Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reverse Culture Shock

I have now been home from Semester At Sea for a little over a month and am settled into the next phase of my life- living in New York City for the summer before my senior year of college. I’m sitting on a train on my way home for the weekend and although the rocking of the train isn’t quite like the rocking of the ship on the open seas, it does bring back memories of getting rocked to sleep if I close my eyes. I don’t know if it has hit me yet that I literally circumnavigated the world last semester, or that I faced my fear of change and overcame it. I do know that Semester At Sea was the hardest but most rewarding experience of my life and I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience. From laughing so hard tears were rolling down my face while horseback riding through the rainforest of Costa Rica to the real uncontrollable tears rolling down my face in Malaysia when I was so homesick I didn’t think I could make it one more week, I cherish the good times and the bad. I believe that without the lowest of lows there wouldn’t have been the highest of highs.

The rollercoaster of emotions I experienced during those 4 months came from my eyes slowly being opened to the world around me. From realizing how horrible the conditions in India are or how technologically advanced Japan is to noticing the approachability and genuine happiness of the kids in the township in South Africa to learning about the awful genocide in Cambodia I have come to the conclusion that although there are so many atrocities in the world, it’s the human resiliency through these atrocities that makes the world so unique and interesting.

Looking back on the trip I have come to realize that it was not the countries I visited but the people that I met along the way that changed and affected me the most. At the beginning of the trip I was really unsure about my decision to travel around the world because I was scared of the unknown and nervous about the cultures I would be immersed in. Four months later, traveling is now a part of me that will never go away. Recently I have noticed so many people talking about going to Mars or discovering life outside our world; however, I now believe that there are so many worlds within our own world still left to be discovered.

Four years ago I was designing my senior yearbook page. I had a hard time deciding on a quote to put on the page that represented the way I felt about life and where I was in my life at the time. In the end I chose a quote by Louisa May Alcott and to this day believe that I couldn’t have picked a more perfect quote to symbolize my life. On the page, below a picture of myself with the farm in the background, the quote read “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship”. I believe that I am still learning how to sail my ship but I am pretty confidant I now have the basics mastered.

I couldn’t have asked for a better abroad experience. Semester at Sea gave me the world, and for that I will always be grateful. Thank you for traveling around the world with me. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy lives to read, think about and comment on the things I experienced. Thank you all for your love and support throughout not only this semester but throughout my life. Although my blog ends here, my journey does not and neither does yours. Travel if you have the means to. Explore, Dream and Discover the world around you and know that it is never too late to begin learning how to sail your own ship. 

Costa Rica

After 10 straight days at sea full of studying for finals, cramming to get last minute homework turned in and conferences with teachers, it was a nice change to be on land. However, this change was bittersweet because I knew that Costa Rica would be our last port of this entire journey. We arrived in Puntarenas on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica early Saturday morning and like usual got of the ship quickly to start our short two day stay. A couple of my friends and I decided to go to Jaco which is about an hour away from Puntarenas because we heard there was a lot more to do there than in Puntarenas. We took an hour long cab ride to Jaco, had lunch then decided to visit some travel companies set up along the road to see what kinds of adventures we could get ourselves into that day. ATVing, paragliding, surfing, horseback riding, and just about any watersport were options. We decided to think about it for a while while we went to the beach to swim and sunbathe for a couple hours. After exhausting ourselves trying to bodysurf in the strong currents of the pacific ocean we ventured back to the adventure companies. We had our options down to two- we would either go ATVing or horseback riding. As college students on a budget, we chose the cheaper of the two- horseback riding.

We got in a car that took us to the bottom of a mountain where we were met by two 12 year old boys and a man that looked like their grandfather. Horses were set up a long the road and we each not so gracefully got onto our chosen horse. We nervously headed up the mountain with our 12 year old guides. The horses were in control and as amateur horseback riders we were frightened by the thought of our horses galloping out into the sunset with us through the Costa Rican rainforest leaving the rest of the group behind. Ok so that is a bit of an exaggeration but lets just say we weren’t too confident in our riding skills. Rudy took the lead up the mountain and in no time we all got our bearings. Mikes horse stopped to eat every 3 minutes, Leila’s only wanted to walk slow or gallop at full speed and Ben and I laughed the whole time watching each other unsuccessfully attempt to horseback ride. We luckily got back down the mountain with no injuries and no lost friends. We said goodbye to our horses and got into a cab laughing hysterically at what we had just done the past few hours. Exhausted from a long day of adventures in Costa Rica we headed back to the ship for a goodnights sleep.

