For my STEP Signature Project I participated in Semester at Sea, a four-month study abroad program that takes place on a cruise ship and travels to 11 different countries around the world. My specific voyage included travels to south-east Asia and Africa. During my travels I was also enrolled in four courses such as Global Studies and Global Health. In these courses I was able to learn about various topics that directly relate to the countries I visited.
Before embarking on this voyage, I thought had a pretty good understanding of how the United States compared to the rest of the world. We are a well-developed country with a functioning health care system, quality infrastructure, and a diverse population. I was aware of various crises that other countries face, however I only knew what I was taught. Being a part of Semester at Sea and traveling to countries that are far less developed than the United States truly opened my eyes to the hardships that people outside of the Western World face. For example, Myanmar has a large lack of proper infrastructure due to the many controversies faced by its citizens and refugees. At first glance, it is easy to assume that the lack of infrastructure is due to the prevalence of poverty within the country. However, it is important to take a step back and look at underlying factors that influence the level of poverty in the country. This is just one example of how participating in Semester at Sea has re-shaped my understanding and view of the world. After having traveled around the world, I feel as though I am coming back to the United States with a fresh pair of eyes and a new appreciation for living and learning.
During my time on Semester at Sea, I had the opportunity to meet people from all around the world and interact with other students from different walks of life. Because this program takes place on a ship, there was no Wi-Fi and we had extremely limited means to communicate with the outside world. So, instead of watching Netflix and surfing the internet, we were all forced to interact with each other on a much deeper level than through technology and social media. I believe this is what sets Semester at Sea apart from all other study abroad programs. I was able to build connections with other people through personal interactions, storytelling, and heated debates about pressing worldwide issues. This helped me gain insight into different ways of thinking and interpretations of various topics that impact my everyday life. There is so much value in learning from peers, in addition to learning from professors. While traveling through the different countries on the itinerary, I challenged myself to look at the places through different worldviews, and not just my own.
One of the components of my study abroad program includes field classes. Each course taken on the ship corresponds to a field class that takes place in one of the countries that we traveled to. For my Global Health field class we had the privilege of visiting Tema General Hospital, located in Ghana. During the field class I spoke with many different health care providers, all of whom talked about the lack of resources needed to maintain optimal health outcomes. I had a more personal interaction with a woman who ran the delivery ward. She explained that they are currently lacking midwives to help out with all the deliveries and they often have too many patients for the amount of beds they have. This results in women giving birth on the floor of the hospital, which can lead to many complications for both the moms and the babies. Hearing the stories she had to tell was heart-wrenching. I could not imagine having to go through that trauma, in both the perspective of the mom and the health care workers. Living in the United States, it is easy to take things for granted. Such things include basic necessities needed to live like running water, shelter, food, and access to health care. This experience has made me feel grateful for the way health care runs in the United States. However, it has also inspired me to learn more about public health interventions and ways to combat these health care issues. No matter where you are in the world, you have health. Therefore, everyone has the right to adequate health care and ways to improve their health status.
Another important component of my study abroad experience that has contributed to my overall growth is my studies while on the ship. Every voyager is required to enroll in a Global Studies course. In the course we are tasked with learning about the people, history, and culture of every country we visit. This class has taught me invaluable skills for how to look at cultures that are different from my own. One of the most important lessons I will always keep with me is the different between learning about cultures and learning from cultures. Learning about cultures is the idea of taking your own worldview, which is developed by your own beliefs, culture and ideas, in order to understand another country’s worldview. Doing this is a disservice to the culture you are learning about, because it is impossible to try to understand another culture without taking into consideration their beliefs and ideas. On the other hand, learning from cultures is where you understand another country’s culture by looking at it through their worldview. This allows you to look at a country’s culture, beliefs, and ideas without judgement and bias. I think this concept is especially transformative because it can be applied to many different aspects of life. Taking in new perspectives and challenging your own is the key to successful learning and growth.
Having seen how other people from across the world live and view the world around them, I feel as though my own perspectives and judgements have shifted. This has already been an incredibly valuable transformation because it allows me to think critically about things I used to often overlook. I plan on working in the field of public health. In this field it is especially important to understand that things are not black and white. There are often many underlying factors for why people get sick and live in the capacity that they do. I am so thankful for the experiences I have shared as a result of Semester at Sea, and I am eager to continue my travels in order to learn more about the world in which I live.