Semester at sea
Can you imagine a floating University?
Have you ever dreamt about sailing across different time zones?
Do you think 700 students from different nationalities together on one ship is an impossibility?
Water, Water Everywhere…
Just visualize a majestic ship gliding across the mesmerizing ocean reflecting jewel tones…
State-of-the-art classrooms overlooking glassy blue waters all around speckled with golden sunshine! Expansive blue skies dotted with cotton wool clouds. The velvet black night sky pierced with shimmering stars. A floating island, cut off from the rest of the world, a personal slice of Paradise!
Sounds surreal, doesn’t it?
Sea the World…
Rummaging through my bag of memories, I chanced upon the nostalgic memories of a wonderful cruise I had savored twelve years ago. Sailing onboard the “Voyage of Discovery” was not just a memorable experience, but it created life-long memories, left an imprint on my life, the fragrance of which continues to linger till date. I am delighted to pen down and share my experience and fond memories with you all…
The Travel Bug Bites…
Reflecting on my sojourn at sea made me realize that this experience actually inspired the travel bug in me, catapulting me towards future travels, infusing me with a new found perspective of the world we live in. What I truly love about travel is the fact that you can revisit a country or a place, and see it in a completely different light. My passion for exploring the world was aroused and it became my very own “Voyage of Discovery!”
Assigned a cabin below the main deck, without a window made me feel claustrophobic. To add to my misery, the undulating waves rocked the ship and made me rather sea sick. The doctors on board took charge and managed my sea-sickness deftly well within three days. .Later, when I was shifted to the upper deck and designated a room with a balcony, I was completely overawed by the endless stretch of sapphire blue waters melting into the horizon, as we sailed between Continents.
New to Continental fare and the bland world cuisine, I yearned for home-cooked food and the flavor of spices. Being a strict vegetarian made it worse. My stomach churned with seasickness and worsened at the sight of the assorted meats and seafood that graced the sumptuous buffets. I was truly grateful for the ready-to-eat MTR packets, which I had mercifully taken along. Sometimes I enjoyed my meals on the deck, bathed in crisp sunshine, for that was the only time I got my dose of Vitamin D! In good weather, we could dine al fresco under a canopy of stars.
Every evening was packed with on-board entertainment from popular musicals and comedy shows to tattoo and caricature artists. There were creative classes, deck parties, and recitals to look forward to. I was truly excited with my very first experience of spotting the dolphins. The adventurous ventured into deep-sea diving and snorkeling, while others could unwind in the pool. Some took part in rallies while others enjoyed star-gazing. Lilting music at sunset turned into foot-tapping numbers and unleashed complete madness, as we put on our dancing shoes and danced the night away, gliding across the Indian ocean!
A Class Apart…
It was a world of bonhomie, camaraderie, and ceaseless chatter, creating lifelong friend “ships” and bonds. The days were packed with plenty to do in floating classrooms equipped with a Home Theater, Computer Lab, well-appointed study lounges, and all the standard facilities of any ocean-going vessel. The 8000-volume library offered complete access to the University of Virginia’s electronic library. Furnished with comfortable leather sofas you could sink into the library was a preferred haunt for us. The sophisticated atmosphere on board was luxurious, friendly, and intimate.
Forward & Aft’…
Now let me backtrack a bit and tell you how I made it on board! I was overjoyed and pleasantly surprised when I made it to the selection process by Rotary International for their global Students’Program. After several rounds of rigorous interviews, Anusha (from Rotary club of Madras Central Adithya) and I were selected to join the Semester at Sea program as the two Inter Port Students representing India and the Rotary Club of Madras Silver Beach.
On an Even Keel…
Every year, two students are selected by the Rotary Club, on merit and sponsored by the District for this program. Rotary Club of North West generously agreed to sponsor our flight, from India to Mauritius. Our role was to participate as student representatives of India and we sailed from Port Louis, Mauritius to Chennai on board the“Voyage of Discovery,’ one of the fastest passenger ships of its kind in the world.
SAS is an academic program sponsored by the Institute of Shipboard Education. This program offers University students an unusual international and comparative studies experience. Students undertake academic course work while traveling around the world abroad the MV Explorer & studying in 12 countries. I was overwhelmed and excited to become an ambassador of India! This was truly the coolest college campus where one ended up learning far more outside the classroom than inside!
Ambassador on Board…
As an Inter Port student, I was supposed to Interact with students of different nationalities, to acquaint them with Indian culture, people, religion, and other facets of India. It was more like having a casual conversation about University life, current issues, or anything they were curious to know about India. I also had to give a talk on what the students could see and do in Chennai. I had to brief them about local customs and culinary choices, currency exchange, communication, and international phone calls etc...
“Mast”er of the Game…
This was an opportunity of a lifetime for me, to be able to contribute and enlighten a cross-section of students and nationalities about India. Once the ship berthed in Chennai, some of the students would be flying out in groups to visit different parts of India, including the Taj Mahal in Agra, New Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur as well as other historical and culturally important sights and cities. Semester at Sea students are hosted and looked after by the Rotarians and District officials.
Building a “Bridge”….
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Semester at Sea Community.It helped me develop a deeper understanding of the diversities that distinguish various cultures around the world and provided me with valuable tools to prepare myself in participating effectively amidst an interconnected community that demanded cross-cultural skills and knowledge. It opened my eyes to a whole new world and proved to be a tremendous learning curve for me.
Learning the Ropes…
Personally, it was an invitation for me to grow in a positive way.
