Monday, January 18, 2010

SASiversary: 5 Years Later

Though I would be hard pressed to tell you how the hell it happened, five years have passed since I boarded the MV Explorer in Vancouver and set sail on Semester at Sea. Five years! Certainly someone hit the fast forward button….because there is no other explanation for how five years has passed in what often feels like the blink of an eye.

Somewhat recently I “rediscovered” a blog I kept in the months leading up to my voyage and the months after I came home. It’s not like I ever forgot it existed, I just hadn’t gone through it and read it in a long time. To describe it in a word…ANGST. Hahaha. I was pretty messed up and SASsick when I got home and I did a lot of venting.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

“It was hot today...but it was nothing like the stifling heat and humidity of India. It rained today...but there is no comparison to the sudden downpours of Brazil. I heard someone laugh today...but it sounded hollow when compared to the beauty and innocence of the orphans' laughter in Kenya. I had ice cream today...but somehow it didn't taste as good as the ice cream we rushed to consume as we headed back to the ship in Vietnam. We talked about Venezuela in Spanish class today...but the conversation couldn't embody the feeling of tension when talking about politics, or the beauty of the cloud forest and coastlines. I wore a red SAS shirt today...but the color means nothing here when contrasted with the immense ideals it embodies in China. I looked out at the Pennsylvania mountains today...but they are really just hills when I remember the ascent up South Africa’s Table Mountain. I climbed steps today...but it wasn't that hard because they weren't moving underneath me. I looked at water today...but it seems ordinary when it isn't the only thing you can see out your window. I learned about ethnocentrism and globalization today...but my teacher lacked the passionate, poetic words of Fessler. I slept today...but my bed was without that gentle and hypnotic rocking motion that lulled me to sleep. I missed the ship more today than yesterday...but I am sure I'll miss it more tomorrow.”

Coming back from SAS is like a bad break up. People outside the relationship can’t understand and you feel whiny when you talk about it, but it’s insanely difficult. You’ve spent a hundred days with this core group of people, sharing some profoundly life changing experiences. How do you explain how your heart broke when you turned away from the maimed and begging children in India? Or how it healed when you volunteered in the townships in South Africa? Then there's that little thing we like to call Wave Day.  Some of the stories just sound flat out dumb to people who weren’t there. I mean, it’s impossible to describe how hilarious the Dong Diaries were, or how Larry Meredith cemented his place in your heart by trying to perform an exorcism on a faulty LCD projector in Hong Kong. Or how right then, in that moment on Neptune Day, it seemed crazy NOT to shave your head. The pages covered in hangman games or haiku notes just won’t mean the same thing to you as it does to me. And staging a coup on the smoking deck after a little too much ron (yeah, I mean ron)? There are no words.

Me, Larry Meredith, and Lyndsay

Erin says goodbye to her mohawk on Neptune Day.

There is still stuff that brings back a flood of memories with just the slightest provocation. I hear Madonna’s “Like A Prayer,” and it reminds me of the day in Kenya when I stood with the Bus 5 Crew, heads out of the pop-top safari van, wind whipping through our hair, singing at the top of our lungs and laughing until we cried. I see an article about political changes occurring in Venezuela, and instantly I am back in Caracas, sharing a pitcher of sangria with Pat Meredith after a day at the cloud forest. I check the time, and for just a second I don’t see my watch, but the watch whose seconds are marked by Mao’s waving hand that I bought off a guy in the Summer Palace (who, by the way, totally traded me a good 100RMB bill for a fake one…a mistake I will never make again). I see a roasted chicken and I think of the ones Lyndsay and I bought for the little boy in Capetown who was begging for money to feed his family (and we won’t even get into the hour long conversation with the homeless couple when we were stranded outside the District 6 Museum). I see a kid wearing a soccer jersey and I can feel the rain pouring down on us as we screamed our throats raw at the soccer game in Salvador. I see a window and for a second, I’m back in our room on the ship, sitting in our window seat, watching the waves at night…stunned (like I always was) but the vastness of the ocean. On warm days the sun hits my face and transports me right back to deck 7 starboard side, laying on a recliner with my iPod playing as we “studied” for some upcoming test or assignment.

