Monday, February 9, 2015

Aloha Hawaii

So I realize this post is long overdue since it has now been a couple weeks since I was in Hilo, Hawaii, but better late than never I guess.


The ship wasn't docked there for long there so the friend I was traveling with and myself basically tried to make the most of the few hours we had. Because of that we were pretty busy but that didn't stop me from noticing the sheer beauty, both cultural and physical, of where I was.


Culturally, Hawaii has quite a bit more depth than I had previously realized. I always knew Hawaii had a cultural all its own but not what that meant exactly. Once I got there I realized what an impressive blend of native Hawaiian, Japanese, and modern American that culture truly was. The best example of it that I found was the little grille I ate lunch at. We walked in and the d├ęcor was this artfully eclectic mix of exactly those three cultures. Everywhere I looked, I could see these Japanese prints and cat statuettes but they hung or sat right next to stunning pictures of glowing lava flowing out of a volcano or a pineapple. Then as we sat eating shrimp, teriyaki chicken and rice, we heard the same country music you would hear on the mainland playing throughout the restaurant. We saw similar reflections of the cultural blend basically everyone where we looked. Out shopping for things we forgot and snacks we wanted to stock up on, we saw the "Hawaiian" clothes just a few aisles away from the Japanese food all inside a mainland American store like Walmart. Just looking at signs you could see Hawaiian words put right next to more American ones. It was really unique.


What I found even more awe inspiring though was the scenery. It was full of all this bright contrast. The crystalline, blue water would lap up against the volcanic, black sand beach with these lush, green trees growing right out of the rock on the edge of it. It was stunning. Just driving around the island getting from one place to another you saw it everywhere. The trees and grass, the flowers and birds, the sky and the water, even the rock, everything was bright and vibrant, like they all knew exactly what color they were supposed to be and proud of it.


Everywhere I looked, be it in nature or in the culture, I found these distinct contrasts. Yet, they all seemed to go together so well. They were incredibly different, but if one were without the other, it wouldn't be nearly as beautiful. This strange blend of uniquely individual items that one would think couldn't come together so seamlessly did just that. Each thing with its own unique characteristics complemented another with its own entirely different set of unique characteristics. 

Looking back I can't help but notice that and wonder if humans, each with our own set of unique individualities, can ever learn to do that and complement each other's differences with our own instead of compete with and pick at them. 


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Home Sweet Home

So, we are docking in our first port, Hilo, tomorrow and I realized that I still haven't really told y'all anything about my new home, the MV Explorer, and life on board. I could be wrong but I think that is probably something most of you are interested in so, here goes!

Welcome to life aboard the MV Explorer! First of all, we are on a 24-hour clock. Yeah. That takes some getting used to. A lot of getting used to actually. Add that to the constant time zone changes and being on time for things is a challenge, or in my case, more of a challenge than it already usually is. We also don't really operate on the standard 7 days of the week calendar. We pretty much exclusively operate on the A/B day schedule. Technically that is the class day schedule but it is basically the calendar. We don't really have weekends anymore and days are labelled A1, B1, A2, B2, so on and so forth. Every few of them we get a study day but we haven't reached any of those yet. The way it is supposed to work is there are classes that are on A days and others on B days, kinda like Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes and Tuesday/Thursday classes at land based universities.

My personal schedule is set up so all 4 of my classes are on A days though which I personally really like. It means my A days are packed but then I get all day B day to work on readings and classwork, which is something I definitely need. I have more coursework for just 3 of my classes (9 credits) here than I usually have for like all 4 or 5 of my classes (18 credits) at my home university. It's pretty overwhelming. It may not usually be that way, but one of my classes is a literature class and it is the only class that professor has so the readings are really piled on. Since boarding the ship we have been assigned 6 short stories, an essay and a short novel to read. It kinda makes me feel like I fell overboard and am drowning, but the stories are actually pretty cool and the class discussions are fascinating. The probably rank up there near the discussions in my Human Rights class. Those are by far the best though. They are some incredibly hard and uncomfortable topics, like for the past couple classes we have been talking about prejudice and the level of self-examination we end up doing is really difficult. (If you want more detailed examples of things like the springboard discussion questions we have been using just shoot me an email or leave a comment. Just make sure that comment includes your email address.)

