Marauders without Borders - A Semester at Sea
A Semester at Sea with Laura Saltzman
Hometown: Glenmoore, PA
Graduation: Spring 2016
It’s been said, “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” This fall, Social Work major, Laura Saltzman is preparing to add quite a few pages, as she embarks on a trip around the world as part of the Semester At Sea study abroad program through Millersville University’s Office of Global Education and Partnerships. Setting sail aboard the seven deck, 590-foot MV Explorer, Laura will further her education through a blend of experiential study, interdisciplinary coursework and field labs across 16 ports of call and multiple countries. With these experiences, Laura is seeking a better understanding of the social and economic conditions of the less fortunate in other regions of the world. Learn more about Laura
Check back frequently, as Laura will be posting images and updates about her unforgettable life experience! Interested in Marauders without Borders? Learn more about the diverse opportunities available through the Office of Global Education and Partnerships.
Posts are below in chronological order with the newest one on top.
I was so excited to visit Cuba. It was the port I was most excited to see. The entrance process was very complicated and slow. We needed special visas and had a very tightly planned program that was required for all the SAS to be allowed into Cuba. We got off the ship around 9 a.m. As I disembarked, there were at least 15 news reporters trying to interview students and faculty. I stood back and watched. The press seemed to be very excited that we were visiting their country. It was a huge deal that a large group of Americans were allowed into Havana. So, we piled into 13 buses and drove through the city of Havana. We had a police escort and we observed large crowds along the way watching our buses go to the University of Havana. When we arrived at the University of Havana, hundreds of students were waiting on the steps to greet us. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. There were at least 20 news reporters when we reached the University. They had a large banner that said “The Cuban Five.” That was the first I had heard about the Cuban Five and to be honest, at first I thought they might be a music group. Then as we walked up the steps, people were handing out flyers that said “Obama give me five.” I was so confused. The university visit started with a welcome from the president of the University of Havana (the university has 70,000 students). He said, “Like Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream. That one day the United States and Cuba will mend our differences.” Everyone was cheering. It was a beautiful speech. He made a point of stating that Cuba holds no grudge against Americans. They know the difference between citizens who have no control over politics and the U.S. government.
In the afternoon, students from the University of Havana and SAS students were dancing in the court yard. There were performances by university students and we had a blast dancing together. We made our way back to the buses for lunch on the ship. Following lunch, a U.S. diplomat stationed in Cuba came and spoke to the SAS community. It was then I learned who the Cuban Five were. They are men who were suspected of terrorism and arrested in the United States. Two have been released. The details of the story is very inconsistent. There was an American arrested and being held in prison for trying to bring internet to a Jewish community. The American’s health is fading and there has been talk back and forth between Cuba and the US about releasing the prisoners so he can get proper medical treatment in the U.S. (As of the 17th Mr. Obama is changing the policy and he is coming home!) This link will provide a little background and why it’s a big deal in Cuba (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/12/17/meet-the-cuban-five-at-the-center-of-the-blockbuster-u-s-announcement-on-cuba/). I also found out that health care and education is all free in Cuba. Even a heart transplant is free. However, I question the availability and quality of care provided.
That evening, I went to visit an afterschool program. The kids performed for us and gave us arts and crafts they had made. Then I went out to a free concert and everyone was dancing in the square. The food was very good and everyone was having an amazing time. I returned to the ship and went to sleep because I was getting up very early the next day.
I woke up and went to find a currency exchange. They take U.S. dollars but it is a 10% conversion rate so I converted to Euros. My friend Kuda and I walked around the city for a while. We happened upon Raul Castro’s personal gun collection. It was a huge room and all the guns were in a case. Then we went to a few little shops before heading back to the ship. After lunch, I joined a small group of students to explore Havana. We went to a huge art market. I bought some art. There are very limited things we were allowed to bring through customs in the U.S. - only art and educational materials. “Art” is a very general term, so it was complicated to determine what is acceptable and what is not. Of course there was a lot of talk about Cuban cigars. There were beautiful Humidor cigar boxes and other wooden crafts. They are illegal to bring back in to the U.S.
We walked around and saw many stray dogs. The dogs were so friendly. I saw a Chihuahua and it reminded me of my dog! The dog was begging for food. It was fat so it definitely was getting enough food. We took pictures of old cars and buildings. The locals were very friendly and wanted to show us around. Many people made friends with students from the University of Havana and spent time seeing local sites with them. We went out for dinner and then returned to the ship. I had to rest up for a visit to a rural community in the morning.
I woke up at 7:15 am and raced to get on my bus at 7:30. We went to a rural community called Las Terrazas. It was about two hours away. When we arrived, we toured a coffee plantation that had used slaves in the past. We saw a natural bee hive which was very fascinating. The air was so pure. We also saw these funny plants called “Touch me nots.” When you touch it, it literally shrivels up.
We had lunch at a beautiful restaurant. There were chickens and roosters running around right under the table where we were eating. I had the most amazing iced coffee. We visited a preschool and handed out tooth brushes from “Global Grins.” The kids were so cute. However, they were definitely disappointed when we said we had a present and all that they got were tooth brushes.
The community seemed self-sufficient. They had their own doctor, dentist, library, schools, markets, and restaurants. Everyone had jobs and appeared to live very comfortably. I think that is what “perfect communism” is supposed to look like. The mothers or fathers drop their children off in the morning and go to work and pick them up after. The residents were not charged for school or their healthcare. There were also very few methods of communication. Internet access is very limited and only 20% of Cubans actually own cell-phones. However, the people in the community seemed extremely happy. We met a local artist who paints on recycled paper and binds books with his art on the cover. All materials are natural or recycled. It was crowded in his house, so after looking at his art, I went outside and played with this cute little black lab. The dogs I encountered were all so friendly.
We got back to the ship around dinner time. I had dinner on the ship and stayed in for the night. I was exhausted from traveling all day.
I visited multiple Cuban schools. We saw a museum, which was interesting, but the media was swarming and constantly in our faces then taking flash photography while we were trying to watch a documentary. I was uncomfortable because it was so hot and the press pushed themselves into each room we entered. While we had someone presenting for us, the reporters were interviewing someone in the back of the classroom. It was very distracting. I have a new appreciation for celebrities who have to deal with this every day.
We were told there was a surprise in the last room. It was a mural that a young autistic child painted about releasing the Cuban Five and how the Cuban Five are their friends. The propaganda was constant and upsetting, because I felt they were exploiting children. There were posters and billboards everywhere with the faces of the Cuban Five. It was confusing though because two of them were already released.
We only played with the children for a few minutes. They danced for us! Even the schools walls were covered with pictures of Castro and the Cuban Five. Overall, I enjoyed Cuba. I was disappointed with the constant propaganda, but the people were friendly. I do hope to go back one day.
Yesterday I saw Mr. Obama is trying to change U.S. policy with Cuba and now Americans who travel there can bring back goods, including cigars. (Why couldn’t it have been just two weeks sooner. Not that I’d smoke a Cuban cigar but it would be a novel gift.) I think this could be a HUGE historical moment. I am happy for Cuba and the U.S. I think this is a great step towards recovery and could benefit both economies. I was asked a lot of questions about the Cuban government. The people I met certainly don’t believe it is a dictatorship. They believe things are looking up now, but I also realize they have little to no internet access and a small minority had cell phones. So, they are a long way from open communications. I found it interesting that everywhere we went, we had a police escort and rode in beautiful buses. The University of Havana had events planned for us every day. I also felt what oppression might feel like, because the government kept their eyes on us at all times.
One student was holding up a sign and taking a picture. The sign said, “I will be home for Christmas.” She was taken by the police and had to go to the station to get the sign translated to make sure it wasn’t about the government. That happened to a few students. Some people were told they couldn’t talk to us unless they had a name tag. If they tried to talk to us without one, they were arrested. This happened to multiple people.
The University of Havana and SAS played basketball together. At the game one of the Cuban five actually spoke to the students there.
I think there is still a lot of change needed in Cuba, but with the progress the president and the Pope have been making, it is looking up. Lifting the embargo and American tourism will probably do a lot of good for the Cuban economy. The country is so poor that even if people wanted to leave the country, they have no money to fund their way out. They have so little, but appear very happy. However, I am sure the people and communities we were able to visit had well scripted behaviors. Cuba was an amazing opportunity and I am so blessed I was able to visit.
One final highlight and lifetime memory was when our ship was pulling into our final dock in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Most of the students were piled on the deck while the ship’s PA system was blasting Neal Diamond’s “Coming to America.” There was a large group of parents (including mine) standing at the top of a parking garage near our dock. They were waving, yelling, jumping and crying in celebration of our return. It was a special moment when I saw my parents from the deck and they saw me. Semester at Sea has taught me to improve some key skills like patience, understanding, acceptance, diversity, compassion and trust. It is sad that the adventure has ended, but I am excited to come home and get married. It was a trip of a lifetime.
A SPECIAL THANKS TO MILLERSVILLE UNIVERSITY:
I have enjoyed writing this blog immensely and I want to thank Millersville for supporting my journey! Writing this blog provided me a forum to share the most enriching experience of my life… so far. It was amazing to make so many awesome new friends from SAS, meet people from each country and learn about their lives. I loved the experience! However, I am happy to be home and spending time with my family, friends and my fiancé, Ray. I am also excited to be returning to Millersville University and leveraging my global experience to improve my skills and learning experiences.
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
Some classic old cars. The taxis were normally old cars and people would get rides around the city in them!
I’m standing with the principal of the local pre-school. She was so sweet but we only had about five minutes with her. The kids seemed to really enjoy school.
This was a local art market. Some artwork was reasonably priced and some pieces were very expensive, depending on the artist.
Cameron handing out tooth brushes from “Global Grins.” I met the founders of GG and they have traveled to over 80 countries. They met on SAS and got married. So sweet!
Our arrival at the University of Havana. If you see in the background is one of the banners with the Cuban Five. Amazing that today they have been released. It is amazing they never gave up.
We arrived in Bridgetown and it was raining which was disappointing after a week-long trek to get there. We had amazing weather the entire trip, so it was time to have a bit of rain. In the morning we shopped and then checked into a hotel around 2 p.m. We stayed at an all-inclusive and the food was amazing. The first night I decided to go on a submarine ride. We went 147 feet below the ocean. It was so fun! None of my friends wanted to go with me so I booked through my hotel and went outside of my comfort zone and went by myself. I met other students staying at other hotels who were studying abroad for the entire semester and we had a great time. I saw Sting Rays, turtles, all different types of coral, lion fish, catfish, and lots of other fish. The coral seems all greenish/greyish but when you shine a light on it, you see more colors, lots of red and orange. We turned off the lights when we were deep under the ocean and saw that plankton can produce their own light. I just thought of Sponge-Bob when they were talking about Plankton. After our dive I was taken back to my hotel in time for dinner. Dinner was amazing! After that there was a DJ at the hotel and we all danced for a while and got to know some of the other guests at the hotel. After a long day I went to sleep because I have to get up early the next morning to go snorkeling!
I woke up early went to breakfast and caught a cab back to the ship. A group of 25 of us rented a private Catamaran to go out snorkeling. We snorkeled with turtles, saw a couple shipwrecks, had lunch and swam to shore. It was a lot of fun. The turtles had no fear and came right up to us; one even swam right under me. I was able to touch their shells and just watch them swim around. Turtles are endangered species. If you are found with a turtle shell, meat or any part you are fined $25,000 and/or up to two years in prison. After swimming with the turtles and shipwreck we had lunch. People were doing flips and diving off the side of the boat. We were listening to loud music and dancing! We returned to the ship around 3 p.m. and I took a nap before going to dinner. After dinner I had vanilla ice cream and it was so delicious. We are spoiled in the U.S. with so many different flavors but just the classic vanilla was still a nice treat. I talked to my family on the phone for a while and then went to sleep.
