Category Archives: Semester at Sea

Beauty in the land – Guilin, China (SAS)

When reality set In that I was going to be heading to China with Semester at Sea, I honestly wasn’t so sure what I would be doing in China. It was never a place I’d see myself going to – but here I was on my way! I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle, the pollution I have heard so much about, and while I wanted to see the Great Wall, I felt I wanted an experience a little more diverse, something I could relate to…something I would fall in love with. As such, I set my heart on going to Guilin, China way up in the mountains. Why? Well, initially I was simply interested in seeing the great wonders of Guilin: Reed Flute Cave and Elephant Trunk Hill. I am a nature junky, I love caves, I love to climb and hike, so I felt this would be the best choice for me. Little did I know, Guilin held something so much more precious, something I know will stick with me forever.

We did visit the caves and the hill I mentioned, and I loved every second of it. While extremely touristy, I tried to see past that as I placed the palm of my hands inside Reed Flute Cave and tried to absorb the 180 million year old phenomenon it is. The cave was decked out in colorful lights, and although I would have preferred to see it in its natural state, the colors did give its amazing structure charm. This cave has seen so much – I wish it could speak because I’d have so many questions.

cave

Elephant Trunk Hill was just pretty to look at. A natural formation that resembles the trunk of an elephant, locals liked to dress up and take pictures in front of it. I wanted to touch it. No matter Guilin was freezing, I wanted to cross the river and climb it.
hill
Eventually it was time to get on the bus, up the mountain, to board a second buss which continued up the mountain via a winding (and terrifying) road, and finally we excited to see countless stairs going up. It was hiking time! Through the freezing fog, we headed up the mountain. I saw tribes and villages, small schools, markets, woman selling taro roots cooked over an open fire. So many fire places everywhere! To keep warm I often bought these taros and munched on them – much like a potato, but somehow so much more satisfying.
taro

Completely engrossed with what I saw as I passed by locals, I didn’t even notice the view that was slowly becoming. Eventually, I looked up and I thought I’d fall off the mountain in pure shock. We were so high, in the fog, and in the distance I could see the amazing beauty Guilin brought. The mountains and land formations were other worldly – it was something I only ever saw in the movie Avatar, yet here I was, on planet earth, seeing what just didn’t look real. Any and all of life’s problems became so pointless staring into its vastness.
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Eventually lunch was served in a cabin like building. Inside, it was still freezing but a lovely fire place warmed the enclosure as we all gathered in, and we were served soups and fish. Places and meals like this I only ever saw playing Skyrim or watching Game of Thrones. I remember often thinking “ it would be quaint to be exploring long, freezing distances to take cover in a cabin with a fire place where a fresh meal is served” yes, I am weird, and when I was here I realized that I was experiencing something too pleasantly similar. The small things please me so well.\
fireplaceinrest

It was even greater the next day to board a river cruise on the Lijang River from Guilin to a small area known for its popular water show and, again, its surrounding hill and mountain formations. On the cruise we passed by mini floating markets where men on bamboo rafts sold fruits and fish on the water.
floatingstall

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Alongside these men were their trustworthy companions: Cormorant birds! Beautiful creatures that are a part of the local farmer’s family, one can simply not go fishing without them!
manbirds

Eventually we made it to our destination: Yangshuo! Our hotel was in the heart of what the locals called “The largest market in the world” and that night we headed to something that left a print on me forever: The water show of Yangshou! You can only see such beauty here, and only here. You go to a place where there is a small clearing to see the river, and behind it are the amazing mountains and hills I keep mentioning. At night you head here, and the lights are all off: and then it begins. Women come out dressed in lights while floating on rafts, sing their heart out to tell a story of their tribes and love for the land. Huge spot lights turn on and brighten the beautiful hills and mountains, so it is all you see. I wish I could describe to you such a sight to see, but you can only experience it if you go for yourself! So please do, Head to Guilin, China – you will love the culture and history, and coupled with the sights to see it is impossible not to fall in love with. Go when it’s warm, although the freezing temperatures had a special charm.

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SAS – Japan

So here it is: my first blog post from my first country! I have come to realize that due to time constraints I will likely only do one, long (good) post per country. For Japan, yea, I went to Tokyo and did all the pop-culture anime-nerd stuff, and yes, I freckin LOVED every second of it! Akihabara, Shibuya, Harajuku, Karaoke…Tokyo is just a magical place!
Anime

But for this blog post, I want to concentrate on Japan’s temples, food, and more historic cultural aspects. For more pictures and posts on the anime-aspect of Japan, please head over to my Instagram!

