How Traveling the World Impacted Me!

I learned that when you travel the world, and visit different cultures, it is important to let go of everything that is going on at home, and just take in what is happening in the present moment no matter where you are. Being away from friends and family is hard, and homesickness can always occur and often does, but it just ruins the experience of traveling and learning. People at home only understand a part of what you are really experiencing, and misunderstandings often occur. These misunderstandings are hard to resolve since communication is the toughest part about being so far away. Don’t spend all your energy trying to please everyone, you are by yourself, and they are too far away, it is not worth trying to hold on to something that you have no control over. Be free, live in the now, not the past, and get excited about the future.

So much has happened the past 4 months; sometimes it feels like it was all just a dream. I turned 21, saw 13 countries, sailed through 3 oceans and 4 seas, met amazing people, made new friends as well as good networking connections, engaged in different cultures, expanded my comfort zone even more, and I really learned a lot about myself!

How do you summarize traveling around the globe and to 4 continents? I would summarize it in: sensory overload! I am exhausted, because I’ve seen things that I could never have dreamed off, ate things I probably didn’t want to eat, talked to people that have never seen a white person before, got into difficult situations and had to rely on my intuition, oh and I also had a full time class schedule!!! It was amazing, and I loved every second of it!

I learned more about other cultures and saw real poverty. I learned more about meditation, how to control my thoughts and the benefits of it. I learned how to be peaceful and not stressed and just breath even in difficult situations. I learned how to eat properly, work out and to take care of myself. I learned more about time management and to take advantage of accessible resources. I gained more confidence, independence, and I expanded my comfort zone. I made amazing connections with awesome people, learned a lot from Unreasonable at Sea entrepreneurs and made friends for life!

Some countries impacted, shocked and surprised me more than others, and every country and experience was unique. There were a lot of things that I did not expect or that changed the stereotypes I unconsciously had in my mind!

I was surprised by how friendly Japanese people are, and how reserved Chinese people came across. I was shocked by how many men in India, Ghana and Morocco would just come straight up to you, talk to you, touch you or make weird comments; they were scary! Burma really surprised me because it was not influenced by tourism or the west at all, everything was really unique and cultural. Singapore surprised me because it was so modern and did not fit in with all the other Asian countries we visited. The Taj Mahal in India, Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Cape of Good Hope in South Africa were some of the most beautiful pieces of earth I have ever seen, so peaceful, beautiful, natural and amazing! South Africa felt like home and it was easy to let your guards down, however, it also has the highest crime rate, which did not fit together in my opinion. I thought that Burma would be the poorest country we visit, given that it was closed up to the west for so long and has a really bad economy, however, Ghana was actually the poorest country. It was exactly like I imagined a third world country to be, I just did not expect Ghana to be one for some reason. The lack of running water and electricity in the villages almost made me cry, because it just made me feel super spoiled! However, this experience just inspired me to find my own way to help out.

I realized what a great impact religion has on so many countries and cultures. If you are not religious in, well actually most countries we visited, but mostly Burma and Morocco, you are being looked down upon and an outsider. Being religious is not only a faith, it is a lifestyle; people don’t even doubt the existence of a higher power. This might be because of tradition, family and community values, and the lack of education. I noticed that the poorer the country is, the greater is the religious influence and the stronger is the belief.

It shocked me not so much how underdeveloped some countries are, but how much power men have in most countries we visited, but especially India and Morocco. Women often have not many rights and are limited to the role of wife, housewife and mother. However, this is changing with the newer generations, due to the influence of the west. People realize more and more that they have options and that they can be more and do more than their parents and community tell them. The world is becoming more and more global.

I also noticed how many men in the different cultures wear clothes that are similar to dresses or skirts. Men in Burma wear logis, which are wrapping skirts; men in India, Ghana and Vietnam also wear either full body cover-ups or skirt-like clothing. Well, of course all of them also wear western clothes every now and then, but the traditional clothes include a skirt-like fashion.

Another thing that shocked me is how some countries skipped some important developing steps. For example, in Ghana, instead of having running water and electricity, most people living in those poor villages have cell phones and Internet. How does this make sense?

Most importantly however I learned that you should never compare other countries to the western world. Europe and America are more modern, have different values, are used to different conditions, are more influenced by the media and politics and are often a melting pot of cultures. Cultures in Asia and Africa stick more to their traditions and rituals, value community life more and independence less. When visiting other countries we should not go in there trying to change everything to what we are used to in the west, people might not like that. If we want to help developing countries to overcome poverty and increase life satisfaction, we need to ask the people in the country what they need from us! Don’t visit a developing country thinking that you are better, just because you are from the west. People in developing countries are just as happy as we are, they are used to having less and often they don’t even know how our lives really look like. However, the key factors to increase life satisfaction, life span and to decrease poverty would be to invest in better education and medical care, that’s actually all they often need. Well yes, to build a water supply is also important, but the key is to teach developing countries to help themselves!

