The Study Abroad Newsletter

Moments to Remember

Gail Klevens
Semester at Sea, Worldwide

Semester at Sea was the defining moment in my return to college. It was filled with challenges that I was not completely prepared for. I had traveled most of my life, being an Air Force brat born on a navy vessel and a vessel captain myself, and I thought I was a very seasoned traveler. This voyage showed me that you can never truly understand what it is to visit 18 cities in 16 countries in 4 months while trying to maintain your grades and see the true beauty of each place and its people. While many students felt it was important to travel to all to other cities and places while in port, they never really saw the port cities. Some of these places were absolutely stunning and more receptive to the visitors they received. And then there were some students who thought that having a great time was to imbibe in each port to the point of recklessness and losing privileges and in some instances being sent home.

I traveled with a couple of students from UH Hilo and we had a great time getting to the vessel in England. We spent three days visiting the sites of London prior to boarding the ship in Southampton. As we continued on to each country I found myself asking myself, “where did we just visit” , “what country did we just leave”, “we are in another one already?” At times it was overwhelming for me and I could not imagine how others, that were not regular travelers, were dealing with the situation.

Sunsets of the World

The most memorable moments for me were the ones where we were simply sitting and enjoying a great sunset like in Roma, Italy. On the streets of many of the places we visited there were street musicians and in Italy we saw the most incredible sunset while we sat on a bench and listened to a street musician played Beatles music. In Warnemunde, Germany we spent almost an entire day watching the invasion of the moon jellyfish in the canal, which we were told happens only once a year. In other areas we were exposed to immense poverty, like some areas in Brazil and Morocco, that made us stop and really appreciate where and how we live.

In Cuba we were police escorted on 17 busses to a reception of hundreds of students lined up to greet us at the University of Havana. The streets were lined with people waving to us and greeting us as we were transported through the city to the school. It was something of a spectacle considering our country’s history with Cuba.

In each port something different awaited us as we descended the gangway. Sometimes it was an assault by taxi drivers, in others it was people not used to seeing 600 young students invade their small towns. Although we usually had a pre-port briefing and a few students from the cities would join us prior to arriving in their cities and give us information about their cities, it was always similar to opening Christmas presents when we finally arrived in port and were allowed to disembark.

The Ship Life

Then there were times like in Gdansk, Poland, where things were difficult on a personal level. I was not looking forward to getting off the ship in this port due to family ties to this part of the world. My grandmother on my mothers side was from Poland and had lost most of her family in the war there. I was extremely close to her and when she passed I found myself a bit lost and this became one of the most difficult times in my life. But I did finally get off the ship and ventured into Gdansk and had an incredible time watching the street musicians, conversing with people, strolling through the streets and taking wonderful pictures of the area. It was a needed experience and taught me much about myself and my preconceived notions about this wonderful country and its people. I am much more at peace about my grandmothers passing now.

I cannot explain in words how I watched and recorded the two girls I left Hilo with grow into outstanding, independent young women! Of all the things I experienced this was the best thing to watch unfold. For me, I grew in my cultural awareness a bit more, I experienced things on board that I would not wish to repeat, but I would love to do it again and in fact was saddened to leave the vessel.