Pop-topped on the Kenyan plains.

Deck 7 Starboard!  This was our turf!

Thursday, September 8, 2005

“I spent
so much time in
places around the world...
I wish that I was anywhere
but here.

I found
new homes on each
continent, and now the
home I grew up with doesn't seem
to fit.

I miss
the feeling of
the waves. the adventure
of waking up each morning with
new eyes.“

(Uhh, can you tell we had just learned about cinquain poems in Language and Litteracy?)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

“I yearn for the ship and the life I lead on SAS. Miss, want and wish for are all too trite of a description for the deep and passionate way that I yearn for the simplest and most common things and the specific things I don't know if I'll ever experience again. Someone saying "May I have your attention please, may I have your attention please." Fessler's rhythmic speech that hypnotizes you into believing that you aren't actually learning. Waking up in a new place: be it a new continent, country, timezone, hemisphere or ocean. Hearing the quiet stories and giggles of groups sharing stories as you walk through the piano lounge late at night. Times when there was actually nothing on television. Standing on a street corner absolutely immersed in a foreign culture; the sounds, the sights, the smells, everything. Hearing children laugh in a dozen languages. Seeing the sunrise on places I've only dreamed of. Knowing that if I stretched my arm out as far as I could, I could TOTALLY touch that lion. People who welcomed me into their homes with an open mind, open arms and open heart. Teachers who had so little, yet managed to impact more lives than most teachers here could imagine. Children who put on the same torn clothes and walk barefoot to school, so eager to learn and to inspire pride in their families. I could go on for ages.”

Caitlin, Ari and Erin chilling in our room.
You know how I know this was pre Wave Day?  Drawers are taped shut so they wouldn't wake us up banging open and shut on rough seas at night.

Some of the stuff I wrote about in the journal was just downright surprising to read five(+) years later. For instance, on July 24, 2005, I posted a link to Footprints Recruiting’s Korea section with the words “When I read this website, I feel like I finally have something to look forward to when I graduate college. This is what I am going to do when I get out of school.” If you had asked me last spring during the application process for SMOE if I’d ever done research on teaching in Korea before, I would have said that I’d done a little, but nothing too concrete. I do not remember ever having looked at Footprint’s site before last year. Crazy.

On Wednesday, August 18, 2004 I posted the SAS field programs I had signed up and gotten approved for. I was blown away when I read this to see, listed under Korea, “Haeinsa Temple and Daegu.” Whaaat? That is where we went on our temple stay. Four and half years after the first time I was supposed to visit! That’s fate man. (Fate to do what, exactly, I’m not sure. Fate to have my legs hurt for a week after? Fate to throw up from flu medication at 4:00am behind a Buddhist temple? Fate to be there when a GIRL FELL OFF A CLIFF? Perhaps I was fated to meet that awesome monk Jason, haha.)

Anyway, I can’t believe it’s been five years. And now here I sit in Korea, one of the great lost ports, fairly content with my life. The last five years have certainly had their ups and downs, but I can’t complain. And some day, I’ll be back on that ship setting sail on another adventure of a lifetime. You can bet your SAS.


Now for a Korea related update. The past two weeks have been relatively uneventful. I worked camp at Aju from 9:00am-1:00pm every day. The commutes were horrendous (Green Line sucks ALL THE TIME, but it was definitely made worse by the snow that made roads impassable). I did lots of fun activities with my kids (cause, duh, I’m awesome…) including a bunch based around the “If You Give A…” books. At the end of last week kids had to write their own stories which turned out pretty hilarious. I’ll see if I can find a good way to display them on here. On Friday, as kind of a celebration that we made it through the weeks, we made pancakes (and we made them look like pigs as a little shout out to “If You Give A Pig A Pancake”). Uhhh, I flipped over 120 pancakes on Friday and when I got home I was DEAD. But it was a lot of fun and the kids really enjoyed themselves.