To list out a few of the merits…
· Greater acceptance of others
· Improved my self-confidence
· Helped me understand the world
· Taught me to respect their opinions
· Learnt about the religions of the world
· Instilled in me, a greater acceptance of others
· Created an awareness of the cultural differences
· Gave me a better understanding of my own culture.
Before commencing the voyageAnusha and I, along with her parents took a short vacation in Mauritius. We explored the island, enjoyed adventurous water activities, and savored the local cuisine. I instantly fell in love with the pristine and clear blue waters, its clean beaches, and emerald lagoons. The stunning reefs with breathtaking underwater sceneries and the rich flora and fauna were fascinating.
As we docked in Chennai, I took my eager parents around the ship. They were happy for me to have experienced this chance of a lifetime. Upon arrival in Chennai, my family home-hosted Whitney O’ Connell & Elle Sellew. Similarly, other students too were hosted by gracious Rotarians. I enjoyed showing my guests the sights and sounds of Chennai, helping them dress in Indian outfits, took them shopping for silk and souvenirs, and introduced them to local fare, watching them relish Indian food.
This heavenly voyage made me appreciate peacefulness and nature. Cut-off from the hustle and bustle of our world, the serene waters had a calming effect on me, and taught me to appreciate the beauty of our planet. My craving for shopping was satisfied with frequent visits to the many souvenir shops onboard. I could never have imagined an existence without my phone. With no phone connections on the ship, strangely, I did not miss connecting with the world for I was so busy connecting with my mates on board!
Living up to its name, this voyage of discovery was a voyage to remember and the discovery of a new world altogether. I made lots of new friends from across the world and every day became a learning experience. Parting from all my wonderful friends at the end of the voyage did lead to some sentimental moments. Browsing through the testimonials some of them wrote for me, took me down memory lane, making me nostalgic about the wonderful time we spent together on the ship. Twelve years since the memories still retain their freshness and warmth till date.
This is what they all had to say…
Aye Aye Mate!!
You have beautiful eyes, a kind spirit & a warm heart
Thank you so much for hosting me and Whitney. I had an amazing time. Your home is very beautiful and your family is very nice and welcoming. I love India, and mostly because I had you to teach me all about it and explain everything along the way. I will always remember you, and I look forward to finding you on Facebook! Thanks again for everything
Thank you so much for the hanging elephants----we will think of the two of you when we see them. I’m so glad that you got over your seasickness! The 2 of you were a great addition to this part of our voyage! If you ever visit the United States please come to Seattle and visit our family. We would love to have you staying in our home and to show you around.
Its been so awesome to learn about India from both of you and I’m so glad that you decided to be an Inter Port student & share India with us. Spending my birthday in your country will be one of the best gifts I could ask for. If India is as loving and beautiful as you, I know that it’s going to be a wonderful time! Email me & Facebook me! Thanks for being so wonderful to me & my roommates Sneha!
We have officially ended our voyage for Semester at Sea! So, we are now in the United States again! We had so much fun with both of you while on the ship between Mauritius & India. How is everything in India? Please email me! I would love to hear from you! How is everything with you? We are enjoying the voyage and I am so excited for everything. Please write!
You guys were such good friends on the ship. I am really glad I got to meet you. I hope that you will contact me if you ever come to the US or Alaska. Thank you so being so great!
It’s so great to know that someone in India is thinking about the US today. Thanks so much for joining us on the ship! I really enjoyed talking with you and finding out the things we have in common. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with me and everyone on the ship. If there’s anything I can do to help you come visit me in the United States, I’ll totally do it! I hope you are having a fantastic day as well! You’re fantastic and I hope we could have been in touch before. Miss you!
I was so happy to meet you on SAS. I appreciate all of your help and the time you took to talk with us and answer our questions. You’re a beautiful person and I wish you well in all that you do. Please keep in touch, I would love to keep emailing you or writing letters. We miss you already!
Thank you so much for joining us on SAS and teaching us all about India.I wish you could have stayed for longer. It was really fun getting to know you, and I hope you had a great time despite your seasickness on the ship.I hope at some point you come to visit us in the US and if you do, please let me know! I can show you around and get the chance to see you again!
Hi Sneha! I have had such a great time with your family. You are so sweet and have been really kind to me. I am so glad we were able to have you on the ship with us. Your kind spirit and smile are beautiful. Your family was so good to us. Thank them for me. Also, thank your Dad for all the printouts with details about you and India. Keep in touch!
Thank you very much for spending the past few days on the Semester at Sea with us. It’s really great to meet people our age from a different destination. Thank you very much!
I am so happy I had a chance to meet you! Such special girls! Please visit us in California as soon as you are able!
Jingle & Anu, It was great to get to know you, girls, on this short trip. You are both so very sweet. I wish you the best of luck with all of your studies and everything in your future. You are truly wonderful girls and I hope to keep in contact
Thank you so much for being such a wonderful friend on the ship. You were not on the ship long enough! When I come back to India in the future, I would love to come to visit you again. You are such a kind, generous and wonderful person! Thanks for teaching us so much about India and preparing us for our time in Chennai. Please feel free to email me anytime you want and when you come to the United States know that my home is your home in Tennessee. We will miss you!
Thank you for your presentations on semester at sea program!
Hopefully, you will remember meeting me on the Semester at Sea ship! It was so great meeting you and hearing what you have to say about India.I hope that we will still be in touch in the future! Best of luck with everything!
Someday I hope to relive this experience onboard the Voyage of Discovery, but next time I would like to undertake the entire cruise, visit every port of call, enjoy the sightseeing and spend a longer stretch on the mother ship….