When I think back at the past 4 months, I just start smiling, because the things that come to my mind are the late-night talks I had with my roommates, and all the stories and advice we shared. I also remember the woman in Ghana that came up to me with a tampon in her hand asking me what this was for. I remember the smile of the little girl in the township I visited in South Africa. I remember standing in front of the Taj Mahal thinking about how much this guy must have loved his wife. I remember hitchhiking in Hawaii and how we could not stop laughing once we got back to the ship because we couldn’t believe that we just did that. I remember living in an apartment in Shanghai, looking out of the window and thinking that I definitely prefer rain to smog. I remember sitting in the car in South Africa, driving along the oceanfront, feeling free, happy and without any worries. I remember walking down the streets in Fes being surprised by how undeveloped this area was, but not in a bad way, it was just like going back to medieval times. I remember waking up to the beauty of Ha Long Bay thinking that I have never seen a more peaceful and beautiful piece of earth!

This trip has really changed my life. It changed the way I look at the world, at poverty, toilets, people, races, classes, religion, traditions and it also changed the way I look at myself as a member of this community called planet earth!

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end!” – Greenday

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About “myself”

Learning more about the Buddhist view of life and sense of identity made me think more about my prior believes.

All other religions teach that we have to find our true self in order to live a fulfilled life, however, even psychology supports the Buddhists believe of anātman, which means no-self and rather the belief of a stream of conscious of our always changing self. Our interactions with people change all the time, our experiences change, our thoughts and feelings change and so does our body. So what then would our “true” self really be, if everything around us is constantly changing? The Buddhists believe that because everything around us is always changing, our sense of identity is also always in motion. So why hold on to searching who we really are when there is nothing to find?

This belief really made me think about my own search of “myself”. You are only yourself in that exact moment before something else in your life changes again, and then you change. I am myself when I am sad, when I am stressed, when I am excited and happy; I am all of it and none of it.

What I do know is, that the past does not exist anymore, and the future does not exist yet. Therefore, all I am right now is this present moment. However, when that is all there is, why do we keep thinking so much about the things that don’t exist anymore or not yet? Why do we not just enjoy the present moment and our current self? That is where our evolution and with it our frontal lobe come in and make us plan ahead of time. So what can we do about it?

What can we do to stop the search of the self that does not exist? What can we do to stop looking for the perfect future and stop hoping for past events to reoccur or never to occur again? How can we stop worrying and start enjoying who we are right now in this present moment?

People say we should start “living in the now”. Personally, my solution for all these questions right now is to practice meditation. Meditation is not a practice to make your thoughts shut up, but to practice being in the present moment. If you manage to make this a habit you have a greater control over your thoughts, can filter them, and therefore you can turn your worries off. You learn to notice everything around you, which makes your experience of life much more vibrant. However, I am not saying to never plan the future and not have goals, I am just saying to not think about the future and past 80% of the time, as we currently do.

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My goals for SAS’13

Sometimes I have to keep reminding myself what my goals for this trip are and why I chose to take this unique opportunity to study and travel the world. It is most important for myself to reread this post when things on the ship seem claustrophobic and days seem like they would never end, even though I am busy. Yes it is not always sunny in paradise, but it always is whatever you make out of it. So this post is mostly to myself, but goals only become real when shared.

This trip for me is an opportunity to grow, to learn more about myself and the world, to overcome obstacles that I did not know existed, and to expand my comfort zone even more. My goals for traveling are to be adventurous but safe, outgoing, open to knew opportunities and free-minded. I want to look at a Buddha and feel peaceful. I want to connect with locals and learn more about them and their culture. I want to have an impact on people during my home visits and service trips. I want to be me and I want to love every second of it!

I have never had roommates, therefore living with two other people in a super tiny room, can be challenging, finding me-time is hard. However, finding me-time is always hard, even at home I think that I am too busy for it. Therefore, my first goal is to find some time to myself every day and just breath, relax and enjoy the moment. I have actually found a good way to do this already, but only time can tell if it is effective.

Regarding school, my goals are of course to do well in my classes but I also want to create a great connection with my professor, which should be easy on this ship, but you only get out what you put into it. One of my professors asked me to help him with his research, and even though I always said that research is not my thing, I think it’s time to dive into it and get some experience before I judge.

When it comes to my career plans, my goal is to give a seminar for the whole shipboard community at some point towards the end of the voyage. I would like to help students to use the experiences from this trip to discover their passion and apply what they have learnt to their community at home. I would like to teach everyone more about goal setting and show them how effective their mind is. The dean already approved the seminar, so now I only got to figure out details!

