Home is Where the Heart Lies

I suppose the saying is right: Mom really does know best. It took me a three-and-a-half month voyage around the world to come to that conclusion, but here I am admitting that she has been right all along.

Santa Barbara is a remarkable place to live, perhaps one of the best in the world. It is a beautiful city with a sun that only takes a couple vacation days a year, comparable to that of tropical Hawaii. The people walk with a bounce in their step, acknowledging one another with friendly gestures that I saw so often in places like Takoradi, Ghana. The combination of scenic mountains, lush vegetation, golden beaches and sophisticated city life seem to make for a Mauritian-like natural habitat united with the urbanization and cleanliness of Singapore. Indeed, it is a remarkable place to live and one that I am very fortunate to call home.

I would not have described Santa Barbara like this before Semester at Sea. Before this voyage, I took Santa Barbara for granted. I have lived there my entire life and never thought my home had any special quality. Sure, Santa Barbara has good weather, but so do many other places around the world. It isn’t the only one, and I absolutely did not want to stay in Santa Barbara forever. I wanted to explore the world, trekking the Sahara and climbing the Swiss Alps. I wanted to leave Santa Barbara for good and settle in Europe, or maybe even South America. These places are mysterious to me, and I believed they would offer a new and exciting lifestyle that I wouldn not have if I stayed in Santa Barbara my entire life.

As this voyage comes to an end, I have become more aware of the value of this place I dub home. Now I have seen the world. Sure, not all of the world, but I have traveled to multiple continents, hiked through indigenous villages and dabbled with understanding various cultures. This experience has been fantastic, and the countries I have visited have left me awe-struck and profoundly changed. But they have also left me with a conviction that I do live in a city that puts all others to shame. I live in a city that combines the well-being of Singapore, the infrastructure of Cape Town and the majesty of Vietnam. And poverty does not run rampant here as it does in many of the developing countries we visited.

When I return home, I will look out my balcony across the gorgeous landscape and see Santa Barbara with a new set of eyes. This is where I live. This is where my heart lies. It seems my mom was right all along: I do live in the best city in the world.

— Joshua Kohansamad

Written December 8, 2010

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The End

An aura lingers, making its way through the ranks, flitting, twisting its way to every living being. The aura speaks, it whispers quietly in our ears. Our nerves tense up as we feel its sullen approach. We know what it will tell us, but none of us are ready. To hear those words brings a wave of emotions throughout the group. Some do not feel sorrow or fear. Some are excited, ready to be free. However, we are all still scared of the emotions. But as the aura continues through, it reminds, “the end is near.”

“I want more time.”

“We want more time.”

I fear what is next. I fear this unknown. It feels so final. It is so final! As the end approaches I wonder where this fear stems from. Why do I wish for this end not to advance? I usually embrace the new, the unknown adventures. For once I am truly terrified, truly panicked for what will come. But honestly, it is not that I want to know what is coming, what is ahead.

I do not think that it is fear of the unknown that makes the future a sickening dark hole. I have become so comfortable in the way life is moving, flowing. But this motion will stop. It will stop sooner than I want. The end has come too soon. And all I want is for this to continue just awhile longer. I want just a little more time. There is much left unexplored.

It has all flown by, this life, this voyage. And while we all hope for more time, that wish is a mere illusion. We can never gain what we cannot control. We are all aware by now that our time is almost up. There is an echo, a reverberation closing in on the ranks. Some are excited, some fearful, some unsure. We can feel it caressing our tired bodies, our exhausted minds. I am not ready to let go. Not ready for the journey’s death to linger so close.

 

 

—Hannah Ledyard

 

 

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Number One Yum

“What do you mean you have never had sushi?!”

“I mean I have never had sushi. That’s what I said, idiot.”

The three of us, clad in North Face rain gear, baseball caps and backpacks looked pathetic as we bumped into the heeled, pristinely made-up Asian goddesses and pushed through the bustling crowds at the grand Shibuya Station desperately seeking any sign of an exit. Finally, we burst through to the fresh Tokyo air and were immediately bombarded by the fluorescent lights from billboards and skyscrapers and the non-stop pace of the people moving by. Scampering forward to the crazy cross-walk, we made our way to the staple, Starbucks, before our search for the perfect virgin-stealing sushi spot began.