After Tokyo, I realized the group I was initially traveling with wasn’t the best(for me) – so to maximize my experience in Japan I decided to head back to the ship for free food and a free place to sleep while it traveled from Yokohama (near Tokyo) to Kobe (Osaka, Kyoto area) Most people travel over-land, but for those who travel with the ship you get special privileges. For example, they showed movies in the theatre room (“union”) and offered free fine dining for dinner.

I awoke the morning as the ship ported into Kobe, and another rush of excitement took over me. When we had first arrived in Yokohama, It took all I had not to cry happy tears. “I did it! Finally! I’m in JAPAN!” It didn’t take long before I was looking for every excuse possible to use my poor, hilarious Japanese language “skills”. My Japanese is horrible, folks, but it’s just enough to get me around and have small conversations. I loved every second of it, and although lost-in-translations happened many-a-time, it was still exciting and I did pick up more Japanese. – I wasn’t in Japan 10 minutes and I vowed to return. And if I may point out, Japanese people are so hospitable…I was a foreigner, clearly, but I didn’t *feel* like one. As much as I loved Korea and Morocco, I always felt like a foreigner because I was treated differently. It’s not that way in Japan. It made me feel guilty for not knowing more of the language.

I met up with an amazing group of SASERS (Semester at Sea Students) and we headed Kyoto way, with absolutely no plan (minus some ideas and basic directions to some possible hot spots) One girl we were with really did her research, in a sense she was the leader of the pack during this trip, and she did an outstanding job. There was never a rush, it was laid back, relaxing, and adventurous. Our first stop was the Inari Temple in inner Kyoto. My heart kinda stopped here. FOXES. SACRED FOXES. EVERYWHERE. I REALLY love foxes, so I was in fox heaven. Wolves too. The temple was beautiful, huge, red, and had many amazing attractions. From food stands, to little shops, to a beautiful walk-way within the temple itself, I was just in awe.
Inari
inariwalkway
Okami
It was crowded with locals and tourists alike – photos and clicks at every turn. I gave in and bought a magnet (plan to buy at least one magnet per country) and also got a fox plushie….I think I have about 10 foxes now…
foodstand

After Inari temple we headed to a crowded market place. It was a thin, extremely long strip of food stands and little shops. I sampled everything that was offered to me. From Mochi (rice candy), dango (kinda sorta like mochi), fish heads, octopus, I was overwhelmed and after bits of sampling I was growing more and more hungry for a meal. Starving and graving sushi, a SASER and I asked if we could have a sushi stop. You can go to the best Sushi joint in the U.S, I don’t care, it won’t compare to Japanese sushi. Looks the same, but the flavors are richer, stronger and just over all tastier. Expensive though…worth. Every. Penny. I mean, yen.

Squid
Sushi

And then I asked “So where are we sleeping tonight?” and we headed to our hostel. I was excited! I was with a group of 6, so I felt very safe, a mixture of guys and girls, and I would have my first hostel experience. I prepared myself for dirty, dangerous conditions….and then we got there. The bunk beds were clean (and sooo comfy!), the bathrooms offered towels and soaps, the lobby offered free drinks and treats and our one roommate was a backpacker traveling Asia from Israel – and he was awesome. Okay, what was I thinking? This is Japan. One of the cleanest, safest countries in the world. Can I just move here? That night our Israeli friend took us to a little noodle place for dinner. Between 2 and 4 dollars (depending on if you got meat or not) you tell her what you want, she slides the bowl to you, and you eat quickly standing up. After eating, karoke and drinks around! And I spent like 10 bucks trying to get a Pokemon plushie at a nearby arcade. I didn’t get it….Japanese arcades are evil. So many cute prizes that I just cannot win.

