London in the fall 2017

David Arias
London, 2017

First Entry

I’m David Arias, an international student from Colombia at H-SC, and I decided to study abroad at University College London for the fall semester of my junior year. When looking for study abroad opportunities (H-SC offers many) I kept in mind that I wanted to keep improving my English and study at a school as different as possible from what H-SC had to offer, not because I didn’t like H-SC, but because I wanted to challenge myself and experience new things. UCL appeared as the perfect option because it offered me a 40,000 student population university, located in Central London, with a wide range of departments and courses I could choose from, which at the same time, was ranked among the top ten schools in the world. After a demanding application process, I was accepted at UCL last spring, and I started preparing for this great opportunity.

University College London

University College London

After four months of preparation, in which I worked for a while and then visited my family and friends back home, I’m finally here in London, staying at one of UCL’s housing facilities, which is five minutes away walking from Buckingham Palace, and I couldn’t be happier to be writing this entry. It’s already time to register for courses, or how Brits call it, modules. Registering for classes at UCL is not as easy as waking up at 5:30 a.m. and registering for classes on Tigerweb using an Econ Lab computer. Here, affiliates (exchange students) have to contact the equivalent to a Department Chair and ask for available courses for affiliates and general approval before registering on Portico (the equivalent to Tigerweb) for courses. It’s not been an ideal process, as I have to take a certain amount of credits in order to graduate on time but, the availability of courses, along with kindness UCL faculty and staff embody, keep me optimistic that I’ll be able to take the courses I want to take and the ones that will eventually transfer to an H-SC transcript.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Apart from the registration process mess, I’ve also been able to tour the city and visit iconic places in London. Big Ben was the first one on my to-do list, and after two days of orientation with the agency that helped me in coming to London, I went to have a couple of drinks with a friend next to the Thames, at a bridge where we could appreciate the London Eye and the Big Ben at the same time. It was definitely a great feeling to realize that the period of preparation and stressful pre-departure from Colombia was finally over. And, I was now on to the exciting part of this new semester-long adventure, as the Big Ben and the London Eye were there, next to one of my closest friends, welcoming me to this great city that’s got lots to offer, and that I hope I’ll take advantage of through my time here. On the list, there is still a lot to do, as I have to visit Tower Bridge, the National Museums, and Buckingham Palace, not mentioning Camden Market and the different Football (soccer) Stadiums, which are really famous places here in London.

“Bon Voyage” 2017

SAS 2017
Shemar Blakeney

I chose to participate in the Semester at Sea Program because I will be able to travel to multiple countries instead of just one. Even though I will not be able to immerse myself as deeply as other study abroad programs, I have the opportunity to go experience a lot of different cultures.
I am extremely excited to visit South Africa and Japan; however, I am looking forward to traveling to all of the countries. I want to put meaning and faces to all of the places I have read and learned about in books. Also, I want to try the different foods in all of the places.
I am nervous that I will accidentally offend someone due to my own culture. Also, I am a little nervous that I will not be able to gain the global experience as I would if I would have participated in a traditional study abroad program.
I want to meet people from all of the countries and gain personal insight into their world. I want to see the world through their eyes and gain understanding into the true global world and not just my own single-viewed world.
So far, I have visited Hamburg, Germany; Barcelona, Spain; and Valencia, Spain. All of these places have their own unique atmosphere and people.
In Germany, I visited a local jazz restaurant and attended a local concert, and they were both spectacular with great music. I could feel the people coming together to listen to the music and enjoy life.
In Barcelona, I visited the Gothic Square where they had old architecture and statues. Gothic refers to the style and type of architecture of the buildings from a specific period in history.
In Valencia, I visited the Largest Aquarium in Europe called the Oceanografic! The Oceanografic was filled with sharks, crocodiles, seals, dolphins, beluga whales, and many different types of fish. Also in Valencia, I saw extraordinary types of artwork and buildings. They were unbelievable.
It is truly an experience to communicate with people in a different language. I have experienced some difficulty in understanding languages, but the barriers can be broken with a little practice and patience. I have spoken some Spanish to the locals to order food. It is helpful that a lot of the locals know some form of English, so together we can build an understanding with each other. Also, it is just fun to try to speak in another language to the locals, respectfully of course. The ship is filled with people from ALL OVER THE WORLD. I have made friends with people from Puerto Rico, China, Philippines, and Iceland. It is very interesting and enjoyable to talk with others and hear their way of life, and how they feel about our cultures.
I have tried some interesting food in Spain. I had a particular dish containing squid, cuttlefish, muscles, whole shrimp (with the head still attached) on top of noodles and vegetables. It was Spectacular and Delicious!