The next day I woke up early to hopefully get on a trip to go to a Costa Rican zip lining park. I got a ticket and got on the bus, unfortunately this was not the bus my other friends were on so I made a couple new friends as we headed to the park. This was an interesting last day on land for me because the first day in our first country of Puerto Rico I also went zip lining through the rainforest. I almost felt like I had come full circle as I got harnessed on to the lines. The best part of this morning was that I went to the park with one of the tallest and longest zip lines in the world. The last zip line in the park was over a kilometer long and over 2,000 feet high. It took about 60 seconds to fly across it. It was so much fun and I would definitely make that a priority if I ever venture back to Costa Rica again.

After returning to the ship in the afternoon, we went to the beach, had lunch, walked around the shops and took in our very last sunset from land before boarding the ship for the VERY last time. It was emotional as we swiped our card to get back on the ship as we realized that the next time we would be getting off the ship in Miami we would not be returning to the place we now considered our second home.

That night I sat by myself on the 8th deck listening to music, and waiting to watch the ship leave port. As I looked up into the sky as dusk turned to night, I caught a glimpse of a star and like always when I see the first star appear in the night sky I recited to myself “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight”. Staring up into the sky with the engine rumbling underneath my feet as the ship pulled away from the dock, I paused and realized that for the first time in my life I had nothing to wish for. I have an amazingly supportive family, more friends than I honestly know what to do with, and now a pure sense of accomplishment and purpose in life. I was genuinely happy, healthy, and savored that moment. As I head back into the real world I know I will see a star and have hundreds of things to wish for, but I will always cherish and remember that moment sitting on the deck feeling the happiest and proudest I have ever felt. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


It takes 20 days to cross the Pacific Ocean. We had one 12 hour break during these 20 days. We arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii on Tuesday morning at 5am and woke up at 6am to start clearing customs early. It didn’t really hit me until I was sitting on the 6th deck eating breakfast that I was actually back in AMERICA for the first time in three months. I was so excited to hear English, not have to awkwardly try to speak a language I had no idea how to pronounce and eat the comfort foods I have missed so much.

We got off the ship as fast as we could so we could take in the few hours we had on land. A couple of my friends and I decided we needed to go to Pearl Harbor in the morning because after going to Hiroshima in Japan and learning about how WWII ended we wanted to learn about how it began. Unfortunately when we got to Pearl Harbor there was a 2.5 hour wait to take the ferry out to the USS Arizona. We thought about it for awhile then realized we didn’t want to waste 2.5 of our 10 hours on land that day sitting inside, so we walked through the small museum then left to go meet back up with our other friends.

We met up with the rest of my friends in Waikiki, had lunch then went straight to the beach to set up our little area on the sand for the next few hours. A couple of us wanted to do something fun and exciting rather than just sunbathe, so we took a walk down the beach to see what we could find. We ran into a little tent along the way that said “surfing lessons”. Perfect. We paid $35 each to have an hour long surfing lessons with two instructors. It was so much fun! We paddled out in the blue water through some small waves then waited as our instructors slowly pushed each of us towards the shore one at a time. The waves were small enough that we had time to get up on the board but big enough that we felt a rush of accomplishment and exhilaration every time we stood up feeling like we were the girls from the movie Blue Crush or the guys from Endless Summer. By the end of the hour my arms were soar from paddling and my leg was cramping up but it was well worth it. We returned our boards, slathered more sunscreen on then got back into the water. We all hung out together for the last couple of hours of sunlight then gathered our stuff and headed to a beachfront restaurant where we ordered dinner and drinks while watching the orange sun set over the glistening water of the pacific ocean. We headed back to the ship at 8:30 after an amazing day. I was reinvigorated and ready to spend the next ten days at sea studying for finals and taking in the last two weeks left on my semester at sea.

As I sit here in the piano lounge, now with only 10 days left I am feeling a huge mix of emotions. In some sense I feel like I am just starting to get used to this experience, but at the same time I feel like I have been on the ship for years. I am so excited to see my family and friends who I have obviously missed so much during this semester, but I am also so sad to know that I wont be able to see my new friends together everyday ever again. In ten days I will walk off of this ship for the last time a different person than I was 3.5 months ago when I first walked on. I don’t exactly know what those differences or changes are or will be, but I can feel it. I only hope that I can hold onto these feelings, stories, experiences, friends, and memories forever. 

