MIAMI — As we stood in line in each port after we had been cleared for customs, we anticipated a completely new experience - full of unfamiliar sounds, sights, tastes, emotions, and adventures. Our bags were packed with sunscreen, guide books, and items to trade or give away like T-shirts and socks. We tried to be prepared for wherever the day would lead us.
We were part of "Semester at Sea," a 100-day voyage around the world sponsored by the Institute for Shipboard Education and the University of Pittsburgh. The program allows about 600 students, a handful of senior passengers, faculty, and staff to travel to 10 countries and take classes on the ship to gain a semester of college credit. My voyage began in the Bahamas and from there went to Venezuela, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Japan. I still can't believe that I have been to all those places.
From a wide range of classes, I chose "Kinship and the Family," "Perspectives on Women," and "Photography." I also took "Global Geography," the one required class that included all students and met every day at sea. There was plenty of work - papers, tests, projects, and darkroom time - but the class work made the trip a complete experience. Learning about the different cultures, foods, customs, languages, social and political problems, and other aspects of each country we visited made the experience more rewarding. It would be very difficult to name one place that was my favorite - each port was incredible for a different reason.
We had the opportunity to be in Salvador, Brazil, for their annual Carnaval, which was the craziest scene I have ever witnessed. The whole city shut down for a few days so everybody could enjoy the music and dancing.
We got to go on safari in Kenya and see animals I did not even know existed - like the hartebeest (a speedy African antelope). Riding around in a safari van on the lookout for rhinos (but never actually seeing one) is something that I will never forget.
I have great memories of South Africa, where friends and I traveled down the coast of Africa. We stopped in a little town called Hermanus for lunch, fell in love with it, and stayed awhile. We made friends with local people our age who took us hiking and swimming and showed us the natural beauty of their country.
Taking the tram up to the top of Victoria's Peak in Hong Kong at night to see the sparkling lights of the city below was amazing.
The beautiful temples and gardens of Kyoto, Japan, were such a contrast with the modern city of Osaka. And I won't begin to talk about the food in Japan - it was the best of the trip.
In addition to the fun times we had, we also gave back to the communities we visited. Trips were arranged by service organizations to orphanages, community-building programs, and villages that needed help rebuilding a wall or planting trees. It was important to be able to help out those less fortunate than ourselves.
Although I have so many memories in port, there are equally as many on the ship. Time that I spent with my friends just hanging out in our rooms or the common areas on the ship, lying out at the pool when we were done with our work, and watching plays or musical acts that our peers were putting on was so much fun. The friends that I made are friends for life.
I highly recommend this program to anyone who has the desire to travel and learn. There is a lot of work involved, and I'll be paying off the loan I took out to go on this trip for years to come, but it's worth it. Although the actual physical experience is over, "Semester at Sea" will always be a part of my life.
* Emily Kehe recently finished her junior year at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.