I always wondered what has to transpire, or inspire, for a person to refer to a place as a home. I refer to Warsaw, Indiana as a home because that is where I was raised, where my family is centered, and where I spent eighteen years building every aspect of my life and of myself. I consider Bloomington, Indiana as a home because that’s where I chose to go to college, where I met people who take up the space in my heart, and where I learned to be solely independent for the first time. I consider Bordner 300 in McNutt Quadrangle a previous home, and the occupants my family and I deem Jonesboro, Arkansas as a fresh home that houses holiday memories and older siblings. For me, it takes time, adversity, love and a sense of comfort to make a place a home.
Back in September, I unpacked my bags in a ridiculously tiny cabin on a ship that doubles as a place to live and a university campus, among six hundred individuals completely unfamiliar to me, and I doubted that this environment could ever feel like a genuine home. It is now towards the end of December, 105 days have come and gone and I am sitting here in my tiny, but happily snug cabin and I cannot help but think of the three and a half months I have spent, the tears of sadness and of happiness that I have wept, the unconditional love that I have felt and the sense of comfort that the MV World Odyssey has offered me. I cannot help to think about how wrong I was believing that a moving vessel could not be a genuine home, because in the end, the MV World Odyssey taught me more about home than I ever expected to know.
I backed out and re-committed to going on this voyage ten times before I actually got the courage to walk away from my parents at the O’Hare Airport security gate. I thought back to the giddy excitement I felt when I applied for Semester at Sea back in January of 2017 and when I created a PowerPoint presentation for my parents in hopes of convincing them to allow me to go. I thought back to the summer of 2017 when I woke up at two in the morning in a complete panic attack, waking my mom up and telling her that there was no possible way I could afford this voyage, financially or academically. I thought back to the spring of this year when I enrolled in classes at Colorado State University, when I FaceTimed my roommate for the first time, when I finally felt mentally prepared to go on this voyage and then I was told by Indiana that my transfer credit appeals had been denied. I thought back to sitting at dinner with all four of my amazing, supportive parents in Chicago the night before my flight, raising our wine glasses and toasting to this upcoming adventure. Finally, I was standing there with my 150 pounds of luggage and my mom looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to go?” and for the first time I meant it when I smiled and nodded because despite every financial, academic or mental setback, I was here. I was holding a one-way ticket to Germany.
It all came in waves, no shipboard pun intended. The time, adversity, love and sense of comfort that made the MV World Odyssey a home to me. The adversity was the first phase because no matter how many times you tell yourself that you are prepared to live on a ship, you are not prepared to live on a moving vessel with five hundred people you have never seen before. I shared a post back at the beginning of the voyage that weighed my expectations versus the reality of ship-life adaption (you can read it here), but sometime after our time in South Africa, I began to feel the sense of comfort that the MV World Odyssey offered me. Whether I had spent four days in country or just a few hours, coming back to the ship became coming back home and walking into my tiny cabin came with a sense of relief of hearing my neighbors play on their newly-purchased African drums. I felt overwhelming happiness as I would sit around the pool surrounded by two-hundred people who are now considered some of my best friends listening to Louis the Child’s “Better Not” on repeat or as I would sit on the back of Deck 7 and watch the sunset on every ocean, every sea and every channel between Europe, around the world and back to the coast of California. The night I felt the unconditional love that surrounds me on this ship was spent sobbing about the hardships of life while being covered with hugs and encouragement by an individual who has lived through hell and back, but manages to be the most selfless, inspiring person that I have ever met. The last aspect that made this ship, this constantly moving vessel, a home for me was time. It was the physical time of the sixty-one days I spent traveling from country to country, it was the endless hours I spent studying in the Lili Marleen library, it was every single second I spent with my roommate, Hannah, who made me realize that a soulmate is someone who comes into your life when you need it the most, and changes you for the better every single day. It was the time I spent wrapped up in a blanket on the front deck watching the sunrise as we entered a new country, the time I spent laughing so hard I cried, the time I spent hugging my friends just because and the time I spent being in the moment every single day over the past three and a half months.
Over the last four months, I have sailed over 25,000 nautical miles and the full circumference (plus some) of the entire globe, and I stopped at eleven countries and four continents along the way. So, how do I believe the people who tell me that the best is yet to come once this voyage is over? This past semester I have been more inspired than I ever have before. I have been inspired by words, by people, by education, by cultures, by love, by grace. I have learned to find my happy in the most simple, intimate ways: sunsets, sunrises, nature and writing. I have loved more, I have laughed more, and I have seen more of the world that I could have ever imagined. So, maybe that’s the answer? Or maybe just the beginning of finding the answer. The best is yet to come from this voyage because I get to go back to Indiana and use this inspiration as I continue to find my happy. I get to watch my best friends thrive all over the nation and all over the world. I get to continue traveling the world as a global citizen and not a tourist. I get to say that I was on the 125th voyage of Semester at Sea.
As cliché as it may sound, I have learned that it could not be more accurate: home is where the heart is. My heart has experienced love, adversity, comfort and it has taken the time to be well-traveled. In the end, a moving vessel was everything I needed a home to be.