By: Keelee Martin
NSHSS Member, University of Hawaii at Hilo
I first heard about Semester at Sea my sophomore year of high school and it seemed like an unattainable goal in my mind. In my second year at the University of Hawaii at Hilo I decided to get serious and start making preparations for the Fall 2014 Atlantic voyage. I was a month and a half away from the end of the school year and still not sure if I was going. That’s when I found out about the National Society of High School Scholars’ scholarship. I added it to the long list of essays I was writing because it was not possible for me to go without some financial help. When I was offered the NSHSS scholarship I really didn’t think it was true. In that moment, I realized that after four years of dreaming, I was actually going around the world on the MV Explorer.
On embarkation day in Southampton, England I couldn’t figure out what I was feeling. It was a complex mixture of anxiety and ecstatic joy. The energy of other students around me was electrifying. That same energy surges again with every new port. The shipboard community is taught to be positive, flexible, and ready to experience and overall I think we fit well into these standards. One of the first big changes we had to face was a change in itinerary with our African countries due to the Ebola outbreak. We’ve altered syllabi, rescheduled field labs, and made new travel plans. We’ve faced disappointment, but embraced our new stops, and still hold all those affected by the virus in our thoughts.
Adapting to ship life is surreal, but our school days in between countries remind us of the academic environment we are familiar with. Classes on the ship have a different feel that I’ve enjoyed. My professors’ assignments have all been about taking in the countries with all my senses. To really feel, really see—really understand. I’ve taken this to heart as I’ve stood next to the giant rocks of Stonehenge, seen art collections of the Hermitage in Russia, visited concentration camps in Poland and Germany, and walked in the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. I’ve been away almost a month and have already seen five countries with another nine to go! From what I’ve seen so far I know I want to include more cultural experiences in my life with the places I visit, literature I read, words that I speak, and food that I eat. In my experiences with the locals of these countries I’ve been able to see how connected humanity is despite language barriers, cultural practices, and religious beliefs. The language of emotion is universal, and we all live lives interwoven with shared experiences.
I wake up daily with the realization that I am on a ship traveling the Atlantic. I am a grateful student in a community where “the world is our campus.”