Health wise I got a lot to work on myself. My goal is to do some kind of cardio exercise every day and to do yoga and meditation on the days that we are on the ship and not at port. Exercising is so important, because it really does make your day better and you gain so much more energy to master all the other tasks of the day. However, health wise, I also realized that I have way too many things on my mind, and not all of them are as positive as I want to. This is the hardest thing to control. However, writing is a good way to de-stress, to let emotions out and to calm down. Don’t worry, I will not share those writings, but my goal is to write whenever I have too much on my mind or I feel like I am being controlled by my emotions.

Thanks for reading until the end, it really means a lot to me to share these goals and not to lose them out of sight for the duration of this voyage and beyond.

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Life is Beautiful!

Today, I sat down on a bench on my beautiful university campus, looked around, and not only appreciated my surroundings, but my whole life. Only when you notice how amazing your life is, and when you fully appreciate it, it will always stay amazing. I am writing my thoughts down from this afternoon, because I know that times will come when I do not feel this positively about my life, and then I will look back at what I wrote and some sparks will re-enlighten my day.

Living in Vancouver is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Every year when I come back from a summer abroad, I can’t stop smiling for at least a week because I fall in love with this beautiful city and my life here in Vancouver again and again. The sun reflecting on the ocean from which I live only two minutes away, being surrounded by mountains and seeing smiling faces wherever I go is the greatest thing on earth. This city is so peaceful and alive at the same time. People appreciate and respect each other, and gossip only happens on rare occasions. I love my job, I live with amazing people and I have the most supportive family I could ever have wished for. I do what I love and I love what I do.

People always ask me how I can be so enthusiastic and motivating all day long, and after thinking about it for a while, I finally know the answer: I just love and appreciate every single second of my awesome life, and I try to make the best out of every experience and occasion. However, what I appreciate the most about my life, are all my amazing friends who make my day every day. My friends from work, my friends from classes and my friends from the first day of university make me be enthusiastic and motivating whenever I see them because I appreciate and value them so much. Thank you amazing people for making my life so beautiful!

I challenge everyone to write down a little gratitude list, letter or story about your own life. What do you appreciate the most? Appreciate all the amazing things that have happened to you and that are now, and never forget them because they made you to who you are now.

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From an SAS Alumni to a Prospective SAS Student

So far I have only written about what I did in port and how exciting my visits to the different countries were, but what I can’t forget to mention, is how amazing living on this ship, the MV Explorer, is.

I made friends that I will never forget, and who influenced me quite a lot, even though they might not be aware of it. First of all, one day on this ship, feels like one week. Therefore, it feels like we’ve all known each other for a veeery long time.

Life on this boat is different than I imagined it to be. I like the food, but many people don’t, because it seems to be the same food over and over again. A lot of pasta, vegetables and salad, but since that is my diet anyways, I like it. Breakfast ends every morning at 8.30am, so you either get up early or miss it. I missed it quite a few times, but awesome snacks such as breakfast wraps are being served on the pool deck, however, you have to pay for them yourself. That leads me to the next thing…everything you buy here on board is charged to your shipboard account, which is really useful because you never have to carry cash around, but if you have no credit card with you or if you can’t register a credit card, there is no way for you to purchase snacks, drinks or items from the bookstore.

Also what I did not know about before I came on board was that we have pre-port meetings before every port. During pre-ports we get more information about the country we visit, security information, medical information and a little cultural summary. Some parts of pre-port might be really interesting, but be prepared to sit there for a really long time.

Alcohol and drugs are not allowed on the ship, but you can still purchase up to 3 drinks during dinner. Whenever you come on board, you have to go through a security check, so just don’t try to be cool and bring alcohol on board, having fun without alcohol is so much more rewarding! In this one-month that we have been on board, we had about 2 official dance parties. One was casual but still so much fun, and the other dance party was right after our formal dinner. EVERYONE went crazy and enjoyed the music and it was a blast. Just go crazy and go all out, even though you normally might need some alcohol to be that crazy.

One event that really stuck out to me was Neptune Day. Neptune Day is a little ritual that has to be performed before you cross the equator from the southern to the northern hemisphere. It’s a whole day of fun, games and weird pictures, but because we only were a small group, our Neptune Day was reduced to a Neptune “Night”. First you get baptized with fish eggs, than you have to jump in the pool. When you get out of the pool, you have to kiss a dead fish (yes it was disgusting) and then you have to kiss Neptune’s magic ring. Our lovely captain volunteered to be Neptune whish was amazing because he definitely has Neptune’s body proportions. If you are brave enough, you can get your head shaved, but not many girls were brave enough on this trip. After that everyone just starts dancing around and had the time of their life.

