Bright Yellow Suitcase

Mary Long is a Foreign Affairs and English double major (with a minor in Spanish) who spent the spring semester of her third year traveling from San Diego to Hamburg on Semester at Sea. This is her first post as she prepared to embark on her voyage this past spring.


Bright Yellow Suitcase: On being ready to go but unwilling to leave

I first heard about Semester at Sea through an old friend’s Instagram account, which is indicative of a whole handful of things, but especially of the heightened globalization of the world. Without getting technical or meta or anything of the sort: how crazy is it to think that a single series of photographs determined my path five years into the future?

I distinctly remember seeing that friend’s pictures appear on my phone, promptly turning to the internet for further research, and writing down in my journal — right then, right there — that I was going to do that. At some point, some way. And here we are, over 1,700 days later, and I am less than 100 hours away from embarking on that same voyage my tenth-grade self swore to some day do.

Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to these coming moments for a long while. This past summer, when this whole dream began to become a reality, I thought through what these next few days and weeks and months would look like, over and over, and over and over. But as the fall semester rolled along I got swept up in the present — not a bad thing, certainly — and stopped throwing myself into the future.

This happened accidentally, of course, in between the tests, the readings, the car breakdown, the never-ending and hellacious visa application process, that pleasantly surprising date function, that perfectly impromptu trip to Boston where we almost missed our flight. Somewhere along the way, within and without of those innocuous, seemingly mundane moments, I was no longer thinking about spring semester and all the traveling and adventure that would fill it. I had started the semester thinking I was more than ready to go; I ended it realizing I would never be ready to leave.

Those final weeks of December were, for me, full of an uncomfortable dualism, an awkward balancing of excitement and tentativeness. I wanted more than anything to go, I was thrilled more than anything to go. And yet: it was harder to leave than I had anticipated. There is a difference, I realized, between putting yourself in a new place and taking yourself out of an old one, even temporarily. The former is freeing. The latter is frightening.

When debating whether or not to study abroad, a chief concern — petty though it may sound — was that the life I would be leaving at UVa for a semester would continue on without me. I decided to go nevertheless, telling myself that just as my UVa life would continue without me, so too would I continue without my UVa life. There was liberation in that — I wasn’t confined to any one place, any one person, any one rule.

But as the clock ticked down to that moment when I hugged my family goodbye for seven months and began the first leg of my journey to the Semester at Sea boat by boarding the plane to San Francisco, I began to feel that I didn’t want to be completely liberated from the places, people, and rules that I already knew.

There’s a great Modern Love article that talks about this jumbled mix of wanting-yet-refusing to be tied down. It’s called “Security in a Bright Yellow Suitcase”. The author remembers traveling to and from her boyfriend’s apartment each weekend, packing her belongings neatly into a bright yellow suitcase each Friday evening and Sunday morning, coming and going easily and without question, able to leave whenever she so pleases. At the start, she loves that she is able to so smoothly go, that while she relies on the boyfriend for companionship, she simultaneously stays unattached from him; she feels that her ability to move allows for a certain liberation on her end. But over time, things stop being so neatly packed into that bright yellow suitcase, and items that were once distinctly hers begin to be left at her boyfriend’s apartment, signaling a heightened coexistence. Surely there is something attractive and freeing about independence, but don’t we want someone and something to depend upon?

I don’t think I understood that concept so clearly until now. In moments of rejection or doubt, I used to reassure myself of my potential by thinking of all the places I someday hoped to go to, thinking of travel not just as a means for adventure but also for escape.

I’ve traveled before this, but never for such a consecutively long amount of time, and never during the school year. This trip has already made me realize that “escape” is something which is much more attractive in idealistic form than in reality. That I want to have both the mobility to come and go as I please as well as the desire to attach myself to a place and the people that fill it. That I want to take my yellow suitcase far and wide, but be unafraid to occasionally let its contents out of the bag.

Around the World in a Semester

Third year Graham Sligh is a Middle Eastern Language and Literature major who is currently abroad on Semester at Sea. He is on an Around the World voyage, currently sailing through the Pacific.

A Banyan tree outside of the main post office in Hilo, Hawaii.

A Banyan tree outside of the main post office in Hilo, Hawaii.

The front view of Sensoji Temple in Japan.

The front view of Sensoji Temple in Japan.

The bamboo forest in Arashiyama, outside of Kyoto, Japan.

The bamboo forest in Arashiyama, outside of Kyoto, Japan.

Class on a Ship

Fourth Year Victoria Kelley keeps us updated on her Semester at Sea experience! 