The following morning was a final breathe taking adventure – to Kinkaku-ji temple (Sorry for bad spelling) – a temple that looks as if it floats on the water. I can’t even get words to describe this, it was just so beautiful, and I got some of the best photos that I have ever taken at this place. The temple and its surrounding nature made it a hotspot for photographers. When you pass the temple you go up some stairs and at the top there are candles, Buddha and god statues, and a place to put the candles and watch them burn. But these candles were special, they read in Japanese things such as “Heart’s Desire” “Pray for cancer” “Hope for love”, you burn this candle to represent your hearts deepest wishes, and you ask Buddha to hear your desire, and hope for it to be granted. Can you imagine the emotion here? You are surrounded by so many people who are burning these candles with heavy hearts. As soon as I recognized where I was at and what people were doing, I was filled with tears. It’s beyond words.
kinkaku
candles

I headed back to the ship that night exhausted (my group stayed behind for some more nightlife, but I was pooped so I headed back via subway) the next morning I found myself with no plans on the last day. I found the Semester at Sea field coordinator, and she pointed me to one program that may have spots open: Hot Springs and Lunch. And sure enough, I found a student who was selling his ticket for half the price. That day I relaxed at a public hot springs. I soaked in water heated by volcanoes, and ate a tradition lunch of tempura, miso, sashimi, steak and pork (didn’t eat the pork. – quick side note, on a couple occasions I could not avoid pork in Japan. If I wanted to eat, at times I didn’t have a choice. Pork in Japan is tastier, but my stomach hated me for about 3 hours…for those who don’t know, I really don’t like pork. )

sashimi

And that ends it, I held back my tears as Japan faded into the distance. In the other direction awaits China, and through the fog – Vietnam.

Hilo, Hawaii

Please don’t get me started on landsickness. Yea. You finally get used to the waves and then you set foot on land and you’re sick again. I had the worst possible headache while in Hawaii, but I did not let that keep me from having a good time!

In Hilo I ziplined through the rainforest! It was absolutely beautiful! I especially loved how I was always surrounded by natural edible fruits. From Banana’s to “icecream seeds” I found myself munching while flying through the trees. As soon as I get a better internet connection, I will upload pictures of some of the fruits and the ziplining. You can see some of my pictures on the side of my blog via instagram!

After I ziplined I took a pit stop to a Walmart to pick up some things I needed for the trip (such as a beach towel and snacks) and then a small group of friends and I went down town to get Sushi. Unfortunately, the Sushi joint we wanted to go to was over-packed, so we ended up eating at a little Indian place instead. I ended the night by heading back to my cabin to get some shut eye. When I woke up the next morning, I was in Honolulu, Oahu Hawaii. The ship refueled there for about 6 hours and they would not let us off this ship during that time! I was so upset considering I lived in that very area not too long ago. I had to keep myself from sobbing at the window – it was such a tease.

Semester at Sea – ship life

My seasickness is wearing off, finally. Maybe it’s the medications, who knows. But whatever it is, it’s working. I have a bit of a sore throat, and the rocking is giving me a bit of a headache… but hey, I’m getting there.

My first day of classes went well – I especially like my Global Music course. It’s just amazing to compare all kinds of music around the world! And I mean, our professor has a lovely British/Africans accent so it makes her lectures that much more enjoyable. I also had a meeting today with my boss and co-workers. I was granted a work-study for Semester at Sea, so I have to work 2 hours a day. One hour I work reception at an activities desk, and the other hour I am the assistant to one of the Resident Directors, where I will help with managing clubs and events. Specifically, my position is in the diversity department of student life. I will help to maintain intercultural communication and understanding throughout the ship community, which includes things such as “students of color” and “LGBT” clubs.

I am excited for tomorrow. The Work Study crew has an on-sight training in a VIP cabin (basically a really huge cabin room!) and there we will have training as well as a specially made dinner just for us, free of charge (YES! <3) To end the night I made myself some hot coco I brought from home and sat outside with a friend just talking in general about life. The ocean is so beautiful, but also terrifying. It’s really something amazing to watch.

I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, but I am making friends and am being as social as possible (because truth is, I like socializing. It just terrifies me sometimes) However, I did eat dinner alone today. I know I could have sat with a random group of people and they would have accepted me with open arms, but sometimes it’s nice to have “me” time where I can just live in my own mind, free of conversation obligations. I usually have breakfast and lunch with my roommate and another friend down the hall. :] A combination of that, and my me time..it’s a perfect balance.

Anyway, as the ship braves through a storm, and my drawers constantly open and close, I am going to try and get some shut eye. Cya!

Semester at Sea – first days

Mother of god…sea sickness is horrible! Shortly after I ate dinner with a few students and the ship took off I lost it. I took some free motion sickness meds they gave out and actually that made me worse. Thank God for the clinic on board; I was able to go get a shot in my back (ow…) which took instant effect and then they prescribed me a 3-day motion sickness patch which I will put on in the morning.