It was a short visit in Barbados because we had to be on the ship by dinner. We had breakfast at the hotel and went to the beach for a while. I was sunburned from snorkeling the day before so I stayed inside watching some Netflix. (that is such a treat since we don’t have TV on the ship!) I took a cab back to the terminal around 2 p.m. and did some shopping. I met a lady named Lydia and I really enjoyed talking to her. A lot of the shops were run by locals and there were handmade crafts, jewelry, souvenir shops and art stores. I bought a beautiful bracelet and some Christmas ornaments. The national language of Barbados is English and they accept American money so it was easy to interact. I really enjoyed my time in Barbados. It has a very interesting history and there is so much more to the island than just tourism. If you ever go to Barbados I suggest that you go to some of the history museums and get to know the locals.
Barbados was an extremely fun port. It definitely seemed like a vacation spot at first but there is so much more to learn about the culture – it is very religious. Overall they love tourists and are proud to show off their island and the riches that it has to offer. The beaches are amazing. These huge cruise ships come in every so many days but it is actually harmful to their sea creatures. If you look after all the tourists leave there is just a layer of sun screen in the ocean. The water is crystal clear so it is obvious to see. I have never seen a more beautiful ocean. It is so blue I am not used to even being able to see your feet at the bottom. The majority of the beaches we went to the water was extremely clear. It was interesting because when I did the submarine ride I expected to see more fish closer to the surface but there really were not any fish near the surface. The fish stuck to the bottom near the coral reefs. The shipwrecks in multiple cases were made on purpose. They are sunk so that the coral has a new surface to grow on. It grows extremely slowly though. It will take over 1,000 years before you can no longer tell it was a ship and it is just another coral bed. I love snorkeling- it was definitely a highlight of my time in Barbados. I definitely hope to come back in the near future.
I met Lydia in the terminal. She worked a stand with handmade jewelry. I stopped and watched her make bracelets right in front of me. I asked her if it was her stand and she said it was her daughters. But her daughter is in the States picking up supplies. She was taking over the stand for her during that time. We had a real casual interview and she just told me about life in Barbados.
What is your favorite thing about living in Barbados? Everyone knows each other. My neighbors are my friends.
People are so calm here and money is not a primary concern. Shops in the terminal close whenever they want to. They did not come in unless cruise ships were docked. They were not pushy and were really genuinely happy.
What are the positives about tourism in Barbados?
I like the tourism. It brings in money and the people are friendly.
What are the negatives?
I don’t have any negatives.
As we were sitting there a news station came on and explained about a Human trafficking bust in Barbados.
What do you know about Sex Trafficking in Barbados?
It is a problem. Some girls are brought here by ships that dock here. There is sex tourism and the men find these women. Drug Trafficking is also an issue. Marijuana is easy to find but still illegal. (Some people on SAS asked a taxi driver if people smoke marijuana here and the taxi driver said, “YES!” Here is my card if you want to buy some.) It was that easy to locate. The island is so small and there is very little police corruption, so issues are handled as a united front.
I got to know another vender (who I will keep private out of respect for his confidentiality). He was in a wheel chair. He was in a terrible car accident and in a coma for months. He woke up and did not remember anything for a year. He was paralyzed from the waist down. He turned to drinking and drugs to try to numb the pain. He got clean and puts his energy into his art. He was an interesting man and waved to me every time he saw me. Aside from art in his shop, he had handmade crafts kids from a local school made. The proceeds go to benefit the students. I thought the people were so friendly!
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
Here is Lydia. Giving her a T-shirt really made her day! She gave me a big hug when I left and gave me free turtle earrings. I bought one of her handmade bracelets - it was rather expensive - but worth it.
Some pictures of an old shipwreck I took while snorkeling. Some people went inside the ship. I was not that brave!
In case anyone was not aware, we had a two week journey across the Atlantic Ocean and a week long journey from Brazil to Barbados. We had relatively calm seas and lots of fun on board. We had multiple events; Neptune Day, Sea Olympics and talent shows. Here are some highlights:
We had a Halloween dance and I went as a zombie. I provided make-up for a few other zombies, giraffes and other creative characters. It was one of the highlights of my ship-bound time over the two weeks. I had fun spending hours experimenting with different make-ups trying to get the effect I was looking for. There was a very cute married couple that dressed up as Winnie the Pooh and said they were on their “HoneyPoon.” There were also clever costumes like a person dressed up in scrubs with clocks all over him. He was Dock time. That is a huge joke on the ship because if you are late to get on the ship you can get dock time and have to wait hours in the next port before you can get off the ship. Another costume was our Dean dressed as the sea with a clownfish hat on. Some of the RD’s dressed up as each other and did great impressions of each other. It took me a while to get all the make-up off but it was well worth it. I did not win the contest but I was happy for those who did.
We were woken up at 8 a.m. by a banging of drums from our staff dressed as gladiators. We went up to the pool deck and part of the ceremony was getting into the pool and getting fish guts (aka salt water) poured on our heads. Then we had to kiss a fish and kiss the ring of King Neptune. It was so fun and there were a lot of funny pictures of people’s faces after kissing the fish. Some people shaved their heads or donated their hair to Locks of Love or Pantene. We had about 10 girls shave their heads. There was loud music playing and we had a fantastic time.
Each hallway on the ship was assigned a different sea. My hallway was the Caribbean Sea. There were also the Adriatic, Yellow, Mediterranean, Bearing Sea and more. The faculty and dependents were a team called the SASsy sea horses. They ended up winning the entire thing. Good for them but it seemed a little unfair because they all had doctorate degrees and were competing in trivia games and riddles. Some of the fun events included synchronized swimming, a lip synch contest, cheer, limbo, minute to win it, ship wide relay, water balloon toss and more. I competed in the banner contest! I was also the designated make-up artist. I loved doing all the make-up! Our sea came in third place and we had a wonderful time. We came in second for the lip synch contest. The team had amazing chorography because Carson is a professional dancer and she was formerly a back-up dancer for Beyonce. She had a solo dancing salsa with a prior service member of the Navy and they nailed it! We call him Salsa Steve. The SASsy Sea Horses had an amazing Lip Synch performance and one of our professors did an amazing impression of Michael Jackson’s dancing. It is weird to see our professors’ hidden talents. Synchronized swimming was another highlight. There were two different seas with all male groups. They were hilarious. The prize for winning sea Olympics was getting off the ship first when we arrive in our final destination in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
We had a live auction to raise money for SAS scholarships. Some things bid on were a bubble bath in a suit on the top deck, being the voice on the announcements, picking a dinner for the shipboard community, tour of the galley, pushing the Marine Bio professor in the pool, trips to Colorado, Columbia, Florida, California, sitting with the captain at the alumni ball, first person off the ship, last person off the ship and more. The bubble bath went for $150. The captain’s hat signed went for $800! Some items went for $1,000. Overall we raised over $30,000 for scholarships. Semester at Sea is actually a non-profit, so they rely heavily on donations. It was a fun evening and great items were up for auction. Unfortunately, I could not afford any items but it was fun to watch the people bid competitively. The auctioneers were very funny and had a lot to say.
There was also a ship-wide talent show and also a crew talent show. Some of the performances were truly outstanding! Lots of dance groups and singers. The crew put on a hilarious skit called tiny men. They built a set that made them look like tiny men and one person controlled the hands, another the feet and someone was the face through the curtain. There were no winners, but all good fun!
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
Here is Lydia. Giving her a T-shirt really made her day! She gave me a big hug when I left and gave me free turtle earrings. I bought one of her handmade bracelets - it was rather expensive - but worth it.
This is the banner for the banner contest. It was fun to participate! Some of the banners were amazing!
My Sea Olympics make-up. I had handprints on my arm and legs too but you can’t see that in this picture.
Where did you get your undergraduate and law degrees?
Swarthmore College-undergraduate, Yale Law School JD
Where do you teach at home?
Right now just here (SAS). In the past, I have taught at Occidental College, Southwestern Law School, UCLA Law School, Claremont College, and McKenna College.
Nancy Bekavac was the sixth president of Scripps College and the first woman to hold that position.
What kinds of things should students have on their resumes for either graduate school or law school?
40 years ago when I was talking with my favorite law school professor I said everyone should take economics and statistics. But, I think that what you should do to get ready for school is go where your passion leads you and above all learn how to write.
What is the biggest mistake students can make on their resumes or during job interviews?
Overselling or overstating. I remember very clearly interviewing someone for a job at my law firm. The person had put on their resume that he had completed an internship but the dates looked wrong. I realized he didn’t do an internship, but had only visited an area.
What was one of your best cases?
A first amendment case on behalf of television producers against the FCC for network practices. The producers were under pressure from the FCC to establish a family viewing hour which impacted their program schedule. Against great obstacles, my law firm won. It was my first big trial. We were totally understaffed and exhausted, but had the best time.
What has been the biggest culture shock on the ship?
The rapid alteration between teaching days and port days. It’s almost like free fall. When we are on the ship, we push through the A day, B day schedule without weekends. It’s almost like upsetting my biological clock. There is always a moment of panic, is today an A day, a B day, or am I going to see a cathedral?
What do you like most about ship life and what do you like least?
Most- my colleagues and teaching. I didn’t expect them to be so smart and funny. And students have been more dedicated and sweeter than I expected.
Least-regimentation and being in port and not allowed to get off the ship. I feel like a caged bird and it makes me crazy. I really hate iceberg lettuce now and I don’t plan on eating it for at least a year.
What have been some of your greatest accomplishments in life?
Making and keeping the friends I have. I served on a Presidential commission and I got to know General Westley Clark and his wife and I visited him at various points including NATO. I saw them at a Kresge Foundation presentation.
You said you were in a documentary that was made about the Clintons. What was the topic?
It was about the 1996 election and was made by Helen Whitney, a terrific filmmaker. I am on outtakes on Youtube. They did not use the story line I was in. It was mostly about law school and my friendship with the Clintons. I met Bill in my first year of law school. He was in my section and we had all of our classes together. Hilary was a year ahead of us. We still keep in contact. I am in full support of her running for president. Yes - I will work on her campaign. She has a great understanding of and emphasis on early education and women’s welfare issues.
What do you know about sex trafficking in the US?
That it is much more common than one would expect. Particularly among non English speaking illegal immigrants. I have noticed a lot of initiatives such as dual language signs in ladies rooms. At airports, there have been some attempts to set up watching posts to try to identify people who might be trafficked through air transportation. The standard social science thinking is that if you remove and make adult sex services legal that you will help the situation a great deal. I gather from Amsterdam, the results have been in line with that. I probably come down marginally in favor of legalizing prostitution. Child pornography and sex trafficking have always existed everywhere. I am much less optimistic on handling that problem. I think you can tackle both at the same time, but there are only so many services. The state department’s office of women issues had worked with justice department and homeland security which are more directly related to that issue. They are very concerned with international sex trafficking, trying to increase cooperation to stop it. The long term strategy has to be to increase the status of women and girls everywhere. If they are seen as valuable, their families won’t sell them.
What was the favorite thing you’ve done in port?
I have to say I am an art junkie and I have loved re-visiting things I have seen before that I adored and observing the architecture that I never thought I would get to see. I always go to the art museum. My favorite artists are Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer, both 17th century Dutch painters. In Antwerp, I took the early train to Amsterdam and went back to the Rijks Museum to see the paintings that got me started. Right after college, I had a fellowship to travel and my first stop was Amsterdam. I only had three days and one day I went to the museum and I have never gotten over it. This time it was maybe even better than I had remembered. The art really changed my life. I have no idea how they do it. I can’t explain why they matter so much.
How do you feel about the behavior on our voyage? (Specifically the drinking culture).
I have been writing about it for my personal blog. It is a topic among all of us (faculty). I know from living on a college campus for 17 years, the drinking culture comes to the ship. They let 18 year olds drink on the ship, so it’s not strict. The goal is to get smashed. No one is embarrassed by looking like a drunken fool and I am at a total loss. Maybe we should videotape them, but I know from having looked, many have already posted it to Facebook.
