In Fall of 2010, I went on a round-the-world trip that absolutely changed my life. Semester at Sea was such a huge influence on who I am today that ever since I went, I’ve dreamed of finding a way to play a part in helping give someone else the same opportunity.
This year, I’m thrilled to be donating 10% of sales of my original works to “The Voyager Fund” through Semester at Sea. This particular fund provides deserving students, based on financial need, the opportunity to sail by helping to offset the cost of a voyage. But I realized that people might want to know more about why Semester at Sea is so important to me…
I first heard about the program from my now brother-in-law when he and my sister were first dating and way before I had any idea what I wanted to do in college. But the way he talked about it, how it had such a huge impact on him, how he made so many lifelong friends, and how it totally changed his worldview — it really stuck with me.
My sophomore year of college, I decided I really wanted to do it... even though I’d never been on a cruise ship, my college didn’t even accept it as credit (at the time), and my parents were not at all on board with letting me go if it wasn’t going to count toward a degree. But something about me that not everyone knows is that the answer “no” really just fuels my fire!
I sat down and did all this research about the program and the other schools that accepted it as credit. I wrote up a letter detailing the program’s credentials, arguing the injustice of denying students an educational opportunity that so many other major schools accepted, and I sent the letter straight to the president of my university! I had no idea if I’d ever hear back, but me being me, I went straight to the top!
Before I knew it, I was in the president’s office, meeting with his administrative assistant, and she not only approved every single credit, but also allowed my scholarship to go towards the trip! It was a huge lesson in not giving up on my dreams, and it was only the beginning of my Semester at Sea journey.
So, I turned up at port in the fall of my junior year to board a ship with 1000 people under the age of 21 from all over the U.S. — none of whom I knew beforehand! As a girl from small town South Carolina where everybody knows everybody, you can just imagine how huge this was for me. And it turns out, I also get majorly seasick. I spent the first two weeks basically mute since I was so ill, and the seasick patches I had to wear made me so drowsy I would fall asleep in the middle of conversations! Basically, I had my world rocked.
But I wouldn’t change a second of it. We sailed around the world, visited thirteen countries in three and a half months, and I left with the best group of friends imaginable. Seeing so much of the world at that impressionable age was incredibly eye-opening. It inspired me to minor in human rights (since it wasn’t a major at the time), and motivated me to continue traveling in order to learn about new people and cultures.
The trip was filled with so many amazing moments, but one that really stands out was when I experienced a connection between my childhood trips to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and southern Vietnam.
Naive twenty-somethings that we were, my roommate and I hopped on the backs of some mopeds with a group of “tour guides” in Vietnam. They drove us out of the city and down all these dirt roads and eventually it started to get dark. While we didn’t feel threatened or anything, we really started to feel like we needed to leave. But the guys kept telling us no, we needed to wait, they had something they wanted us to see. And for some crazy reason, we decided to stay. And all of a sudden, all around us, the sky lights up with fireflies flashing simultaneously.
Now, my mom is from Tennessee. And my whole life, she would make us go see these crazy fireflies in Gatlinburg. As a kid, of course, I never really appreciated it. But then I found myself all the way across the world and seeing these fireflies flash together — and there’s barely a handful of places on the planet where that happens!
I remember it being this really spiritual moment, realizing how small the world is, and how everything is connected, and we end up in places for the right reasons. And it was so powerful. And I want more than anything to be able to help another young person have their own “firefly” moment somewhere out in the world.