Semester at Sea

After an amazing year at North Dakota State University, living and studying with people from different backgrounds,  I got a full scholarship from the Institute for Shipboard Education and the University of Virginia (UVA) to sail around the world with the program Semester at Sea. Semester at Sea is a study abroad program organized by UVA to promote studying not just from books, but from the real experience of doing home stays in less developed countries, meeting people from all over the world, and seeing the differences among cultures, traditions, and ways of living. I had a chance to visit 15 countries in 4 months and get involved with projects during the program and afterwards.

One of the initiatives was The Senase Project in Ghana created by a Semester at Sea alum. The idea was to make a home stay in rural Ghana and to experience the life of people who do not have clean water from their taps, who do not have electricity 24 hours a day, and who do not have access to basic rights such as hospitals or schools. All the money from our home stays goes toward building schools and a small hospital in the Senase village. Many students started different actions after visiting Ghana trying to make their own way of changing the world and making it more equal for everyone. Besides going on a home stay, I also visited an orphanage. Every child, each smile, and all words said during this stay made me reflect of everything I have in my life and how much not just me, but everyone who is healthy, surrounded by love from family and friends, and who is having three meals a day should be grateful every day for the healthy and beloved gift called life. Seeing all these kids with smiles on their faces made me realize that you do not need much to be happy.

Ghana, Senase Project

Another valuable experience was visiting Cape Town, South Africa. Apart from seeing all the beauties of the city, climbing Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, visiting the Cape of Good Hope and Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for more than 18 years, what left the biggest impact on me was getting involved in Operation Hunger. Operation Hunger has many sub-projects, and I was involved in the Nutrition Project. The project operates in a Township 10 minutes from Cape Town by bus where people live in very bad conditions, with the goal of gauging the nutrition of children living in the area. The whole area has around 3 million people with approximately 1 million kids. The main focus is addressing the challenges of malnutrition through feeding. It was very powerful to learn that though many children around the world have enough weight for their age, their nutrition is very bad and therefore they are more easily exposed to infectious diseases. Besides the fact that there are many things we all can do to change this, there is another thing that stayed with me as a good lesson from South Africa. Discrimination between races still exists and people still go through their lives without equal chances to have education, access to social security, proper health insurance, and to be treated equally by society. We all could see that differences between races still destroy our societies and that even decades after the Apartheid people still did not learn that there is no race division in the world, but rather one united world trying to achieve better place for all of us and future generations.

Finally, the last visit that left me speechless was visiting Vietnam, the country of so much simultaneous suffering and joy. By spending time in Ho Chi Minh City, I decided to visit a school for deaf and mute children where I could use the sign language I was trying to learn for a long time. It was an amazing experience that taught me that most of the time we do not need voices or hearing to show our love and to feel loved. Sometimes, one smile, holding hands, or a touch can speak louder than any voice. The other place I decided to visit was orphanage where only kids with genetic mutations were accepted. Genetic mutations come from the Vietnam War and Agent Orange Operation. It affected me for different reasons and made me realize many things: war is not worth anyone’s life, anyone’s suffering, or anyone’s fear and pain. It is lost before it even started. It also made me and my American friends reflect about humanity and what really matter to us and what can we do in the future in order not to repeat the same mistakes that previous generations made. Life is too short to make war and to believe in ideals that will never make the world better for all of us. After visiting Ghana and South Africa, no one could stay indifferent to the fact that in one part of the world we spent trillions of dollars to make wars, while on the other side people are dying out of hunger or lack of clean water. As someone who studies sustainable development, that is not the world we want to see in the future. We want to create world without borders, where everyone will have equal chances for free education, where human rights and democracy would not be any more excuse for wars and political goals, but rather for better humanity and better future.

There are many things I took with me from Semester at Sea which shaped the way I am today, the reasons I changed my profession after graduating Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences to Sustainable Development, and my will to fight for a more equal, positive, and sustainable world. The more we wait, the worse the consequences for us and our children; the further we value material things, the deeper the problems we create; the sooner we leave our comfort zones, the earlier we will discover the world full of amazing people having more to give than us. The change starts now, from each of us.

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