People say there is a lot of pressure to drink. But the results are devastating. Anyone like me who has alcoholism in their family is terrified by it. We are really upset by the impression we may make in Cuba. We were an insult to Barbados. It was embarrassing. Only like 20-25% are heavy drinkers and they mostly aren’t in my classes. We don’t know who may be in terrible trouble in port when they make their own hostel arrangements and they choose not to come back to the ship, in fear of getting into trouble. One general thought was to raise the GPA requirement. But some of the smartest people party too. “Work hard, party hard.” The faculty are certainly talking about it.
Drinking is a major issue on many campuses. I have personally been disappointed with the behavior the SAS shipboard community has displayed in many ports. Rolling Stone came out with a very influential article about a gang rape that happened at UVA (University of Virginia). I encourage everyone to read it. It is really upsetting, but very eye-opening. I am proud of the way Millersville University handles crisis situations. YWCA does amazing work with sexual assault and dispatching advocates when sexual assault victims are brought to the hospital. In Pennsylvania, every county has an agency like a Crime Victims Center to help victims deal with sexual assault and rape. I was not aware, but that is unique and is not the case in many states. Timely Warnings go out in a timely fashion and make all students aware of situations that happen on campus. Apparently, that is not universal at all campuses, even though it is required by law. We also have multiple awareness programs such as; Take Back the Night, Slut Walk, Walk a Mile in her Shoes, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, LOVE 146 and all the programs sponsored by the MU Social Work Department. This semester we have a focus on Human trafficking. When looking for colleges or graduate schools, I will look for a school that has a high reporting rate for sexual assault and rape. The statistics show that it is happening and the higher reporting shows the trust that the student body has in the police and the surrounding services. I encourage anyone who has experienced any type of trauma to talk to someone in the counseling center. The center has free services for students and it is amazing.
Brazil was one of my most difficult and rewarding ports. I was able to do a lot of reflecting and learning. I really took the time to get to know some of the locals and immerse myself in Brazilian culture. There were aspects of their culture that I really disliked and others that truly inspired me. I went into Brazil with high expectations. My cousin, Sarah, attended SAS about 10 years ago and following her voyage, she spent five years living in Panama and Brazil. She loved the culture, learned to speak Portuguese and two different dialects of Spanish. Brazil was the most difficult port to navigate because very few people spoke English. Many of my fellow students on the voyage are able to speak a little Spanish, but in Brazil they speak Portuguese.
My first day in port we decided to go to Christ the Redeemer, one of the most popular tourist attractions. It was difficult to navigate the city. Public transportation was confusing and the bus drivers drove like maniacs. In my opinion, the city of Rio was underwhelming and it has a lot of poverty. We reached the attraction and the line was two hours long. We decided to take some pictures from below the statute and return to the main city center. On the way, we stopped to explore local shops. I personally connected with some of the locals during shopping. I enjoy learning about many of the handmade crafts and how their lives are difficult because of the poor economy. In Rio, the merchandise is mostly a lot of junk items such as phone cases, chargers, broken old phones and dollar store-like items. There were few handmade crafts and it was difficult to communicate with the vendors. I found some tapestries I really liked, but they were extremely over-priced. Most of the merchandise was very expensive for the quality. Kristen and I stopped for lunch at a local deli and I had a croissant filled with cheese. It was very delicious. We returned to the ship and rested for a while before heading back out for fruit smoothies The fruit was unbelievably delicious. Interestingly, next to our ship port is where they are building the Olympic Stadium for the 2016 summer Olympics. Brazil just hosted the World Cup. However, I learned that these large events actually hurt the economy rather than benefit it.
I woke up early and went on a boat tour to a private island. It was beautiful! We were able to jump off the side of the boat and swim to shore. The water was very clear and extremely salty. On the boat they provided us with fresh fruit. It was perhaps the best fruit I ever had. I had watermelon, papaya, bananas, grapes and other melon. We had lunch on the island and they had amazing fruit juice. Unfortunately, I came down with a cold and had to retire to the ship right after the boat tour. I had dinner on the ship and went to sleep early.
It was our last day in Rio before we were to deport for Salvador, Brazil. We went out shopping for snacks in the morning and had ice cream at a local stand. The ship departure time was early so we did not do much besides walk around the city. A bunch of student trips went to the Amazon River and Iguazu Falls. The falls are one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A few people were really disappointed because the water at the falls was brown. However, everyone who went to the Amazon said it was an amazing experience.
It was so much fun to have two days off; it was like a real weekend. I was able to sleep in, hang out with friends and professors and get to know the crew better. My friends Kristen, Jess, Orlando and I stayed up late playing poker and eating snacks. We had very interesting lectures and programs from diplomats and student ambassadors on board. The food was so tasty. We had a fancy dinner (which is very rare). We were served tomato soup, pasta, salad and dessert. I joked with my friends that we need to have more diplomats on board. We spent a lot of time planning for our travels in Barbados.
We arrived in Salvador at 8 a.m. The inter-port students planned a walking tour to a market, city center and restaurant. I walked around and was extremely excited to go to the market. It was huge and almost everything was hand-crafted. There were wooden goods, musical instruments, food, toys, tons of artwork, fabric, dresses and precious stones. I loved walking around the town center. There is a type of dance called capoeira angola which is like martial arts dancing. It was amazing to watch the street performers. Brazil can be a very dangerous port but I found the people to be very friendly. There are crafted paper bracelets that they hand out which are known as the “Three Wish Bracelets.” It is tied on your wrist with three knots. On each knot you wish for something. When the knots come undone the wishes come true. I shopped around for a while and got to know some other students from SAS. I went back to the ship and then went shopping with my roommate Gen, Jen and Erik. That night I ate on the ship and went to sleep early.
I went shopping with my friends in the morning, then I went back downtown to the town center. I found an artist that I really liked and found some really nice and affordable artwork to bring back to the states. He paints everything himself and he explained to me how he made it all. He had a very distinct style of art and he was the only artist in the entire city of Salvador that did that style. I went looking for his shop for hours. I found cool magnets and lots of Christmas gifts for my family. In the market, there was a lot of jewelry and food. I purchased a green coconut and drank the coconut water out of the center. It was very tasty.
That night I had the pleasure of going to a home-cooked dinner. I went to the home of Patricia and her daughter. The food was amazing. We had macaroni and cheese, beat salad, homemade ice cream, a spinach and squash quiche and rice. She is a professional chef so the food was amazing. She also made homemade juices. Everything was so tasty. It was definitely some of the best food I consumed during my entire voyage. We learned about her family and her home. The way houses worked in this area is the grandparents live on the ground floor and as their children grow up they build additional floors above as needed. Patricia lived on the second floor and they were just remodeling. Each floor above is for the children as they get older and move out. Her husband is a police officer. After dinner we got to see some of the surrounding neighborhoods from her high window and learn about her life. We got back to the ship very late and I went to bed.
In the morning I went to Axe Street Project. It is an after-school program for homeless children or children living in poverty. The older children performed music for us and were very talented. The younger children created artwork, sewed and danced. The program is very interesting because the children have to go to the after-school program or their family does not receive welfare. If the children go to school and the after-school program every day, they are given an allowance at the end of the week. Next to the building was a shop and the products that were sold benefit the program. After looking around the store I went back to the ship. A group of us went back out shopping and ate green coconuts. We did not stay out long because we had to be on the ship early. We got back on for dinner and we were off to Barbados.
I went to Patricia’s house for dinner. She made all the food, juices and ice cream. She spoke only Portuguese so we had a translator with us. She was remodeling her house and it had a beautiful tile floor and granite counter tops. Granite is found in Brazil and is relatively cheap. Her daughter spoke very little English, but told us she wanted to be a model. They were so welcoming and hospitable. Patricia was a very religious woman and that showed through her actions.
She told us that the police force is very corrupt in Brazil. She said they would come into her neighborhood and destroy homes. If a home was not occupied at the time, it was fair game to be looted. She would send her children to stay in her neighbor’s houses while they were away, so the police did not loot the house. She said at one point the police actually brought in prisoners from the local jail to help rob the houses. She said the police are quick to shoot. She said it’s because if they don’t shoot the criminals first, there is a high chance they will be shot at themselves.
Patricia’s mother was not feeling well; she had a headache for over a week straight. She went to the public doctor and they tried some medicine, but it was not working. When she called to get another appointment, they had a wait list until April. She could pay for a private doctor. She also explained how the college system worked. Kids take tests similar to SATs. Their test results will determine which colleges will accept them. There are public universities that are actually more difficult to get into to than the private colleges in her opinion.
When I asked her what she knew about sex trafficking, she had a lot to say. It is a huge problem in Brazil. There is sex tourism and she gave specific examples of girls she knew who were taken. One girl was taken to Germany and another to the United States. The girl from Germany was the only one she knew who was able to escape. I asked her if prostitution is legal. She said it is legal, but she does not think it lowers trafficking rates. She said, “It doesn’t make a difference because men want young girls.” She mentioned Carnival is a hot spot for trafficking and there is number to call if anyone sees adults having sex with children or any sexual abuse.
She told me another story of a girl she knew who was abused by her brothers and father and when the police confronted the father, he said it is better that it happens in the house than somewhere else. The mindset is very corrupt and there needs to be a social change. She was very insightful and really got me wondering if legalizing prostitution would lower sex trafficking rates. I do not have the answer but I will be researching it further.
Brazil had the most visible poverty and most corrupt law enforcement of any of the countries we visited so far. I never felt personally uncomfortable, but I was always in a group and never went out at night. We had a few students who were robbed or had their credit card numbers stolen, but luckily no one was injured. I feel many people can sense if you are afraid and it takes away from the experience. My friend would not even cross the street without getting a lock for her backpack. I feel much more confident in my intuition and observation skills to be trusting in certain situations. I try to be very safe and carry little money on me.
I think the Brazilian welfare system is very interesting and I think we should implement an after-school program similar to theirs in the United States. In many ways they are being proactive instead of reactive. The beaches and weather were beautiful and I really enjoyed immersing myself in the Brazilian culture. I loved the shopping; it was a great way for me to connect with locals. I look forward to further conversations in other ports. I really learned to appreciate stepping outside of my comfort zone and getting to know the people around me. That is something I really enjoy about the social work program at Millersville too. Last semester, I worked with Church World Services to help integrate a refugee family into the Lancaster community. It was a challenging experience, but it taught me to open up to people.
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
Here is the private island we went to. We jumped off the side of the boat and swam to shore on our noodles. It was a beautiful day!.
This is one aisle of the market. There were fabric venders who sold hand-made dresses, which many students bought.
This is Patricia with her MU shirt. It is a wonderful gift to be able to give after being invited into someone’s home.
Here is a group picture of everyone at dinner. Dani, in the green sweater, specializes in reflection and spirituality. It was great to spend time with her and share our faith together.
This is Patricia’s cat! He had a funny meow which reminded me of my best friend Craig’s cat, Mario. He was such a sweet cat when he wasn’t climbing after food.
This is the outside of the childrens’ street project. They were so excited to perform for us and show off their crafts.
The children showed off their crafts and dances - they are so talented. It was great being able to watch how happy these children were. I wish them all the best in their future. It is wonderful that they have so many mentors in the community; it is something that is really lacking the in United States. If anyone is interested in social problems in the U.S., I strongly recommend a social work class or Dr. Porter’s sociology class, “Social Problems.” It really opens your eyes to things you never think of.
