Ship Life: A Semester at Sea

On Friday, January 5th, 2018, I boarded a massive German cruise ship called the MV World Odyssey on the coast of Ensenada, Mexico with two suitcases and a backpack full of seasickness pills. I would not see land or connect to the internet for the next four months.

 

This crazy thing (that I still can’t even believe I’m a part of) is called Semester at Sea, a study abroad program that allows college students to sail around the world while taking classes. This current voyage will take me to Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and Germany, all within the span of a semester, including 57 days at sea.

 

I was scared then, and almost a week later, I’m still scared – what has changed, though, is how I react to fear. I’m learning to embrace it all: the way my stomach drops when we tackle another salty wave that seems to make the whole universe shudder, the awkward silences that are inevitable when meeting 500+ new people and the lingering, biting desire to check my lifeless, data-less phone. I’m learning to celebrate the difficulties, to sway along with the waves rather than to brace against them, to look at the ocean surrounding me as a blank canvas.

 

Life on the MV World Odyssey walks the thin line between comfort and discomfort. Everything on this huge, floating campus is the epitome of luxury, from crystal chandeliers in each auditorium to an outdoor pool overlooking the endless blue. My discomfort isn’t born out of small living quarters or even the constant rocking from all directions, it comes from the jarring simplicity of this new life; it comes from letting go, if only for a while.

 

The discomfort comes from who and what I left on shore – all those who are important to me, an everyday routine, a sense of constant availability, a concrete purpose, a structured, stable, predictable existence. But that’s the point, I think – to let go of what we think we should be doing, to let go of outside judgment and to let go of the way you would like others to perceive you. You’re forced to focus on what’s right in front of you: the vast infinity of waves that swell and crash for no one in particular.

 

Being on the water forces me to take myself less seriously, to write a book of my life in which I’m not the main character, to treat myself as human. Losing sight of the shore provides a sort of clarity that I didn’t expect and a calmness that I hadn’t yet felt before. I notice more, I feel more, I listen more, and I look in the mirror less. I worry less, I think more, I dream more.

 

Life on the ship makes me feel small and insignificant in the best way possible. And throughout the past week, I’ve loosened by grasp on who I think I am and who I should be. I’m chasing the endless, landless horizon with open hands, letting the destination find me all by itself.

 

I’m officially lost at sea – don’t send help. It’s all smooth sailing from here.

Images courtesy of: semesteratsea.org