We couldn’t help our awestruck tourist faces as we skipped like schoolgirls through the streets of Shibuya looking and pointing at the wonderful things we saw. Check out that four-story McDonald’s! Look at those sick Nike’s! Did you see that girl’s cell phone?

After over an hour of wandering, we settled on a restaurant located on a small side street. We scurried in with linked arms, eager for our sushi experience to begin. Our giggly demeanors caught the attention of the majority of the diners in the rectangular seating arrangement. Perhaps this was not as exciting for them as it was for us?

We were seated in the back corner, so as not to scare the locals, and given large glasses of tea. I sat mesmerized by the conveyer belt of goodies that continued to eject new sushi samplings right at my finger tips. I reached out and grabbed something pink over rice. Tuna? Salmon? Who knows. I doused the sushi in soy sauce before putting that neat-looking green goo all over it. Wasa- what? Wasabi, oh. I plopped the whole bite in my mouth and let my cheeks fill up chipmunk style while the flavors and textures soaked in slowly. My friends looked at me with gaping jaws to see my first reactions… Someone should have really warned me about that wasabi. I was red in the face from a mixture of hot tastes, excitement and laughter and had the most difficult time swallowing that first big bite.

The three of us spent the afternoon sampling the Japanese cuisine, coupled with plenty of soy sauce, infinite laughs and a limited amount of wasabi.

– Patty Meegan

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Japan

On the morning of my arrival in Japan, I earnestly joined the first group of students disembarking the ship bound for the Kobe home stay program.  It was my third adventure doing a home stay with a foreign family on the voyage, but my past experiences had not done much to abate the feeling of anxiety I felt in the hours leading up to meeting my new family.  A million questions ran through my head.  Would they like me?  Could they speak English?  Should I bow when I meet them?  They were all seemingly trivial questions, but important to me nonetheless.

I met my family in the building that houses the port of Kobe.  I walked into a room filled with Japanese women and their children holding up colorfully decorated signs with the name of their Semester at Sea student displayed.  I wandered around the room seeking out my family before I finally found a pretty young women holding up a sign with my name.  I was matched up with the Abe family.  The mother was 35 and named Yukiko, the father was 37 and named Takahiro, and their son was a cute 5-year-old kid named Kosuke.

Takahiro was at work when I met the family, so I went with Yukiko, Kosuke, and another women and her two host students from Semester at Sea to get lunch.  We had delicious udon noodles that were made from scratch.  Afterwards, we picked up the other woman’s children from school and went to the museum of Sakai City, the city where they lived.  We also went to the top of the tallest building in Osaka and saw a panoramic view of the entire city.  The whole experience was a chance to get a better understanding of the history and local heritage associated with the family I was staying with.

Later that night we arrived at their home to spend the rest of the evening.  The Abes live in a small flat in an apartment building equipped with only a small kitchen, living room, bathroom, and one bedroom.  I spent the hour before dinner playing with Kosuke.  He was shy and didn’t speak a whole lot of English, but we passed the time playing with his battling tops game and Pokémon set.  For dinner Yukiko made some of the best soup I have ever had.  It was stuffed with noodles, chicken, carrots, vegetables, tofu, and some other ingredients I can’t recall.  The savory taste and mix of textures kept me coming back for seconds and thirds.

After dinner, Takahiro and Yukiko’s mother came to the house.  We all sat and tried to converse as much as we could with the language barrier.  Yukiko’s mother surprised us all by showing us her new hobby.  She has been practicing a show that combines ventriloquism and magic.  It was funny and lighthearted as we all sat around the living room listening to her performance.  Kosuke was giggling the whole time.  I joined in with the laughter on quite a few occasions as she mixed English phrases with Japanese to try and include me in the show.  It was a very charming evening and I felt blessed to be halfway across the world, but still embraced as a family member for the night by a Japanese family I had just met that day.  It is on occasions such as this that I reflect on the violent, tumultuous world we hear about so often in the news and wonder if it is all an overreaction or a misrepresentation.

