LIVE BLOG: Semester at Sea (Wednesday, Dec. 22)

Chronicle Staff

A group of Harvard-Westlake students, accompanied by chaplain Fr. J. Young, are testing the waters of the Semester at Sea program, which is opening up to high school students. The group is part of an inaugural two-week Panama Canal cruise over winter break. Usually, students would spend an entire semester at sea. The group left on Wednesday, Dec. 15.

Chloe Lister ’12 and Vivien Mao ’12 are two of the Harvard-Westlake students who are trying out a two-week version of the Semester at Sea, which is going to be opened to high school students for the first time. They are blogging for the Chronicle about their trip.

Lister writes:

Wednesday, Dec. 22

Today at 8 a.m. we docked in Corinto, Nicaragua and departed shortly afterwards on a bus to the city of León, where we had signed up for the “Art and History” trip.


After about an hour, we stepped out of the bus into a city vastly different than any we had been to so far. The buildings were colonial-styled and painted bright shades of pink, red and green. Six volcanoes circled the town’s perimeter in the distance, constantly puffing what Gabby, a girl from a boarding school in Hawaii, called “vog” or volcano fog.


We filed into what our guide explained was the house of Rubén Darío, who is called the father of modern Spanish literature, before launching into a lecture about his life and works. It was an interesting topic and the house was beautiful, but I felt like I would have enjoyed it more if I were there on my own learning, instead of having the information fed to me.


We left the house and walked down a couple of the small, quaint streets to what our guide claimed was the “best art museum in Nicaragua.” As someone who likes to think that they appreciate art, I was impressed by the collection; although it may not have been as big as, say, the Norton Simon or an equivalent museum back home, it was the largest collection of solely Central American work that I’ve ever seen, and I was very impressed with a lot of the pieces. However, I frequently felt as if I was being rushed past Picasso’s because I was on someone else’s schedule.

It’s not that I’m not grateful for this experience, but I have to admit, I hate feeling like I’m a tourist. When I go to a new place, I like to discover the sights and people for myself, instead of feeling like I’m having my opinion crafted for me by a tour guide. 

Finally, we walked two more blocks to León’s Cathedral of the Assumption. After learning about the cathedral’s significance in the 18th century, we were allowed to ascend several flights of stairs all the way up to the roof. My favorite part of the day was very possibly getting to climb among the towers and see the panoramic view of the whole city, volcanoes puffing away in the distance and all.

After being told we needed to leave the cathedral, we wandered the town square until it was time for our bus to leave. Vivien and I stopped for a snack at a cart run by two girls who spoke close to no English, but told us that they were selling dulce de leche, which is basically milk caramel, over ice in Styrofoam cups. We decided that the adventurousness outweighed the sketchiness of the situation (we had been told to be wary of water in every city we had been to so far) and purchased two for the Cordoba equivalent of one dollar.

We then hurried to our bus, eager to try our food and equally surprised how long it had taken to negotiate for them, given the girls’ limited English combined with our equally limited Spanish.

Luckily, our treats were delicious and my stomach hasn’t suffered any repercussions so far. For me, instances like those have been the most successful so far: the times when I feel like I’m actually experiencing something authentic and learning about culture and people in a way I never could in a by writing a paper or listening to a lecture.