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Life-changing experiences

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Former Young Observer reporter

Gherdai Hassell, now back at college in North Carolina, reflects on her life-changing experience this summer with Semester at Sea.

Explorer sailed with about 700 students 150 staff, families and lifelong learners, and about 200 crew to eight countries. We sailed for 66 days from the Bahamas to Spain, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Morocco.

Semester at Sea is the ultimate study abroad programme. Instead of just one country, students have the privilege of travelling around the world to various nations. Summer 2011, MV

Semester at Sea forces you to re-evaluate the ways in which you think about the world. I now see the world, its various countries and its people with a new set of eyes. I have done away with stereotypes and have developed a better understanding what it means to be intrinsically human. Semester at Sea fosters a different type of learning. The ship is a living-learning community, as you study and live with your professors, with a very different classroom setting; you look outside the classroom window and see the ocean. Not only are the classrooms on board places for learning, but professors incorporate ship-board assignments with the various countries visited.

From this voyage, I have learned so much. I've met so many amazing people, on and off the ship. I've learned the importance of languages and how valuable they are to the human experience. Languages die every day, and it is imperative we learn second and third languages. I've learned about globalisation, diversity, different customs and cultures, religions beliefs and value systems. I've heard the magnificent call to prayer in Muslim Turkey and Morocco. I fast with them as a sign of respect during Ramadan. I've learned how governments work; I witnessed the struggles of various people with their protests for democracy. I've eaten the food in homes of natives and talked for hours about how this world can become a better place. I am so excited to re-enter my ordinary life and incorporate the skills I have acquired though my experiences with semester at sea.

I truly understand what it means now to visit a country. It does not mean staying in the tourist areas and enjoying the lavish amenities of a five-star hotel. Anyone will love a country if they only visit the tourist attractions that cater to westernised peoples.

Seeing a country means talking with the local farmer about his struggles in preventing his land from being taken away from him, discussing women's rights with a 20-year-old woman studying at her local university, talking with the protesters about why they are protesting and what they'd want to see changed in their country and visiting the villages and orphanages of people who live on less than one dollar a day.

It means visiting the Grand Bazaar in Turkey, or the souks in Marrakesh, and eating at traditional restaurants. It means visiting museums that reveal the injustice done to Jews within Roman Catholic Italy and attending the jazz and arts festivals to witness the talents of the local people.

My Theatre Professor, Andrew Kahn of Buffalo State University, on the first day of class, said, “You're not going to see 'THEM' in Turkey, 'THEM' in Morocco or 'THEM' in Bulgaria, you're going to see you.”

It is now when I sit and write this reflection on my journey with semester at sea, that I fully understand what he meant by this. He meant that from my visits in these countries and the interactions with the people I'd come into contact with, I would learn and discover my personal truths; ultimately, I would find myself. I haven't felt this “one” with myself ever. I have been humbled by this incredible experience.

On the final day of the voyage, at our re-entry workshop, a counsellor said a quote that will forever be ingrained in my heart and mind. The best way in one sentence to describe the impact of this experience on my life is in this quote. He said that, “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” It is in fact my encounters on Semester at Sea that changed my life. I am forever grateful having been blessed with the opportunity to be enlightened.

Life changing experience: As a result of her experience with Semester at Sea, Gherdai Hassell declared, 'I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.'
Fellow travellers: Gherdai Hassell was one of the hundreds whose horizons were expanded this summer on the MV Explorer's voyage through the Mediterranean.

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Published September 01, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated August 31, 2011 at 6:47 pm)

Life-changing experiences

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