Living on this ship does not only mean you are with your friends 24/7 but also with your professors, bosses, children, families and life-long learners. The part I liked the most was that I could contact and talk to my professor whenever I wanted. When we had to write a paper, I handed in the paper in the morning, and I already got it back in the afternoon. I wish my professors back at UBC were such efficient graders. You can also have breakfast, lunch or dinner with your professor if you like, and  you are definitely welcomed to because they seek a closer connection with students. Whenever you have suggestions for the class, you can let your professor know what you would like to learn, and he or she will try her best to integrate it into the syllabus, because their job is to teach you what you really want to learn, and their philosophy is that you have to be flexible with your syllabus. Networking is also a key part of the academic life on ship. We only had 10 days of classes, but in one class, the President of the Western Kentucky University gave a speech about leadership and we were welcomed to ask him as many questions as we wanted and had a chat with him. When do you ever get to meet a President of a University? The lectures are not limited to what you learn in class, but also include what you learn in port and during your visits to the different countries. In almost every class  you have to keep a journal of your travels, or you are asked to write a paper about something you have observed or that influenced you in the countries visited. It is a completely different way of learning; it is much more engaging. The classes are also smaller, which makes interacting easier and more fun.

Oh and don’t forget how amazing studying on this ship is. My usual study place was on the 7th deck, while sunbathing and casually jumping in the pool every now and then. Tough life, but you gotta love it! ;)

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Costa Rica – Puerto Limon

It was my third time within one year that I visited the beautiful country of Costa Rica, this time by ship. After having worked and lived in Costa Rica for two months last summer, there was not much left I hadn’t seen, so I decided to attend a couple of Semester at Sea organized trips, since we only had two days in port.

On the first day, I visited a Sloth Sanctuary. We learnt so much more about these amazing creatures, and how the sanctuary helps them by provides aid and shelter for injured or lost sloths. The trip also included a little tour through the rain forest, by foot and by canoe. The canoe tour was amazing! It was so peaceful and you got to see sloths, monkeys and other animals in their natural habitat.

On the second day, I went white water rafting. Well, of course, we had an amazing time and so much fun, but what really stuck out to me, was how the guide brought our group together and made us a team. We were 6 girls in our boat, and many of us didn’t know each other, and in addition to that we were hangover, tired and not sure why we were on the water so early in the morning (9am haha). The guide managed to motivate us, wake us up and he created enthusiasm and teamwork within our little group. First he asked for all of our names, where we came from, and what we have done so far on our trip. These questions already initiated a lot of talking and a conversation started. We realized that this was a cool trip and even thought we were tired, we should try to make the best of it. However, only when the guide started a little ritual, our team was truly created. After every rapid, we all had to raise our pedal and say “Pura Vida!”, which is a pretty cool costan rican saying for “life is AWESOME” (well that’s my translation of it!). We got so excited for the next rapid to come, just so we could all cheer again and say “Pura Vida!”. Compared to all the other boats, I think we had the best spirit, thanks to our lovely guide!

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The Two Sides of Panama

We only spent two full days in Panama, but I tried to see as much as possible.

On the first day, I went on a Panama City tour organized by Semester at Sea. First we took the bus to a museum to learn more about Panama’s history, since there is an old town and a newer town in Panama City. In the old town, we walked around the ruins and climbed up the old church to have a beautiful view of Panama City. You could see the ocean on one side, the skyline right next to it, and beautiful landscape on the other side. It looked similar to Vancouver, just the mountains were missing, but it definitely made me miss Vancouver a lot.

We continued our tour to the new part of Panama City, walked around a bit, visited churches and took great pictures.

After the tour, my friend Karen and I took off to join our friends at the Marriott hotel in the city center. Since we had to tender to our ship, we decided to spend the night at the hotel so that we can enjoy the night out without having to worry to miss the last boat to our ship. The hotel was packed with SAS students, spread out over 3 floors, and 14 of my friends and I shared one room with two beds! It was awesome!

However, after the night out, I still needed to get up very early in the morning to go on my tour to the Embera Indian Village. Thank god that two other girls I shared the room with also went on that trip; we all motivated each other to get up and made it back to our ship. The Indian Village was incredible! We took the bus to a little river, and then crossed that river by canoe to reach the village. Once we arrived we were welcomed by indigenous music and lovely smiles. We got a little tour of the village, and the person in charge of the community told us about the history and traditions. They even prepared a little lunch for us and showed us 4 of their traditional dances. Afterwards we just looked at their handcrafts, and played with the children.

It was incredible to see both sides of Panama, the big city with its energetic life-style, and the life of those that are so far away from the western influence.

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