“Bon Voyage” 2017

Greetings from 38° 54.34’ N 009° 51.47’ W!

Tillmon Cook

Since my last blog post I have been to three different ports including Cape Town, South Africa, Tema, Ghana, and Casablanca, Morocco. All three of these places have been incredibly different and each have their own culture. In addition to time in port, ship life has been really fun as well. There was a crew talent show that was phenomenal! Who would’ve known that the people on our ship’s crew were so talented! Also, everybody that was on the ship became Emerald Shellbacks. If you don’t know what that is, an Emerald Shellback is a person that crosses the point 0° N and 0° E by ship. And, if anyone ever asks, there actually IS a buoy that marks the center of the world.

South Africa was amazing, but unfortunately, I didn’t immerse myself into the culture like I had wanted to. Like many others on the ship, I did a lot of adventurous things. The first day was spent exploring the city. We went to various restaurants and bought good food.

Table Mountain

 

 

The next day, I hiked Table Mountain with a group of friends and spent the rest of the day laying on the Beach in Camp’s Bay.

 

 

A new friend.

A new friend

On the third day, I was lucky enough to sign up for a field program that traveled to a township.  This trip was extremely eye opening because it uncovered the sad inequality between races in South Africa. The legacy of apartheid is still extremely visible in South Africa, and affects millions of people.  In the township, we visited an orphanage, afterschool program called Happy Feet, and took a bike tour.

SLR Pic 0133

Birds-eye view of South Africa

 

The following days consisted of adventure. The third and fourth day consisted of sandboarding in sand dunes and skydiving. Both activities were so incredibly fun! If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.

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Awaiting the others

Group

City of Refuge

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Orphanage Library

 

 

I went into Ghana with no plans, and honestly did not have any expectations about what I would see. When we got there, I was extremely overwhelmed with the street vendors trying to pull me into their shop. Moreover, the streets were packed with people due to the market. A couple of my friends and I spent the day walking around Ghana exploring the different shops and tasting Ghanaian chocolate. The next day I was fortunate enough to sign up for a field program called Life of a Fisherman. This program was another eye-opening experience. Our group traveled to a local fishing village and learned the everyday life of someone that lives in the village. We witnessed the men, that had gone out the day before, bring back the fish they had caught during the night. Next, we walked around the village and saw how everyone lived. This was extremely difficult to observe because of how different the culture is. For instance, I saw a man hit a woman and nobody did anything about it to stop him. I can’t explain how hard it was to watch the man’s actions. Our tour ended and I spent the rest of the day relaxing on the ship. On the third day, I had another field program called City of Refuge. City of Refuge is an orphanage that rescues children from slave trafficking. We attended a church service with the children, took a tour of the facilities, and spent the rest of the day playing soccer. I now know why Ghanaians are so in shape. It was close to 103° F and we played for almost two hours straight. Needless to say, I was dead after that game.

