When students think of studying abroad, we think of cultural immersion in a specific country for a few months. For me, the experience has not been like that. With Semester at Sea, there is not a single location where you study, but rather it is about becoming a global citizen and opening your eyes to a variety of cultures in a relatively short amount of time.
A global citizen is much more than a tourist, and much more than a bystander. For me, becoming a global citizen is a process that begins long before embarking on the respective journey. It was important for me to understand and come to grips with my current identity, or possible lack thereof. I had to begin the process of opening my mind and heart to things I may encounter before I left home. Unfortunately, it is not a process that all of your peers will engage with.
After a few weeks of being on the ship, I came to find that some of my peers are here for the wrong reasons. Instead of becoming global citizens, they are helping to spread and solidify the stereotypes people have of not only American citizens, but also the stereotypes associated with race. This has been the most disheartening part of the entire journey, but I had to find a way to press forward. Instead of getting upset and leaving people to their own assumptions of others while remaining in their comfortable bubbles, a group of us began challenging our peers to drop their guards and really engage with the various cultures we have and will come across.
There are a variety of cultures on the ship alone, so it is easy for us to enhance our global perspectives by just talking to students we are in class with, but it is also just as easy to ignore them. Many of us were aware of the challenges that we would face trying to get other people to engage in a process that we ourselves had been exposed to for a large part of our own lives, but we had to try. Though the process is just getting started, we are seeing results not only in our peers but also within ourselves.
Becoming a global citizen is not something that happens by simply stepping foot into a foreign country. It is a process that takes active engagement, immersion, and isolated reflection. It can be discouraging when you find yourself engaging with this process, but then others around you are dismissing it. This is the point when you are tested, and within the confines of this test you must figure out how to encourage others and lead them along the way. No one likes to be uncomfortable, but accepting that feeling is what allows us to not only open our own hearts to cultures and peoples, but also the hearts and minds of those around us.