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Japanese people are some of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. My friends and I quickly got off the ship in Kobe, Japan to take the Shinkansin bullet train to Tokyo. When we arrived in Tokyo at 8pm we had no idea where we were staying, what we were going to do or how we were going to get around one of the biggest cities in the world. As we all stood in a circle in the middle of the Tokyo train station looking confused at a map in Japanese, a man named Yoshi came up to us and asked if we needed help. We told him our situation and he spent the next three hours with us helping us find a hotel and plan our stay in Tokyo. He let us use his laptop, went with us on the subway to the district he recommended we stay in, translated signs and books for us and eventually got us a great deal at a hotel that in other circumstances probably would have turned us away. At first I was weary of this man and why he was so willing to spend so much time with us, but as the night went on I realized that he was literally doing this out of the kindness of his heart. He saw six confused Americans standing in the middle of the train station and wanted to help.

After putting our bags in the hotel we offered to take him out to dinner because that was the least we could do. He led us to a little sushi restaurant in the Shinjuku district and we had great conversation about Japan and America and the vast differences between the two. He left us that night with a great first impression of Japan that would ultimately continue throughout our four days in one of my favorite countries I have visited on Semester at Sea.

Our second day in Japan was spent exploring the city of Tokyo. We went to the Ginza district where we visited the Sony Building that houses some of the newest and coolest electronics and gadgets. We then headed to a beautiful park in the middle of the city. We walked along the river then visited the Imperial Palace where we hung out all afternoon taking pictures and taking in the culture. This was the first time my “family” (my group of 6 best friends on the ship) was together in a country on our own. After spending a few hours in the park we split up. Rudy, Leila, Todd and I went to the Hirajuku district where we went shopping and walked around taking in the surroundings. Some of you may know the Hirajuku district as the place where Gwen Stefani started and got a lot of inspiration for her LAMB clothing line. We left Hirajuku around 5pm because we were meeting up with Vamsi and Ashley at our hotel at 5:30. This is when our night got a little interesting.

Rudy of course had to buy a leather jacket so we were running on the late side; however, we were pretty sure we could get back to the hotel just in time to meet up with our friends. We got to the subway and realized we had to take two different lines to get back to our hotel. This took over 45 minutes and by the time we got to the station we wanted to be in we were 30 minutes late. So without thinking we run outside and start walking towards the hotel. In reality we were walking in the opposite direction of the hotel. We walked for 15 minutes until we realized that we didn’t recognize where we were. We then had to ask someone how to get back to where we began. Using hand gestures and a map we showed a Japanese man where we wanted to go and he pointed us in the right direction. We walked for another 20 minutes and got to the hotel over an hour late. Ashley and Vamsi were worried and we were exhausted from running around the city. We went down to the street and found a restaurant to eat and relax at.

The wait to be seated was 40 minutes long, but we didn’t mind because all we wanted to do was sit down. We sat down on the floor and played cards for a while then were finally called to the table. We ordered nachos, fajitas, burritos and guacamole with chips. YES we went to a Mexican restaurant in Japan. After eating a huge dinner that reminded me of going to Chili’s back in Syracuse we headed back to our rooms for a good nights sleep.

The next morning, Leila, Rudy, Todd and I woke up early to catch a train back to Kobe. We arrived in Kobe around 11am, ate lunch then headed back to the train station to go to Osaka. In Osaka we went to one of the worlds biggest aquariums where we saw penguins being fed, dolphins, a whale shark, huge manta rays and jellyfish. Although the aquarium was very busy it was still really fun to visit and see the marine life we have been sailing over for the past couple of months. After spending a few hours in the aquarium we walked outside and bought tickets to go on one of the biggest ferris wheels in the world. During our 15 minute ride on the wheel we saw the entire skyline of Osaka and caught a glimpse of Universal Studios in Japan. After riding the ferris wheel we ate dinner at a local mall then headed back to Kobe late that night.

