The Caribbean is my classroom

I was never really one to step outside of my comfort zone, and if I did it was never anything drastic. Until May, when I got on a plane, flew to the Bahamas, boarded the MV Explorer and sailed across the Caribbean for 26 days with 400 students and faculty who I had never met before in my life.

I thought going to school out-of-state was the craziest thing I would ever do, even if school was only an hour away from home. Apparently, that wasn’t the case.

Last fall, one of my TAs had mentioned something about studying abroad and I sort of brushed it off knowing there was no chance I would ever be able to leave home for that long. We talked on and off about her experiences on the Semester At Sea study abroad program through the University of Virginia, but I kept telling myself that I could never do anything she did.

Requesting information was a spur of the moment situation. I Goggled Semester At Sea and requested everything that I could. I talked to my TA multiple times and finally one day I sent in an application. I was skeptical when I told my parents about wanting to leave for a little bit less than a month and they seemed shocked when I told them about it. The information that I requested finally came in and I was excited to start making some decisions on what I was going to do with my summer.

There were many options as to the length of the voyages, but knowing that I would have to work eventually to get ready for the 2011-2012 school year, I was positive that I wasn’t going to be able to stay the entire time. The short-term voyage was the perfect fit!

The MV Explorer left from Nassau to start the voyage of the May trip. We traveled to Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and then docked one final time back in Nassau.

The experience was only 26 short days, but the trip was long enough to get a glimpse of the other cultures, come face-to-face with countries and people who had so much less than I ever expected and most importantly, a chance to step outside of my comfort zone and take part in things I wouldn’t normally do.

We took classes every day the ship was at sea and then had the chance to put what we had learned into action while we docked in the different ports.  The things that I had the chance to experience weren’t things you could have gotten out of reading a textbook or listening to a three-hour lecture.

The hands-on experiences were something that made the trip that much more worthwhile. During the course of those 26 days, I went white-water rafting and to the Irazu volcano in Costa Rica, helped fix up the amenities of a children’s shelter in Guatemala, took a historical walk around Independence Square in Trinidad, visited the Mayan Ruins in Belize and made the best friendships imaginable.

Semester At Sea opens up your mind to a lot of things you have heard and read about, but really gives you the chance to see those firsthand. Being with people you don’t know for such a long period of time really allows you to make connections and become more open about things you have in common.

It’s been a little more than seven months since the trip and there is something every day that reminds me of the experiences that I shared with the other students from universities around the world.

Take chances, sign up for things that scare you to death and step outside your comfort zone more than once; there are so many experiences you could be missing out on. Semester At Sea was one of those things I couldn’t ever see myself doing, but now that I look back, it’s something that I couldn’t imaging going through my college career without experiencing.

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