BLOG: Semester at Sea (Friday, Dec. 29)

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:

Friday, Dec. 29

We spent today on the island of Roatan, Honduras, and all traces of the undesirable weather have disappeared. For today’s excursion, we were split up into our “pods,” assigned groups consisting of a mix of students from each school. On the agenda was a visit to a government-run day care center and a zip line tour through part of the island’s jungle.

We had already visited an orphanage while we were in Costa Rica, so I thought Roatan’s day care facility would be similar.


I was completely wrong. The orphanage in Costa Rica seemed to be staffed by lazy and inattentive caretakers and run out of a house that seemed far too small to fit the amount of children that it housed. On the other hand, the Honduras day care center was large, modern, and well staffed by people who seemed to genuinely care about the children there.

When we first walked into the day care center, we were greeted by about 10 teenage girls, all of whom immediately stood up upon seeing us, taking us in their arms and giving us each a kiss on the cheek. 

I’m not necessarily an affectionate person, so, at first, the custom caught me more than a little off guard, but soon enough the smiling girls made me feel comfortable, and I was greeting each of them with the little Spanish I know.We were then led upstairs, where the younger children, whose ages ranged from about four to 10, performed some songs that they had learned for us. Afterwards we were allowed to play with them for the time we had left before we had to go to the zip line.

I love children, and count this as probably one of my favorite experiences of the trip. With children, it doesn’t matter that you don’t share the same spoken language; the languages created by bubbles, soccer, frisbees and coloring are far easier and more enjoyable anyway. We got in some solid playing time, and I’m even now returning home with a drawing that a girl named Emily told me she wanted me to keep.


Next up was zip-lining, which is definitely something I would categorize as a new and different experience that I’ve had on this trip. At home I’m not usually one to do extreme or adventurous things like zip-lining, and it’s not something I would’ve signed up for given the choice. However, I’m more than glad that I wasn’t given that option because I had an amazing time. The trees became giant green blurs to either side of me as I sped past them on each line, until finally, I saw the giant expanse of turquoise ocean stretch out in from of me.

During the ride back to our bus, a few friends and I were allowed to sit in the back of a pickup truck. Although I was kind of afraid of falling out on the bumpy unpaved road, we really got to appreciate how beautiful a country Honduras is, laughing together with the wind whipping at our hair. Roatan has the quintessential island feel to it; everywhere we went, we could see and smell the ocean, and there was never a lack of foliage. Every local we encountered was laid back and cheerful. Several people on our trip commented that they would have no qualms about sticking around there a few more days.

We were allowed to stay in the port a few extra hours when we got back, so, as usual, we immediately embarked to find food. Yesterday we had been told that the dish the country is best known for is iguana, which was said to taste remarkably like chicken. So that was exactly what we set off to find.

We quickly found a restaurant advertising the fact that iguana was their specialty. I’m a pescetarian, but, not knowing where reptiles fall as far as things I can eat, I decided to stick to being adventurous for the day and order it. 

Despite having enough bones to construct an entire iguana skeleton, being one of the spiciest dishes I’ve had in Central America and the fact that the lizard’s skin was served with the meal, I was actually quite fond of iguana.

As cheesy as it sounds, I think that’s a really good metaphor for this trip as a whole. Sure, there may be some bones, and it’s annoying when they come up. But all in all, it was an adventurous thing to try and it has been completely worth it.