The next day I went with Takahiro, Yukiko, and Kosuke to Osaka Castle, a castle surrounded by a public park, and saw some of the relics of the area’s history.  We went to see the castle on a beautiful fall afternoon where the leaves had changed from the greens of summer to the crimson reds and oranges of fall.  The day reminded me of an autumn day in Pennsylvania with the only difference being the people who surrounded me.  After visiting the castle, we had lunch at a restaurant near a busy market area in Osaka.  We ate different fried meats on a stick, including octopus, calamari, chicken, and fish, all of which are famous in the area.  I also had my first sushi, which to my surprise was actually very delicious.  To my delight I discovered raw salmon tastes better than cooked salmon, and the texture is very delicate and savory.  I’ll have to eat it more in the future.

After lunch it was time to say goodbye to the family I had spent the last 36 hours with.  As we drove to the train station that would take me back to the ship, I said goodbye to Kosuke, Yukiko, and Takahiro.  It’s always bittersweet saying goodbye so soon to a family I am just getting to know and feel comfortable with.  The homestay program has provided me with some of the most authentic and memorable experiences on my journey.  I am now privileged to say that I have four places where I can now be at home, all located on different corners of the globe, when I am with my families from Ghana, India, Japan, and in the United States.

– Garrett J. Kubacki

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On the Wall

Yesterday, I had a picnic on the Great Wall of China.

An elaborate selection of food wasn’t necessary. In fact, the main components consisted of a pack of Chip’s Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, a bottle of green tea and Minute Maid orange juice for my friend. It’s strange that there are vendors on the Wall who sell these things. But the day wasn’t about business, and it certainly wasn’t about the food. It was about the spot, the view — the insanely wide scope of the wall that I was sitting on.

My friends and I had taken a cable car up to the top of the Wall, and we were prepared. We had heard about the bitter cold and wind. I had about six shirts on — long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts and a winter jacket I had bought a few days before in preparation. I even bought a pair of knock-off Uggs just for the occasion. Earmuffs, gloves and hats were also involved in the wardrobe creation. I had been warned by Semester at Sea, friends and family who had been to the Wall before, and I was ready to brave the elements and hike the wall in freezing temperatures.

But, after all of my preparation and expectations, I realized that the Great Wall gave me more than I could have ever prepared for. It wasn’t the Arctic beast that I had thought I would have to hike and conquer.

The air wasn’t bitter. The sun beamed proud in the afternoon, and I started to wonder why I had spent so much time and energy bargaining down a pair of earmuffs the night before. I didn’t need earmuffs. Besides, there was no one else on the Wall.

The Wall was quiet. There was no one else walking near me. It was warm for a crisp fall day. It was special. And I sat on it enjoying my green tea watching the path ramble into infinity through the mountains before me. It seemed too easy to be here.

During my time on the Wall, drinking my tea and eating cookies by a cannon on the Great Wall seemed like a secret that no one knew about. It was easy to forget all of the late-night specials and National Geographic photographs on the Great Wall of China. It wasn’t the wall that my history books talked about. I know so much history took place there, but that day, no one else was here. It didn’t seem busy and historic.

It was just one of the most mountainous and Zen places my friend and I had ever had a picnic, in the mountains on an architectural phenomenon that ran hundreds of miles ahead of us. We could never keep up. I could never cover this majesty. I was just small and looking. But it was letting me look.

All I needed was what the Wall gave me — and that was not just cookies and drinks. It was pure amazement. It gave me breath and calm and photographs and smiles and silence. The Wall surprised me with its grace and touched me with its depth.

– Ashley May

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The Killing Fields

My throat filled with lumps as I fought to hold back the tears. Skulls and bones of children beaten and tortured lay on the ground. “When they are found, just pick them up and put them into one of the boxes designated to hold the human remains of the victims of the Khmer Rouge,” said our guide. These were the only words that kept replaying in my mind after the introduction of our tour. These boxes were randomly set up through the killing fields. Our tour guide told us if we found any clothing or bones, we are allowed to pick them up and put them in the designated box. Each one of these boxes read something different. The bones box, four example, read “Pieces of bones remaining after excavation in 1980.”