That class and my architecture class are by far my favorites. I still feel like the architecture class is going to be hard but it is still really interesting me. I end up taking notes like a maniac and few to none of my sketches look like the buildings they are supposed to be of but I kinda feel like I am taking another history class, just looking of pictures of buildings at the same time, so it is really cool. The lectures really include a lot of historical and cultural context and information. It also involves sketching and a lot of other art history type stuff. The longer I spend in the class the more I like it but the more frustrated I am that my home university won't accept it as a fine arts credit. They take art history but not architectural, which in my mind makes no sense. When you think about it and talk about it the way we are, architecture really becomes an art form. More than that even, it becomes an art form for and from the masses. Most traditional art I think is more geared towards and from the wealthy that can afford it. It might sometimes depict members of other social classes but it is really the wealthy that are directly involved with it in most cases. (Please keep in mind that I am not an artist nor an art historian so there is a strong likelihood that I could be wrong, this is just my opinion and impression.) Architecture is simply a larger art form with more practical usage and a more direct connection to the masses. The masses use it, they build it, they live in it, and it reflects what they feel is necessary and important. Of course your still get the giant palaces but you also get public baths, defensive walls, simple houses and temples too. Art always deals with space too, either depicting is in the case of more 2 dimensional art, or displacing it in the form of more 3 dimensional art like sculpture. Architecture does too, it encloses it. (Giving credit where it is due, I got a lot of that last couple sentences about art and space from a textbook for my class, ABCs of Architecture by James F. O'Gorman. I just really really really liked it and thought it made a lot of sense.) It helps make the space useable. It can also reveal a lot about a society and culture. For instance, today we started talking about ancient civilizations and the rise of cities. One of the things that came up was the Mesopotamian Ziggurats. They were essentially their temples; they were also the heart of the city. Cities grew out around things that the culture and civilization valued and found important. In the case of Ur, that was a Ziggurat. In the case of Jericho it was a spring, a source of water. I might have just started studying architecture but the more I do, the more I realize how much it can tell you and the more it interests me. In my opinion, it is an even better source of cultural information than much art found in a museum. Then again, that is just me.

Anyway, wow. That was really long kinda rant/lecture/speech thing. As you can probably tell from it though, I am really enjoying my world architecture class. I am also enjoying a lot of other things I am doing on the ship though. I have made some really good friends, at least one of which I will be exploring Hilo with tomorrow. I have also joined multiple different clubs. The activities fair was the other night and it was kinda crazy .Yoga is incredibly popular. I think there were about 4 different types of yoga or yoga clubs. I didn't sign up for any of them but they sounded neat. I did sign up for all the dance clubs though, both the Latin Dance Club and the Swing Dance Club. I also signed up for a Bible Study, and the Dependent Children program to be both a history tutor, since all the dependent children (who range from age 3-16 by the way) have been pulled out of school for the semester and are being homeschooled, and to be part of the shipboard Big Brother, Big Sister program. That is all on top of trying to start a Homefront Hugs here on the ship too. We will see how that goes. Club wise I also teamed up with a girl I met the other night to co-found another club, a little after the fact but it should be awesome anyway, the Disney Appreciation Club. Basically we will be getting together and watching various Disney movies in between ports. It is going to be sweet. Our first one will be Lilo and Stitch after we get back from Hawaii (we didn't have time to do it before).

Shipboard life wise, I think that might kinda be it. Which considering the length of this post, I should have covered it all. Oh! Food! The food is good. Lots of pasta. Lots of rice. Lots of potatoes. I'm looking forward to a burger or hotdog or something tomorrow. The food really is good though. Especially considering the number of people they are feeding and the fact that we are in the middle of an ocean.

So yeah! That's life on the MV Explorer! I know, it's awesome, right? J

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wake up! Wake up!!! WAKE UP!!!!!!

Yesterday was E-Day (aka, Embarkation Day).

None of this feels real. I feel like I am walking inside of a dream or floating outside my body.

Yesterday, I got on a bus and left home for 4 months. I got on a bus and left everything I know behind, for 4 whole months.

Yesterday, I entered a new world. The Explorer. The globe. They are both my living and learning home and campus for the next 4 months.

Yesterday, I met more people that I can ever imagine remembering. I'm sure I will remember at least 95% of them plus more by the end of the voyage but right now, there are just so many. And they are all so different! They span the country and the world! In the past 48 hours I have met people from Germany, South Africa, El Salvador, Bosnia Herzegovina, Mexico and the Netherlands, just to name a few as well, as people from California, Connecticut, Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, Kansas, Kentucky, New York, Alaska, Hawaii, and Texas, and again, that is barely even a handful!