Morocco

Morocco

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Hassan II Mosque

After another six days at sea, we ported in our final city, Casablanca, Morocco. Like Ghana, I had no expectations. It’s funny how traveling will do that. I was excited, but I didn’t know what I was excited for. I guess I was at the point where I just want to see what different places have to offer. Our stay was only four days, so that meant we had to be quick about whatever we did. A group of friends and I got off the ship and took a train straight to Marrakech (about three to four hours south of Casablanca). When we stepped out of station and were all mind blown because of the beautiful city. The art and architecture were so unique compared to everywhere else. If I could describe it in words, I would tell you to think about the Disney movie Aladin. The next two days were designated for traveling and a camel trek in the Zagora desert. On the way to the desert we stopped at Aït Ben Haddou. This is an old settlement on the old caravan route from the Sahara to Marrakech. This spot was really cool because there have been a lot of movies shot here. Later, we continued to the Zagora desert for our camel trek. We camped out under the stars, had good food, and talked with many people all around the world. The following day, we drove back to Marrakech (about a ten hour drive), and walked around the city. There were all kinds of street performers and shops set up. On the last day, we travelled to Casablanca and split ways. I walked to the Hassan II mosque. It is the largest mosque in Casablanca and faces with its back against the sea. This was the last thing I did in country, and sadly walked on to the ship I’ve called home for the past four months for the very last time.

I’m currently sailing to the last port of call, Hamburg, Germany. Everyone’s final exams are wrapping up and we’re all preparing to exit the ship and say our goodbyes for the last time. This has been the best voyage of my life and I can confidently say that Semester at Sea is one of the best decisions I’ve made. Moreover, this has been (and probably will be) the most bitter-sweet moment of my life because I have to say goodbye to everyone I’ve become best friends with. I have had the most fun I’ve ever had while traveling, but most importantly, I’ve learned more about myself than I ever have. This voyage is a chance of a lifetime, so if you’re a student and trying to decide if you want to travel abroad for a semester, it WILL be the best decision you have ever made.

“Who got to live this life? For one brief moment, we did my friends… we did.”

-Dan Garvey AKA (Dean Dan)

“Bon Voyage” 2017

Greetings from 28.22° S 37.16° E!

Tillmon Cook

I am approximately 830 nautical miles from Cape Town, South Africa, and I could not be happier to see land. It has been 10 days since I’ve walked on solid ground and I still have another two days to go. Since my last update, I have been to two ports. From Ho Chi Minh City, we sailed to Yangon, Myanmar, and from there my voyage traveled to Cochin, India. We were supposed to sail to Mauritius, but sadly, a lot of difficulties regarding the ship came up so we were not able to port. However, we have had a lot of activity days on the ship. The first was Neptune Day. This is a tradition on Semester at Sea, and it marks the crossing of the equator! The next was the Sea Olympics, and this was various games that the different “seas” (students living in the same area) competed in. My sea didn’t win, but hey, we didn’t come in last either.

Myanmar was amazing and I could not have asked for much better. The first day consisted of a walking around the city of Yangon, and visiting various landmarks. The most famous place we visited was the Shwedagon Pagoda. This is a huge, golden, Buddhist temple that people go to and pray. In fact, there are Pagodas all over the country of Myanmar. The next few days I was on a field program called Undiscovered Myanmar. This trip included visits to Buddhist temples and to various rural villages around the Mon State of Myanmar. On the first day, our group visited the Golden Rock Pagoda. This is a Buddhist temple that is centered around a huge golden rock that is perfectly balanced on top of a mountain. My favorite day, however, was the third day. My group went kayaking, and took a short hike to the top of Kaw Ka Taung mountain. The view from the top was flawless and will most likely be a picture that I’ll always have in my head. Although Myanmar’s port went by way faster than I would have liked it. This country was amazing and so incredibly different than the United States.

The Next port of call was Cochin, India. I didn’t have any particular expectations for India while sailing to the country. However, I was touched in both a positive and negative way. Positively, because India has so much to offer. The people are incredibly nice (if they aren’t trying to bribe you for money), and the landscape is beautiful. I was influenced negatively because of India’s poverty. I was fortunate enough to spend my first day in port at an orphanage. We spent the day playing and dancing with children. I also spent time with the manager of the facility. He told me how he had been struggling with funds and that he would take anything he could get to help the children. This truly broke my heart, but nevertheless, I appreciated every bit of my short time with the kids and I hope that they did as well. The rest of the week was spent with my two friends traveling to New Delhi. We spent a day and went to the Taj Mahal, and now I can confidently tell someone why that is a wonder of the world. It is without doubt the most beautiful structure I’ve ever seen and a true symbol of love. I did learn while I was there that there was supposed to be another monument that mirrored the Taj Mahal, except it was supposed to be black. But because of emperor family drama, it was never constructed.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

I’m so incredibly excited for South Africa because of all the adventurous things it has in store. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing yet, but I know I’ll make memories that will last a life time.

