a few final thoughts

It’s my last night on the ship… there’s a dance-turned-toga-party happening two decks above us in the union, but I’m not there and that’s okay with me. While everyone else is energetically storming the halls of the ship and running amuck everytime we catch a glimpse of land (we’re passing the Bahamas at the moment), I just need time to myself. Thinking about earlier today, my last day here, part of me feels stupid for reading and napping most of the day away, but then again, coming home is a lot to process!

People are saying all kinds of things about this voyage… some people are claiming it’s the highpoint of their lives (a bit sad, if you ask me, to cap it at this) while others are labeling it merely a glorified shopping expedition. I guess I fall in between, as probably most people on the ship do. Some of the final words we’ve heard from shipboard community members have been quite dramatic about this whole Semester at Sea “voyage of discovery” theme, and sometimes I get sick of hearing it. But I also don’t feel like this was, by any means, just a cruise or vacation for me.

My classes weren’t as hard or enriching as they tend to be at my home uni (except for global perspectives which I did love), but this is still a truly unique experience regardless – and we are all really fortunate to be able to be a part of it. In every country we’ve visited, people have been awed by the wild concept of the program and wish they had such a thing where they live. Meeting these sorts of people reminded me not to take this experience for granted, as some students seem to (especially those whose parents have been funding their shopping expeditions).

I’ve been away from home for about as long as I am during the school year (a quarter/ten weeks at a time). But somehow this is different. Partially, of course, because I’ve been communicating with everyone I know via my lagging blog, sporadic e-mails, or short phone calls (in the case of my parents). Time passes at home when I’m at school, and I develop as a person away from home – but this summer I think has exaggerated those things. It feels like no time has passed. It feels like when I get home my brother will still be living in Michigan, and my dog Sam will run to greet me at the door. But in reality, time at home didn’t freeze when I joined the voyage… and returning home, and then to Santa Cruz, I know a lot will have happened that I haven’t heard about. Plus Sean will be living close to home (which is awesome!)… but meanwhile, Sam has passed away, though we’ll have a new little puppy in the fall.

There’s also this whole idea of us having changed as people. Again, over dramatized in certain speeches and farewells… and totally dismissed by others. While some people may have totally revamped their personalities and others believe they haven’t changed a bit, I suppose, again, I fall somewhere in between. Today I thought about it and realized that yes, this has changed me, far more than a quarter in Santa Cruz at school. The reasons I’m sure are somewhat obvious, but it’s significant for me to accept since so many people on the ship are insisting this was just a frivolous adventure… for me, it wasn’t. There are things I wish I could have done, would have planned, and risks I wish I’d taken… but despite all of that, I still sought out many things from the perspective of a student – even if half the places I went to were “tourist” spots. With how much we’ve been cramming into our heads in global perspectives, it’s impossible not to consider the history and circumstances behind everywhere that we visit, and consequently impossible to totally feel like a tourist (despite making ditsy tourist goofs at times).

So coming out of this, I’m pleased. I didn’t let it get me down that things were different than I expected. I didn’t let my body dictate how much fun I could have, despite having physical restrictions. I didn’t let it ruin my trip that I lost a loved one. I even eventually got over it when we “accidentally” woke up in France instead of England.

Instead, I now have a better understanding of things… through textbooks, yes. But also through having met students and professors from all over the world, from being taught by them, and by experiencing the places they teach about. I also feel like I have learned about myself… my likes and dislikes, what I think about politics and the world, about the US and where we stand. Plus, performing for a couple of hundred people… and surviving despite fumbling for chords, that was a pretty empowering experience!

So I leave this voyage with a yearning to return to so many places, to see what I didn’t see the first time around – and to venture to other places I’ve never been before. As my mum said, the beautiful thing about not making it everywhere I wanted to go is that now I still have dreams. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be back on another Semester at Sea voyage in a different role. Time will tell!


grand tour

It's taken me forever, but I finally have pictures of my cabin! Hopefully I'll have pictures of the rest of the ship up soon...

front part of our cabin

how to put on your life jacket
and run to your lifeboat!

our beds (mine is on the left)...
and the weird minimalist art (right wall) we're stuck with

i fell asleep with my palm pilot one night, so my
steward entrusted my monkey, java, with it when he made my bed

stash of foreign munchies!

binary light switch?

hard to photograph our teeny (but nice) bathroom

another trial...

who throws bottles into their toilet?!


