Thursday, January 22, 2015

Three Weeks at Sea - Shipboard Life

I am currently writing to you from the middle of the Pacific. We have traveled over 2,800 nautical miles since leaving Hawaii (plus a few thousand if you want to count since San Diego), and I haven't posted yet, which is terrible! Anyways, here are the updates, in a few short lists:

1. There is no dirt whatsoever. Even if I tried to find dirt, there is none. The only slightly "dirty" thing are the tables after the salt water gets on them and then dries, leaving this salty residue, but even then, it's white. There is no dirt.
2. We haven't stopped moving in nine days. Please take a moment to think about that - for the last nine days, I have not once been still - not even for a single moment.
3. Sometimes, you realize that there are five kilometers of water beneath us, and a heck of a lot of life in that water. This is weird because we can't see any of it.
4. We have monthly lifeboat drills. The chance that it's going to sink is minuscule, but it's strange to be living somewhere that could potentially fall to the bottom of oblivion.

1. There are no cell phones. This is not an issue for me, but it's fantastic to have not a single person checking their text messages - ever.
2. Board games are making a comeback. With all the time that we have to burn, we've reverted to doing things that we're too embarassed to do in our real lives - but on the ship, we don't care anymore. Hide and Seek, anyone?
3. Meals are loooooooong. This is also a result of having nothing else to do, so we just sit and talk for hours.
4. SiSwati lessons - I've started teaching siSwati to people, which is hilarious and wonderful all at once. It's making me so much less homesick for Swaziland to be able to walk down the hallway and have random people greet me in (wonderfully terrible) siSwati.

1. I miss mountains. I need to walk uphill.
2. We are 800 students living all together, and while everyone is great, I need some new faces.
3. DUDE, WE'RE GOING TO JAPAN! How could I not be excited?

I'm sure at some point I'll write some more about living on a ship, but hopefully that's a bit of a start. Right now, I'm about to go on a tour of the bridge to see a little bit more about how the ship functions, so expect some of that at a later date, and then I'll try to write a bit more about how life really works on-board, but for now, I'll leave you with one last list -

1. Dolphins
2. Humpback whales
3. Seagulls
4. Flying fish


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pre-Embarkation Thanksgiving

Knowing that I'm leaving to drive to San Diego in t-minus five hours, I figure I'll share some pre-embarkation thoughts with you.

I am thankful to the world. I am thankful for this scholarship and the opportunity it brings, and the fact that I can live my dreams without having to ask my family to pay for it. At the same time, I am thankful for the fact that my parents are open and willing to let me continue running around the world. I am thankful for the chance to travel, and learn, and live.

I am thankful for everyone who made this possible, from the man at the Indian Visa processing center who told me where to take new passport photos to the man who helped me work the fussy ATM when I realized I needed more cash to pay for these overpriced photos. I am thankful for all the embassy workers who kept track of my passport, and the Chinese lady behind the desk who smiled when she handed mine back to me with my final visa stuck in place. I am thankful for the international admissions person at Semester at Sea who took care of us international students when we had issues with our scholarships, and who never lost her cool with us. I'm thankful to my extended family who has taken me in, and done more than their fair share of work for this embarkation.

I am thankful for every single car that has not hit me when walking to the embassy, and every single bone in my body which remains intact as I prepare for this trip around the world. I am thankful for the fact that I have good health to carry me around foreign cities and ports and stormy seas. I am thankful for the fact that I am able to get new lenses for my glasses to help my eyes see this incredible world.

And I know that these seem like simple things, having a passport and good health and all, but as I've seen over the past few days, there are too many people struggling to make the logistics of this thing work. Life throws some crazy punches in the way, and I know that I am surrounded by tough people who are working through heck and high water to get onto this boat.

