. Sam, Nan Thomas posted your link and I loved reading this page. You are very insightful and sensitive. You will do fine. Experiences with SAS are existential in the sense that they can never recur and they do not often fit evenly within our everyday lives. But, they are a part of you.

    Whenever you feel really bad, visit my colleague Vicky Levine in music at CC. She will have a sympathetic ear. You can play in the gamelan, too. I know all of those people and they are good people.

    David Harnish (SAS S2010, S2002)
    Chair, Music
    University of San Diego