just pictures... words to soon follow

the festivities surrounding ghent's blue note jazz festvial

metal spiderweb on the castle!

flags of the original merchants in the area

one of the many canals in ghent

picturesque streets of ghent

kids in ghent, playing their violins on the street

yes, guys do actually use these to urinate in public

elaborate cathedral altar

chapel in the crypt of the cathedral

our farewell band in belgium!


just pictures... words to soon follow

our beloved amsterdam hostel

ornate church tower back in antwerp

amy and i in downtown antwerp

a bar called “boulevard of broken dreams”
(green day, anyone?)


losing another [loved one]

We woke up (not even excessively early) and had breakfast at our hostel which was amazing – a huge buffet with all sorts of food… totally the opposite of our last hostel in Poland, where they don’t seem too into the breakfast thing. It was kindof like eating in a mini dining hall, less personal, but the food made up for it.

After breakfast, we headed off to Nemo, which is the science center in Amsterdam. It’s, of course, aimed at young folks but it looked pretty high tech and exciting to us. We had to take a tram and then go over a zigzagging floating walkway, but it was well worth it. Nemo was over four floors of high tech interactive fun (with a café on the roof where people hang out when it’s sunny!) Amy and I got to make little digital versions of ourselves that went floating across a huge panoramic screen, plus there was even an interview in the psychology bit that was filmed in Santa Cruz! It looked like a funky ugly metal hunk-of-a-building on the outside, but definitely trumped Carnegie Science Center (in Pittsburgh) on the inside, which is a big statement coming from me since I have always regarded it as the kingdom of science centers.

We next walked a bit to get to the Foam Photo Museum which was pretty cool as well. They had a set of prints that were positives and negatives printed layered atop one another, which made everything appear to have a surreal aura. On the top floor, they had a funny little collection of prints of a woman sticking various parts of herself in and out of shrubbery which was cute (she was in a city and missed the forest!) In the middle of those two exhibits, there was an expansive one called “Mijn Amsterdam” (“My Amsterdam”) where a photographer had spent loads of time photographing (in black&white as well as color) the city and its people. He had a particular fascination with adolescents and their vibrant rebellious spirits, which he captured in many of his photos.

Finally, we were starving and had to find food. Of course, we got distracted on the way by a gargantuan five-story English bookstore (they had an entire floor devoted to sci-fi and fantasy novels!) At the bookstore, I also got this free DVD being distributed (actually made in Santa Barbara, California, strangely enough) about 9/11 and re-opening the case… should be interesting to watch, they really want people here to see all sides of things politically which is really cool.

After a lengthy detour in the direction of the bookstore, we had lunch at the Replay Café nearby. It was our first real sit-down type meal on the trip, since we generally opt for take-away because it’s cheaper… and we didn’t realize what we were in for. We wandered in and figured out we had to seat ourselves. Awhile later, a waitress comes and takes our drink orders. She brings back out drinks and then immediately scurries off despite the fact that we’re closing the menu and have been waiting to order. It took us what seemed like ages to get her to come by again and take our order, and when we were finished we couldn’t even get our check from her so we had to pay at the counter. Everyone definitely takes a little more time than we’re used to when they dine out in Europe! Regardless, the food was really good and we had the cutest little glasses of Heineken with our meals.

In the afternoon, we got the tram situation sorted out and successfully made it to the Anne Frank house (giving directions to other tourists along the way!) When we got there, we were even able to skip the huge queue because our pre-purchased tickets that we got at our hostel allowed us to go straight in through a side door. We walked through the office, the storerooms of the warehouse, and finally up the stairs behind the bookcase… at which point things became much more cramped as everyone walked through the hiding place of the families – it is so difficult to imagine that many people living there for so long, and how they were able to remain so silent and undetected. All of the rooms were unfurnished (something Otto had wanted) but there was a miniature model of the entire house as well as screens in many of the rooms that showed what the rooms would have looked like. The walk from entrance to hiding place is also linked together by quotes from Anne’s diary and interviews with those who were involved. The interviews were so sad to watch and to hear about how Anne had died only one month before her camp was liberated - and how even before her death she never knew her father was still alive. While we were there, I bought a new copy of her diary (the copy I originally read was an old library edition) to reread having visited its actual setting… the new copy apparently had a few pages and extra notes added to it around 1998. They had her diary on display in every language imaginable which was really a sight to see, and it’s sad she will never know the effect she’s had on so many readers of all ages.

