Blog: Semester at Sea (Wednesday, Jan. 2)

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.


– Mao writes: Wednesday, Jan. 2 – Mao writes: Saturday, Dec. 30 – Mao writes: Tuesday, Dec. 28      

– Mao writes:
 Thursday, Dec. 23 

– Lister writes: Wednesday, Dec. 22      

- Mao writes:
 Tuesday, Dec. 21 

- Lister writes: Monday Dec. 20

- Mao writes: Sunday, Dec. 19

- Mao writes: Friday, Dec. 17

- Lister writes: Wednesday, Dec. 15

Mao writes:

Wednesday, Jan. 2

So it’s finally the end. Our last trip onto shore, and our second to last day at sea. It went by so quickly and at the same time I feel like I’ve been on this boat forever, and I don’t mind. We’ve made full-circle back to Mexico; this time we are on the Caribbean side on the island of Cozumel. It was here that Cortes first found La Malinche, who would be his translator for his endeavor into Mexico. 

I was sick with gastrointestinal symptoms for a few days. About six students and a chaperone were all sick with the same. Nonetheless, nothing would get in my way of going out of the last trip. After a bit of a lateness obstacle, Chloe and I rushed out to join our group boarding a bus. We would be taking a bus tour of Cozumel and then stopping at Puntamarena beach for a break.

Our first stop was a little museum of the history of Cozumel and Mexico. Inside were native pieces of art and a video advertising Mexico. Outside, there was a pathway filled with miniature models of Mayan architecture and Mexican landmarks. Unfortunately, I had to go with a few other sick comrades to lie down near the bus as we were all feeling sick and missed most of the explanations. It was thankfully over quickly and we set out in the bus. The guide, Nacho, would narrate to us all the greenery or buildings we passed, and we stopped at the famous Lookout. Huge corals rose out of the ground in mounds near the ocean where the water had receded.

We ran around the area before Adam called me over to point out a blowhole in the coral. A blowhole resembles a geyser in the way it shoots up water, but the blowhole was caused by the waves coming in spewing out with a gust of wind. I’m not exactly sure how it works, but it was just fun to stand in front of the blowhole and wait for the water to explode out of the ground. We didn’t spend much time here; we moved onto a little shopping area quickly.

The goods were cheap at the tiny market, but Chloe and I were both  out of money, so we went to a little playground behind the bus with seesaws and swings. Needless to say, I should not have gone of the swings with a stomach problem. But it was still enjoyable.

Finally, we reached Puntarenas. All the students were given free drink cards and Tayla, Kaylen, Chloe and I immediately hit the hammocks. After lying there for a good half an hour, Tayla and I decided it was time to try the water. Everyone else was already in, bodysurfing, boogieboarding, or just trying not to get carried away by the strong sweeping current. The waves were very large and strong, perfect for body surfing, but too small for real surfing.

The water was so salty it stung our eyes. We could taste the salt in the air. After playing around for a while, we returned to the sand for more relaxation. Tayla and I tried to play a little bit of beach volleyball, but it was just too much of a lazy day. All in all, it was just like another day at the beach, only better because it was Mexico.

It wasn’t anything relating to the authentic Mexican experience, but I think that at this point we were all worn out. It was fantastic to just relax for once.

As we all went back, it finally struck us that this really was the end. Our land excursions were over. We would not be exploring the world as a group again. These 31 other people that I had just began to experience new cultures with would once again go to their respective homes, and I probably wouldn’t see them for a while.

I can’t believe it’s done and I can’t believe that now, I’m back home.Home was the MV Explorer for three short weeks. Going out was going to a foreign country and experiencing new cultures and a new language. People on the ship warned us of “reverse culture shock”, or the shock a person feels when they return home and realize their everyday life isn’t as fast-paced and new everyday. I haven’t felt it yet, what with junior year and all, but I do miss everything about the trip very much. There was so much more to do, so much more to see, so much more to experience. But at the same time, I can’t even believe I did so much. I was so lucky to have been able to take this trip, regardless of the expense of catching up with schoolwork or missing the holidays.

A theme that came up throughout the trip was “no regrets”. Nothing captures the trip for me more so than that. Even though I was beaten down mentally by a hard-balling Guatemalan child selling me scarves, I don’t regret buying anything because it was a new experience and a new lesson learned. When everyone doubted if they should try a new food or drink, someone would just say “No regrets!” and we would all laugh and try whatever it was, knowing that each risk was worth taking. When any mistake was made, a lesson could be learned for the future. No regrets. I’ll never regret this trip, I’ll never regret traveling and I’ll never regret taking a leap of faith and doing something completely out of my comfort zone because I know that something good will come of it.

What could I say I learned? I learned that fresh tortillas are a hundred times better than bagged ones and monkeys will steal your ice cream. I learned that dance, music, soccer and money are all part of a vast universal language and that you don’t need to speak the same language to get along (although it does help). I learned that traveling is a key part of learning about yourself and others. I learned facts about countries and feelings that a scene could evoke in me. I learned a new lifestyle, a new culture and a new state of mind.

I’ll miss everything about the trip, but I’ll revisit my three week home, the MV Explorer, again soon enough. The full college Semester at Sea will be waiting for me when I graduate and I can’t wait to walk up the gangway and back into my second home.