Cecily with pig. (No idea where she got the name Cecily.)

Hans with pig. (But here they say Han-suh.)

Julie pouring her pig's head.

Julie with completed pig.

Little Kevin with his pig.

Rachel with her surprised pig.

Love Teddy's pig's raisin ears.

Lion and Smith making their pigs.  (Yes.  Lion and Smith.)

Ambivalent pig close up.

Happy pig close up.

On Thursday after camp I met up with Dana and her friend Aaron to hit the dog cafĂ© for a bit in Hongdae before making our way to the Czech Visitors’ Center where we were meeting Natasha. Why, pray tell? Because in order to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the iron curtain falling in the former Czechoslovakia, they were hosting a movie series about various communist countries around the world. This movie was a Czech documentary about a group of Czech tourists visiting North Korea. It was interesting and intermittently annoying. We were the only ones there so we had free range to pause it when someone had to go to the bathroom and talk during it, which was really nice. They have some other movies on the Congo and Nepal that we might go back for. As long as the annoying guy with sideburns from the tour group in the North Korea movie isn’t on the others, haha. After the movie, Dana, Aaron and I went out for some delicious chicken fried rice and I headed home. This Sunday, Dana, Natasha and I met up in southern Seoul (“I didn’t even KNOW there was a pink line!” –Dana Lee) for an international photography exhibit. I wondered why it had been so difficult to get directions to this crazy huge shopping complex (it’s like 4x the size of COEX!) and upon arrival I realized it was because they aren’t open yet! That worked out well for the exhibit as there was plenty of room to display all the photos. It was pretty sweet. The theme was crossing reality and fiction through the use of digital art, etc. There were some riveting prints.  After the photography exhibit we walked around near the Olympic Park World Peace Gate for a bit before coming back to my aptment where we watched a movie (read: Natasha and Dana napped while I watched Stick It) and had pancakes for dinner.  It was a quality relaxing day.

Crazy circular picture.

Fish made out of other pictures.

Pieced together.

Terrifying Stepford children whose noses had been shrunk and eyes had been made larger.

World Peace Gate and a skating rink.

Flags in the snow.

Dana dressed like an eskimo stealing a toy gun from a young Korean child.
Today I started winter camp at my school. In the ridiculously tiny hoodie. It’s nice to see some of my kids again and I am split over two classes- one with kids I don’t teach yet because they’re too young and one with kids I do teach. It’s nice to have some new faces. And my co-teacher/team teacher, Min Hee seems pretty cool and definitely easy to work with. My only concern was that what they planned today (an 8 question interview activity) was sooooooooo not enough to fill up 40 minutes so I’ll have to be careful in the future and be ready with some fillers. And we made Peppero and the chocolate had hardened up by the end so that sucked for the last kids. But it was still tasty.


Haha, you can see that the chocolate was less cooperative for these two.

So LITTLE!  And adorable.

Messy like whoa.

Probably the most exciting thing that happened since I last wrote is that I found out Jo Anna is coming to visit! She arrives Friday night (Jan 22) and leaves the following Thursday afternoon (Jan 28). I am beyond excited and I have planned out quite the whirlwind tour. The theme is: You Can Sleep On Modes of Transportation. Hahaha, we are squeezing a lot in and I am pumped to introduce her to Korea. Plus she’s bringing me some stuff from the states to I don’t have to pay to have it shipped here and that makes her even more golden in my book. Ok, that’s all for now.

I think you know how we do, but in case there was any you go. This is how Jo Anna and I party.  LOL

PSA- If you haven’t voted for Pencils of Promise yet, please do so now! It would really mean a lot to me.


  1. I have the same difficulty expressing my Washington experience from last year.
    unless you were there, you just CAN'T get it.


    <3 shannon

    ps: I want to eat "ambivalent pig".

  2. WOW I can't believe its been 5 years. I remember being a freshman and getting a postcard from you in Japan when you were on SAS! Those pigs are insanely cute. :)

  3. I also just saw this: and thought it might be worth you checking out for more Seoul-y things! :)