I was very excited to arrive in Barcelona because one of my best friends from back home, Freddy, is studying abroad in Sweden, and he flew to Barcelona to visit me. We spent a whole day catching up, shopping, sight-seeing and eating. We saw Sagrada Familia, a church that has been under construction for over 100 years. It is not finished yet because it is so expensive and so intricate. We had breakfast at a cute pastry café, and I had the most delicious donut and macaroon. We had lunch at an Italian restaurant; I had pasta (surprise!) and a fruit tart. In almost all the countries I visited, I had Italian food. Italian food is good all over the world! We kept shopping to find Freddy an authentic jersey for the FC Barca soccer game the following night. For dinner, we went to a cute vegetarian restaurant and consumed olives, salad, soup, hummus, plantains and guacamole. It was so good, but too healthy, so we went to get gelato for dessert. We went to the location of an old bull fighting arena. It is now a mall with restaurants at the top. We took the elevator up and walked around. I had to be back on the ship by midnight because I had a field lab the next day.
The next morning our Sociology of Gender class went to Fundacio Maria Raventos, a women’s shelter. The shelter has multiple different projects: it provides housing for single mothers for up to three years, child care, a monthly allowance and the resources for these women to either get a job or finish school. There is also a kindergarten where children of the neighborhood can attend. They provide the women with access to a social worker, health care and counseling. The program is well funded and has a very successful track record. The women are there with a common goal of becoming self-sufficient.
One thing I found especially interesting about this shelter was that they promote relationships with men. Unlike domestic violence shelters where the locations are hidden for those who are recovering from abuse, this program allows women to have guests and/or time to go out and date. This empowers them to make their own life choices. One of the residents spoke to us. She was just 16 and had a daughter. She was back in school and doing very well, though she was not in school that day because the schools were on strike. Her mother brought her to the shelter because she was not financially able to support her daughter.
Some girls ended up in the shelters because they have no family support. The children were very wound up when we saw them. They had over 30 children pre-school age and only three to four teachers at a time. Some children were throwing temper tantrums, hitting and kicking and screaming. It seemed like chaos. But, I imagine any place with so many young kids in one place would probably seem like chaos.
The facility was very beautiful and the staff was very involved in their residents’ lives. Once the girls age out, they are always able to come back and visit. I personally think the program is amazing and similar programs would be very successful in the United States. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s likely to happen because of the lack of welfare, especially for maternity care. I learned a lot about maternity programs around the world, and the U.S. is the only country that gives six weeks of maternity leave with no pay. Many countries give women leave with full pay. In the U.S., child-bearing is not considered a socially acceptable job, but it appears that mindset is changing around the world. For the last half of our field lab we went to a market. It was overwhelming with all the meat laying out. There were butchers, fish stands, smoothies, fruit, restaurants and candy. I had a kiwi smoothie, and it was very good.
Later that night I returned to the ship to change for the FC Barca game. Everyone was so pumped up and over 300 Semester At Sea students went to the game. We were split into two groups, with mine right behind the goal. We were three rows back and saw Lionel Messi up close! He’s considered one of, if not the best, soccer players in the world. Messi scored a goal in the first 10 minutes. During the second half we got a great video of Messi scoring a goal, but he was offsides ☹. It was a super fun night. We were constantly taking pictures and cheering. After the game, Freddy and I met for dinner. By the time we met, it was almost midnight and everything was closing. I hate to admit it, but we had Burger King. We walked around the city for a while, and then I went back to the ship. Freddy had a flight the next morning back to Sweden.
The next day, I had a doctor’s appointment for my back pain. It was a challenge trying to get to the appointment, and the taxi to the clinic was extremely expensive (a good traveling lesson for me). The ladies at the reception desk didn’t speak English and had a very hard time understanding what I was asking. Luckily the doctor understood English. The confidentiality and medical practices are very different than in the states. After I filled out a paper, the receptionist went to get the doctor. She left the patient list, and the reason for their visit right on the counter for anyone to see. I left the doctors and went to lunch with my friend Kristen.
We returned to the ship, and I left with a group to visit an after-school program for an underprivileged neighborhood. They had a tech school, afterschool homework help and activities. That program was founded by the neighborhood and has been very successful. The program also seemed to be very well funded. We did not get to interact with any children which was a bit disappointing. We walked around the neighborhood and then went to a local café. I had a hot chocolate—which was literally a melted chocolate bar—and flan. After the program, my friend Ali and I went to dinner at a local Spanish restaurant and had tapas filled with brie cheese and jam. We returned to the ship and I did some homework.
The last day my friends Kristen, Terra and I went to get a fish pedicure, which consists of little fish sucking the dead skin off your feet. It was super ticklish but a cool experience. We did some shopping and had Chinese food for lunch. Finally, we went grocery shopping. I got a supply of junk food snacks including three bags of Doritos, Angry Bird gram crackers, Oreos and breakfast bars—it was nice to see American brands. I had to stock up to hold me over during our upcoming two week trek across the Atlantic. I returned to the ship to study more for my midterm and later that night we departed for Brazil.
Barcelona had a lot of petty crime. Multiple people got their wallets, phones or passports stolen. One girl actually had to leave the program because her passport was stolen and her Brazil visa was stolen and there was not enough time to get a new one. Unfortunately, the economy in Spain is hurting. I noticed a lot of homeless people. They would camp out on the streets in sleeping bags. Some had dogs that would sleep with them; it was sweet. Multiple girls in my classes said they saw prostitutes with their pimps on the streets. I did not see it so I am unsure the exact situation, but sex trafficking is a big social problem in Barcelona. In other ports, some girls were put in very uncomfortable situations and were approached by a pimp to join a sex ring. Luckily, the girls knew the signs and were able to get out of the situation safely. Sex trafficking is a very real problem and students on SAS have experienced it firsthand. No matter where you are, you need to be on the watch looking for signs and have safety plans on how to escape.
The women’s shelter was the most influential experiences for me in Barcelona. The shelter has the resources and time to prepare an individual care plan for each woman and provide them with the services they need. Welfare in the U.S. is for emergence and may provide temporary financial relief, but the programs are reactive and not proactive. This shelter is very proactive and I believe that is one of the main reasons it is so successful.
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
Freddy and I are in front of Sagrada Familia. It is stunning. Inside is full of stained-glass windows. It is very intricate and must be very expensive. Part of the issue is not only are they trying to continue building, but they also have to keep up with restoration.
Left-Right is Adam, Ali, Jess, Angie and Quintin. Adam is a fellow IMPACT scholar and one of my best friends on the voyage. It is always a fun time with this group.
Mero is a fellow IMPACT scholar. We were having so much fun at the game. FC Barca is a very special club because they are run by their fans and not an outside funder.
These are all the smoothies at the market. There were at least seven tables that were selling smoothies, and multiple tables selling chocolate. Seeing all the raw meat was making me nauseous, so photo credit to Gen Cohen. ☺ Thanks Gen!!
Our ship docked in Civitavecchia, Italy the evening of October 15. Angie, Gen and I took an early morning train to Rome. We were staying overnight so first we found a hotel and then went to lunch. I had raviolis and chocolate mousse. It was the best chocolate mousse ever! All the food was amazing. After lunch, we toured the Vatican. It was absolutely breathtaking. While in line waiting, Gen and Angie were told they could not enter the Sistine Chapel without covering their shoulders and knees so they ran to a shop across the street to buy scarves. They looked very silly but it was worth it to get into the chapel. I learned how Michael Angelo was forced to paint the chapel by the Pope. He had never painted before, but it ended up being a masterpiece. The individual paintings in the Vatican were smaller than I expected. There were also many statues throughout. Apparently there are many paintings and sculptures in storage that people don’t get to see. Unfortunately, we did not see the Pope which was very disappointing because he was there and said mass earlier in the day. I sent my family and friends postcards from the Vatican. The Vatican is its own country and in order to live there, you must be invited by the Pope. After exploring the Vatican, we went shopping and had a not so nutritious, but delicious gelato for dinner. Gen and I sat in the lobby of our hotel for a while as access to WIFI has been limited on our trip. We went to bed early because we had to meet our tour group at 6:45am the next morning.
At 7 a.m. the next day we boarded a tour bus taking us to Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento and Capri. We spent an hour on a walking tour of Naples, but it seemed like the whole city was under construction, which definitely diminished the experience. We stopped for lunch and had pasta (what else do you eat in Italy?) with salad, then had grapes for dessert. It was not nearly as good as the lunch we had the day before, but they served all you could eat. We got to know some of the people from our tour; two girls who were just out of college, two mothers and an elderly couple. The elderly couple was so cute, they were always holding hands. We had a great time getting to know each other. After lunch, we went to Pompeii. It was very interesting. We saw the bodies that had been covered in lava. Since animals can sense natural disaster before humans, there was one instance where a dog was freaking out trying to get its owners to come with him. The owners were so confused and couldn’t control the dog so they tied him up. Then when the eruption happened that poor dog was unable to escape. There was a mold of the poor dog there as well. The city was completely destroyed in less than 30 minutes. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable. I expected it to be more eerie, but perhaps the beautiful day, so sunny and bright made it a more positive experience. We explored some of the shops outside of Pompeii. The people were very pushy and made Gen and I feel very uncomfortable at times. However, we did find some nice souvenirs. The tour bus dropped us off at our hotel. What a refreshing (albeit expensive) perk! It was a gorgeous four star hotel. It was such a nice change in living conditions. We are used to staying in hostels or our tiny rooms on the ship. We pampered ourselves with nice hot baths and got snacks in the room. The hotel rate included dinner and dessert. The hotel had seven pools that connected down the mountain - it was so decadent and so appreciated!
The next morning Gen and I woke up and enjoyed our hotel provided breakfast. Then we took a tour bus to the river and a water ferry to the island of Capri. We went shopping and had lunch. After lunch we had free time. Gen and I went on a lift to the very top of the mountain and took pictures at the top. The lunch in Capri was amazing. We had salad, raviolis (surprise, more pasta) and gelato. I had pistachio gelato and it was very tasty!! After free time we caught the ferry to Naples. We took a late train back to the ship and got a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, we stopped for gelato and some WIFI time, then went to the beach. We saw little hermit crabs and Gen conducted research for her marine biology project. Then we went grocery shopping, took our heavy bags back to the ship and stayed in for lunch. Then we were off to Barcelona!
I really enjoyed my time in Italy. The people who live there seem happy and are very family oriented. In their culture, it is normal to gather multiple generations for meals and just enjoy family time. It reminds me a lot of my mom’s side of the family. My late grandpa was Italian and loved to tell us all about his childhood. His last name is “Pasquini” which means Little Easter. I remember Sunday dinners at my grandparents. We would have raviolis and meatballs. I loved the food in Italy, but honestly, it was not nearly as good as my grandma’s raviolis and meatballs – a recipe she learned from my grandpa’s mother. My grandpa would always have red wine at dinner and it was not a Sunday dinner if he did not spill something at least once. We would usually have pizzelles or biscotti cookies for desert.
Italy is a very Catholic culture. My family is Catholic, so much of the Italian experience reminded me of my family. My cousin Donnie is a priest and has gone to the Vatican on multiple occasions. He said that he was even pick-pocketed there. I was in shock. Who would pick-pocket a priest at a church? Although I personally identify as a non-denominational Christian, I really support the work the current Pope is doing. He made public statements that he is much more open-minded than his predecessors and he wants everyone to feel welcome at the church. He also lives very humbly, even though he has the option of living a grand lifestyle. His life’s work proves his selfless actions. I am excited for the future of the Catholic faith.
Interview with Gen Cohen
Gen is my roommate on the ship and one of my bestfriends. She previously studied abroad in Italy and has an interesting insight. She has been blessed with the opportunity to travel on SAS and experience Italy again. I am curious… because SAS teaches people to be World travelers rather than tourists but does it actually change the way students view these countries?
What did you like most about Italy?
I liked how culturally strong it was. All around the country there were buildings, cathedrals and palaces which have been around longer than the United States has been a country. Everywhere you went there was something interesting to see that was culturally significant.
What did you like the least?