“Bon Voyage” 2017

Greetings from 05°02.61’ N 106°18.37’ E!
Tillmon Cook

Since my last blog post, I have now been to 4 different countries around Asia. From Hawaii, I have sailed across the Pacific to Japan, China, Vietnam, and visited Cambodia for a short time. I am currently sailing from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). I’m very excited about our next port because I know that this country is one of the most undiscovered places around the world!

Port Of Kobe Water Cannon Show

Port of Kobe Water Cannon Show

Kobe Beef

Kobe Beef

A-Bomb Dome

A-Bomb Dome

Sailing the Pacific was definitely an experience. There were days that were calmer than others, but luckily for me, I have a pretty good pair of sea legs. We sailed for ten days straight before we arrived in Kobe, Japan. While our ship was being piloted, we were greeted with a water cannon show from the Japanese coast guard! The Japanese are without a doubt some of the nicest people I have ever met. They are extremely open to foreigners and will go out of their way to help someone in need. While in Japan, I traveled to a different city every day. The first day was our port city, Kobe. Kobe was really cool, and it is most famous for its Kobe beef. Although the price for the beef was ridiculous, I bought some, but it was TOTALLY worth it. The next city I visited was Hiroshima. Hiroshima is a bustling city with many people. My friends and I spent the day walking around and visited the A-Bomb Dome (the only building to survive the Atomic Bomb), and walked around the Peace Park. I never really understood how bad the Atomic Bomb was until I visited the site and saw all of the melted objects that had survived. Following Hiroshima, I traveled to Kyoto, this city is known for its strong Japanese culture. Here you can find different temples and shrines. My friends and I, like Hiroshima and Kobe, spent the day walking around the city visiting different historic spots. Later that night, my roommate and I took a spontaneous trip to Tokyo. We were able to do this with our Japan Rail Pass (If you ever consider visiting Japan, this is a must). In Tokyo, we visited the Emperor’s Palace, the world’s largest fish market, and visited other sites around the city. The final day was spent back in Kobe so that we could make on-ship time. Our next port of call was Shanghai, China.

 

Tiananmen Square

Great Wall of China

After two short days of sailing we arrived in Shanghai. I remember waking up and thinking I was in Tomorrowland from Disney World because the architecture is so mind-boggling. The first day in the city I had a field class that basically toured the city. I wish I could explain how crowded it was, but it’s hard to imagine without being there. Also, we were able to go to the top of Shanghai Tower (second tallest skyscraper in the world). Over the next couple of days, I traveled around Shanghai and also went to a water village about two hours south of the city. The last two days I was a part of a field program that took us to Beijing. While I was there, my field program visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and The Great Wall of China. My favorite, like most people, was The Great Wall. The view from the top was spectacular, and if it wasn’t for the smog I would have been able to see for miles. Speaking of smog, I knew that China’s was bad, but I never would have imagined that I wouldn’t be able to see a building that was only a few blocks away. Anyways, when I got back to the ship I was extremely exhausted from the week I had been thru.

