This is a guest post.
In a complete act of desperation, I started to methodically tape photos along the wall that my bed was pushed up against. Photo after photo of me with my boyfriend, me with his family, me with my family, individual shots of our siblings, one on top of the other, side by side — no space in between. It later became known as “The Great Wall” to my shipmates. They were probably laughing at me, not with me, but I didn’t seem to care. Like I said, I was desperate. Desperately homesick.
Here I was, embarking on this amazingly epic journey around the world, 11 countries in 100 days to be exact, circumnavigating the globe on a cruise ship-turned-university. Who wants a semester abroad in Spain or France when they could see the world, literally, and only have to attend classes when the ship was at sea? So essentially, no time in a new place was wasted. It was anyone’s dream.
While my peers were getting seasick, I was becoming more and more homesick. How did this happen to me? Was I that girl? I felt like a child going away to summer camp for the first time, initially overcome by excitement over all the activities and opportunities, then letting reality slink in like a cold, dark chill. I won’t see my family, my boyfriend, or my friends for another 96 days! It might as well have been an eternity.
As a sophomore in college, I had never been away from family for an extended period of time. I had traveled a lot with my family. I had even applied to plenty of out of state universities, with full intentions of leaving home like many of my other friends did.
So what was this? Why couldn’t I shake this childish notion that I couldn’t hack a three-month journey abroad? My roommates seemed nice. I was sure to make some friends along the way, despite my shy nature.
I let the panic set in. I decided that as soon as we made landfall in Japan, two weeks after leaving Vancouver’s port and saying goodbye to my parents, I would call home and book a flight back to the U.S.
This, thankfully, never happened.
I did call home — both to my parents and my boyfriend. In hysterics, I explained that I just couldn’t do it. I had to come back.
Some how, and I’m not sure how, my family convinced me to try it out for a little while to see if things might improve. Maybe they would come and meet me half way through the journey, somewhere in Turkey or Italy or Egypt. Their loving words and encouragement soothed my soul. I wasn’t trapped. I had an out.
I slowly started to realize that I didn’t need one, though. What I discovered, each day that I experienced more of the beautiful culture of Japan, was that I was falling in love with this new type of exploration. Here I was, in a completely foreign country, where people spoke a language I didn’t understand, ate things I’d never seen, and behaved in ways I never expected. Yes, I was with other Americans along the way, but did I really know any of them? No, they were complete strangers to me. Just like the Japanese lady at the Ryokan, a traditional Inn.
I discovered something very interesting about myself. I loved getting to know people, from all cultures and backgrounds. Being pushed a little out of my comfort zone was actually interesting…and exciting. Eating a 20 tiny-course meal at a table on the floor and not being able to identify most of that food, but enjoying it anyway, was strange and magnificent. Sleeping on floor futons in a room with sliding paper and bamboo doors, complete strangers for roommates, was at once unsettling and sensational.
My taste for unfamiliar experiences and adventure grew with each new country we visited.
I was affronted by the congestion and pollution in Beijing. I felt a mixture of fear, confusion and awe watching the communist soldiers march in Tianamen Square, while our Chinese guide assured us that no one was hurt during the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. “But that’s not true! We saw it on the news, in America,” someone called out.
I fell in love with the warm and welcoming people of Vietnam and the beautiful countryside landscape. The carefree happiness was omnipresent.
Malaysia was a culinary adventure where I found food had a whole new meaning. Staying with a local tribe in their Sarawak longhouse was like living in the textbooks I’d been reading for my anthropology major.
India accosted my senses. The poverty, pollution, disparity and death shocked and rocked me down to my core. The loud, unapologetic, colorful living was so raw and real – like an uncensored celebration of life I had never witnessed before. Pure life and death- sheer joy and pain- existed side by side- in the flesh, not on some television show.
Having an armed military escort (Humvees) flank our buses to the pyramids at Giza in Egypt made me feel a bit like a war correspondent.
Turkey was a new, strange and fascinating land. The Islamic mosques sprinkled the skyline of the split Eurasian city of Istanbul. The juxtaposition of the Islamic world and the west was mesmerizing yet fit together quite nicely. Exploring Capadoccia, I felt like we had found another planet while walking around the strange rock formations and caves.
Croatia was a country I had never heard of, and I was honestly initially disappointed we were going to (in lieu of Israel, which was going through their second Intifada-war; a last minute schedule change). I quickly realized that this Balkan country was one of the most stunning European treasures I’d ever seen.
Although a repeat, I discovered the local side of Italy while eating and shopping my way through Rome, Capri, Sorrento and Naples with a few newly minted friends.
Trekking the Sahara in Morocco (on camels) with nomadic Bedouins and staying in their tents was another one straight from the anthropology textbooks.
Each experience seemed to trump the last, and my enjoyment of the strange, unique, new and sometimes uncomfortable deepened as I grew every step along the way.
In many ways, my time abroad with Semester at Sea paved the mental path that lead me to my intermediate career in international policy, and later to pursue my dream and current life path of writing, traveling and blogging. My parents laid the foundation, engraining travel and exploration in my nature, but my time on “the boat” solidified the urgency to travel and learn — relentlessly and ceaselessly — and to give back and help others in any way I could. A global citizen, I was reborn.
Oh, and remember the boyfriend I missed so much that I almost flew home from Japan to be reunited with him? He’s my husband now, fifteen years later, and we’re having our first child this June! So you see, leaving him behind for 100 days of travel around the world didn’t ruin our relationship after all.
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Lindsay is a freelance writer and runs the blog The Traveluster. She’s spent a lifetime traveling and studying culture, with a degrees in anthropology and geography and a masters in international peace and conflict resolution. Currently living in Nashville, TN, she has previously called Baton Rouge, LA, Washington, DC, and Seville, Spain home. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.