   When you decide to study abroad, you are not only opening a world full of adventure, but also opening a new scale of knowledge from other professors that you night not have imagined.  And as I have found in my first week in classes, this is especially true for the professors that I have encountered on Semester at Sea.  Fortunately, Semester at Sea offers a wide array of classes that can complete students’ interests not only in classes such as science or business, but also in courses that deal with literature, history, and other complex fields.  Yet, the appeal of these classes would not be complete without the instructional staff that gives life to the subject.  And luckily for all my classes, my professors are not only experts within their disciplines, but they are eager to see educational growth in their students.
   As an American Studies major, I am accustomed to my class sizes being smaller and more concentrated so a great discussion is held in class.  And fittingly, the classes on Semester at Sea are configured that they are smaller, concentrated classes so that students are able to gain the most information and experience from other students and their professors.  Also, the classes are spaced throughout the day so you aren’t confined to feeling as if you need to only do work at night, but that you could be a more productive person and finish work periodically.  Better yet, since the professors are participating in a living and learning community as well, their accessibility is sometimes better than only being able to see them during office hours like at school.  And just as the students are learning in a new environment, so are the professors.  Additionally, the classes are able to reflect upon the different ports that we visit, and create a global comparison between what we have previously learned, and what we continue to discover as our travels continue.
   Yet, even with intriguing and remarkable professors, finding time to do work on a ship is challenging.   You forget that there isn’t a place like Clemons or Newcomb where you can not only study, but also socialize.  And you don’t want to isolate yourself in your room because just as you were making new friends you’re forced to almost abandon them for an undecided amount of time to finish your work.  And with little access to reliable service sometimes, who knows when you’ll see them again.  But, the key element about a study abroad is stated in the first word, and its study.  So, I am trying to make the balance between school and adventure work as best as possible!  Finding time between the day instead of night to start and finish classes is probably more productive than a two-hour nap; and I am able to leave the night a little freer than I was before.  Being in a living and learning environment definitely takes an adjustment period so not only can I study hard but so I can have the greatest time in port.  But one of the first steps to experiencing this Semester at Sea adventure rests in understanding the relationship between class and socializing, and I believe that I understand the foundation so I can have a great semester.  Until the next update

Ahoy Fourth Year!

Fourth Year Victoria Kelley has just embarked on Semester at Sea. Going abroad fourth year was a bit scary for her, but all the opportunities awaiting her kept her excited to start her adventure!
     Deciding to travel abroad my fourth year is one my best and unnerving decisions that I have made in my time at the University. On the one hand, being able to participate in an extended study abroad has always been a desire of mine. And because UVA has a dynamic study abroad office that offers multiple different programs to choose from, I could not let a semester pass without experiencing a new world and culture that was being offered to me. In addition to the dynamic study abroad office that UVA offers, being able to participate in Semester at Sea is the perfect program that fits my traveling aspirations. Not only does the program bring together students, professors and life long learners from across the country, but the program also allows for me to experience different cultures and parts of the world that I would not be able to imagine without the possibility of Semester at Sea and UVA. In short, at this moment in my life I have been given a rare and fortunate opportunity to travel, learn and just experience life beyond what I have only known.
     Yet, even with all the gains that I know I will receive from this program I cannot help but be terrified at the same time. To begin, I have never traveled alone and very soon I will embark on my first solo trip to London while I wait for embarkation in Southampton on Saturday. And I don’t think its so much a problem exploring a new city, but exploring a new city when I want to see and experience everything makes it almost bittersweet to not have anyone to share it with. But, I know that this worry will be eased after being able to board the boat and meet everyone else who will experience the amazing adventure that I am. One of my other worries though, is missing out on adventures that I may have had in Charlottesville in my first semester of my fourth year. And as many times as I have tried to elevate the experience I will be getting over the experience that I may have had in Charlottesville, I know that both will have their highlights and potential trials. And with the support of my friends and family, the only thing to think about now is jumping both feet first into what Semester at Sea has to offer.
     Participating in a study abroad is one of the most gratifying experiences I could have at the University.  But as grateful as I am about the experience, I still cannot help but have nerves about what is to come. Even now, as I get texts wishing me safe travels, it is still a surreal experience that I am trying to wrap my head around. And not only am I still wrapping my head around what is to come, but I also need to come to terms with the fear and excitement that I have about my voyage. I know that UVA has prepared me academically for the classes on the boat, and that my parents have raised me so I can take on any challenge that I may face, so with these thoughts in mind, I can only take a leap forward and get ready for a new phase in my life. Until the next update!