 

 

Ho Chi Minh City

Floating the Mekong River

Floating the Mekong River

The next country that we traveled to was Vietnam.  We ported in Ho Chi Minh City, and during my time in Vietnam, I was a part of a field program called Mekong Exit to Cambodia.  This particular program was packed with activities.  On the first day, my group traveled south from Ho Chi Minh City to another city called Can Tho.  We walked around the city and intermingled with the different markets.  The next morning my group woke up and took a trip on the Mekong River.  Here, we interacted with a floating market.  There were around a hundred large boats selling different fruits and vegetables, none of which looked very sanitary.  We then traveled by bus through rice fieldsIMG_1872 and different villages to the Tra Su forest.  We spent the rest of the day floating around with a guide that navigated his way through the swamp.  The next day, we traveled by boat into Cambodia along the Mekong River.  When we got into Cambodia, we ate lunch and then went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  This was an extremely touching site because this is where thousands of Cambodians lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge in the mid 1970s.  I was fortunate enough to meet one of the eleven survivors named Bou Meng.  After the museum, we traveled to the killing fields.  This place was where the Khmer Rouge brutally killed men, women, and young children.  In fact, this site still has human remains coming up from the ground because of the Earth’s erosion.  After a long and emotional day, my group flew to Siem Reap to spend the night.  After a good night’s rest, we went to a small village to complete a service project.  We spent a few hours learning about the local village (extremely impoverished), and how the organization, HUSK, had been helping the town.  Our job was to make a wall for an elder who could no longer do it herself.  After the construction, we left with warm farewells and traveled to the Temples of Angkor.  These temples are the largest religious monuments in the world and some of the most eye opening structures I’ve ever seen!  After exploring the temples, my group returned to the ship late the next evening and we are now heading for Yangon, Myanmar.

 

 

“Bon Voyage” 2017

Tillmon Cook

Semester at Sea 2017

“My name is Tillmon; I am from a small, rural town outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, but I go to Hampden-Sydney College located in central Virginia.”  This is the line I’ve been saying for the past two weeks while trying meet all the new people that I’ll be spending the rest of four months on a ship with.

semester at sea

MV World Odyssey

I am currently sailing to Kobe, Japan from Honolulu, Hawaii.  I have now been a part of the sea-life for eight days, and even though my voyage has been to one port, I have seen some of the most wonderful and beautiful parts of the earth.

I originally applied for Semester at Sea with uncertain expectations.  I mean, who gets to sail around the world and see the places that you only see on National Geographic while taking classes for school credit?! I’ll be honest, even though I’ve been on the voyage for a little over a week, it still hasn’t settled with me yet.

Like I said earlier, I am traveling from Hawaii to Japan.  I had never been to Hawaii before, but all I know is that I want to go back as soon as possible.  I was lucky enough to have a field class (every class has one of these) that went to the University of Hawaii.  Here, we listened to two environmentalists that spoke with us about Hawaii’s environmental policy.  Their focus was to have freshwater sustainability on the island.  Afterwards, we ate lunch and then traveled to Hanauma Bay.  I was speechless when I saw the landscape.  I had never seen anything more tropical.  I’ve only seen these types of places in pictures!  While we were at the bay, we snorkeled and got to see the different types of marine life.

Hanauma Bay 2 copy

Hanauma Bay

The day came to an end and my roommate and I were standing out on one of the decks.  As the ship began to depart, the reality hit me pretty hard that I wouldn’t see the United States again until I come home (and on the other side).  All I could think was “oh man, I’m actually doing this.”  Nevertheless, I am excited about my voyage, and I hope to learn as much as I can about all the cultures around the world.  Not many people realize that they have a singular view about places.  I know that I am/was like this, so I want to experience first-hand and share my stories with others.

Fun in Hawai

Hanauma Bay

” Bon Voyage”

Semester at Sea 2016

Michael Willis

Neptune Day is a historic maritime tradition. The transformation from pollywogs to shellbacks. This tradition takes place after you cross the equator for the first time aboard a ship. The MV World Odyssey has adapted this tradition to include the tradition of sailors shaving their heads after crossing the equator and being accepted into King Neptune’s court. The ceremony of King Neptune’s court consisted of our ship’s captain, Captain Kostas painting himself green, wearing a Santa beard, and being dressed in traditional ancient Greek regalia. A sailor first started the process of being accepted into King Neptune’s court by being covered in green slime, jumping into the pool, and swimming across the pool. Once the pollywog emerged from the pool they were immediately greeted by a fish which you had to kiss. After kissing the fish you went and paid your respects to King Neptune and kissed his ring. After completing this process you were officially welcomed into King Neptune’s court as shellbacks. To maintain the maritime tradition shellbacks were given the opportunity to go and shave their heads. I took part in this tradition and have since gotten my scalp sunburned. OOPS.