On our last day in Japan Lelia, Rudy and I decided to go to Hiroshima to learn more about the end of WWII and Japan’s feelings towards America and the dropping of the Atomic bomb. It was a beautiful day out. As we slowly walked through Peace Park where different memorials stand, I noticed a sense of somberness in every person I saw, bother Americans and Japanese.

The memorial museum was definitely worth seeing. As I was walking through the museum I realized that I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew about WWII and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I read memoirs of survivors and watched a short video about that fateful morning.  I found it really interesting that the Japanese were so nice to us as Americans coming into their country after what we did to them only 65 years ago. The hard feelings are gone, and what’s left is the grave reality of nuclear war and the deaths of so many innocent people. After visiting the museum we saw a couple more memorials in the Peace Park then went back to the train station for our ride back to Kobe.

The train rides in Japan were absolutely beautiful. We sped through the country on what used to be the fastest train in the world. I watched us go through the deep valleys and wooded mountains of the countryside. I took in all of the sights as I sat comfortably by the window. If (I mean when) I come back to Japan I not only want to visit Kyoto which I didn’t get a chance to go to, but would also love to see the countryside and the beautiful more rural areas of the country.

When we got back to Kobe we quickly got into a cab because there was one more thing to do before we left Kobe…eat Kobe beef of course! Three of my friends and I asked a couple people on the streets what the best place to go for steak was. We had an hour before “on-ship” time but knew we had to do this before leaving Japan. We got to a restaurant recommended by a couple people on the street and sat down to look at the menu. The cheapest steak was $105. So being the four college students we are we decided to split one steak between the four of us which still made for a pretty expensive dinner. The steak was cooked right in front of us hibachi style on our table and was served with a few vegetables and a thin slice of toasted bread. The steak tasted better than any bite of meat I have ever tried. It was so tender and juicy and the three bites I had were definitely worth the $25. After finishing dinner and feeling very accomplished after a packed four days in Japan we headed back to the ship to get ready to leave Japan and start heading through the Pacific Ocean towards home.

Back in January I split up the trip into four sections in my head. The first was through South Africa, the second was the middle countries before Asia, the third section of the trip was the Asian countries and the fourth is the trip back home. Right now I am sitting on the ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean gaining hours back day by day as I head home. I have gone to all of those “devastatingly different” countries I was so scared to go to before I left and am now only 20 days away from again being in the safe harbor of my home in America. I don’t think I have had enough time to process where I was and what I have done in the past three months; however, I have come to realize how absolutely grateful I am for having this experience. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I am grateful not only for the great and fun times, but also the hard times because what truly made this trip amazing were the ups and downs. In some aspects I feel the trip is over, but I have to realize that I still have three weeks left and I need to make the most out of every single minute left on my second home- the MV Explorer. 

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hong Kong and China

Hong Kong
We arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday, April 3rd. I quickly got off of the ship to meet up with my friends from Syracuse who are spending the semester there studying abroad. I first met up with Alyxa who showed me around the city and the university where she is studying. After seeing where she has been spending most of her time in Hong Kong we met up with my other two friends, Chelsea and Claire for lunch. It was so nice to see people from home and to really be able to talk about things that I haven’t talked about in awhile (like Syracuse, our mutual friends, Theta, and missing American food).

After lunch we walked through one of a million malls in Hong Kong. I couldn’t believe how many stores and shopping malls there are in HK. It seemed like we had to walk past at least 10 stores before reaching our destination. After shopping for a little we decided to go back to their dorm rooms to hang out. I was able to use their internet without having to rush and worry about wasting precious minutes that I would normally have to pay for on the ship. I was also able to get a Syracuse course catalog to start figuring out my schedule for next fall which was very helpful. After relaxing and talking for a couple of hours we all decided to go out to dinner. We went into central Hong Kong where we ate at a local sushi restaurant then I headed back to the ship because I needed to pack for Beijing and talk to the boys about our upcoming trip.

The next day Chelsea, Claire, and Alyxa came and picked me up at the ship then we went straight to the bus where we took a nice bus ride up to Victoria’s Peak which is a mountain overlooking the city of Hong Kong. Although it was really hazy out it was still really cool to see the skyline of the city from a different angle. We walked around the top of the mountain for a while, got something to eat, shopped (again), and then headed to the cable car for our trip back down the mountain. After visiting Victoria’s Peak we decided to have a classy afternoon and went to have tea at the Peninsula hotel (one of the nicest hotels in HK).

