Before starting my semester abroad, I felt nervous about encountering new cultures within both the host countries and my study abroad program. Semester at Sea involves living aboard a ship for a full semester with students, professors, and lifelong learners from all over the world. One of the first people I met on the bus to our ship came from Milan, Italy and had already studied abroad in Eswatini. I, on the other hand, had never lived outside of the Southern US. However, as soon as I started getting to know my shipmates, I found we had much more in common than I initially suspected. More than anything, we shared a common excitement for the ports that we would soon step onto.
When I arrived in our first port, Honolulu, the environment bore no resemblance to the typical post-card image of Hawaii. Rain and clouds gave the air a somber feeling as our group toured Pearl Harbor. I felt a sense of awe for the soldiers who fought and died aboard the USS Arizona as the United States entered the Second World War. The site of the Japanese Empire’s surrender aboard the USS Missouri gave me a similar feeling of solemn respect for the site’s historical weight. Although I was still in the US, the people and environment of Hawaii seemed entirely different from anything that I was used to. The cheerfulness of each local that I met surprised me and gave me a sense of belonging, despite having never been to the islands before. My experience in Honolulu can be best characterized by this sense of awe for each site that I saw as well as an excitement for what the rest of the trip would hold.
Our ship then arrived ten days later at Kobe, Japan where I would spend the next five days exploring the Japanese landscape as well as a number of different cities. I was fortunate enough to have time to go off on my own to walk in the mountains surrounding Kobe and take a train to the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. Each of these cities shocked me with their towering skyscrapers along with their smaller, ornately detailed, wooden structures. In addition to my personal escapades, I had the opportunity to visit two museums in Osaka and Hiroshima detailing the air raids conducted by the United States during the Second World War. These museums give one a feeling of deep sorrow and sympathy for the innocent souls lost in the war. However, almost as impactful as these museums was the city of Hiroshima itself. Despite having been devastated by the atomic bomb only sixty years ago, the city was large, bright, and full of incredibly friendly people. Through encounters such as these, my time in Japan showed me the ability of community to overcome even the most daunting of trials and to create beauty out of what once had been chaos.
The community aboard our ship, the MV World Odyssey, demonstrates this fact as well. Despite facing the daunting prospect of living at sea for four months with people we have never met, each of us deals with similar fears and can therefore work with one another to overcome shared challenges. As I move into the month of February, I look forward to exploring and learning from the nations that my shipmates and I will soon encounter.