After our long day out we came back to the hostel and I was really excited to call home for the first time in awhile… though unfortunately my call was met with really sad news. My dog, Sam, had a massive stroke this morning and my family had to let him go… I feel like this whole voyage I knew it was going to happen and I was so afraid of when I would get the news. I guess I am glad that at least it happened on a day when I coincidentally called home, it would have been so hard to find out any other way or several days afterward… I just can’t believe it; I’m so upset about it but at the same time too much in shock to know how to deal with it. I’m thousands of miles away from home, on the other side of the world and haven’t even really dealt with Lucky passing away last fall (since I wasn’t there when she passed away either)… and the worst part is knowing that for the first time in as long as I can remember (over fifteen years?) I don’t have a dog… my family doesn’t have a dog. I’ve been greeted every time I walk in the door with the unconditional love of Sam and Lucky, always missed them so much at school, and had them to lean on when I was home… and now they’re both gone and I can’t even begin to accept it yet. I talked to my brother, Sean, for awhile which was really nice since he was home… but I know this is going to be really hard for all of us. I’m so weary of losing things that I love.

I eventually got off the phone and checked my e-mail… my dad sent me a really cute picture of Sam in a bomber jacket titled “Samuel the Mamuel: A Prince Among Dogs” that I’m going to fix up (doggy case of red-eye). Meanwhile, my mum e-mailed saying she wasn’t sure if he went to dog heaven to be with Lucky, or if he was hiding out from her there – but either way I like to think they’re together somewhere now.

a boat-hotel (“botel”) near nemo...
we thought this was nuts until we remembered
we live on a floating uni campus.

bridge to nemo

“nemo” = “omen” when the wind blows the wrong way

there were swans everywhere in holland!


trains, trams, and sexmuseums

We didn’t have a diplomatic briefing today, so we slept in and stayed on the boat until lunch – some much needed rest, especially since we were leaving straight away for Amsterdam! We trekked downtown to the train station (a good 30-45 minute walk) and found out that the trains to Amsterdam actually leave from the other Antwerp train station (the tour agent people on the ship told us there was only one train station in Antwerp… hmm…) Anyhow, we figured it out and had to ride a train for a whopping one whole stop to the proper station where trains left hourly for Amsterdam. The trainride was quite nice, even in second class, though there were constant announcements in Dutch that occasionally sent us into a panic about if our stop had come up yet (turns out, Amsterdam was at the end of the line, phew!)

Having arrived in Amsterdam (which had even a lovely train station), we caught a tram to our hostel which was in the Leidseplein area (good bars/restaurants) overlooking the Vondelpark (full of skaters, live music, etc). We experienced hostelling on a new level – our hostel was enormous! Luckily, it was all spread about several quant cute buildings so it didn’t feel huge, but we got the amenities of a monsterous hostel: internet, bar/restaurant, big breakfast buffet, TV, etc. Something I’ve loved in general as well about European hostels is that instead of sheets and a blanket waiting for you on your bed, they give you a quilt/duvet and a duvet cover! It’s just like my bed at home…

We tried to make it to the Anne Frank museum during their discounted evening hours, but when we finally got on the proper tram we were told that they don’t stop there anymore… tragic. Instead we ended up wandering somewhat aimlessly around downtown (beautifully laced with canals) and decided to go to the Sexmuseum Amsterdam since it was absolutely enormous and only 2.50 euros. Not to worry, it wasn’t anything really lewd! It was actually quite interesting (though strange for obvious reasons), as it had a lot of artwork from all over the world in the form of paintings, sculptures, and so on. They had some funny multimedia bits with moving mannequins (like Marilyn Monroe singing) and also a little recreation of the old red light district which you could walk through. It was definitely more educational than either of us had anticipated!

After the museum, we continued wandering around and ended up doing some souvenir shopping – the most we’ve done yet in any country, I think! We also finally bought Russia patches, since we’ve both been getting patches in each country yet were unable to find them anywhere in Russia (odd we finally encountered them in Holland, but I can’t complain). I was really excited when I saw lots of Droste chocolate in the stores since we always have it at home, though it’s expensive in the U.S… but turns out it is just as expensive here! We also had some dinner which wasn’t anything special, except that a few Semester at Sea people saw us and recognized us. We found this particularly shocking because we don’t know much of anyone on the ship and furthermore can’t imagine why they all seem to recognize us, but it was sortof funny to bump into them in The Netherlands!