So, while I am sure there are many people simply looking forward to tomorrow, when we get on the boat, I invite everyone to pause for a moment, and be thankful for what exists now. I know you are all looking forward to foreign lands, but take a moment to appreciate the people around you. Give them one more hug, and thank them for being the characters of the beautiful life that you are living. Close your eyes, take a breath, open them, and find the beauty in the scene in front of you. Now, smile, because you're going on the trip of a lifetime :)

And cross your fingers that they find A's passport, which has been lost in the mail... maybe if the internet sends some good vibes this will all work out by tomorrow.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

I'm Leeeeeaving, On a Jet Plane!

First things first - I have to pinch myself every five minutes to remind myself that I am indeed actually going on a trip around the world, and that it has finally started (almost).

I have one thing to say about the airport - PEOPLE, GET OFF YOUR CELL PHONES! I spent two hours in O'Hare last night, a massive international airport full of people, and it was literally near-silent. Everyone was plugged in, hooked up, or in some other way attached to an electronic device, ignoring the world around them. I used to think that airports were entertaining because of the people-watching they provided, but last night, the people weren't doing anything worth watching. I beg of you, fellow travelers, you are going to make my life much more interesting if you get off your phones and do something.

Other than that, the flight was great! Chicago to San Diego is about four hours, which felt like nothing after the fact that my last five flights have been over fifteen hours each. I'm a bit spoiled though - there was an awful moment when I realized that domestic flights meant no food and no personal movie thing.... oh darn.

So, we're staying with some family here in California for a few days before getting on the boat next week. I was a bit "ehhhh" about coming here so early, but apparently a massive snowstorm is now hitting Chicago, with flights getting cancelled and such, so HA! TAKE THAT, WORLD! I WIN!

And so it goes! I'm looking out the window at a mountain range, so life is good! Although I've been told that we're not going to go climbing, sadly... it's okay, we're heading to Joshua Tree National Park before we've left here :) Other than that, we're just chilling, and heading down to Mexico to catch the boat on Wednesday!

Friday, January 2, 2015

SAS Spring 2015 Mailing

Hey! These are the addresses that mail needs to be sent to for anybody doing the Spring 2015 Semester at Sea (including me!). Looking forward to getting postcards (thanks Uncle Bill!).

One Day More!


Sorry, just had to get that out of my system...

I'm flying to San Diego tomorrow, although we don't actually leave on the boat for another four days, I believe. But, it's still the start, and I couldn't be more excited! After a solid time ringing in the new year, I'm stoked and set for the next adventure. I've got my bags packed (almost... give me an hour more), the paperwork is all set, and I'm ready to go! It's strange to realize how lucky I've been to travel internationally before, because I'm realizing that I'm very casual about everything. I see posts from other voyagers in the FB group trying to figure out details of the trip, and my brain is literally set to the "details? what are details? eh, whatever..." setting. Twelve countries? I'll figure it out as we go :)

For the moment, my brother is watching Tarzan on Netflix, so we'll just chill, because tomorrow, craziness starts again!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

NSLI-Y Reunion: Part Four

Every year, a group of us who studied with NSLI-Y in Jordan way back in 2011 get together in Chicago  for New Year's - this year marked the fourth annual get-together! I'm just so grateful to have such a wonderful group of people that are always there, even when we don't get to see each other all the time. They are all doing such fantastic things, studying in Oman and Jordan and working with the State Department. I'm kind of the odd one out, as I've left the Middle East and headed south, they've all continued in their studies, exhausting the Arabic classes of the top universities in America, all essentially fluent in the language that we all started together, preparing to rule the world. (I'll just chill in the back with my siSwati skills, yo).

But, as we all know, the greatest thing you get from studying abroad is not the skills on paper, but rather the people, and the JO Crew is a group of people I wouldn't give up for anything. With all the craziness and travelling and feeling like a nomad without an anchor and whatnot, it's really nice to know that no matter what happens during the year, we're going to end it the same way that we started it - in Chicago, with hugs and laughter, surrounded by these people and love and happiness, and I am ever so grateful for that.

Photo credit: A. Gegios, my zoji :)