2016 Shellbacks

2016 Freshly Shaven Shellbacks

On March 9th 2016, the MV World Odyssey docked in Port Louis, Mauritius the island nation off the coast of Madagascar, which was once home of the Dodo bird. While on the Island of Mauritius I had my last field lab of the voyage. This field lab was with Intro to Environmental Science. The itinerary for the lab was to hike up La Pluece Mountain the second highest peak on the island, and then go to the Populmous Botanical Garden. This was an adventurous day that would lead to lots of slipping and sliding. It had rained the entire day before on the mountain and the trails were wet, slippery, and extremely muddy. It was a two hour hike up the mountain and an hour to get back down. Following the trail that Charles Darwin took on his trip to the island aboard the Beagle. The view from the top of La Pluece was fantastic. The view looked out on to the “bowl” of the island. This is where some volcanologists believe, was the mouth of the volcano that created the island. On the hike down, there were only one or two people who didn’t slip. The trail had turned into a creek while we were on the top. It had rained on some portions of the lower mountain after we walked through the area. Once we got to the bottom of the mountain, we then boarded our buses and headed to the Botanical Garden for a guided tour of the native and endemic plant species that were found at the garden. This particular garden is revered as the oldest garden in the southern hemisphere. We saw many different species of palms as well, some of these were 30 feet tall with leaves that were five feet across. There were many species of plants that aren’t found in the United States Botanical Gardens, because of the climate and the possibility of invasive species. This made the trip to the botanical garden a very unique one.

“Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea 2016

“O, to die in Cape Town”, said Andy Pringle, the 89 year old gentleman sailing around the world with his family. The MV World Odyssey docked in Cape Town on March 15th 2016. This was the most westernized port we had been to in a very long time. It felt like your typical United States city with its own African flare.  Cape Town is a city where it was easy to find something to do; between exploring the V&A waterfront which was full of local musicians and western chain stores, to hiking table mountain, to having a relaxing afternoon in Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the many extreme sports people participated in, and lastly the fantastic tours of the wine lands.

While I was in Cape Town, I went to the waterfront and found many interesting places to eat and hang out with friends. We also ventured to Long Street, which would have the Richmond equivalent of Cary Street. There, we found a wide array of unique shops and more local eateries. One afternoon my friends and I participated in a wine tour, getting to taste many of the local areas best wines. We even got to try the local specialty. The Pinotage. This is a grape variety that is completely unique to the Cape region. It is a red wine that is sweet and fruity while still maintaining the complexity of a red wine. This trip to wine country happened on the “Hop on, Hop off” tour bus program. A unique tour experience where at any bus stop you can get off and explore the local area then get back on and go find a new place to explore.

The next day, we planned a sunrise hike up Table Mountain. Table Mountain is a very unique mountain, as it is much more like a plateau. It is also one of the most recognizable figures of Cape Town. This was a challenge, but completely worth the adventure. We left the ship at 3 am and started hiking by 4. We hiked up the gorge trail that was expected to take roughly two hours. We stopped along the way to let a group, moving much faster than we were, to pass and after the short stop we all went from our short sleeve shirts to all of the layers we could get on us. It was a bone chilling temperature, with a light mist of rain. When we summited Table Mountain the sun was just starting to rise. Thankfully the table cloth, as the local’s call it, had not yet started to cover the top so we were able to look down on the city of Cape Town as the sun rose. The view from the top was stunning, but the short cable car ride down the mountain was necessary after a long morning of hiking.

