Semester at Sea: Photos from Around the World

Kalea Obermeyer, a 3rd year majoring in Youth and Social Innovation, studied this past fall semester on the Semester at Sea program. She went to several countries on various continents, enabling her to learn about different cultures and corners of the world. She took many pictures along the way!

East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany. I took this photo of one of the more famed paintings on the recreation of the Berlin Wall. The East Side Gallery attempts to model the intense contrast on either side of the Berlin Wall when a divided Germany fought for common ground. The painted side of the wall was a means to communicate liberty and freedom of speech against the east side of communism and oppression.

Tema, Ghana. This photo of a casket was taken to show how differently Ghanaian funerals are conducted compared to the United States. In Ghana, a funeral isn’t so much a mourning ceremony as it is a celebration of someone’s life and an embodiment of the joy the deceased person carried in life. Mourners will often wear black or red to a funeral (white if they’re an elder and revered in the community), and rather than have just the family attend, the entire community will. The more people at someone’s funeral, the more they’re said to have brought positive change and impact to the community.

Nzulezu Stilt Village, Ghana. This is a photo of me (front) and the rest of my tour group kayaking up the Nzulezu River on our way back from the Nzulezu Stilt Village. Steven, our tour guide at the front of the kayak, was able to tell us all about how the village weathers storms, gets fresh water from non-profits and tour groups like ourselves, and makes the most of minimal resources to raise families and educate their children. I had the great fortune of seeing the local village children perform a cultural dance and hear from their head council member about their wonderful community.


Valencia, Spain. This photo was taken while on a tour in Spain, nestled between hidden valleys and hiking trails. My tour guide moved to Spain 20 years ago from Canada to follow his dream of working in hospitality and giving back to the local community. He chose to be a tour guide because after realizing his passion for the outdoors in Canada, he wanted to challenge himself to start a business in a completely different country. His biggest piece of advice? “Find what makes you most happy and turn your passion into a job.”

Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur, India. Monkeys could be found on every corner in Jaipur, even atop fort towers such as this one here at Nahargarh Fort. Nahargarh Fort overlooks the entirety of Jaipur, with bustling streets and homes far beneath the hilltop.

Kathakali Show, Kochi, India. In Kathakali shows, performers use facial expressions and hand movements to communicate different emotions rather than elaborate dance moves. The makeup used during these shows helps elaborate the smiles, frowns, and eye movements of the performance.

Mauritius’s coral reefs are some of the most magnificent in the world. However, they face impending endangerment because of the oxybenzone found in sunscreen. Whether locals or tourists use sunscreen in the ocean, or have it wash off their body in the shower, the chemicals find their way back to the sea and damage existing coral reefs. Now countries are taking a firmer stand to curb reef pollution.

Fairy Glen Game Reserve, South Africa. Fairy Glen is home to the “Big Five” animals (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and African buffalo), all kept on the reservation to evade harms way from poachers. Poachers in South Africa have decimated rhino and African elephant numbers in search of their ivory tusks. The rhino in this picture here is unfortunately a surviving victim. 

V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Now a bustling waterfront mall and tourist attraction, the V&A Waterfront is partially stationed on land formerly known as District 6. District 6 was a community primarily of people of color forced to relocate during Apartheid. 

Jinshanling, Great Wall of China, Beijing, China. We hiked 6 miles of the Great Wall in 4 hours. In the early morning, we were able to see the sun rise in a pink haze above the valleys surrounding the wall. The fog never dissipated as the hours drew on, but the view remained remarkable.

Osaka, Japan. Streets like this can be found throughout cities like Osaka and Tokyo, with advertisement for local foods, barber shops, toy stores, and more nestled in the alleyways of busy district corridors. This photo was taken right outside the hostel of where my group and I stayed for the duration of our time in Osaka.  




Same Eyes, New Lenses

Tarah Fisher is a 3rd year studying Psychology who spent her Fall 2017 semester with Semester at Sea. See her reflection on her experience below!

It’s been over two weeks since I’ve returned to Virginia. I’m back in Charlottesville

beginning Sorority Recruitment. The stark contrast between what I’ll be doing tomorrow, that is small talk with hundreds of first years, and what I was doing two weeks ago has me reflecting.

The day we disembarked, I cried like a baby. I didn’t know if I’d ever see these people again. I cried for the second time when I saw my father at the airport.

Did study abroad change my life like most returnees claim it changed theirs? I thought about this a lot on my last few days on the ship. I couldn’t tell you that my life has changed, that I’m a new person, or that if you study abroad your life will change. I notice change in the subtle ways. I am more aware of what if feels like to be a foreigner in a country where you don’t speak the language, and how that smile from a local truly makes a difference. International news hits close to home more than ever before. When I see the South African President in the news, I think of the South Africans I met, and what they must be thinking. I’m able to say more about Africa than “there are starving children there”. I can deal with things that don’t go my way and I don’t let them ruin my day. I can navigate a city with only a handheld map.

People have told me I’ve changed. I have seen the world with a new lens, but it’s always been the same eyes behind them. If anything, my voyage has sparked a thirst for more. I will never stop traveling. I will never stop searching for new places to pull me outside of my comfort zone. Maybe one day, without me even noticing it, I will have transformed into the global citizen I’ve always wanted to be.

So how do I sum up my voyage? How do I put four months worth of experiences into a sentence? What do I say when people ask, how was it? “It was amazing,” doesn’t begin to explain it. I may not be able to convey it all through words. There will be subtle details that contribute to the big picture that I’ll forget.

But I’ll always have my friends who stood there beside me as we experienced everything together, and that’s something I can count on.

Time Sailing By: Semester at Sea

Tarah Fisher is a Third Year Psychology major, currently at Semester at Sea.

I distinctly remember a Monday night during my first semester at UVA. I was anxiously waiting to tryout for the University Salsa Club’s showcase. Like any other nervous first year would do, I chatted up the friendliest looking person in sight and asked what dorm she lived in. She had just returned from a semester abroad, at sea specifically, and quickly I learned not to assume that everyone was also a first year. She took classes on a ship, traveled across many oceans, and made incredible friendships with her classmates and professors. I told her that I would never be able to live on a ship for that long.

My name is Tarah Fisher, and in two days I will embark on the MV World Odyssey for a Semester at Sea.

I am not entirely sure how I convinced my parents to let me travel around the world on a ship instead of the typical study abroad in Europe, and I do not foresee the awe wearing off anytime soon. Like many students who are lucky enough to study abroad, I have a deep desire to travel. I seek novelty experiences as they broaden my horizons, challenge my perceptions, and force me to grow in ways that sitting in comfort would not.

I am thrilled to be traveling to countries like Ghana, India, and Viet Nam where I will be thrown into cultures, languages, and environments drastically different than my own. I will learn what its like to be a traveler in a country where one can not understand why the bus driver is yelling at you because you do not speak the language, or how your waitress has a huge grin because you unknowingly left an abnormally large tip. For many, this sounds like a nightmare. But challenging experiences like these are extremely important; they remind us that we are human, and we must embrace the layers of differences instead of allowing them to divide us.

Although travel is one of the most influential opportunities a person can be given, I recognize the privilege that comes with study abroad. I am extremely grateful for the support I have received, yet I am nervous that I will not seize every moment of the privilege I have been gifted.

So, I write this to remind myself that the once-in-a-lifetime voyage begins now. Soon, the sounds of the ocean will become the soundtrack of my life. Time will sail by. Don’t blink.








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.