Were they being serious, I wondered? Did they actually want me to pick up the remains of innocent people that were killed in the Killing Fields? Have these people no respect? I have never felt so disrespectful in my life. I am not saying they are bad people. I just did not feel like I was being respectful. With each step I took, I knew I was stepping on the remains of someone. We walked through cemeteries where people who died in the killing field are buried beneath the earth. This was different because it was not the normal cemetery where a person walks on a designated pathway to visit their love one, veering off the path to kneel down in front of their families grave. I felt as if I was walking through the Killings Fields not caring if I stepped on someone’s loved one. I felt like I was being extremely rude but I was really showing respect in the Vietnamese eyes.

The mass murders that took place in the Killing Fields and the children slammed against the Killing Tree had turned into an everyday remembrance to the Vietnamese people, and in my opinion they seemed to have become numb to any feelings they might have had.

The images that were explained to us made me imagine vividly exactly what had happened, right where I was standing:.holding a child by the feet and slamming their heads against a tree, in front of their parent, only to possibly get information out of a parent. The idea was horrifying to me. Even though there is a memorial building, we were still out walking on top of unmarked graves. The more I tried to swallow, the bigger the lump became.

I have never been surrounded by death that had such a powerful sense of horror. As intense and emotional as the story made me feel, I could not imagine the horrifying feeling the people beneath me felt during those times.

From head to toe, I washed my skin with wet wipes as I quietly sobbed on the bus. I knew I was not wiping off the feeling of death. I was trying to rid myself of the horrific feeling of what those people experienced. The images have been permanently burned inside my brain, and I am not sure if I want them there or not.

“Please Lord, watch over the innocent people whose lives were taken by a monstrous group of men and bless the families they have left behind.” I prayed, as the bus pulled away, “May the world never know this sort of atrocity again, the atrocity of the Killing Fields.”

– Mackenzie Walsh

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China

I was in a paddleboat on the lake in Changsha, China. I had been extreme traveling, Amazing Race-style, for two days. After the sleeper bus had unceremoniously dropped we three students on the side of the highway at two in the morning, I was ready for a relaxing day. We had no idea what to expect from Changsha, located in the dead middle of China, with factories and rice paddies for miles in every direction. We had asked a local in Hong Kong about Changsha two days earlier. She replied, “Big city. Nothing there for you.”

It turns out, Changsha has one of the ten largest national parks in China, and the second biggest man-made lake. On a beautiful Sunday in November, Changsha mirrored New England fall. Orange and yellow leaves fell on pagodas and pavilions instead of colonial saltboxes.  The endless lake sparkled in the afternoon sun. We rented a paddleboat for an hour (the boys paddled) and I soaked up a bit of fall on the opposite side of the world. Boats with children, boats with adults, boats of all colors, shapes, and sizes sailed along the lake.

“Hello! How are you?” A group of little girls and an older woman called from their racecar-shaped boat. They waved to us as we passed each other under a bridge.

“Ni men hao! I’m good, how are you?” I responded.

“We are good!” The girls paddled away, around the side of the island.

We pulled up to the island and bought lamb kebabs and fried tofu from a vendor.  Chewing contentedly, we paddled around the lake, waving to the other boats and passers-by. The warm sun caressed our faces. Our hour was up, so we started rowing back to the docks.

“Hey! What’s your name?” The girls had found us again, paddling a short distance away.

We were too far away to yell back, so we continued on our way.

“What’s your name?” They yelled in unison, louder, and started following us back to shore.

But whose name did they want? There were three of us. We couldn’t tell.

We docked, paid, and started walking down the path next to the shore. I shook my head. They’ll leave us alone eventually, I thought.

“Hey! What’s your name?” the girls called, together. They were following us, parallel to shore in their boat. We looked at each other, nonplussed. “My name is Chris,” my friend said.

“No! What’s her name?” one girl with pigtails smiled and pointed at me.

“My name is Veronica,” I called back.

“You’re beautiful.”

They paddled away, but the feeling, like hot chocolate and mittens, like jumping in a pile of leaves, like the heat from a wood-burning stove, stayed with me all day.

 

-Veronica Bacher

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