UVA Today Blog

Semester at Sea: Back Home

A picture of dried fruit for sale at night in the Marrakech medina square.

We’re departing for London tomorrow. It’s a sad feeling, seeing stacks of luggage outside each cabin door, filling out your friends’ journals and maps, searching for the words to define relationships with people whom you’ve seen the world with, but after this week, may not be seeing again. It’s been a day filled with hugs.

On the ship, we’ve had a great community, living with professors, traveling with your classmates and friends down the hall, never being stressed out on our floating island, always finding something fun to do. Stepping off land and out of bounds in countries, wow.

I care so much more about the world. You hear about places like Southeast Asia and Africa in the news, but now having experienced it, and having real connections there alters your perspective and attitude completely. I also feel so independent – traveling abroad isn’t scary or out of reach; it’s something that a twenty-year old college student can do without internet access or a map. I’ve become so thankful and understanding of the privileges that Americans have, with our wealth and in the ways we view gender; as well as our democratic government and our sanitation systems. It’s something you have to experience, seeing other places other than what you’ve known, to better understand your own country.

So, before I say goodbye and return to normal life again, here are a few housekeeping items for general knowledge:

- Saving for the trip. Everyone asks about paying for SAS. Your school will help you out with tuition, but we all have to budget our own extracurricular spending money that isn’t in the bill. By the end of Morocco, I had spent $2659 of my personal money traveling in the 12 ports. This is not including tuition, flights, or visas obtained before boarding. This does include the shampoo and bathroom supplies, snacks and laundry, and my general travel expenses – two flights, a Japanese bullet train, and many buses and taxis. Transportation costs were my largest expense, followed by food and lodging. That said, I stayed off the ship almost every night, with the exception of South Africa and Singapore.

- Safety. I never had moments where I felt that I was in immediate danger. I think you have to be smart, and travel with people you trust to also be smart. There were moments where I felt judged, disrespected or objectified because I was a woman, and there were points in my travels with friends where we knew that we had to make decisions based on our circumstances whether to continue, or get out. You have to be aware, and listen to what your SAS deans tell you about safety and cultural norms in a country.

- Seasickness. I didn’t have any problems with seasickness or any illnesses. It affects many people though, and the worst days for sickness were near the beginning when we crossed the Pacific. People generally get better within a few days, sometimes it comes back, but you figure out your body and how it works pretty quickly. And the ship is full of medicine if you need it.

- School / Travel Balance. It’s jarring to come back from six days in India and have a paper due the next day, but it’s manageable. Ship life is very restful, you’re given much more unstructured time to get your work done than you would in normal college life.

- Study abroad will change your life. It’s not something to be afraid of, and there are scholarships everywhere if you plan ahead and talk to your study abroad office, financial aid office, and your friends who have done it. I never thought I would study abroad, but now I couldn’t recommend it more. College is a time when you’re trying to figure out your life, and when you’re not always sure what you want to do, it helps to see where your opportunities are, get a bigger picture of what the world is and where you fit within it. Besides, you’re also in some of the best shape of your life, so you’re resilient against lots of walking and lack of sleep.

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing about my travels on Semester at Sea! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and have learned or become more curious about travel abroad. If you have any questions, I’m always available to contact at loj2fz@virginia.edu and would love to answer anything I can! I am headed to travel in France and the UK when we disembark, and then I’ll return to the USA to Charlottesville for the summer (and make back some of the money I spent on this voyage). I am very sad that Semester At Sea is ending, but at the same time I’m so glad I decided to jump in and do this. It’s one of the best decisions I can think that I’ve made in my life, and I think it’s obviously going to impact my worldview forever. So I just tell myself that even if I have to leave my home in the ship tomorrow, it’s not an ending, just another journey.

Semester at Sea: Final Port – Morocco

I traveled with a friend who had studied abroad in Morocco just last semester, so we had fun spending time in Rabat with her friends and host family. Along with the majority of families in Morocco, they have a big couscous dinner for the family every Friday, and Ada and I were happy to share in the festivities.

A picture of couscous covered with caramelized onions and peanuts.

A vat of couscous covered in caramelized onions and peanuts. Our 12-person table made it through about half the plate.

The family embraced us as soon as they saw us, kiss-kissed us on either side of our cheeks and was all aflutter at seeing Ada again, who was a student in the study abroad program they ran. After dinner, one man brought out a guitar and sang traditional Moroccan songs, and then all the women sang and danced together in the middle of the room (and made us join, of course).

Ada told me that she guessed that 90 percent of Moroccan families get together for couscous every Friday. That degree of devotion to family and tradition is something you’d never find in America, she said, and it’s a huge part of what she loves about Morocco. “Moroccans have a very different sense of time and priorities, in which 4pm tea and Friday couscous are normally at the top,” she joked.

It’s a country where 98 percent of people are Muslim – the first we’d visited on SAS – and everything from our greetings to the way we handled business was carried out through that lens. “Islam makes everything calmer and more comfortable,” Ada said. In her exchanges with taxi drivers and vendors, the conversation (in either French or Arabic) would include phrases like ‘Bismallah’ (in God’s name) and “Insha’Allah’ (God willing). “When we’ve established a mutual belief in God, it establishes trust,” she said. “We raise the conversation to a whole new plane by acknowledging that we both believe in the same God, and that he ultimately controls our conversation.”

Though it’s a country of 33 million people, the use of faith as part of identity creates a tight-knit community vibe amongst Moroccans. But that doesn’t mean it’s closed – with the current tumult in eastern Africa, Morocco is becoming the new Egypt for foreign visitors to the continent. It’s one of the few predominantly Muslim countries that U.S. citizens, and citizens from anywhere in the world, can, easily and safely, visit.