How expensive it was. I felt it was very touristy. The places we went to in particular felt more so than places I have previously traveled.
What has been the biggest culture shock on the ship?
The fact that all the crew members come from different countries (ex. Philippines, Ukraine, Brazil, U.S.). We get to go off and see so many things but they don’t because for them this is work.
What was your favorite thing in Italy?
I enjoyed Capri. I was following my heritage and saw where my great-great Uncle used to paint. My uncle’s name is Frank T. Hutchens and he has passed, but his artwork is now worth thousands so it was very culturally rich to go find the exact sights he used to paint.
What is the biggest difference between the U.S. and Italy?
The way people spend their days. In the U.S. it’s all about money and work and it’s all about profit over pleasure. Whereas in Italy one of the things I learned from being in Florence for a month was the people there are not focused on making extra money, but instead they are focused on having that extra time in their day to do as they please. For example they spend more time eating their meals or stay for drinks after, whether its coffee or wine. The store owners have no problem stopping in the middle of the day to go home and see their family and not worry about the business they are missing.
What are you looking forward to most back home?
To see my dog! I also look forward to reconnecting with my family. I plan to visit my grandparents who I haven’t seen a lot. Seeing all these different cultures makes me want to learn more about my own heritage and my past.
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
I know this can be very upsetting to view but here is one of the bodies that had been covered with ash. Currently they have only retrieved eight bodies and one dog.
Some different pictures from around Pompeii. The city is huge so we only got to see a small portion of the city.
Here I am on a lift to take me to the tallest point on the island of Capri. It was a 15 minute ride each way - breathtaking view. I love the clouds as well!
Here are two different views from Capri. The first is a view from the water. The second is a view from the top of the mountain.
Lisbon was absolutely beautiful and I had a wonderful time there. The first day I departed the ship early and went on one of my IMPACT scholarship programs. We went to a shop where the workers recreate old furniture and bound books. All the work was done by hand and they gave us demonstrations in every room in the shop. After the tour, we were able to paint our own tile. I was traveling with my roommate Gen and a fellow IMPACT scholar Jake (whom I interviewed in my last port). Gen is an art major so sitting next to her was totally unfair because of how beautiful her tile looked. Mine turned out nicely as well, and it will be one of my Christmas gifts for my Grandmother.
After the tile painting class, a small group of us explored the area and had lunch at a beautiful restaurant, then did some shopping. There was a big town square with many shops over-looking the water. My small group and I saw a sign that said, “World’s sexiest bathroom.” It was just so funny that they choose to advertise the public restrooms. That night, a large group of us went out for dinner. It was a great day.
The next morning we woke up early and took a four-hour bus ride to Lagos, Portugal. It is a beach town with cool caves and lots of fun adventure sports. We stayed in a hostel and the lady who ran it told us to call her “Mama.” She made us a delicious breakfast and was so sweet. It was definitely the most fun I have had at a hostel yet. We went to the beach that afternoon. Later, we ate at an Italian restaurant. I have loved the Italian food in every country. I cannot wait until we get to Italy! The restaurant had the best chocolate mousse I have ever had. After a long day and great meal, we decided to make it an early night and I went to sleep.
The next morning we got up and went back to the beach. We also did shopping and then some swimming in the ocean. Later in the day, we went on a boat tour with 35 kids from SAS. They took us out into the ocean and we were allowed to jump and swim in the water. It was so much fun. I wore my favorite one piece bathing suit and Gen made fun of me the whole time for wearing an “old lady” suit! I told my Mom to add her on facebook and yell at her. Gen informed me, “your Mom friend requested me, but I am not adding her! I don’t want to get in trouble!” I told Gen, “Next time I will wear my one piece with tacky water shoes and goggles!”
After the boat returned to the dock, Gen and I got on another boat tour that took us in and around the caves. It was amazing and I took some beautiful pictures. Then I went back to the hostel, showered and got ready for dinner. My friend Jess came to tell me one of our friends got sea urchin spikes in her foot and needed to go to the hospital. It took a little bit of convincing to get her there, but I accompanied her. The hospital was nice, but I was not impressed with their medical practices. The equipment was clean with needles and medicine individually packed in sealed bags like you would find in the U.S.. However, they were trying to pull the spikes out with a needle that opened up the wound area to make sure they were able to pull out the entire spike. They provided her with no pain killers and spoke broken English, so it was difficult to communicate. Luckily, they cleaned her wounds the best they could and sent her back to the ship. She was able to have our ship doctor examine it too. We went to dinner after at a place called the Nah Nah Bar. They claim to make one of the 50 best burgers in the world! Well, it was very tasty. It was a huge beef patty, cheese, pineapple, bacon and barbeque sauce. I fell asleep as soon as I got back to the ship as I was stuffed and very tired.
The last day in Lagos Gen, Kyle and I wanted to swim with dolphins. We took a bus to the Zoo Marine, which is similar to Sea World. We had the whole morning to play in the water park and go down all the water slides. Late in the afternoon, we swam with the dolphins. They did tricks and would give us kisses. I love dolphins! The dolphins had one trick where they pushed my feet while I was on a body board as fast as possible. When I was getting close to the edge, I had to quickly bend my knees so they did not run me into the wall. We had to rush to catch the last bus of the day, so we quick changed out of our surf suit and went to buy pictures of us with the dolphins. That night we went back to Nah Nah Bar to get more of their delicious burgers. We also had some fresh fruit. Later that night, we went to the beach and just watched the waves. The seaweed was glowing in the water. I had never seen anything like it before.
The last day in Portugal was a travel day. We took a 6:30 a.m. bus to Cadiz, Spain. We stopped halfway for lunch. I had a couple ice-creams and a soda (healthy lunch, I know). We made it back to the ship in time so I took a much needed nap and caught up on homework. Since Portugal to Spain is an overland port, we were allowed to choose how to spend our time. I only spent a few hours in Spain before I got on the ship. We will be returning to Barcelona soon, so I wanted to spend as much time as I could in Portugal.
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
This is the tile I painted. It was an IMPACT program so fellow IMPACT scholars attended with me. I made sure to find a design with an animal in it!
Here are two different views of the caves in Lagos. We weren’t able to go in too far because of how wavy the water was. It was beautiful regardless.
Gen, Kyle and I swam with Dolphins in Lagos at Zoo Marine. It was very similar to Sea World and I gave the dolphins lots of kisses!
On my first day in Ireland, I joined my friends Jess and Angie and we explored Dublin. Semester at Sea provided shuttle buses to the main square. First, we visited Trinity College, the oldest college in Ireland. Next we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was beautiful. The weather was really nice so I sat on the lawn and watched people with their kids and dogs running around playing. Following the cathedral tour, we went to lunch to sample some Irish cuisine. I had a croissant with the center cut out and filled with guacamole, caramelized onions, goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette dressing and sautéed spinach. It was delicious. For dessert we all had cake ☺. It is very common in Europe to have a set menu where you pick an appetizer, main dish and dessert for a fixed price (typically between 15-18 euros.)
My friend Angie is just a really fun, easy going person and she wanted to visit the Leprechaun museum. We heard that it was created for tourists, but it sounded so cute! It is a great place to take kids. We went into a room that was made for “giants” so we could experience being a leprechaun by trying to get up on huge furniture. It was so much fun. We took lots of pictures! In the afternoon, we did some shopping before heading back to the ship. Many of the gift shops have a sheep theme and I was excited to pet a sheep. I think I have an international animal obsession because I love interacting with foreign pets, dogs, cats, goats, sheep, etc. I went to bed early because the next morning we had to be up at 6 a.m.
A large group of us planned a trip with an outside tour company to tour the Cliffs of Moher and Galaway city. In the morning, we waited outside for a cab to pick us up from the ship. The cab taking my friends Angie, Quentin and me was late. Angie was freaking out because our bus was leaving at 7 a.m. with or without us. Angie was on the phone with the cab driver, “I just saw you drive by! Make a U-turn! Hurry up we are going to be late! I need you to put the petal to the metal! I want to be scared of your driving!” Thanks Angie because I definitely was scared of his driving. Meanwhile, as Angie was still in the back of the cab freaking out and about to have a nervous breakdown, Quentin asks our cab driver, “So how do you feel about Scotland’s Independence?” Fortunately, we made it to the bus on time and we were all able to laugh about the experience. Once we reached Galaway, it was raining and we were starting our tour on foot. We had an hour tour before we had to meet at the bus station to go to the Cliffs of Moher. My friends and I decided we would leave the group and do some independent travel then meet up with our group at the bus station. We had a fabulous time going into shops and playing pranks on each other.
The Cliffs of Moher are beautiful, but unfortunately it was too cloudy to get any good pictures. Kristen and I went to watch a short 3D movie about the cliffs. Actually, we watched it about 3 times. After the cliffs, we checked into our hostel. The hostel was nice. We went to dinner at an Irish pub with live music. We played a game where we sat in a circle and had to go around and say a pick-up line in our best Irish accent.
The next day we went to Kylemore Abbey and stopped at some scenic sites. At the castle, which used to be a school run by nuns, we toured the gardens out back. It was so beautiful. For lunch we ate right outside the gardens at a tea house and the food was amazing. I love tea houses, even my bridal shower was in a tea house! (Thanks again for that Mom and Grandmom!) The whole time, I was wishing my Mom and Grandmom would have been there with me. And, I finally saw some Irish sheep! Actually, there were so many sheep in the fields, the farmers spray paint numbers on their backs to identify which sheep belonged to each farmer. I saw people chasing the sheep and they would run away. Our bus driver was so funny because we would have to wait for sheep to cross the road sometimes and he would shout “oh no LOOK - Killer sheep ahead. They are looking at me like they are going to attack!” On our way back to the ship, we stopped at an old house where monks used to live. It had burned down several times. We climbed around the ruins. Once we made it back to the ship, I was exhausted and went to bed early.
The last day in port I went out early and got my hair done. I think my hairdresser and I had a slight communication issue. I asked for some blonde and red highlights. She thought I asked for blonde hair with red highlights. So, for the rest of my trip, I’m going to have blonde hair with red highlights. I consider it just another part of the adventure! With my new look, I went shopping and bought some TV shows to watch to hold me over during the times at sea.
I found it interesting that a lot of people in Ireland seem to really like President Obama. There is even a hotel called the Barrack Obama Hotel.
As we departed Ireland on our way to Portugal, the boat was very rocky and I got seasick. So, now I am getting really nervous about the upcoming 14 day non-stop journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Barcelona to Rio de Janeiro.
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
St. Patrick’s Cathedral was beautiful. I saw multiple school trips the day I was there and enjoyed just sitting on the lawn.
The sign for the Cliffs of Moher. Unfortunately it was too foggy to get any good photographs but the hike was fun.
In this segment from Laura, she interviews a couple on board the SAS ship while they are out at sea.
Mathilde and Jacob met on SAS and started dating within the first week of the voyage. I admire their relationship. This is a once in a lifetime experience and if you’re too afraid to do things you will miss out on a great experience. I think they are very special couple and I do wish them the best after SAS. I was intrigued by their relationship because everyone around them says it will never work after SAS because she goes back to France and Jacob starts medical school. I wonder if relationships fail because everyone says they will or is it really because it is too difficult? When people hear that I am engaged they think what? You’re so young - you don’t know what you are doing. Whenever I hear that I think yeah..clearly you don’t know my fiancé, but we made the decision that this is our life and it will work because we want it to. We have VERY supportive parents and friends now, but at first it was tough on our relationship. I know how difficult and discouraging long distance can be and I hope Jacob and Mathilde’s relationship will give people hope that you can have a long distance relationship and still have a fun college experience!
Interview with Mathilde and Jacob
What do you like most about France?
There are many different views and the people are different in each part. I love the landscape. France has everything; skiing, beaches, city (Paris.) There are lots of different cultures especially in areas that border other countries. I am very proud of our history, but as a country we used to be more powerful.