We waited in line for over an hour, but once we got seated we realized that the wait was worth it. We were served hot jasmine tea, finger sandwiches, crumpets, and little pastries to eat as we laughed and talked together for over three hours. Acting classy in a really nice hotel while eating pastries and sipping tea was a nice change of pace after being in third world countries for the past couple of months. But more importantly it was so nice to be with people from home whom I love and hadn’t seen in a couple of months.

After tea we went to have a few drinks at one of their favorite spots in town hidden in a gorgeous back alley full of restaurants and bars lined with lit up trees and brick sidewalks. At 7:45 we headed back towards the ship to watch the famous Hong Kong city skyline light show. Although it was foggy, it was still cool to see the skyline light up with neon colors and spectacular spotlights. After the lightshow we went back to that same alley way where I took my friends out to dinner to thank them for giving me a tour of Hong Kong and hanging out with me for two days. After a long “see you later” not “goodbye” we parted ways and I headed back to the hostel my friends had gotten a room in for the night (because the ship had left to head to Shanghai). We were now on our own for the next 4 days and were expected to meet the ship in Shanghai on Monday, April 7th.


7 boys, 1 girl, 3 days of traveling through China together. With the girl to guy ratio on the ship at 70/30% I really don’t see how this ended up happening, but I joined a group of guys to travel through China with. I obviously ended up planning our itinerary, booking the hotel and calling for wake-up calls every morning because as they jokingly liked to call me throughout the week, I was the “mom”. I didn’t mind this though because the guys I traveled with were great and I had such a good time hanging out with different people and not dealing with the usual girl drama I hear about everyday.

Anyways, we left Hong Kong on the morning of April 5th and took a ferry ride to an airport about an hour outside the city (because the flights were cheaper). We got on the plane and headed to Beijing. When we got to Beijing we checked into our hotel, unpacked our stuff then headed out into the city to find something to eat. We ended up finding a little Chinese restaurant. I ordered vegetable fried rice, but when the waiter brought my food out I realized it was pork-fried rice…this was the beginning of our hardest language barrier challenge yet which we would be struggling with throughout China.

The next morning we woke up early and met up with a professor from Semester at Sea who had been to China many times before and offered to show us around the Forbidden City and the major parts of Beijing. This was a blessing in discise because we would have been lost without him. He brought us to the Forbidden City, explained the different parts of it to us as well as the history. It was so much easier to have an American explain what everything was than trying to dissect heavy Chinese accented English from a tour guide. After the Forbidden City we headed out to Tiananmen Square then walked to the Temples of Heaven where we walked through a “Central Park” looking park in the middle of the city and visited the big brightly colored temple in the middle. After the Temples of Heaven we left our professor to explore the city on our own for a couple of hours.

We decided to go to the Olympic Stadiums being built for the summer 2008 Olympics. The main stadium is so impressive. The architecture of it is unlike any other stadium I have ever seen and the magnitude of it is immense. We took pictures outside of the stadium because we couldn’t go inside and we walked around where the Olympic village is going to be. It was really cool to see this and know that in 4 months I will be watching the Olympics from home but will be seeing the same place I was just standing. After viewing the Stadium for a while 2 of my friends and I decided to get TGIFridays for lunch…it was amazing. I have missed American food for so long and to be able to have some mozzarella sticks and a burger was delicious (especially after the pork fried rice episode the night before). After stuffing our faces at our late afternoon lunch we headed back to the hotel to rest for an hour and get ready for dinner.

We met up with our Professor later that night and he brought us to a famous Peking-Duck restaurant. We sat around a big table and the waiters brought 2 roasted ducks out to us and carved them right in front of us. Me, being the picky eater that I am was hesitant to try it, but I sucked it up because I was in China and tried it…it was actually really good! We ate the duck and some rice and had great conversation talking about Semester at Sea and the faculties’ views versus students’ views of ship life. After dinner we headed to the lakes around Beijing where the nightlife is and walked beside the rivers talking and having a good time. We headed back to the hotel early because we had an early wake up call the next morning.

