I am at a stage in my life-changing voyage where we are now officially coming home. Not coming home in the sense that this ship has turned around and we are retracing our steps. But we are more than halfway around the world from the United States now, slowly coasting back in its direction. This week will mark less than one month left on this trip of a lifetime.
The time has both flown by and crawled slowly at times, and I am starting to think about the things I will tell my family and friends about when I return home. Previous Semester at Sea students have warned me that the bold and expansive emotions I will have upon returning to the United States will be handled poorly. I’m afraid people will want to know only about the craziest thing I saw, the prettiest place I visited or my favorite experience — to which I already know I won’t have one definitive answer. I’ve seen many beautiful places, done many crazy things and had more favorite experiences than I can count on two hands.
But I do know what I will tell them when they ask how this trip has changed me.
I wouldn’t necessarily refer to myself as a high-maintenance person, but in the world beyond my home in the air-conditioned United States, there are a whole lot of situations that can make the average low-maintenance person long for the comforts of the lifestyle I’m used to. Particularly, the physical and emotional discomforts that are often felt by a world traveler.
My first day in Africa, I was in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, and found myself extremely uncomfortable when I felt a bead of sweat roll down my back and soak into my flowy pants. I felt thirst itch at the back of my throat as I rode a rickshaw through the streets of Agra, India, as we passed donkeys roaming rogue through the road and young children holding even younger babies. I felt dirt caked on the soles of my feet that dried them out and made them itch as I shuffled through a breathtaking temple with the company of many local Buddhists in Bagan, Myanmar. I watched an old man bathe himself nude in the ocean at a fishing village in Ghana, I witnessed men tearing the bodies of freshly caught fish apart in Vietnam and I saw lions eating the bloody flesh of a fresh kill on a safari in South Africa.
There have been so many times over the course of my semester where I have felt extreme physical and emotional discomfort, and I think the biggest change I have felt in myself over the past months, is that I have stopped letting this get in the way of my experience.
That first day in Ghana I did have to stop many times to wipe the sweat off my back and face, and I remember thinking I could enjoy this so much more if I didn’t feel dirty.
It wasn’t until a moment on a rickety boat that was coasting down the Mekong River in Cai Be, Vietnam, when I felt a bead of sweat roll down my back, but I was so consumed with the lush forestry and beautiful sunset around me that I didn’t even move a hand to brush it away. I felt it and a swarm of others soak into my favorite shirt, and I did nothing to stop it. I didn’t even rush to my air-conditioned room to cool myself down after, but rather stayed outside to witness the sun tucking below the horizon.
It was then that I realized how far I’d come. Witnessing the heat of a hazy midday sun in India, the bustling city streets of Ghana or the chaos of an outdoor market in Vietnam sounds like something you only really get to do once.
After my semester at sea, I now know that I’d rather have clothes soaked in sweat than dry ones that stayed inside all day. I’d rather have bug bites all over my legs than untouched ankles that stayed in the safe zone. I’d rather live than sit on the sidelines.
And living a full and saturated life? That should get pretty messy.