Is the stereotype French are rude, true?
They are not rude but they do like to argue. People may be rude in Paris because there are too many tourists and they don’t like when there are more tourists than native people.
What do you like least?
The government, I am really, really against the government. Only 5% like the president. They want to vote right extreme, but I hope someone from the left or right will emerge who will think more about the country and less about themselves.
What has been the biggest culture shock on the ship?
In France there are more hours of class and less homework. On the ship it is like no class. It was very hard for me to convince my school to let me go on SAS. I did not really write before but I write a lot now on the ship. Also people don’t mean what they say. Someone says “How are you?” and just keep going. If you ask me, then I think you really want to know what is going on. So instead - if you see me in the halls just a hello or a smile is enough if you’re in a rush. In France you really say what you mean. If you say you are fine that really means you are fine.
What are some interesting things you can tell me about France?
We do a hello kiss on each cheek. In Paris it’s two, but in my region South of France, Montpellier it’s three kisses. Some regions the men do it too, but sometimes they just shake hands. Dating habits are more mature in France. There is no conversation to decide your label. If you hang out it is assumed you are together.
What do you know about Human Trafficking in France? I don’t know a lot. It is forbidden to go to a prostitute. Most of the people who want to go find a prostitute, go to Belgium or Spain. You can see them on the strip, most are from Africa. There are these famous woods where it is known there are lots of prostitutes.
Tell me about your relationship?
M-So Jacob is my first boyfriend. My friends have had long relationships now two years.
J-People look for promise and security, they want to invest themselves in a way that is safe. I don’t think that exists and to approach any phase with a calculating attitude in regards to love marks a terrible form of cowardice to me, because when you find someone who is so special, so compelling, or even life changing you do everything you can to promote the health and success of that relationship. Most troubling is you cannot control the result - only how much love and effort you put into things. And that takes a tremendous amount of courage.
I have personally noticed a very different culture on the ship. Since the male to female ratio is so high, most men are just looking for a short term hook-up and the girls on the ship have understood that and many have adapted to that mindset. Those who are in long distance relationships have really been struggling. I know of a few couples who have taken a break because the distance is too hard. I am coming from a position where distance isn’t new for me but Ray is supportive of this journey and gives me the emotional support I need.
I know going off to college is a difficult task and many times people don’t want to talk to their significant others about it because they are afraid it will end their relationship, but I encourage you to. Talk it through and find out what works for you. If you know what you need from them use I feel statements or I need… this from you. Don’t play games, mean what you say. I remember when Ray first let for BCT I had a really hard time adjusting, but it was one of the best semesters of my life. I met my best friends (Maghee, Ashley, Jess, Joy, Katie and Lauren!) and found my major. This time when I left for SAS I had written 50 or so letters for him to open when he needs them because I needed letters from him when he was gone. I am not saying it won’t be hard, because it will, but you can do it with a positive mindset no matter what people say!
We arrived in Belgium and I was so excited to get off the ship and try some chocolates and waffles. However, the first day I had a field lab which went to the Hague Netherlands. We went to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It was very interesting because it is an international court that hears only cases of mass war crimes and genocide. The plan was for us to sit in on a current case but when we got there the case was closed. We did not get a definite answer as to why, but it could be private victim testimony or an argument if evidence is admissible in court for the jury to hear. We did have a lecture from a man who reviews documents for the court. We also were able to see the court room after the closed session ended. It was much more modern than I would have expected. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed. After we left we drove past the International Court of Justice (ICJ) but we were not able to get off. Once we made it back to the ship I went out with SAS to a social with local Belgium college students in the town hall building. Apparently, no Belgium students can go in unless they know Americans. I was able to spend some time getting to know Roel.
Roel spent a few days on the ship with us SASers and a few other Belgium friends. He and his friends taught a group of us how to count and say the days of the week in Dutch. My friends had a blast getting to know the guys! Roel speaks four languages: Dutch, English, German and French. He told me that college in Antwerp is less than 1,000 euros a semester. He thought it was insane how we were able to pay for school.
What is your favorite thing about Antwerp?
There is always stuff to do. It is more quiet than Holland (where he previously lived) but very vivid.
What is your least favorite thing?
Bureaucracy. I just moved and the process, all the paper work and stuff you had to fill out was very extensive. It is very quiet and there is not much initiative. I have to pull ideas out of people to find options of things to do.
What can you tell me about Human Trafficking in Belgium?
The most you hear about it is in the Red Light Districts (Amsterdam is well known). Most women however are independent prostitutes as far as I know. But I really have no idea.
Thanks for the insight Roel. It was wonderful getting to know you!
In my own personal research I learned the red light district in Amsterdam is well known for drugs and prostitution. People are able to go into cafes and buy marijuana. I am not sure if that is true but I have heard that from multiple sources. I also found out that prostitution in the red light district is more of a tourist attraction. Apparently, locals have their own prostitutes they use because they are cleaner than those in the red light district. (I don’t want to get into how much it breaks my heart that these women are exploited and looked at like a shopping store). However it does make me wonder how is human trafficking affected if prostitution is legal versus illegal? I don’t have an answer but it is something I will be looking into further.
The second day a small group of us went to a cute city called Ghent. It reminded me of Venice. We got there around 11 a.m. but since it was a Sunday everything was closed. We had to wait until 2 in order to get Belgium waffles. It was worth the wait though! I had a waffle with chocolate and ice cream (great lunch)! We walked around to some cute shops and stopped for Belgium chocolates. The food was incredible. After eating a ton, we went to a flea market. There were all sorts of vintage treasures. I love antiquing so I had a great time and everything was super cheap. We also went on a boat canal tour and saw an old castle. There was a children’s festival going on so the city was full of families and children dancing. After a long day we went back to the ship. The ship sailed off to Le Harve, France.
The next day we arrived in France. We took a train to Paris. I have always wanted to go to Paris so I was ecstatic when I got there. It was a challenge to find out how to book a metro to get to our hostel though. The machines weren’t working and we wasted almost an hour walking around trying to find a machine to print us a ticket. My friend YuQuin and I decided to take a taxi to the hostel and get a metro pass later. We met up with our group at the hostel and went out to dinner. That night we went to the Basilica. It is the highest point in all of Paris, and it overlooked the entire city. I went inside the beautiful church and made a donation for my grandma and my pop. It was very nice and I knew she would love it. (She never wants me to buy her anything so I make donations for her at different churches and light candles for her for my pop). There was an awesome street performer outside.
The next day the site-seeing began. We went to Le Louvre. That is where the Mona Lisa is and the Aphrodite statue. It was truly incredible. I ran into some friends at the museum and we had a great time taking photos. Next we went to the Love Lock Bridge. I was lucky to be able to see it because since the locks are so heavy it is breaking the fence and they will be taking it down soon. I really loved the sight there. It was so hot the day we were there, I couldn’t believe it, over 80 degrees. We had lunch at an Italian French restaurant and the food was amazing. I had an avocado filled with homemade dressing and it was so tasty. Next we went to Notre Dame and saw the church. I did not go inside because my back was hurting too much so I took a seat in the park out front and watched the birds. Next thing I know it’s a downpour - no wonder my back was hurting. We took the metro to the next stop and by the time we got there, the rain stopped. We did some shopping and then went to the Eiffel Tower. It was beautiful. We saw it during the day and then at night as well. Every hour it sparkles for a few minutes and it’s beautiful. My friends and I had dinner under the Eiffel Tower. It was our friend’s birthday so after we went to a restaurant to celebrate. I finally got my cheese platter and it was delicious! (I did a lot of eating on this trip! Hehe). The next morning we made our way back to the ship and I took some time to get caught up on homework and just relax!
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
My tasty Belgium waffle! It was worth the long wait. I had another waffle the next day with fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream.
Roel and I at the student mixer in the Antwerp city hall. We had a great time getting to know each other and he came to wave goodbye when the boat left!
This is the cute little chocolate shop where I bought all my Belgium chocolates. And they are all gone already...
The Eiffel Tower was beautiful. At night it sparkles. We could spend hours there. We had a great time just walking around and having dinner there.
Selfie with the Mona Lisa! It’s a bummer that it was sealed in a glass case because it left a glare. However, I think she is smiling!
YuQuin and I at the Love Lock Bridge. We loved the bridge and probably took 50 pictures while we were there.
The street performer was hanging onto this lightpost and juggling a soccer ball. He did some other really cool tricks that I captured on video!
My friends and I flew from Krakow, Poland to Berlin, Germany. We checked in at our hostel, which was very nice. Then we went out to see the Berlin wall. The art on the wall is absolutely beautiful. One side was detailed pictures and the other side was graffiti. Unfortunately, since anyone can write on the wall, some people drew over the beautiful paintings by just writing their names or profane words in spray paint. What I loved about Berlin was that it is such an open-minded city. They are very pro-active on gay rights and it’s filled with artists and artistic culture. The food in Berlin was great, much better than I expected. I am also appreciating Europeans walking their dogs! I have met so many people walking with dogs and most of them are so friendly. It was a lot of fun to sit near the water behind the Berlin wall and watch the dogs play. One other trivial thing I learned is that in Europe, if I want water, I need to specify with or without “gas” (carbonation).
Today we rejoined our ship in Rostock, Germany. We had scheduled a 9 a.m. bus to take us to the port. I asked the bus driver if this was our bus and he said something in German to me, got on the bus, shut the door and drove away without us! I was panicking because the ship waits for no one, if we miss the ship we have to go meet it at the next port. Luckily, some very nice ladies who worked for the company were able to get us on the next bus and they apologized multiple times for how the bus driver treated us. I was just happy to get back to the ship in plenty of time. Overall, my first independent travel experience was a fun adventure and a good learning opportunity. I had so much fun, but there were also times of sadness, fear and anxiety. I do feel I am better prepared for traveling independently in my next ports.
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
Jen and I posing in front of the Berlin wall. There is a beautiful painting but unfortunately people put graffiti all over it.
Anna Roth and Tobias Roth are German students also attending my Semester at Sea. They just got married a month ago! Nice honeymoon right? They brought a very interesting perspective when interviewing them. It was a pleasure to take time to get to know them and I have become friends with them through this interview process.
What do you like most about Germany?
Anna Roth - What I like is that the communication between Germans is quite direct, people are honest they mean what they say and it makes it a lot easier to live together. Germany has great variety. There are areas where you can ski, hike, go to beaches and it is very diverse - every place has their own rituals. The location is nice because it is in the center of Europe so it is easy to travel. Hiking and swimming are my favorite things to do. School tuition is basically free aside from administration fees.
Tobias Roth - What I like is the Political Social Market Economy. I like the idea of a community-based approach in which we care for the weak but at the same time have free economy. It is much more regulated than in America but you can still engage in free competition. For example there is universal health care. Women are paid for their maternity leave and husbands are also given a period of “family time” off. In Germany we pay about 50% of our income in taxes or all these security systems don’t work. Small family business is quite strong because the Germans have a more long term outlook. They want to make sure that their kids will have a place to work when they grow up. Germany wants to get rid of fossil energy and nuclear power and just use renewable energy or “energiewende” in German.
What do you like least about Germany?
Anna Roth - The people are kind of negative. If a person has a new idea they see the obstacles and problems. They are quite pessimistic in general. Also the weather could be better.
Tobias Roth - The people are overly critical and not easy to approach. It may take some time to break the ice. It is worth it but it is not always easy. Also the weather could be better.
What is the stereotype that German’s have of Americans?
Anna Roth - Americans are noisy and tend to be extreme. They are eating fast food all the time.
Tobias Roth - Americans are very innovative. Everything is always exaggerated (bigger, better). They are disastrous when it comes to sustainability. America has many opportunities for people it is a very open and free country. Americans are risk takers. However, Americans are very welcoming and nice. Americans are superficial. Americans keep like a “bubble” around them. They keep space but make up for it verbally.
