One of the major caveats of study abroad is once you return, you truly never stop talking about it. Three years after Semester at Sea, I continue to share memories with loved ones, or just about anyone that will listen.
Three years ago I left the country without my parents (for the first time), and with a buddy who I can confidently call a lifelong friend. Three years ago this summer, I packed what I thought would be appropriate for a trip around Northern Europe (shorts and t-shirts) into a giant suitcase. I put myself and my ever-growing heart on a red-eye to London, and hopped off the plane to what felt like a new world.
I had never been to Europe before. My knowledge about the continent was so slim, I didn’t even know it would be likely to rain in London. More importantly, I didn’t know that the memories I would make on Semester at Sea, would be so impactful nearly three years later.
I was a shell of a person before I started traveling- anxious, obsessive, and afraid. I feared excitement and human connection, I worried both would be taken away all too quickly. This is the reality of who I was before traveling Europe in sixty days.
Of course, not everything came easy. There were days when I thought the comfort of my bed at home, or even the safety of the library on the ship, would be superior to exploring a new city with new faces. Study abroad was what healed me, but I had to work for it.
Little memories are what I find to be most impactful. I remember the crew members knowing my name, even though I frequently ate breakfast alone with a book and didn’t always engage much. I remember the first time I felt like a new person had “broke through” to me. I had wanted to see a fortress in Finland, and secretly feared going alone. By the time I had voiced my concerns, a crowd of girls with similar interests wanted to go with me.
I of course loved the sunsets, but they were not my favorite memories. My favorite moments on Semester at Sea were the ones I felt most alive. I think about dancing on a table in Portugal (…after having my first mojito.) I reminisce treading the water in France, or feeling bold and unafraid in Russia, despite being horribly lost. On my worst days today, these are the moments that are giving me extra reasons to smile.
Semester at Sea taught me to be honest with myself. I knew after traveling, trying new foods and customs, and making new friends, that the change had to come from within. If you asked me today what my favorite place in the world is, I can still say after seeing 16 countries in three years, my favorite place is anywhere. If I haven’t been there yet, it’s on my list.
I believe in an unfolding chain of events, that everything has a consequence. My consequence for Semester at Sea was studying abroad again. This time, I studied in Ireland, for a whole year. My next consequence starts in August– graduate school in Dublin! If I hadn’t done Semester at Sea, I don’t think I would have made it through college. I say this not to be dramatic or extreme, but because the person I was back then needed to see the world and get perspective.
If I hadn’t done Semester at Sea, I wouldn’t have found Ireland. I wouldn’t have found love. Most importantly, I would not, in any circumstances, have found myself.
I’ll end with a quote… “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”