 

Table Top Mountain

Table Top Mountain

Table Top Mountain Cable Car

That afternoon, I went with my friends from Canada to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. We wondered around the gardens for hours. Looking at all of the local flora type fynbos. The fynbos variety of plants is very unique and is one of seven floral regions in the world. The plants in this niche have a wide variety of characteristics. They range from small rock plants to small trees. There were many of the flowers in bloom. They all released super strong, sweet odors that could be smelt throughout the garden. They also have a very large collection of cycads. Cycads are a type of tree that was around during the dinosaur era.

On another day exploring Cape Town, we ventured down to see Simons Town in an attempt to go and see the Penguin Colony at the tip of the continent. We unfortunately did not make it to the penguins, but we were able to explore a new town that is still a part of greater Cape Town. We went to the beach, where the water was freezing because it is approaching the early fall in Cape Town, and Antarctica isn’t that far away. We took the train home from Simons Town which saved us lots of money, and made for an interesting adventure. Going from a train station that you walk onto the train from the street, to the Cape Town station that is more like an airport terminal than rail station.

“O, to die in Cape Town” that is the motto we lived by while exploring South Africa. It led us to many great adventures and motivated us to be out of our comfort zone.

“Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea 2016
The country of Myanmar is a beautiful country that has much more to offer than expected. The MV World Odyssey arrived in the industrial port an hour and a half south of the former capitol city Yangon on February 18th 2016. We first got off the ship and boarded a shuttle that would take us into the city center of Yangon. While on the shuttle bus you can see a wide variety of sights. You can see the elegant gold pagodas that litter the country side, back dropped by extreme poverty. You can see the elaborate monasteries, the houses of the wealthy, the poor road conditions that deteriorate daily, the magnificence of the Rangoon River, to the crowded city streets.

Golden Pagodas

Golden Pagodas

Myanmar Countryside

Myanmar Countryside

The country of Myanmar has about 750 thousand people that are religious figures such as monks or nuns. We had the opportunity to have a monk named Unan sail with us from Ho Chi Minh City to Yangon. He taught us many different things about his country and the things that are considered respectful and the things that are highly offensive. This allowed us to make better decisions and hopefully not accidently offend people. Myanmar is also different when it comes to currency exchange. They only want the freshest crispest bills possible. If it is worn or has a mark on it they see it as valueless. Also every USD note has a different exchange rate. The higher denominations getting a higher exchange rate.
On the first day in Myanmar I traveled with a group of three girls to the markets. In a country that has only had ATM’s for a little over a year, there were bound to be a few problems. One of my friends ATM card wouldn’t work at any of the ATM’s so we were sharing money with her all day. When we got to the market we were exploring the different things they had for sale. Myanmar is one of the world’s largest exporters of rubies and the market was dominated by jewelry sellers. There were also a lot of people selling art, lacquerware, and the traditional clothing bottom that is a longi. A longi is similar to a skirt that you have to tie in the front. These are for both men and women and is seen as a sign of masculinity in the culture. Not to mention they are very comfortable in a culture that requires you to wear long pants almost everywhere. We all bought a longi, and at this point two of the girls had run out of money for the day. Since I hadn’t spent as much as the others, I became the bank that people flocked to when they wanted to buy something else.
The next day, I went to the Zoological gardens. This was just a fancy name for the zoo with a garden off in the corner of it. The animals here were different still from the animals in other zoos I have visited to date. They had local bird and mammal species that were endemic to Myanmar. They also had elephants. Although elephants are a common animal in Zoos, the elephants in this zoo you could come up and pet on the head, and quickly move out of the way of their swinging trunks. Elephant trunks seem to grow when the sugar cane that you are feeding them comes near, extending what seemed like an extra foot. They also had many other well taken care of animals, from white tigers to dusky leaf monkeys. After a trip to the Zoo, we went and sought out lunch. We ate at a café that overlooked another religious site. This site was a boat with two golden dragon heads, golden tails, red bodies and a pagoda mounted on the dragons. The dragons served almost as pontoons for the vessel. We then made another trip to the market, to explore more of the seemingly never-ending market.

Kandawgyi park

Kandawgyi Park