A picture of the Hassan II mosque, the third largest mosque in the world, behind the mosques in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia.

The Hassan II mosque, the third largest mosque in the world, behind the mosques in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia.

Later in the week, Ada and I caught a train to Marrakech, the cultural capital of Morocco. Today the town is largely a mecca for tourists, but that’s because it really is a cultural hub with its tanneries, carpet stores, snake charmers, food and street entertainment that lasts late into the night. Visitors can take a camel trek to the Sahara desert nearby, or go hiking though the Atlas Mountains just on the horizon. But my favorite part of the city was navigating through the winding medina of the old city. Built with towering walls, skinny passageways, dead ends, and majestic doors concealing all sorts of secrets, it’s the kind of maze you read about in books.

A picture of a young man standing in an alley in Morocco.

At the center of the medina was a town square where the activity happens – markets, restaurants and street entertainment open at all hours. Ada and I spent an hour one night watching a man who had placed a rooster, with a dove sitting on its back, on top of his head, and was singing and dancing around in a circle as musicians with tambourines and guitars cheered him on. It was even more of a ridiculous scene when he invited us to come up and dance too – and we broke out moves we had learned in Ghana!

A picture of dried fruit for sale at night in the Marrakech medina square.

Dried fruit for sale at night in the Marrakech medina square.

Heading back on the train that next morning, I thought about how Morocco was our last port, our last stop in Africa, and how boarding the ship today would mark the final time we would return to sea. Once again, it had been unlike any country I’d visited so far, and I’d learned more than I ever thought I’d know about Morocco, or even an Arabic-speaking country. And with that, we had only four more days to London.

How the Class of 2014 Felt at Final Exercises


This is how the University of Virginia’s Class of 2014 felt during Valediction and Final Exercises this weekend, as recorded by the U.Va. Instagram account.

Draft Day Reactions: Four Cavaliers NFL Bound

This weekend, the University of Virginia football program continued a 31-year streak of having at least one player selected in the NFL Draft. This year, Morgan Moses, Brent Urban and Luke Bowanko heard their names called and Jake Snyder signed a free agent contract. Here’s how they reacted on Twitter (and bonus U.Va. points to Brent Urban for quoting Edgar Allan Poe):

Semester at Sea: Going Ghana

A picture of a sign at the end of a trail in Kakum National Park, Ghana, that reads, "You survived. Please hand over your badge here. Good bye."

Editor’s Note: Lauren Jones, a third-year student majoring in English and Economics, is on Semester at Sea this spring and has agreed to blog about her experience. Catch up with her previous entries here.

A picture of Ghanaian children.

Ghanaian children.

Coming out of uber-European South Africa, Ghana was a whole different world. Since Myanmar, the countries we’d been visiting – India, Mauritius, South Africa – had been getting progressively wealthier; but when we landed in a place where most people in the city are living in one or two-room shacks, you’re reminded again that most of the world doesn’t look like Europe.

Ghana is FULL of color. Women in bright clothes and bold patterns walk along the roadsides, balancing bowls on their heads with goods inside for sale. Kids are everywhere, too: babies slung around their mothers’ backs and groups of school-age children walking adorably in their matching uniforms. It’s tropical, hot and muggy, with wonderful, heavy food (I ate my weight in plantains). And everything runs on Africa time, i.e. the bus will get here …when it gets here.

A picture of a man seated at a table with colorful bowls filled with water for hand washing.

The first thing our waitress put on our table was a bottle of soap and two bowls filled with warm water – for us to wash our hands! I ordered fufu, a ball of dough that Ghanaians eat with their hands and then rinse at the dinner table.

People here love to sing, and as you can imagine, Ghana’s got the bongo-music scene on lock. But when Ghanaian guys discovered that I was from the States, they would immediately start throwing out American rap lyrics (“You know Lil’ Wayne, yah?!”). True cross-cultural bonding thanks to Weezy, check.

The most impactful part of Ghana for me was the day I visited the former slave castles in Cape Coast and Elmina. It’s one thing to read about slavery in a textbook, but another to experience buildings that, at one time, were shipping 60 percent of slaves from Africa to Europe and the New World.

A picture of the "Door of No Return" shown in shadows.

The “Door of No Return” led to waiting ships on the coast, where enslaved Africans who had already spent months in the dark would be packed and transported out of Africa forever.


A picture of Elmina slave castle in South Africa.

Inside the Elmina slave castle. The castle acted as a depot where captured slaves from the African interior were brought and sold to Portuguese traders.

I walked through the dungeons where hundreds of African people were packed in and abused for months; saw the chambers where they’d be sent to starve and die; and climbed to the top of the lookout towers to see the coastline that was once filled with cargo ships. It’s hard to describe how haunting, and surreal it was to be in this place with this history, now empty and hollow.

The castles were powerful places to visit, but Ghana is definitely a different place today than it was 300 years ago. I also trekked through the rainforest, where, I enjoyed seeing this sign at the end of one trail at Kakum National Park:

I also spent a day learning how to drum and dance with a university performing arts troupe. My acting class is studying how other cultures use the performing arts to tell their stories, so in Ghana, naturally, we learned about music. No photos, but the performance that the troupe and my class put on for the shipboard community later on was packed and tons of fun, I promise. I love that for all of these countries we’re able to bring a little piece of it back with us, whether it’s a souvenir or a song!

A picture of a sign at the end of a trail in Kakum National Park, Ghana, that reads, "You survived. Please hand over your badge here. Good bye."