In Germany is it common to get married so young?
It depends on what path you choose. If you are in school when you are 16 you leave for vocational training. That takes about three years and then you would start working. If that is the path you choose than it is normal to get married young. If you are still studying it is not normal. It’s more about what period of your life you’re in. Most people wait until they start to work.
What do you know about Human Trafficking in Germany?
Anna Roth - I don’t know a lot about it in Germany. There is only a real problem in big cities, and not in small cities. I am not involved enough to know. Even though I am a political science student we don’t talk about it.
Tobias Roth - Human trafficking happens more in Eastern Europe like Romania and Bulgaria. It is easier in the European Union where it is not as controlled. Prostitution is regulated. No one really knows how to deal with it. There is a big debate on how to deal with it.
I heard from my family when they went to Germany and tried to speak German, the Germans would respond back in English because they could recognize their accent. Is it common that everyone speaks English?
Tobias Roth and Anna Roth - If you ask for them to talk to you in German they will but they are practicing their English just like you may be practicing your German. It is our culture to communicate in a direct manor, say what you mean and not what you feel is appropriate.
What has been the greatest culture shock being on the Semester at Sea?
Anna Roth - I am not used to someone just saying “hi, how are you?” in passing and not actually want to stop to talk. They use a lot of words they don’t need to. I knew English but I did not know the American language “code” of English.
Tobias Roth - The biggest culture shock was the idea of realism “because you have the power you should do something” and I have actually met professors who believe in this, you do it because you can. Americans are very motivated and courageous but they do it all for themselves. Something may have taken multiple people to accomplish it but they want to take all the credit. It is difficult to adapt but now I just try to understand the underlying value system. I really value what ISE (Institute for Shipboard Education) is doing and the program itself, the organization and logistics it takes to make a trip like this happen and how they care for students
Before we arrive in each port, we have “a cultural pre-port meeting.” My professor of Political Tyranny and Genocide briefed us about Poland since he is native to Poland. He focused primarily on his family history because his mother and father were holocaust survivors. He knew their tattoo numbers by heart and would frequently tear up while sharing his experience. At the end of his presentation, everyone on the ship gave him a standing ovation. After much consideration, I have decided to keep him anonymous out of respect for him and his family.
On my first day in Poland, I had a field lab with that same professor. He took us to Stuthoff Concentration camp. Stuthoff was not considered an extermination camp, however there were gas chambers, a crematory, a doctor’s room where they performed lethal injections, and hanging bars. I have never been on such an intense field program. For hours, there was nothing but silence. We went through bunkers and through the crematory. They had actual ashes of victims in the crematory. Being in a concentration camp is very emotional and so much more powerful than anything I had previously read or watched about the Holocaust. The experience is overwhelming and depressing. When I left, I just wanted to take a shower. I really appreciated how my professor was so passionate and willing to share some really personal and tragic memories. Meeting someone personally involved with the Holocaust made the whole tour so much more real and personal. I can also see how being there was helpful for my professor. When we got back on the bus, he thanked us for sharing this experience with him. I really wish everyone could visit a concentration camp. It is hard to fathom that this really happened.
I traveled independently to Krakow, Poland with several new Semester at Sea friends. Once we arrived, we went to a Salt Mine. It was very interesting to see what it was like for men back then to work in an environment so dangerous. The tour guide said that the mine is so large we could not find our way out if we lost her. Our tour took over 2 hours and we still only saw about 1% of the mine. The mine no longer produces salt, but we were still able to purchase previously mined salt. When we walked the mine, there was water dripping off the walls that we could dip a finger into and taste the salt. One of the prettiest parts of the entire mine was the chapel. It is the largest underground chapel anywhere and it was beautiful. I learned people married in that chapel and can rent out the entire mine for their wedding. When we left the mine, we were taken up a miner lift, which was similar to an elevator. It was really fast, which was good because we had to walk down 53 levels to get to the bottom and that was only half way down!
After the mine tour, we went to dinner. Lucky for us, the Polish dollar is equal to three American dollars and food was very inexpensive. We had perogies of course! They were amazing and so much better than any perogies I ever had back home. We stayed at an interesting hostel called LETS ROCK HOSTEL. At night, everyone goes down to the lobby to meet the other guests. I met Americans from California and some people from Australia. What I realized that I can learn about different cultures anywhere, I am not limited to Polish culture in Poland. I learned about Australian culture from talking with my new Aussie friends. They were astonished that so many Americans own guns because in Australia they cannot own guns.
Later in the afternoon, we went to the market. I bought some very pretty magnets. I also took pictures with the street performers. I really enjoyed my enjoyed my time in Poland.
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
This is what they called the “death gate” at Stuthoff Concentration Camp. Any sites where victims were killed had flowers out of respect.
The Chapel that is located in the mine. There were a few religious locations. Miners would pray every day for their safety because it was so dangerous to do their job.
We departed Southampton, UK on our way to St. Petersburg, Russia. It took seven days to get there. With so many people to get to know and the excitement of starting our journey, it can be difficult to get enough sleep. It did not help that we kept losing an hour of sleep as we crossed 3 time zones along the way. We have our most intensive class work while at sea. The biggest culture shock for me thus far has been my classes. My classes require a lot of reading and many of these professors teach at larger schools so they aren’t used to taking time to work one on one with students. Now I know I am WAY spoiled by MU’s Social Work Department but I encourage you not to take our professors for granted. It is such a luxury to be able to meet with your professors. Social Work Department I MISS YOU ALL!
On August 29, the Semester at Sea staff informed us that they are changing our itinerary. We will no longer be stopping in Senegal or Ghana due to safety concerns with the Ebola outbreak. There was just a confirmed death in Senegal. The virus has a three week incubation period. Although it is only passed through fluids a person can be asymptomatic for three weeks. When I left in May there were 1,000 confirmed deaths due to Ebola, now there have been over 3,000 confirmed deaths and half of those occurred in the last month. The most probing questions the Semester at Sea had to consider is what if we were to travel to Senegal or Ghana and then we are unable to enter Brazil, or the States? Would there be a chance of quarantine? What would happen if someone did become affected and then passed it along to the shipboard community? I am very disappointed because observing conditions in Senegal and Ghana were a primary reason I chose this journey. However, due to the safety and wellbeing of all I agree they made the proper decision.
In place of Senegal and Ghana we are now going to Civitavecchia, Italy and Barcelona, Spain. Very different than Africa, but I’m sure I will enjoy seeing both venues. I heard someone say on the ship, “I am so sad we are not going to Ghana. I won’t get my pictures with African children.” If their goal is to “show” everyone the service they have done, they may need to stop and reconsider their priorities. Children are not a tourist attraction and poverty is not a tourist site.
I appreciate how this experience is reinforcing the need to stop generalizing, stereotyping and marginalizing people who may be different. We may not even realize we do it, but we can all get along better if we are patient, listen and try to appreciate the cultural diversity. I do not expect a dramatic transformation that changes my life in an instant. What will change my life is a better appreciation for people from different cultural backgrounds. I don’t need to travel around the world to experience this. There is so much diversity back home in Lancaster City.
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
This is the conference room of the European University in St. Petersburg. It is a master’s program and there were a few US students there to share their input.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral: The gold tier is pure gold - 150 kilos of gold. In total there are 300 kilos of gold throughout the cathedral.
I went to a Dacha Community. A Dacha is a house that normally three generations share. They do not live there all the time, it is more of a second home that they stay at on weekends and summers. Most have their main houses in St. Petersburg. The family was so nice, Lisa, Katherine and Igor. We had a traditional tea, with cookies and croissants filled with rice or beef. It was very good. Then they gave us homemade ice cream with jam that they made by hand with the berries they grew in their back yard. It was a wonderful afternoon.
Beautiful table setting at the Dacha Community. They build their houses themselves. It reminded me of a house in the Poconos of Pennsylvania.
August 30th - Field Lab
The first thing I noticed about St. Petersburg was that the architecture is beautiful. I was blown away. I should clarify the difference between a field lab and field program. A field lab is one planned by the professor that directly corresponds to the class. Field programs are optional trips that SAS offers, at an additional cost.
The field lab was excellent, so much better than I expected. We went to see multiple political museums and memorial sites. The most impactful sites for me were the ones dedicated to victims of Stalinism. They were very emotional. I was glad I could take breaks between exhibits. We had a 4 course Russian lunch prepared for us. It included beet soup, beef and potatoes, salad and ice cream. The water in Russia is very bad. The locals don’t even drink the tap water, so we all were given bottled water. After touring all the museums, we had tours of some of the popular attractions in St. Petersburg. We also visited a local college. We met the administration and some students. And then we went shopping!!
Lisa is 26 and has lived in her Dacha for many years with her Mom and Dad (Katherine and Igor). Lisa studied for a while in the States and speaks very good English. She also speaks Italian and works for an Italian architecture company that builds roads outside of St. Petersburg. She said, “It is not very difficult to get the news and the people can speak about whatever they like. We may not be in agreement with everything Putin does, but there is good and bad with every government.” She continued, “There are not really any stereotypes that I have heard about Americans. In all the places I have traveled, people are people and there isn’t that much difference between people.” When I asked her about Human Trafficking, she was confused with what I meant at first. I explained what we “hear” about human trafficking from the United States about how Russian women are tricked into becoming brides and then forced into sex slavery. She acknowledged that she knew what I was talking about, but she had only heard about it happening in Asian countries. She said that Asian men would trick Russian women into marrying them. They then take their visas, which forces them to stay. I found this very interesting because I had not heard about that scenario. I feel inspired to learn more and I will do some research.
I’m wondering if Russian news sources would even acknowledge that human trafficking occurs within Russia. I also wonder if Lisa did know about human trafficking within Russia, if she would actually feel comfortable and safe acknowledging it. I’m realizing how we all get filtered news. In my situation, if it is not happening in the U.S. or concerns the states, I may never hear about events in other parts of the world.
Friday, August 22
On Friday, August 22, the work-study students and Global Impact Scholars (about 40 of us) rode a bus to Southampton and were able to board the MV Explorer early. I can’t believe how nice the boat is. It is immaculate, modern and not as claustrophobic as I feared. That evening, family members were invited onto the ship for a tour and reception to meet the faculty and crew. My dad attended and I know he was impressed because he kept saying he was not leaving. However, he did reluctantly leave. I am glad he accompanied me, but now I am at the official start of my 3.5 month adventure of a lifetime.
Full-size photos available on flickr. Take a look!
Here is the MV Explorer. It is so big I was not able to take a picture of the entire boat yet. It is really interesting because we live with our professors and eat meals with them. It’s a much more relaxed environment than normal college classes. I like having close, personal connections with the faculty.
This is the student union. It can hold 300 students, but since there are over 600 students on the boat, some students have to watch seminars from classrooms on TV. All our cabins have a TV with a live feed to the student union as well.
I am excited and naturally somewhat anxious about this trip. One thing that helped soothe my mind was that my resident director (RD) said to us, “Don’t be comparing your experience to everyone else around you. If you are having a good time and enjoying what you are doing, that is all that matters.” I was feeling a little envious because some schools have groups with over 30 students on SAS, so they arrived with lots of friends. I made friends with the work-study kids and numerous people I connected with on the SAS Facebook page. My first official assignment was to greet the remaining 600 students boarding the ship on Saturday. I liked being the first person to welcome the students onto the ship. I met everyone and even began to get to know the staff.
I really like my roommate. Her name is Gen. She is very funny. I had all the Millersville t-shirts that I will be handing out in my closet and Gen said to her friend Kyle, “Maybe she is like a cartoon character and has to wear the same shirt every day.” I am so glad she has a sense of humor and we can joke. We are both messy – what a relief, because it takes some of the pressure off me to be neat.