Yesterday, I stood on the deck of a ship and watched the shoreline, land, and lights disappear into the horizon, not being entirely sure when I would see them again.

Yesterday, my journey began.

Yesterday, my dream became real, I think J

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"So, Are You Excited?"

So, seeing as how I officially leave in less than a week, I thought it would be appropriate to make another post. Especially since I promised it would be one about how excited I am. Put it all together, and it was just too perfect to make this post today.

This question right here is by far the one I get the most. It also has the longest answer. It is a little bit of back-tracking but all the same, I thought it deserved its own separate post.

“So, are you excited?”
Inside voice: Well yeah. I’m going around the world. Wouldn’t you be?
Outside voice: Oh yeah. Very. I’m pretty nervous too but yes, I am incredibly excited.

That might seem like a very quick and short answer, but there is so much more to it.

You see, Semester at Sea is practically a legacy for me. Back in the ‘80s, my mom was at a Girl Scout event of some sort and my grandma was there, presumably chaperoning. While she was there, she heard something from someone about some program called Semester at Sea. She never forgot about it so when my mom went to college, my grandma brought it up and my mom went. After her, so did my uncle and now me. All because of my grandma. For me, this incredible opportunity, this once in a lifetime opportunity basically is all because of my grandma. Not only did she get and remember the information that led to my mom going, but she and my grandpa even planned and are paying for my trip. I don’t think I could ever properly express how grateful I am for it either.
But like I said, my mom went on this trip when she was in college and that is what directly inspired me to go too. I grew up hearing all her crazy and exotic stories. Her stories about feeling the ghosts in Tieneman Square in China, especially since her group was one of the first student groups allowed back into China after that whole thing happened. Her stories about seeing the destitute children on the streets of India and the riots keeping her from seeing the Taj Mahal. Her stories of having to go around Africa and not go to Egypt because Sadaam Hussein was making threats on the Suez Canal. Her stories of meeting “Juan” and “Paco”, as my dad calls them, in Brazil and dancing all night. I was entranced. For as long as I can remember, Semester at Sea was and is my dream. And now it’s finally coming true.
How could I not be excited about living out my longest and oldest dream?

Monday, December 29, 2014

"Oh! Where are you going?" & Other Frequently Asked Questions

So, people being people, we tend to talk to each other. Not all of us do, which is totally fine, but a fair amount of us, myself included. That combined with my being a college student, a rather popular topic of conversation, beyond where I go to school and what I am studying, is what I am doing next semester. Obviously the answer to that is that I am going on Semester at Sea, which can be simplified to "studying abroad". Once that cat is out of the bag, the conversations tend to include some of the same questions. They are good questions, certainly better than ones that my mom got on her trip like if the faculty travels with them and if the ship has a generator. Those questions and their answers, both witty and legitimate ones, seem to be a pretty good introduction for this entire blog, and myself.

Please keep that in mind while reading.

"Oh! Studying abroad? That is wonderful! Where are you going?"
Inside Voice: Where am I not going is the better question!
Outside Voice: I'm going on Semester at Sea so I'm actually going to like 12 different countries. (Full itinerary posted on the right hand side of the page, complete with dates, for your convenience)

"Semester at Sea?"
Inside Voice: It's exactly what the name says it is. A semester at sea.
Outside Voice: It's a program through the Institute for Shipboard Education, which is currently based out of UVA. Basically, I'm spending 4 months on a cruise ship going all the way around the world.

"Do you take classes on the ship?"
Inside Voice: Well, it's through the Institute for Shipboard Education and a study abroad program...
Outside Voice: Yep. I'm taking four of them for about 12 credits. Three of them are regular classes and then I am also taking a Global Lens Class. (Full list with field labs to your right)

"Who are you going with?"
Inside Voice: The types of people I would be going to any other university with.
Outside Voice: About 700 other students. They are mostly from the US but they are from all over the world. There are also lifelong learners and faculty on the ship too.

"No, like do you know anyone else going? Are you going with a friend?"
Inside Voice: Yep. About 700 of them, I just don't know them yet.
Outside Voice: Nope. I've talked to some of them over Facebook but I don't actually know anyone else going.

"How do you pack for a trip like this?"
Only answer: I wish I knew.
(See upcoming post)

"So, are you excited?"
This answer is too long for this post. See the next one for the answer.