Over all, as for the program itself, it’s going really smooth. I ended up missing a couple assemblies due to me being so sick, but luckily in our rooms we are able to watch a live recording of them via our mini tv. The cabins are not nearly as bad as I thought. Small, yes, but plenty of storage space. I love the bathrooms. Tiny, but the shower Is perfect with wonderful unlimited hot water. My bed in comfy. I feel less homesick cuddling my blankie my aunt gave me (which is fortunately covered in cat hair <3) a fox, and my fottie pjs. And, the free email systems works okay. I am able to get up with friends and family pretty well.

I am a little stressed trying to get travel arrangements for some other countries set up. Students keep dropping out of programs I created and I think the tour companies are going to hate me by the time we get there…ah, such is life.

Facility on the ship truly are cheery and kind-hearted. I have to get some bills from the ATM when we get to Hawaii to tip our cleaning guy with.

Anyway, wrapping it up. I am going to have the ship rock me to sleep so I can try and get up at 7am tomorrow. Plan to take a friend to the clinic so she can also get a shot (she’s worse off than me :[ ) and then we’ll attempt to hold down breakfast together – hah. Funn. And I start classes at around 2pm! Also gotta find my work-study boss…still don’t know my schedule. Last I heard, he got the sea-sickness happy-fun-time as well.

Hawaii in 5 -6 days! Can’t wait to zipline, upload some pics, and over all just soak up the sun!
Then 12 days from Hawaii to Japan..I better be over this by then!

Sailor out! :]

12 countries in 112 days: My semester at sea

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The MV explorer; my new home for the next 4 months!

 

Spring 2014 Semester at Sea blog!

Hey guys! Have not heard from anyone in a while, but of course this is because I have not posted in a while. I’ve been home, in Michigan, doing my usual university-work lineup. Nothing special, but as some of you may already knew, in one month I leave for a Semester at Sea!! My amazing experiences in South Korea and Morocco were simply not enough for this crazy girl. I am excited to blog about this amazing opportunity here on my little wordpress! Spread the word because honestly I want people to hear about this opportunity and be pushed to it as well in life!

Wait, what? Hold on a second Danni. What in the world is a Semester at Sea?
Well, put simply and quoting from the Semester at Sea homepage:
Semester at Sea is a multiple country study abroad program open to students of all majors emphasizing comparative academic examination, hands-on field experiences, and meaningful engagement in the global community. A wide variety of coursework from 20-25 disciplines is integrated with relevant field studies in up to a dozen countries, allowing for a comparative study abroad experience that is truly global. The University of Virginia is the program’s academic sponsor. Students from 250-300 colleges in the United States and the world participate on Semester at Sea each term. Credit earned is transferable to a student’s home institution.”

Let me get this straight: you’re going to be living on a ship?

You guessed it! I live on a ship in double occupancy cabins! There are classrooms, pool areas, salons, food courts, ball rooms, a library, book store, snack booth – you name it and it’s there, everything I need to thrive while at sea! Naturally in ports (and we are in ports an average of 5 days) I will be traveling around and staying in hotels and such. And host families! So far I have plans to stay with host families in multiple countries in order to get the full cultural experience!

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Picture of one of the cabins on board

And where exactly are you going?
(Briefly Mexico) Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Burma, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco(Yay! Back to Morocco!!) and London! Possibly more depending on my budget (Might hit a few countries when I debark in London, but that’s actually unlikely)

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How can you afford this!?
Well, I can’t. If it was not for scholarships and a work-study I earned for Semester at Sea I would not be going. I received a merit scholarship, need based scholarship and was hired for a competitive work-study. I am awaiting on one more scholarship that is worth 10,000 through an honors society, but it is unlikely I will receive it. (Only one was available. And a girl mentioned to me since she is involved professionally with the program she will pull some strings, so I just applied for a good shot!) I am also taking out loans and emptying out my savings. Unless I get that last scholarship, I will be eating ramen noodles for a year after I return. Worth it.

Read more on my Semester at Sea on my wordpress at the tag https://elusiveambitions.wordpress.com/category/semester-at-sea-2/

If you guys have any more questions feel free to ask! I will be posting more about it as time gets closer! I also have a tumblr dedicated to Semester at Sea so feel free to follow me at
http://seathroughneweyes.tumblr.com