The ship is literally like a hotel. Angelito comes and cleans our room every other day. They switch our towels once a week and they even make our beds. So far, the food has been great. There is always pasta, bread, potatoes and some fish. It is a LOT of carbs. I have not felt seasick yet (knock on wood), but when the boat is moving and it is wavy, everything rattles! Take a look at my YouTube link for a tour of my cabin (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AkHR_Wntkc). I decorated my side of the cabin. All the pictures of Miley and Ray make me feel more comfortable, but I miss them so much. I have a ritual when I go to bed. I think about “what did I do today that really mattered?” It can be as simple as holding a door and encouraging the other students, or doing community service activities. Either way I want to make each day count! We leave August 24th at 17:00 off to St. Petersburg, Russia!
Thank you for reading. Please send me your questions and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some SAS Facts:
- 71.5% girls and 28.5% boys. The boys have a nice ratio going on. The students are predominantly Caucasian, but students from 13 different nationalities are on-board. We have students from Egypt, Russia, Italy, Jordan, China and Germany to name a few. • I really appreciate that we have plenty of hot water in the showers. The hot water does not shut off or run out.
- The water is fresh and clean. I can drink right from the sink and it tastes completely normal.
- We had an activities fair. I joined a Bible study group and signed up for a Prevention of Human Trafficking trip and sunrise/set yoga classes. • We have a concept called our “extended family.” We are paired up with a staff member and other students and have lunches and dinners together.
- The crew on the MV Explorer is very friendly and most have been working on this ship for many years.
- There is a spa on the ship. After class, we can go to the spa and relax.
- SAS Alumni had a tradition of writing messages on the backs of the pictures in our rooms. One person found $100 bill that a SAS alum had challenged them to find from the writing on the back of the picture. SAS has now bolted and glued the pictures down. Kids were trying to pull them off the walls and some actually had to pay damages for breaking glass and such.
- I suspect I will get seasick since I easily get carsick. Fortunately, SAS provides free seasickness medication for students to pick up if needed.
- Our professors are all very prestigious and seem they will be a wealth of knowledge.
- I am wondering who we might have as special visitors on our trip. The last voyage had Desmond Tutu come speak to them. When my aunt Amy attended SAS about 10 years ago, they had Fidel Castro speak to them at the University of Havana. FYI – she said he would not stop talking and was very boring!
Thursday, August 21st
I liked London more than Iceland. My Dad kept telling me that everything would be more expensive in England so I was getting nervous, but food was a third of the price it was in Iceland and they had a “Pound” store which is their equivalent to our Dollar stores. There is a stereotype that the British are rude and think they are better than Americans, but I thought everyone was really nice and most were very funny. London is known for pubs and the first pub my dad and I went in was an Indian Pub. It had really good food and I was inspired by the diversity that I saw in London.
Our London hotel was small, but I could at least move in the bathroom. Since the hotel was recommended by SAS there were other students there so I was able to meet people and go out to dinner with them.
The next day my friend Kristen arrived in London and we went on a double decker bus tour. It was a long day but we got to see pretty much all of London in a day. Some of the stops that were highlights for me were Big Ben, London Tower/Crown Jewels, London Eye and Buckingham Palace. I would say the sights of London were what I expected and I did not feel like it was that different from America. I learned how to take the tube (subway) into the city and I feel much more confident now going into my independent travel.
I am excited to board the ship now! Thank you for reading!
Big Ben is a lot larger than I expected. We got lucky because the weather was nice when I took the photo. It soon turned to a typical London day – cold and rainy.
Selfie at the gates of Buckingham palace! There was a young boy that was like, “I just saw a women I think it was the Queen!” SO funny. I said to my Dad I hope they just let him think that and make his day!
Here is the London Eye with Kristen and I inside going up. It was really slow and we got an awesome view of London.
Kristen and I are photo bombing the English guard. He did not show any emotion. Everyone around us was trying to make him laugh but they never laugh.
Sunday, August 17th
My father and I arrived at the first stop on my itinerary: Reykjavik, Iceland. The Reykjavik Airport is small. When we arrived, there was no available jetway. Passengers had to walk down the steps and ride a bus to the terminal. As someone who likes to stay “connected,” I really appreciated that everywhere in Iceland has free WiFi (even the public buses). The hotels in Iceland are very small and expensive. Our hotel room was smaller than a dorm room and with all my luggage, I barely could make a path to my bed. But that wasn’t even the most difficult adjustment...It was having to share the small room with my dad, the snorer!
Monday, August 18
I discovered jetlag and don’t recommend it. However, I persevered and my dad and I went to the Blue Lagoon. It was an awesome experience. Outside of the actual swimming area, it was very cold. However, the Blue Lagoon is like an enormous hot tub, mineral bath and steam room, all in one place. It felt so nice and relaxing. The people around us used the mineral cream provided by the lagoon as mud masks and sun protection as they relaxed in the water. My Dad and I took pictures joking “There might be a zombie apocalypse!”
This is the entrance to Blue Lagoon, the #1 tourist attraction in Iceland. Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in the youngest lava field in West Ireland. The water is known for its numerous minerals.
The best way to explain Blue Lagoon is like a giant hot tub. The water temperature averages around 98-102ᵒ, but in certain areas it is much hotter. In the background where the steam is rising, that water was so hot it will burn you if you get too close.
People were using mud masks at the Blue Lagoon. My Dad and I were laughing about a pending, “Zombie apocalypse!”
Later that night, we took the advice from a hotel concierge and went to an authentic Iceland restaurant. The restaurant served whale and horse! My sister has a horse and I am very supportive of protecting whales, so my father and I decided to find another option. Iceland is known for their seafood and we realized that almost all the better restaurants serve whale. We found a local pub restaurant that didn’t serve whale or horse and happily dined on salmon and asparagus. I had olives and nuts as an appetizer and my father read the menu wrong and ended up getting a Caesar Salad meal as an appetizer along with his salmon dinner. For desert I had Creme Brulee. The food in Iceland is ridiculously expensive. Our dinner bill was over $120 American dollars. I teased my Dad and said, “It’s only that much because you bought two meals by accident!”
Tuesday, August 19
After a continental breakfast provided by the hotel, my father and I went on an all day tour called the Golden Circle. We made various stops along the way. My favorite stops were the Great Geysir and Gullfoss Waterfall. We hiked down to the Gullfoss Waterfall and took pictures. The Great Geysir was fun because we would watch for the water to start sinking down and flowing back up again which was the indication of a pending eruption. Then the water would shoot out from the spring hole. I kept trying to have my Dad snap a picture of me in front of it while it was erupting, but his photography skills were not up to par. Lunch was over $50 American dollars for soup, chicken fingers, fries and water. I am now very appreciative of food prices at home. Once we got back to the hotel we went right to sleep because we had to leave for the airport at 4:30 a.m.
The Great Geysir erupts into the air about every 15 minutes.
This is Gullfoss Waterfall, which is actually two separate falls. The first fall has an 11 meter drop and the second has a 21 meter drop. When looking at it from a distance, it looks like steps. The water travels so fast and falls so hard, that we were misted by the water just walking along the side on the trail.
My first interview: Marek Montana, Hotel Concierge
Marek was an inspiration. He is so kind, (as were most in Iceland). He took the time to answer my questions and listen to my personal interests. By the end of the interview, I considered us friends. My father and I had to leave at 4:30 a.m. to catch our flight and he had breakfast for us, even though it’s normally not served until 7 a.m. I hope all the people I meet are as kind and hospitable. Thanks Marek!
What do you like best about Iceland?
Iceland is healthy. They use almost all renewable energy. The people are really nice. There is virtually no crime. The police don’t even carry guns. Guns are illegal to have here. The nature is beautiful and the atmosphere is very relaxed, especially compared to New York City during the holiday.
What do you least like?
They could have more cities. There are only two big cities.
What are the winters like?
Winters are very cold. It can get as cold as -20ᵒC. People stay inside much more often.
What is the strangest law in Iceland?
Probably that we can hunt whales.
Have you ever tried whale? Did you like it?
Yeah, I have tried it. It tasted kind of like beef and was very gummy.
What do you like best about tourism and what do you like least?
I most like meeting people of different cultures. It is difficult though because everyone’s culture is different and if I am having a bad day, I may take something personally, when that is just how they may talk in their culture.
Are you aware of any human trafficking that has taken place in Iceland?
Yes. A few years ago something happened. Iceland is a very feminist society and when it was brought to light, they closed down all the strip clubs. It is completely illegal to operate a strip club or perform in one. There is a program called Big Sister that helps with finding these victims and shutting down trafficking rings.
Thank you for reading my blog! I welcome your comments on my information and photography. Please feel free to contact me at Laura.Saltzman.FA14@semesteratsea.org.
Saying goodbye is not easy for me. I will be away from my fiancé, Ray, my family, and my friends for 3.5 months. I know once I am on the plane starting my journey, it will all be worth it. I am excited about the opportunity to learn more about myself and lifestyles and cultures in other parts of the world. I get to share my Semester at Sea experience with a diverse group of 600 students from all over the world.
I anticipated the tears of joy (and sadness that I will be away) from my family and fiancé. What really surprised me is that I am pretty sure my Chihuahua, Miley has figured out I am going away. Over the past few weeks, she has attached herself to my hip nonstop and cries like a baby anytime I am leave her.
I am not quite sure what to expect on my journey. My emotions are mixed. I am so excited about this chance of a lifetime to visit 19 ports in 16 countries around the world. (http://www.semesteratsea.org/voyages/fall-2014/). However, I also have a lot of anxiety about being away from the important people (and pets) in my life for such a long time. Will I get homesick? How often will I be able to talk to Ray and my family? Will I get seasick? Will I like my roommate(s)? Will I like the food? I think once I am on board the MV Explorer ship and busy assimilating to my busy schedule of academics, meeting new friends, and exploring new places, I will be fine.
Packing is another challenge. I started practice packing about three weeks ago. SAS recommends that you set out everything you want, and then put half of the stuff back. I put out everything I wanted, and made it all fit. It’s all a bit tricky because I will be experiencing a full range of weather and need to have appropriate clothes (or layers of clothes) based on the local weather. I put a suitcase inside of a larger suitcase so when I return home I will have an extra suitcase to use. I have become an expert packer. Miley was my big helper, she would sit in my suitcase while I was packing. My dad will be thrilled once I finally have all my clutter packed or put away.
I have wanted to attend Semester at Sea since I was 12 years old. My aunt Amy and my cousin Sarah both attended Semester at Sea. I guess I am carrying on a family tradition. Both Amy and Sarah said their Semester at Sea journey was a “transformational life event” and it influenced their career paths. Amy is now a child advocacy lawyer and Sarah is working on green environment initiatives. I wonder how it may influence my life plans! I knew the day I started college that this fall journey was the trip for me. It took a lot of convincing, saving, and a few scholarships to make it possible.
My trip departs out of Southampton, UK about 2 hours from London. I am glad my father will accompany me to London to see me off on my journey (and carry the heavy bags!). He found the best airfare on Iceland Air so we are also going to spend a few days in Iceland and a few days exploring London before I board the ship on August 22nd.
I am thrilled that Millersville University has been so supportive of my trip. They have even provided me with a box of Millersville T-shirts to share with interesting people I meet on my journey. I am also thrilled that Millersville University is encouraging me to share my adventure with our community. Thanks for reading my blog.
Hometown: Glenmoore, PA
Graduation: Spring 2016
Laura Saltzman is entering her junior year as a Social Work major and is part of Millersville University’s Honors College. Laura was inspired to pursue a degree in social work after extensive involvement with various community service organizations, including internships with the Maryland Disability Law Firm, the Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County and the YWCA of Lancaster. Through these internships, Laura developed a passion for helping victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes. “Be the change you want to see in the world” is her favorite quote. When not in school, Laura enjoys make-up artistry, photography, and spending time with her fiancé, Ray Golden (also a student at Millersville) and her Chihuahua, Miley.