Semester at Sea has been the most incredible and eye-opening experience of my life. I chose Semester at Sea over a single country as my study abroad program due to the voyage of traveling to diverse countries that I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity nor the ability to visit later in my life. Prior to the program I had never been to any countries outside of the Americas. Now I have been to Asia, Africa, and soon, Europe.
All the countries I have been to are beautiful and each of them have something unique to offer. As I explore the world I am challenging the commonly wide idea of what creates happiness. Living in the United States, a country whose 70% of the economy is driven by consumer spending, purchasing power plays a large role in our culture and can be associated with happiness. We are 5% of the world’s population; however, we spend 33% of all dollars on consumption worldwide. We base happiness on how much we own and how much money we are able to spend.
Throughout my voyage I am constantly being reminded that material does not equal wealth. In the developing countries I have visited, resources are not always readily available. In Cape Town, South Africa they are having a severe fresh water shortage, forcing them to take strong measures as a community to conserve the water they have left. They had signs regarding the water crisis in hotels, restaurants, and all public areas to serve as a constant reminder to conserve water.
As a conscious traveler, I personally took steps to aid in their water conservation efforts throughout my stay. This made me realize how fortunate I have been to never question if I will have access to water and other basic necessities. What some societies may consider a common and readily available supply, others consider it a scarce resource that needs to be used and allocated efficiently. It is easy to value something lightly and take it for granted when you have access to it whenever desired.
This experience made me realize that while there are some who worry about buying luxury items, there are other individuals struggling to acquire basic life needs. As I visited developing countries, I have come across some of the happiest and heart-warming people I have ever encountered. These individuals with limited sources and funds have high spirits and enjoy life despite their limitations, acting as a reminder that happiness is not based on what you own or what you are capable of purchasing.
I am exceedingly grateful for the life I live and for the opportunity to see the world with Semester at Sea. It has been an incredible learning experience and I encourage everyone to focus on what they do have rather than what they don’t have. I am very appreciative to be on this journey and I hope I can continue to learn about different cultures throughout my lifetime.