We woke up at 6:30am the next morning to meet up with a van to go to the Great Wall of China. We packed our stuff, checked out of the hotel, got in a van then drove 2 hours to the Great Wall. When we got there we took a cable car up to the top of the mountain then walked up and down the Great Wall for over an hour. Although it was a little foggy out, it was an incredible feeling standing on another one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I wished we had more time at the wall, but unfortunately we had to catch a flight back to Shanghai that afternoon. When it was time to go we walked back to where we started on the wall and tobogganed down the hill! We got on little toboggan like seats and zoomed down the mountain on a metal tube slide. It was a really fun and amusing way to end our morning at the Great Wall of China. When we got to the bottom we spent our last 5 minutes buying “I climbed the Great Wall of China” T-shirts, bottles of water and some snacks for our flight to Shanghai.

Although our flight was delayed 2 hours, we arrived in Shanghai with high spirits because of the amazing couple of days we had just experienced in Beijing.

During my one day in Shanghai, my friends and I decided to go to the markets. We got directions written in Chinese and in English then tried to hail a cab. This was more difficult than I thought it was going to be. Most Chinese taxi drivers don’t speak English so they feel intimidated if they pick up Americans; therefore, about 15 empty cabs drove by us before we got one to stop and take us to where we wanted to go. We got dropped off in a rural area outside the city which ended up not being where we wanted to be. We walked around trying to ask for directions and nobody seemed to know where to go. Finally we walked into McDonalds and the lady behind the counter nicely wrote down directions to the mall she goes to when she shops. We thought this was going to be a great local place.

We got to the mall and immediately were hounded by vendors and shop owners. I almost felt like a celebrity with everyone pulling at my shirt and telling me “For you- good price, come with me! Come with me!”. At first it was funny, but it quickly turned uncomfortable when we noticed we were being stalked by a couple of men trying to make us go to their store. We told them to go away and let us be, but being in such a local area where they are not used to tourists, this did not work. We ended up leaving this area because we couldn’t stop to look at something without being harassed by salesmen and took a cab back to the ship to regroup and try to find the right place to go.
When I got back to the ship I ended up meeting up with my roommate. We decided to go out to dinner instead of going to the markets however; it was just my luck that day when we walked outside and it began to downpour. We ran across the street to the closest restaurant and sat down to dry off and look at the menu. The menu consisted of dog meat, octopus, and many other unappetizing meals that we were not about to try. So we ordered two beers and relaxed until we had to head back to the ship. We got back to the ship half an hour before on-ship time (the time we are told we have to be back by on the last day of a port), and went up to the 7th deck to order a grilled cheese.

I wish I had more time in Shanghai because the city looked fun; however, my day there wasn’t my favorite of my days in China. Although my one day in Shanghai wasn’t as interesting as it could have been, I left China feeling great and proud of myself for being able to travel independently throughout one of the biggest and most populated countries in the world.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Cambodia and Vietnam

It’s 5:30 in the morning, I am wide awake and standing at the bow of the ship on the 7th deck as the MV Explorer navigates the tricky twists and turns of the Mekong Delta as we head towards the port in Ho Chi Min City (also known as Saigon), Vietnam. I am excited to be in Vietnam but nervous because I know I am about to leave on a trip to Cambodia. I have absolutely no idea what to expect.

We left the ship on Thursday morning to go to the airport to take a quick 45 minute flight to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. When we arrived we all piled onto tour buses and drove directly through the city to the National Museum. We saw old ruins and old Buddha statues. After visiting the museum we drove to the Mekong River where we took a sunset cruise down the river through the deltas. After the hour-long boat ride we headed to dinner at a local restaurant where we had traditional Southeast Asian food. After dinner we visited an orphanage where over 80 Cambodian orphans live.

We began walking down a dark ally way towards the orphanage. As we got close to the gates I could hear the kids laughing and playing. When we walked onto the grounds of the orphanage the children immediately ran up to us like we were celebrities. They were hugging us and pulling at our pants with their small hands to get us to play with them. I handed out chocolates to the kids and the smiles on their faces quickly turned my fatigue from the long day into excitement. The standard of living in Cambodia is not even close to that of America as I noticed when I saw the rooms where the kids sleep. No beds, just a few blankets and pillows on the floor. Their clothes were dirty, probably because they only have one or two shirts in their possession. I played soccer with a few kids then headed upstairs where one 10-year-old girl taught me how to play a hand game. We all played and hung out together till 10pm when it was time for us to leave and for the children to go to bed. We said goodbye and headed back to the bus to check-in to our hotel for a much anticipated good nights sleep.

