We’ve been following Chelcie’s journey across the globe with the Semester at Sea program. Read her final thoughts as she reflects on the people she met, the lessons she learned, and how her life will never be the same.
In the beginning of the voyage a fellow Semester at Sea alum said, “The voyage begins when we dock in San Diego.” It was puzzling at first, but as I start to unpack and do some much needed laundry just 24 hours after reaching “home” I begin to unravel what this voyage has meant to me.
As I fold my clothes I can’t help but smile at the “CC 3148” inscription on all my tags (written by the crew members so that nothing would get mixed up when they were washed) and notice the new associations I have with each piece of clothing. The long skirts I purchased from TJ Maxx will forever be the skirts I wore when I was in Senase, Ghana for four days during my homestay. Those four days consisted of no showering, 95-degree temperatures, barely-there electricity, a whole lot of cute kids and thankfulness. The lace dress I had made in Vietnam brings me back to the day I scooted around a motorbike all day in Saigon with my roommate, Shelley, and then later attended a Vietnamese reception. The elephants pants from India, t-shirt I wore when I played volleyball up on the 7th deck, skirt I wore as I boarded the ship in the Bahamas for the first time, the dress and scarf turned head-covering I wore in India, and my favorite panda hat from China. My TOMS, which have holes on practically every which side, and my Under Armour shirt from the Amazon, which I swear still smells. All these pieces of clothing will never be the same. You see—my clothes have transformed with me. As I have traveled around the world and left my footprint, the world has left a mark on me in return. And I have the stained, worn, bleached clothes and hole-filled shoes to prove it.
Although I will miss the remarks like “Does anyone know the exchange rate in Hawaii?!?” and “Why do I need a visa for India? My MasterCard works just fine,” it will be the people I will miss the most. The late night conversations discussing human rights, global issues and philosophy, all the while never once being interrupted by a text or Facebook notification. Sitting at the piano bar next to students playing chess, overhearing the Chinese culture club, and listening to students and faculty jam on their Ghanaian drums and instruments from around the world.
Its been said that knowledge without action is useless. But how could I, just a simple 22-year-old woman do anything that generates change? I ponder this for a bit, but then it hits me: I have seen the world. I have been to the Bahamas, Dominica, Brazil, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Singapore, Vietnam, China and Japan. I have seen the very best and worst of humanity. I have been to wonders of the world, and been to many places people would consider less than desirable. I have been filled with so much joy and laughter it’s been hard to breathe, and have shed many tears from fear and homesickness. I have been lost, scared, and directionless in the middle of a city where zero English was spoken, and yet still laughing with friends because we know someday we will look back and smile. It was those moments I will never forget.
My faith and belief system will always remain, but I never want to stop growing as a person. I want to experience culture and hear people’s stories. Never judging, but welcoming them just as they are. I want to immerse myself into different cultures, continue searching and always keep discovering. I want to fight for those who can’t and become a voice of reason in a place where issues like women rights, human trafficking and feticide are considered taboo. I never want to stop hoping and dreaming of what could be. You see, I don’t have a desire to change the world, but I desire to change just one person. And then one more. And another after that. As Miriam Beard said, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” And I’m beginning to realize just that.
I leave you with a poem a voyager wrote a few years ago at the end of her voyage. Although my experiences aren’t all the exact same, I couldn’t empathize with her more. Thank you all for your support, emails and letters along this journey. They have meant so much!
I’m Not The Same.
By Natalie Lou Ritter
Forgive me, Mom, I’m Not the Same
I think you knew that I would change
I couldn’t stay so long at sea
And not come home a different me.
… I’ve been to the Mekong; the Amazon, too
The things that I’ve done: if only you knew.
I’ve paraglided in the Andes Mountains
Said a prayer at Hiroshima fountains
I’ve jumped off of cliffs down river gorges
And from the Ganges saw burning corpses
I’ve seen the Taj; Climbed the Great Wall
I’ve Jumped Out of Planes; I’ve done it All
Climbed to the Golden Rock in Myanmar
I Don’t think I ever have climbed that far.
Monasteries, Pagodas, Temples and Shrines
Horseback riding in Stellenbosch; sampling wines
I dove with sharks and jumped off a bridge
I Forced Myself to Really Live.
Sure, All these things can be relayed
In the photo albums that’ll be displayed
But to convey all this will be demanding—
Experience is Nothing Without Understanding.
So Forgive me, Mom, if I Start To Cry
For all of the things I really can’t describe:
Walking next to dead bodies in the road
Not reaching out to a child’s hand to hold.
The people in poverty and those afraid to speak
For fear if they do, they’ll be in jail the next week
Because their government has such a watchful eye.
All the people with AIDs, getting ready to die.
The beggars in India who walk on their hands
Because they’re diseased and unable to stand
And the people in shacks who sleep inches apart
Offer only a smile and it rips out my heart
I’ve seen beauty and devastation
I’ve felt sorrow; I’ve felt elation
I’ve seen birth and I’ve felt death;
Forgive me, Mom, but what is left?
So if you could, Mom, just give me time
When I come home, let me unwind
I need a moment to just. Stand. Still.
Please understand (I’m sure you will)
I couldn’t stay so long at sea
And not come home a different me
So long as I change, the world changes, too
But be proud, Mom, because I came from you.