Back at the hostel we went down to the common room to try to play Canasta, which Amy’s been wanting to learn and I managed to get rules off the internet for. Funny though, right when we were sitting down a group of guys starting talking to us and asking us if we were from the states and were saying they didn’t understand where all the Americans were (don’t they realize Americans don’t go hostelling so much?) We talked to them for a few minutes (turns out they are from Philly), but they seemed disappointingly infatuated with drinking and smoking… fitting I guess, since they just graduated high school. Anyhow, we tried to play Canasta but realized before long that we didn’t have the complete or correct rules… so our card game crashed and burned rather quickly and we called it a night.

we came down a total gang-plank!
(our normal gangway was under repair)

beautiful graffitti in an antwerp city park

different spin on catholicism

doggies have to behave themselves inside stores

random orchestra in antwerp city square

streets of amsterdam (note how much they love heineken)

one of amsterdam's lovely canals

leidseplein, near where we were staying


floating outside antwerp

Well we are just now settling into port in Antwerp, Belgium… quite a bit earlier than anticipated. Our original arrival time was tomorrow at 8:00, but was moved to 23:00 today due to traffic or tides or some sea-related stuff I don’t really understand! It’s a bit taunting because we’re all sitting here looking out on the lights of the city but we aren’t allowed to disembark until morning when customs has cleared us and we’ve had our diplomatic briefing. Ah well, I’ll survive – I need to catch up on sleep and might get ahead on schoolwork, as we’re going to be quite busy while we’re here!

We’re planning to leave for Amsterdam tomorrow and spend two nights at a hostel there and we’ve got loads planned already for our stay (no worries mum, we didn’t overplan). Then we’ll still have a day in Antwerp after we get back, during which I may visit the medieval town of Ghent as well.

Shiplife is getting better, maybe. I’m meeting more people bit by bit and my teachers seem to be tuning into some of the social cliques, and how to encourage students to branch outside of them. Overall, it’s been a busy couple of days… I had a midterm yesterday, another midterm today, and a paper due today – maybe it’s good that I’m already used to the fast pace of the quarter system! Everyone has been in a panic all day because we had a really brutal Global Perspectives exam this morning, plus they apparently did some “random” drug testing today (one guy tested positive, I believe. I’m not rightly sure what they do about that!)

A highlight of my day was going on a bridge tour, where I got to see all of the fancy navigational equipment and setup – it was so impressive! We had the 2nd officer, Ricardo, explain a lot of the engineering features of the ship like our water supply (all comes from the ocean), how we propel all this weight, etc. It was also funny to hear about ship-to-ship communication over the radio. Apparently they always attempt first to communicate in English, but sometimes it doesn’t work out because of accents (or inability to speak English), so they have to find creative ways of conveying information. I also asked about all the noise from the ship’s horn that I heard a week or so ago in the morning during classes, and the officer said “Oh that was just greetings between ships!” Some loud and longwinded greetings, indeed! Overall it was impressive to see all the buttons, nautical maps, and electronic equipment – plus they had giant windshield wipers on the front windows of the ship that were awesome (although Ricardo told us they are very inefficient and not often needed).

Other than that, the past couple of days have been full of alternating class and meetings, though at least logistical preport was entertaining tonight. To start, our executive dean, Les, got up and started talking about how bad it smelled today when he was outside on the side of the ship. He asked everyone what on earth the smell was and some student shouts out “POOP!” So he goes on to talk about how he walked to the other side of the ship and it smelled fine and “how come one side of the ocean smells fine and the other one smells like poop?!” Finally, he said that a crew member told him (upon inquiry) that another ship came up close to us and basically pooped indeed, dropping some sort of stinky load I suppose.

After preport Amy and I proceeded to raid the campus store, since there was rumor that they are running low on hoodies/t-shirts and “there is no helicopter coming to resupply the store”. It was depressing because up until tonight we’ve both had credit in our shipboard accounts from trips we tried to get on that were full already… and now we’re going to actually have to start paying bills (like the rest of the student body has been!)

So finally we are relaxing, watching Bridget Jones’ Diary (the second one). It’s a treat because although there are often movies on, they are often very strange, outdated, class-related, or aimed very much at kids (we love some of the childrens movies, but not Barney and Barbie!) I love approaching port because there is no homework due the next day, no class to wake up for… so I’m going to go pass out, because even without class we do have to get up for our diplomatic briefing bright and early!

the bridge in all its glory

emergency light system

jumbo windshield wipers!

flags for every country

crazy nautical navigational maps