I was warned before we came to Cambodia that we would be visiting the genocide museum and The Killing Fields, but was not prepared for what was to come. We woke up early on our second day in Cambodia and went straight to the Tuosleng Genocide Museum. Before 1975 Tuosleng was a highschool for Cambodian children, but in 1975 the highschool was turned into a prison and torture center as the Khmer Rouge slowly took over and started one of the worst and least known about killing sprees of our generation. We learned about how they wanted Cambodia to revert back to being a natural and not educated country so that the people in power had all of the authority; therefore, anyone remotely educated, enlightened or admired was kidnapped and killed during this 4 year reign.

The museum reminded me of the Holocuast museum in Washington DC except more personal and powerful. The museum is the ACTUAL place where these tortures and killings took place. While walking through the halls of the building my mind raced back and forth as I imagined and pictured what happened thirty years ago in the exact spots where I was standing. As I looked at the pictures of the people who were killed I could see the depression, desperation and loss of hope in their eyes. It was overwhelming to say the least, but definitely worthy of seeing and something more people should know about. After visiting the museum we headed to The Killing Fields where the people imprisoned where taken to be killed and then buried in mass graves.

The Killing Fields were eerie, almost ghostly. I could feel the presence of the thousands of people killed there. As I walked through the fields where the mass graves were I saw human bones sticking out of the ground on the walking paths and clothing from the victims coming through the dirt. It was almost too much to handle when our guide began describing how these innocent people were executed. In the center of the fields is a monument with over 9,000 human skulls on shelves stacked over 50 feet high. The numerous skulls seemed like they went on forever as I looked up onto the shelves stretching higher than I could see.

I find it interesting that I had absolutely no idea this happened in Cambodia and I hope that more people learn not only about it but from it. Seeing this has made me want to learn more about the genocides going on today such as in the Darfur region of Africa. I don’t get how countries like America can sit and watch something so horrible happen and not do anything about it. We do have the power to stop these genocides from happening yet for some reason we sit and watch, waiting to learn about it 30 years after it has ended. I know it is much more complicated than that, but I cant wrap my mind around any good reason to not do everything possible to end these killings of perfectly innocent human beings.

After learning about the genocide in Cambodia we left the killing fields and headed to a more modern part of town where we visited the Royale Pagoda and Silver Palace. The pagodas are beautiful; full of tiny intricate gold details and high pointed steeples. Visiting these beautiful buildings uplifted a somewhat depressing mood within the group. After visiting the Pagodas we headed to the airport for a short flight to Angkor Wat.

We arrived in Angkor in the late afternoon and went straight to the main temples of Angkor Wat. I have seen pictures of this- the biggest religious site in the world, but seeing it in real life was so much cooler than I expected. The ruins are huge and every piece of stone is carved with perfect detailing. After watching the sunset over the temples we headed to dinner at a big local restaurant where we ate and watched a cultural dance show. After a long day we headed to the hotel for again some much needed sleep.

The next morning I woke up at 5am to go see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. It was absolutely beautiful as I stood by the lake as the orange sun rose over the temples then cast a reflection on the water in front of me. After touring the temples, three of my friends and I decided to leave the group for a couple of hours to explore the city of Ankgor Wat by ourselves. We went to the markets, ate lunch at a pizza place then headed back to the hotel where we met up with the group to tour one more section of the temples.

In the afternoon we visited Angkor Thom which was where Angelina Jolie filmed Tomb Raider. We explored the ruins and saw the hidden faces carved into the rock towers. While exploring these old temples everyone was dripping sweat because of the heat and humidity. I literally have never sweat more in my life than during these three days in Cambodia. Although the heat was brutal it was well worth it and the experiences I had in Cambodia by far surpass the annoyance of the heat. In the late afternoon we headed back to the hotel for our flight back into Vietnam and back to the ship.

If I had to describe Cambodia in a few words I would say that it is a country deep in culture but still visibly suffering from the hard times. I feel that if the genocide and wars hadn’t taken place, the country would have a big economic impact on Southeast Asia; however, with everything it has gone through in the past half century it hasn’t regained any real power or developed into the industrial society it should be. The people of Cambodia are noticeably depressed and affected by its history and the underdeveloped cities show that impact.

