We are well into week 2 of Semester at Sea’s spring voyage, and I’m realizing that, amid the chaos of packing and running from place to place to see family over the holidays, I forgot to really sit down and think about the trip I that I had ahead of me. That is, I prepared for it in all of the logistical ways – I packed (underpacked, even – a source of pride for any college-aged female), I made a few travel plans, I made sure I had all of the necessary documents on hand, and I all but memorized my itinerary. However, I didn’t take a second to stop and think about what I wanted, for myself, out of this crazy voyage around the world.
I just started reading “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed – the one that just came out as a movie - and she talks about a similar experience. After losing herself through and in a series of rather dark occurrences, she decides to hike the PCT from the Mojave Desert in California up through the state of Washington, with a backpack as her sole companion. She spends an entire year preparing for the trip, getting all of the proper gear at REI and reading up on the hike, only to realize, once she gets on the trail, that she had no idea what she was getting herself into.
Not that I can exactly compare being on a cruise ship in the middle of January with a group of 600 college kids to hiking solo through the desert. I just didn’t set intentions for myself coming into this trip. Or even really think about why I’m doing it. “To see the world,” I guess, but I’ve already seen a good bit of it. It wasn’t really to see the world that I decided to embark on Semester at Sea.
I think it had something to do with getting away. A big part of me has wanted to get away from UVA, from a college culture that I find to be pretty empty most of the time, for a while. A lot of it has to do with a desire to recover some part of me that my time at UVA has somehow taken away.
I’ve realized recently that I’m a pessimist. I find myself shocked by things that come out of my mouth sometimes, because they are so cynical and free from any ounce of hopefulness. I don’t think we, as a planet, have the power to stop global warming, because we are too stupid and selfish to come together for that cause – our planet is bound to self-destruct, and sooner than we think. I think humans are pushing the world in the wrong direction, obliterating diversity to create a consumerist world that supposedly is free because it has the right to buy whatever it wants (and it will probably be delivered, free, by the next afternoon). I look at the culture of my university and see a male-dominated, female-propagated gridlock of plastic interaction. And I see no way out.
So, I need to find a way out. What’s funny is that, before college, I was supremely naïve and idealistic. I was a shameless hopeless romantic, convinced that my life was some kind of Disney Channel Original Movie waiting to happen. And it was fun. I had fun. I lived in a very simple world, where love existed and was everyone’s ultimate goal and education consisted of reading important novels and the occasional biography. I was the unattainable girl in high school who wouldn’t dance with boys, not because I was too good for them but because I was secretly terrified of them. I loved my friends and I had crushes from afar and sunny days really and truly made me happy.
I want to get back to that. I want to find a way to take all of the shit I know to be true about the world – through college lectures and my own experience – and turn it into something good. I want to put it to good use. I want to be happy in spite of it, and to rise above it; I want it to make me powerful. I’m not interested in living in darkness anymore. I’m sick of myself. I want to have hope, to be an optimist, to be a sunny force in people’s lives. And that is what this next semester is going to teach me. Somehow, I know that.
So, my intention for Semester at Sea is to find hope again. I would say happiness, but I think that’s a bigger journey than this semester alone can handle. That’s a life project, and I’m working on it too. For now, I’m learning to let go, to open up to as many people as possible, to take time for myself when I need it, to meditate, to breathe, to love. It’s going pretty well so far J