My Semester at Sea
Semester at Sea was the richest, eye opening, and conscious experience I have ever had. During my junior year, I made sure I would be eligible to apply to education abroad programs. I applied to do Semester at Sea because I would have the opportunity to travel to 12 countries in 104 days. Even though I was discouraged by the price, I was very motivated to figure out a way to afford the program.
The best thing about this unique opportunity was that my campus was a cruise ship. When I found out I was accepted into the program, I was ecstatic. After I got accepted, I applied to many scholarships that Semester at Sea and Ohio State offered. Luckily, after applying for the Presidential Scholarship, which was only given to three students, I was awarded $30,000 from Semester at Sea to pay for the entire program. It was a rigorous process, but with a strong recommendation letter and guidance from Dr. Robert Bennett, I was able to navigate with success. I also received a generous scholarship from GapBuster, Inc., a nonprofit in Maryland. I was also able to get a budget extension from Ohio State, which helped me out immensely with my travel expenses.
Skip forward to August, and I am off to Prague, Czech Republic and Amsterdam, Netherlands before my program starts in Hamburg, Germany. This was the first time I was able to travel internationally on my own, and it was a new feeling to me. I felt independent and curious as to what the world had to offer me. I found it interesting to be one of very few people of color who were on my flight to Prague. When I visited Prague and many cities across Europe and South America, I was glared at many times, not because I was disliked but because I was just different. It isn’t often that you see Black people living in Europe or South America, unless you are in Salvador, Brazil. I found my traveling experience to be unique from many other students from SAS who were, a majority of the time, white students. My experience might have differed from theirs, but I was comfortable being different, and that allowed me to embrace myself. I could not help to notice that I never really saw any people of color traveling. It was difficult for me to internalize this, but it was just then that I was able to recognize my great privilege that many others did not have. I did not let that be the center of my worries but more of an opportunity for me to engage in ambiguity with an open mind.
On the ship, there were many extracurricular clubs you could be a part of. A fellow classmate and I took the initiative to be the leaders of the Black Student Union on the ship. As a group we reflected after every country about our experiences as a Black traveler and hosted many meetings. Some of the topics we discussed during the meeting included Black history, systems of oppression, goals/endeavors, and social issues. I also took strong involvement in the Diversity and Inclusion Club when it hosted diversity and inclusion panels.
The life on the ship was filled with social experiences, productive dialogue, and opportunities to gain knowledge from daily informational sessions run by multiple members of faculty on different topics. Life on the ship was a beautiful networking opportunity experience for me. I tried to speak to someone new every day. The interactions I valued the most were those with the international students who were not born or lived in the United States. They had distinctive stories, perspectives, and values, which allowed me to benefit a great deal from. The relationships made on the ship were genuine, without societal distractions. We didn’t have Internet or cellular service on the ship, so being cut off from the world was refreshing and calming in the age of technological overconsumption. The election results made a strong impact on the ship and created a strong division and tension between students. In these moments I would allow myself to not be a product of the emotional disturbance and gave a chance to listen to all sides of the issues. Regardless, we as a community were able to heal and work progressively on relationship building.
There were so many new ideological concepts I was able to take away with me at the end of this voyage. Lessons and perspectives some people may never understand or receive because of not having the same exposure I had. I found peace and tranquility in my heart, soul, and mind when I was traveling. After traveling, it has made me very critical of the U.S. based on its structure and values. The American dream is not the dream you come to America to manifest, but it’s the dream the American system has structured for you to live. It’s all based on a system of debt and overconsumption. We are told that we cannot be successful without paying for an overpriced and undervalued education. Afterwards, we are mentally enslaved to our debt, mortgage, and car loans. I found out there was more to life and more to learn that just what can be gained from inside the classroom or just within the boundaries of the United States. I am blessed and privileged to be living in the United States, but it is not the end all, be all. There is more out there for our citizens, and I will continue to strive to learn more internationally because learning does not stop outside the classroom.
Written by Bell Student Samuele Asfaha