The last two days in Vietnam I spent walking around the city, bargaining in the market, buying more dollar DVDs and knock off everything. On the second day I visited the War Remnants Museum which was another pretty depressing sight. I saw pictures of the Vietnam War (or the “American War” as the Vietnamese call it) and learned more about the war. We left the museum after visiting for only an hour because lets face it- I had already seen enough disheartening things for the week. We headed back to the ship with a ton of cheap souvenirs and gifts and waited till the morning to renavigate the Mekong delta out of
Saigon and begin our two day journey towards Hong Kong.

Vietnam and Cambodia were unexpectedly two of my favorite places I have visited on this trip. Two very different countries, three days in Cambodia, two days in Vietnam, five days of learning and again appreciating what I have in life. The two days I spent in Vietnam were fun and definitely worth it because I was able to buy over a hundred DVDs for less than $40, a North Face backup for $9 and a ton of little gifts for all of you supporting me back at home. And although parts of my trip to Cambodia were depressing, the knowledge I gained from being there was well worth the grim sites.

Monday, March 31, 2008


I have now been away from home for over 8 weeks. I am a little bit more than half way through this so-called “journey of a lifetime” and I am absolutely exhausted. I woke up last Wednesday, our first day in Malaysia with a dull stomach ache that had been irritating me since before India (probably from the malaria medicine I have been taking) and with only four hours of sleep, lets just say I wasn’t at my best. I was planning on going on a trip to Kuala Lumpur (the biggest city in Malaysia) with all of my friends but as the group began to walk towards the buses I broke down and decided not to go. 

If you know me well, you know that I am a very stable person usually with my feet planted steadily on the ground however, with my physical exhaustion came mental and emotional exhaustion and the next three days became the low point of this journey as I struggled with homesickness, anxiety and fatigue. I needed time to myself and I needed time to reevaluate the reasons why I am doing this trip and what I need to get out of it.

So for the first three days in Malaysia I didn’t do much. I hung out on the ship, painted my nails, read some magazines and watched about 20 episodes of Friends. I was able to get online and talk to friends from home which helped a lot and for the first time in a long time I was also able to run on the treadmill because the ship wasn’t rocking.

I told myself before I started my run that if I could run 2.5 miles straight without slowing down or stopping to walk than I could get through these next 6.5 weeks. So I started running. My hip began to hurt, I was out of breath, sweat was dripping down my face, and I thought I couldn’t do it…but I kept running. I finished the 2.5 mile run, slowed down and realized that every journey whether big (like this trip) or small (like a 2.5 mile run on the treadmill) has easy times and hard times and you have to go through the low points to realize how great the highs are. I did this two days in a row and although still feeling homesick, I proved that the hard times don’t last for long and although I probably wont want to leave when the time comes, I know the time is coming.

My friends returned from Kuala Lumpur on Friday night and my mind finally took a break from thinking about home. Saturday was spent visiting some Buddhist temples in the city and shopping for gifts and souveniers from Malaysia. I got a lot of gifts for people from home (josh- I am still looking for a cricket bat for you…ill try my best to get you one!), and I learned more about the city that I had been sitting outside of for the past three days. Saturday night was my favorite part of the five days we had in Malaysia.

During my couple of days on the ship I heard rumors about a market held at night where you could find DVDs for a dollar and tons of cheap things to buy. My friends and I all went to the street night market around 8pm and we spent an hour flipping through stacks and stacks of DVDs…each only a dollar apiece. I ended up getting the entire SERIES of Sex and the City for a mere $25 and a bunch of movies that aren’t even out in stores yet. I was unsure if they were going to work in my DVD player so right when I got back to the ship around midnight I put a couple of them into my computer and luckily they worked!

Sunday was spent running a few errands, getting food from the supermarket and resting. I went out to dinner with a couple people not in my immediate group of friends, which was a nice change, and we headed back to the ship right on time. As we pulled away from Malaysia I decided to leave that anxiety and homesickness there and start a new mindset for the next couple of weeks.

I have 6 weeks to go until I am back in America and I am going to make the most out of these weeks. Although I know my homesickness won’t go away right now, I also know that it can’t stop me from experiencing Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Japan. I have realized that being homesick isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means that I have such a great life to return to at home and so many people whom I love to share my experiences with. I am past the halfway point of this run and although it hurts at times, I know it is and will be worth it. The change in me that comes with this run will no doubt be a good one in the end.